Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2009 Spotlight: Cierre Wood

Texas' class is nearly finished with 17 commits. LSU is off to a great start with 10 verbals. The USC Trojans easily have the most bang for their buck with all 10 of their commitments likely falling in the AC100. Even Butch Davis and North Carolina have 11 strong pledges for 2009.

Notre Dame - until this weekend - had only one. And it really didn't count anyway.

Jake Golic, son of ESPN radio's Mike Golic, had been committed for a few weeks. Mike played at Notre Dame and Jake's brother, Mike Jr., was a member of Notre Dame's 2008 class. So it really wasn't shocking that Jake committed to the Irish.

This weekend, however, Charlie Weis and company stepped it up a bit.

New Jersey defensive tackle Tyler Stockton jumped aboard. The 6'1" 290-pound tackle is one of the top players in the underrated Garden State. Interior defensive line is certainly a spot of concern for Irish fans so Stockton is a great addition.

But that still was not the news of the weekend in South Bend. Yes, Jimmy Claussen looked good in the spring game but it was a running back from Oxnard, Calif. that made waves.

Santa Clara High School's Cierre Wood, the nation's top running back prospect, was in South Bend over the weekend and announced that he will be attending Notre Dame University.

The 6-foot, 195-pound tailback is something that the Irish desperately need: a home run threat. Charlie Weis has done a great job of adding depth to his backfield. However, names like Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray, albeit highly ranked and very talented, are bigger, more bruising style of runners. They will run between the tackles and do it very well. But none of the current running backs at Notre Dame are big play threats, though. Wood changes that immediately.

Wood has great speed and acceleration. Once he sees the hole, especially if it is on the outside, he explodes through a crease. He can score from anywhere on the field. Although he could add some size and bulk, he has a surprisingly strong lower body that allows him to run through most arm tackles. Balance, vision and cutting are all very strong aspects of his game. He can make people miss in the open field and quickly get back to full speed - generally leaving defenders flailing at air.

Wood will also be a solid receiving option from out of the backfield. He can get vertical in a hurry, putting a lot of pressure on linebackers who will likely be unable to keep up in the open field.

The only issue with Wood's game is that striaght-line, between the tackles yards will be tough to come by in high Division-1 football. As mentioned earlier, he shows good strength, but runs a bit high and is not incredibly thick. The great news for Irish fans is that he will not be asked to fill that role. Guys like Hughes and Gray will be the ones picking up the 4th-and-one's.

Wood in action:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

2009 Spotlight: Dorian Bell

The Ohio State University's 2009 recruiting class will be hard pressed to equal that of 2008. They finished behind only Alabama in the Athlon Sports top-25 recruiting classes.

Jim Tressell and staff are doing their best, however.

The Buckeyes 2009 haul, so far at least, is once again in the top-5 nationally, along with other schools like Texas, LSU and USC. Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Florida State are nipping at their heels.

With nine potential AC100 members out of 11 total commits, the Bucks should again finish atop the Big Ten recruiting rankings. Storm Klein could play almost anywhere on the field. John Simon is aiming to lead his team back to the OSHAA state title game. Jordan Hall will fit perfectly in a zone-read scheme with former teammate Terrelle Pryor. Chris Fields is a more polished version of Ted Ginn Jr.

But the top rated player in this class, thus far, is Gateway High School's Dorian Bell. The Monroeville, Pa., linebacker is a tackling machine. Pittsburgh fans certainly know who Bell is. 2008 AC100 defensive end Shayne Hale - and future Panther star - played on the same defensive unit. Scouts say that Bell is further along at his age then Hale was when he was a junior.

A very bold statement.

Bell holds roughly 40 offers and was expected to hold out longer on his decision. But after falling in love with OSU on a visit to Columbus, he surprised everyone by calling a press conference the very next day - April 21st - and picking the Buckeyes.

Like Hale, Bell is a tremendous closer. Once he reads the play, he gets to where he is going as fast as anyone in the nation. His speed, agilty and raw athleticism are fantastic. His size, although only listed at 6'1" and 210 pounds, is more than adequate. In fact, he might be closer to 220 at this point. He also has a long, rangy frame that will allow for him to put on muscle.

His change-of-direction and lateral quickness give Bell the ability to play sideline to sideline. This makes it incredibly difficult to run outside on him. He is obviously great when on the attack not only just in the run game but also within blitz packages. He will be a force coming off the edge and up the gut on pass blitzes.

Bell is the complete player, though. He is far superior to Hale when it comes to pass coverage. His fluid hips and agility allow defensive coordinators to match him up in man-to-man situations if needed. His pass drops are technically sound and very solid.

As mentioned, he will need to add weight to his frame. Taking on 6'7" 300-pound Big Ten linemen will always be an issue for Bell. The only other area of concern is his recognition skills. They are not poor by any means, but could use some honing. Each come with time in a division-1 football program.

Very simply put, there are very few weaknesses in Dorian Bell's game.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

2009 Spotlight: Garrett Gilbert

Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns have accelerated the recruiting calendar more so than any other school in America.

