SAN ANTONIO - A day after convening in the Alamo City, it was time to get to work.
The West squad practiced twice for a total of four hours and 15 minutes as they officially began preparation for this Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
A number of players were noticeably working off some rust. But it became apparent early on that West head coach Bill Redell has a plethora of playmakers at his disposal, on both sides of the ball.
"The speed of the practice was amazing," said four-star cornerback Cliff Harris, who hails from Fresno (Calif.) Edison. "You are going up against future NFL players. It doesn't get any better than this.
"You have to show your best on every play because if you decide to take a play off, that's when you are going to get embarrassed."
Harris made the first big play of the day by intercepting an Allan Bridgford pass during 11-on-11 work. He picked off another Bridgford pass during 7-on-7s.
"Harris has the quickest feet out here," said Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every. "And he has unbelievable instincts. He has the natural instinct to know where the ball is, even when his back is turned."
Harris has lined up his first official visit with Oregon for the weekend of January 9th. The Ducks are currently the leader for his signature.
While Harris was dominant much of the day, he met his match in wide receiver Rueben Randle. Despite being hobbled by a hamstring injury, Randle showed why he is the No. 1 ranked prospect on Rivals.com.
"Man. Rueben is big, physical and he is smooth with his routes," Harris said. "He was the only one that caught a touchdown on me today."
At running back, Christine Michael separated himself as the day's top performer. The Texas A&M commit showed an impressive burst and also ran with power.
"Right before we went to lunch, Patrick Hall was blitzing and Christian ran into him like I've never seen a running back hit a safety before," defensive tackle Chris Davenport said. "That Christian is legit. That is about all I can say about him."
St. Louis (Mo.) Gateway athlete Sheldon Richardson was originally slated to play tight end this week, but he traded in his offensive jersey and lined up on the defensive line. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder also got a chance to field some kickoffs.
"Richardson is a physical phenomenon. I'm not so sure he couldn't play linebacker at 270-pounds right now," Every commented.
HOWELL RECEIVES SCARE
During a one-on-one drill in the afternoon, defensive tackle Calvin Howell injured his knee after 6-foot-7.5, 350-pound offensive tackle D.J. Fluker blocked him into a portable water dispenser.
Howell was clearly in a lot of pain before being carted off the field by the medical team. He went to the hospital, where the injury was categorized as a deep bruise knee contusion.
Howell will be limited in practice Tuesday. He will gradually increase his participation in practice throughout the week and is expected to play in the game on Saturday.
"That water [dispenser] was just too close to the drill," said Davenport. "When that D.J. Fluker locks on to you, you are going to go for a ride."
Fluker also received a scare during the morning practice when he went down clutching his leg. He walked off on his own power and returned to practice as a full participant.
Howell was the most charismatic and vocal member of the west squad before suffering the injury. The only player from San Antonio, Howell was the first to practice.
DEFENSE AHEAD OF THE OFFENSE
As should be expected, the defense was clearly ahead of the offense during the first day of practices. But by Saturday, Davenport believes the offense will have the edge.
"They have so many rules and stipulations that limit what we can do on defense," the five-star defensive tackle explained. "We can't blitz and we can only play cover zero, unless it's third down and then we play cover three. And the offensive linemen can cut you at any time. This is really [tailored] to be more of an offensive game."
A number of offensive players complained about the slickness of the footballs, which are brand new. Quarterback A.J. McCarron commented that they are hard to grip.
"A.J. doesn't look right now like he did at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game and I think it's because of the balls," said Barry Avery. "They are too slippery for him."
Kicker Chris Boswell added that the new balls don't have the same type of "pop".
Deandre Coleman will play right offensive tackle in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. But he is expected to play defensive end in Cal's 3-4 defensive scheme.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict had the hit of the day on running back Cierre Wood. During every 11-on-11 rep, Burfict seemed to find someone to hit. Burfict wore a blue wristband that read "I own the guy guarding me". It was given to him by his brother who plays at Akron.
Ronnie Wingo Jr. is practicing at tight end. He looked fluid running his routes. The St. Louis (Mo.) University product rushed for more than 400 yards in one game as a senior.
Chris Davenport wrote "Buck I luv you" on one of his shoes and "RIP Buck" on the other, in memory of his Godfather, who he lost earlier this year.
After playing defensive back in the Hawaii Classic, Adam Hall will play wide receiver in the US Army All-American Bowl. The Tucson (Ariz.) Palo Verde Magnet standout said he would prefer to play on the offensive side of the ball in college.
The west team will practice again twice on Tuesday between 10 am and 3 pm (CST).