January 2, 2007

Army East notebook: Scouting the East stars

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. - With so much talent in one place, it's difficult to focus on just one area of the football field. Such is the case when it comes to the East squad at the U.S. Army All American Bowl with dynamic players on both sides of the football. Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Mike Farrell focused in on every position throughout the day on Tuesday to come up with the following scouting notebook.

None of the quarterbacks stood out on Tuesday although from a mechanical standpoint John Brantley and Tyrod Taylor are clearly the best. Brantley can make all the throws and has a nice over-the-top delivery with a quick release. Taylor releases the ball from a higher point and gets a bit more zip on the ball. Willy Korn is still pushing the ball as he's done all season in what seems to be an attempt to speed up his delivery. This leads to a lot of aiming the football rather than just letting it go. Matt Simms has a huge hitch in his throwing motion and often throws with a three-quarter delivery. Sean Mara lacks arm strength on his out passes and his ball tends to flutter.

Five quarterbacks is way too many and leads to long lapses between reps for each passer. None of them could get into a rhythm, especially Brantley who is usually much more polished. Taylor is the best athlete of the group and is the only one who runs the option with any fluidity.

At running back, Noel Devine looks absolutely tiny out there. It doesn't help that he's wearing a jersey about two times bigger than he needs with the No. 62 on it, but regardless he looks small. Chris Rainey doesn't look much bigger at all, but at least his jersey fits. At times, you'd swear Devine was the ball boy out there, especially when he stands next to offensive tackles Anthony Davis or Chris Little.

Both tailbacks have blazing speed. Rainey is more of an upright runner and not as physical between the tackles but he's better in the passing game. Devine runs very low and uses his small frame to his advantage, hiding behind blockers before hitting the slightest opening and turning on the jets. Devine reaches top speed slightly quicker than Rainey and is much more physical after first contact.

The bigger backs each have their own strengths. Robert Hughes has good vision, reads the cutback lanes well and powers forward with good leverage. Broderick Green has quicker feet but runs with a little less power and a bit more upright. Green is better in the passing game and has better ball security. Four running backs seems to be one too many, especially since Hughes and Green are so similar as are Devine and Rainey. By the way, the best blocker of the four? It was Devine on Tuesday.

The wideouts struggled to catch passes mainly because the quarterbacks struggled and didn't have a whole lot of protection. Deonte Thompson is the quickest and most elusive of the bunch while Arrelious Benn is the hardest to cover because of his size, strength and ball skills. Greg Little was a big surprise on Tuesday, catching most everything thrown his way. Brandon Clear isn't in the same league as the rest of the wideouts. He has good size but lacks explosive speed. Duval Kamara is very big, is an excellent blocker and has deceptive deep speed. Kamara has the most upside of the group based on his total package.

Aaron Hernandez has hands of glue but needs to work on his blocking quite a bit at this level while Lansford Watson has been hampered by a foot injury and has had trouble picking things up early.

The offensive line is like a MASH unit. Trinton Sturdivant is headed home with a strained MCL, James Wilson was impressive until he separated his shoulder twice and Anthony Davis is overweight and a tad slow, but was holding his own before his concussion. Center Ryan Pugh lacks strength and gets overpowered too easily while guards Chris Jacobson and Stefen Wisniewski both move their feet well and hold their ground but have trouble getting to the second level. D'Angelo McCray has been playing left tackle with Davis out and he's struggled mightily. Chris Little is huge but needs to drop a few pounds to be more mobile.

The defensive line is the strength of the East squad so far. Rush ends Justin Trattou and Ben Martin are different types of players but they met at the quarterback often. Martin is a very instinctive player with better athletic ability than Trattou but the Jersey lineman is technically more solid. Each has an excellent motor. Torrey Davis looks more like a college tackle than an end, although he has good speed and is hard to handle outside. But his strength and power will make him an inside player at the next level.

Joseph Barksdale showed excellent pad level on Tuesday and won the leverage battle against the East's interior linemen. He's also very agile for a big man. Marvin Austin naturally plays low, is very quick and his bull rush is impressive. He needs to be more consistent with his effort but his upside is amazing. Martez Wilson is so quick he covers a ton of the field and he could easily play outside linebacker at the next level if he doesn't add the bulk needed to be a defensive end. I give plenty of credit to McCray for being willing to move to the offensive side of the ball, something at least three other defenders refused to do. Sidell Corley has been limited due to a hamstring injury so he didn't do much on Tuesday.

Only one of the East linebackers has a lot of experience at the positions as most are projections. Chris Donald has excellent range and is strong at the point of attack, holding his ground and shedding blockers to make tackles. He plays very physical but needs to learn to shoot the gap more often and take better angles. J'Courtney Williams, Lorenzo Edwards and Aaron Nagel are all getting their feet wet at linebacker while Allen Bailey lacks instincts and is a bit stiff at the position. Of the four, Edwards is the best athlete and reads plays the best while Nagel is the hustler and overachiever. Williams gets caught in traffic too often and Bailey looks like a defensive tackle at the next level.

The cornerbacks aren't big but they are super athletic. Marcus Gilchrist looks even smaller than he did at the Shrine Bowl and has struggled early with the bigger wide receivers, but his makeup speed is impressive. Gary Gray has the quickest reaction time of the corners and he gets a good bump off the ball. Both players did get beaten deep at least once on Tuesday but Gray had the better day. The best upside by far belongs to Eric Berry, who could be a very good cornerback or a special free safety. Berry has great instincts and simply reacts to the play on the fly and makes excellent decisions. He also has very good ball skills. He needs to smooth out his backpedal and avoid getting turned at corner which is why safety would be his best impact position in college.

At safety, Major Wright is a big-time athlete and has shown better coverage skills than in the past. He takes good angles to the ball carrier in run support, although he did have trouble on Tuesday reading run or pass at times. Wright is itching to lay someone out. Eugene Clifford doesn't look nearly as big next to these all-stars than he did in regular high school competition but he flashed good ball skills on one interception and he is a solid tackler. However, he's a bit late in his reaction time often leaving corners out on an island.

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