The Longhorns have 17 commitments for the class of 2009. ITS APRIL! That is nearly a full class and none of them have played a single down of their senior seasons - or been to junior prom for that matter.

Of course, the state of Texas has something to do with it. No place in America is high school football a bigger deal than in the Lone Star state. Just ask the parents and fans of Southlake-Carroll who will be paying a premium for a PSL (Personal Seating License) just to get the right to purchase season tickets. This is high school football we are talking about!

At Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, fans do not have to buy PSL's to see the future of Longhorn football. Garrett Gilbert, a 6'3", 190-pound quarterback, put on an absolute clinic in passing efficiency in 2007.

The young signal caller completed 359 of his 555 passes - that's 65% - for 4,826 yards and 52 touchdowns. The completions, attempts and yardage marks were state records. At one point last season, in the state championship game against Houston's top defensive team, Gilbert completed 24 straight passes. Lake Travis won that 4A state title game and their quarterback garnered 2nd team All-State honors.

Just to show how advanced the recruiting process is, Gilbert has been committed to the Longhorns since February 7, 2008. That was Signing Day 2008 - over a year and a half before Gilbert will begin his freshman season.

Gilbert has proven to be a winner, and a very productive one at that. He shows excellent leadership ability and poise. His high completion percentage shows solid accuracy. He is also deceptively mobile. He will not wow defensive coaches but they will have to account for his legs when game-planning because he will make them pay on the ground if ignored. He throws very well on the run as well.

A couple of issues come up immediately with Gilbert. First, he will need to add some weight and strength. He is about the same size as Colt McCoy, who has had issues with injuries his entire career on the Forty Acres. Second, and this is nit-picking, but his arm strength is not elite. He makes up for it with great precision but may never have top-notch, NFL-type arm strength. Last, his mechanics will need smoothing out.

The size and mechanical issues can be fixed very easily with solid coaching and training programs. The arm strength may never be an issue in college, but will certainly effect his draft stock in a few years.

If Gilbert produces in the Big XII like he did in high school, Texas fans will not care one bit.

Gilbert in action:

Monday, April 14, 2008

2009 Spotlight: Matt Barkley

When recruiting websites and media outlets sat down over the past few months to decide on how to rank the 2009 crop of football players, one name likely came up first: Matt Barkley. In fact, the conversation was likely very short. The Santa Ana, Calif. quarterback has separated himself as the clear No. 1 prospect in the nation.

Barkley is a 6'3" 225-pound monster behind the line of scrimmage. He is the complete package. Standing tall in the pocket, showing poise and maturity way beyond his teenage years, Barkley sprays the football all over the field. He has a great arm and can make every throw on the field. He has great footwork, balance, vision and can throw on the run. His mechanics are already developed ahead of schedule.

But it is not just about throwing the football, it is about how he throws it. He will stand confident and tall in the pocket while 280-pound defenders bear down on him and will calmly drop a 45-yard fade route right into his receivers waiting arms. His toughness and leadership will carry him a long way on a football field.

This poise is what sets him apart from most high school athletes. Of course, it comes with the territory. As a four-year starter for Mater Dei High School, young Barkley has grown very accustomed to the spotlight. Recent college greats Matt Leinart and Colt Brennan have both walked the halls and locker rooms of Mater Dei. The Southern California high school power is also one of only two high schools in America to boast two Heisman trophy winners (Leinart and John Huarte-Notre Dame). The other is Woodrow Wilson High in Texas (Davey O'Brien-TCU and Tim Brown-Notre Dame).

So pressure is certainly a part of the job description. Barkley relishes it.

The young signal caller was named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year for 2007. He is the only junior to ever win the award. He also earned the 1st annual Joe Montana Quarterback of the Year award as well. He was the only junior nominated. He threw for an Orange County record 3,560 yards and 35 touchdowns while leading his team to a Southern California Pac-5 Division quarterfinal game in '07.

Sounds like a nice resume for a junior in high school. But wait there is more.

Barkley, a devout Christian, is the leader of a program named 'Monarchs for Marines' (M4M). The Mater Dei Monarchs dedicated the 2007 season to the troops stationed at Camp Pendleton. Hundreds of players, coaches and family members showed up at the base to help landscape and renovate the grounds. M4M has raised roughly $100,000 for fallen and wounded soldiers.

So who gets this young prodigy? Shockingly, Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans already have a verbal commitment from the quarterback. If there was any doubt, Les Barkley - Matt's father - was an All-American water polo player for USC in the 70's.

Talent. Genetics. Intelligence. Maturity. Focus. Humility. Mr. Barkley has it all, except the thing he craves the most. A CIF state championship. It was that loss in the quarterfinals that drives the quarterback. He works every week with future teammates - wide receiver Morrell Pressley - and quarterback gurus - Steve Clarkson - in order to be constantly improving. Needless to say, a state championship is his goal for 2008. Hell, its the only thing the kid doesn't have!

This does not bode well for guys named Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp.