January 6, 2007

U.S. Army AA Bowl position breakdown

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The U.S. Army All-American Bowl takes place at 1 p.m. Eastern Saturday, and a collection of the country's top college prospects have spent all week practicing in preparation.

Rivals.com has been at practice all week, and it's clear that each team has an advantage at certain positions.

Here's a breakdown of each of the positions and which players fans should be looking for on the NBC national broadcast.


QUARTERBACKS
East headliner: The biggest names at quarterback for the East are Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic's John Brantley and Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes' Willy Korn but watch out for Hampton, Va. stud Tyrod Taylor. Taylor has the most playmaking ability of the group and has been the most consistent throwing the football.

West headliner: It doesn't get any better than the quarterback combination of West Lake (Calif.) Oaks Christian's Jimmy Clausen and Texarkana (Texas) Texas's Ryan Mallett. Clausen is arguably one of the most polished quarterbacks to come out of the high school ranks in years and Mallett has the strongest arm the U.S. Army game has ever seen before.

Advantage: The West has the clear advantage under center with Clausen's poise and accuracy and Mallett's huge arm. If they get time to throw the ball, they should each have a big day.

RUNNING BACKS
East headliner: This is a tough call between the two little guys - Noel Devine from North Fort Meyers, Fla. and Chris Rainey from Lakeland, Fla.. There's little doubt that one of them will make a big play on offense but it's a toss-up as to which one. Robert Hughes from Chicago (Ill.) Hubbard has been the most consistent runner between the tackles for the East but the little guys bring the excitement.

West headliner: New Orleans (La.) John Curtis running back Joe McKnight is the most explosive player on the West roster. McKnight has the ability to break a big run on Saturday if he gets to the outside. In Wednesday's live scrimmage, McKnight broke a 50 yard run on the West defense.

Advantage: The edge goes here to the East due to their advantage in speed and depth. Devine and Rainey are both explosive and can score from anywhere while the West only has McKnight as a true threat.

WIDE RECEIVERS
East headliner: Arrelious Benn from Washington (D.C.) Dunbar is the strongest and most gifted of the East wideouts and he'll be tough to handle. But keep an eye on Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central wideout Deonte Thompson because of his excellent route-running and his blazing speed. If there's a home run to be hit, Thompson could be the guy. Toss in tight end Aaron Hernandez as a big weapon in the passing game as well.

West headliner: All week Hempstead (Texas) wide receiver Terrance Toliver has had his way in practice when the West quarterbacks have gone deep to him. Toliver scored all three of the West's touchdowns in their live scrimmages on Tuesday and Wednesday. Omaha (Neb.) North's Niles Paul and Oklahoma City (Okla.) Millwood's Gerald Jones have also had solid weeks and have shown big play potential in practice.

Advantage: The West has the slight edge here due to depth. Toliver is a big-time playmaker and Paul and Jones have been consistent all week. If there's one group that will move the chains more consistently through the air it will be the West.

OFFENSIVE LINE
East headliner: The East offensive line could be the weak spot for the team and big man Anthony Davis from Piscataway, N.J. will have to have a stellar game to protect the blindside of the quarterbacks. Davis will be charged with handling the outside speed of Everson Griffen at times and the two have already done some trash talking.

West headliner: Really three names jump out on this West offensive line. Littleton (Colo.) Columbine's Ryan Miller, South Grand Prairie's (Texas) Tray Allen and Tulsa (Okla.) Union's Matt Romine. Miller and Allen will anchor down the tackle spots and Romine will start inside at guard, but he may also see time at tackle.

Advantage: The West has the better offensive line because their tackles are more mobile but they could be susceptible up the middle. The East defensive line is very impressive so even with a better offensive line than the East this could be an area where the West struggles.

DEFENSIVE LINE
East headliner: It's hard to pick just one player with so many talented defensive linemen on the team, but we'll go with Martez Wilson from Chicago (Ill.) Simeon. Wilson's speed off the edge along with Ben Martin from Cincinnati (Ohio) LaSalle on the other side will test the talented tackles for the West. And watch out for Torrey Davis from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood and Marvin Austin up the gut.

West headliner: Avondale (Ariz.) Agua Fria defensive end Everson Griffen has been a physical freak in practice. Griffen has had his way with most of the West offensive linemen and he said he's looking forward to getting a chance to hit the East quarterback on Saturday. Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood defensive tackle Simi Fili may also cause the East some problems with his size and ability to plug the hole.

Advantage: The East has the edge here because they are so strong across the line. They have massive defensive tackles and quick ends off the edge. They also have more depth and rotate players in at different positions due to the versatility of the group.

LINEBACKER
East headliner: The East doesn't have many true linebackers. Lorenzo Edwards, Aaron Nagel and J'Courtney Williams are all safeties playing linebacker and Allen Bailey looks like a future defensive tackle. That leaves Chris Donald as the man who will need to step up big and make plays for the East.

West headliner: This one's a pretty easy choice for the West. Anaheim (Calif.) Servite linebacker Chris Galippo has proven why he's the nation's No. 1 ranked linebacker based off his performance this week in practice. Galippo has blown up several plays in practice and the West offensive line had a hard time picking him up on blocks.

Advantage: The West has the edge here because they have more players with linebacker instincts. The East has better athletes overall at the position, but they are struggling to adapt to their new roles.

DEFENSIVE BACK
East headliner: Eric Berry is the most instinctual player on the East team and he's picking up the cornerback position quickly. However, it's when he's at safety that he's at his best. Berry has a knack for being around the ball and his reaction time and closing speed are impressive.

West headliner: The guy to watch in the West secondary is Long Beach (Calif.) Poly cornerback Donovan Warren. All week his physical coverage at the line of scrimmage has caused the West receivers problems. Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure defensive back Michael Williams and Gilmer (Texas) defensive back Curtis Brown has also been impressive in practice.

Advantage: The West has more size at the cornerback position and are better in coverage overall. They are also a more athletic bunch that the East defensive backs and don't make as many mistakes.

SPECIAL TEAMS
East headliner: Take your pick between Devine and Rainey but one of them should bring the crowd out of their seats with a kickoff return. Also keep an eye out for Benn on punt returns or on some trickeration. As far as the kicking game, it's not so good.

West headliner: Mission Viejo (Calf.) kicker David Green demonstrated impressive leg strength in practice this week. Green easily hit field goals from 41 yards out on Friday and he's also solid punter. West head coach Jon Mack could turn to Mallett at punter as well. Earlier this week, Mallett booted a 60 yard punt that also had good hang time on it.

Advantage: Special teams could win or lose this game for one team. The East could break a big return that opens up the game or the West and their much more consistent kicking game could win it late. We'll take the solid kicking game of the West in this matchup.



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