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Sunday, December 29, 2013
Day 1 superlatives: Under Armour Game

By Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One thing is for sure for all the 2014 Under Armour All-Americans: This isn’t high school anymore. Day 1 is about gauging the competition. Some guys dive right in and some test the waters with their big toe, but by the end of the first day of practice, all those in attendance have a pretty good idea of where they stand and what they need to do to compete and get better.

Given that it is Day 1, the playbook is introduced (Team Nitro is going no huddle with wrist bands and limited plays), and there can be sloppy moments of indecision and uncertainty. With each rep, most, if not all, prospects began to get a better feel for what is expected. Most importantly, the center-quarterback exchanges were very good for the most part, which is generally the biggest worry. Upon completion of the first practice, here are some observations and things to look for over the week:

Top Performers

Cameron Robinson
Five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson was dominant on Day 1 of Under Armour All-American Game practice.
OT Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La.): It should come as no shock that one of the top performers was Robinson, the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle. The five-star prospect is light on his feet for his size and moves well. In run drills he has the size and strength to create push and was quickly able to work to the second level and get a piece of linebackers. In pass protection Robinson also performed well. He was able to protect the edge and display a good punch. His performance drew high praise from several NFL coaches.

DE Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.): Possibly the most impressive initial impression from Hand was the added bulk and strength he has brought to the week. He has easily gained another 25 pounds since this summer and could line up as a true end, five technique or even stand-up Jack linebacker, which is how he could be utilized at times within Alabama’s scheme. Hand also appeared more flexible than he had in the past, which is key to his pass-rush arsenal. What stood out to us is that he is ready to play. There was no testing the waters with him on Day 1.

DT Garrald McDowell (Covington, La.): We could go with some of the usual five-star suspects who not surprisingly performed well, but McDowell was a player a little further down the rankings who showed some good things when we had eyes on him. The Ole Miss defensive tackle pledge lacks ideal size but is a solid football player who was productive defending the run and rushing the passer. In inside run drills, he did a good job shooting his hands and played with good pad level and was tough to move off the ball with one blocker. In one-on-one pass rush drills, he was disruptive. Explosive off the ball, he did a nice job of quickly attacking blockers and was active with hands. We wouldn’t call his performance dominant, but he displayed consistency in his play as well as a desire to compete.

RB Jeff Jones (Minneapolis, Minn./Washburn): As a late addition to the Under Armour Game, we were excited to have Jones join the roster. He has impressed with size, speed, strength and overall versatility. In fact he was so new that his practice jersey did not have a number on Day 1, but everyone and their brother was asking, "Who is that kid?" due to the fact that he stood out with his play. The Minnesota commit is unlike anything the Gophers have on offense right now and is a blend of power and speed inside and out.

Tomorrow’s A New Day

Jabrill Peppers
Five-star prospect Jabrill Peppers and the rest of the defensive backs starred on Day 1 of Under Armour All-American Game practice.
Team Nitro quarterbacks: The trio of Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate), Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) and Rafe Peavey (Boliver, Mo.) definitely showed some flashes, but there were way too many easy throws missed, even for the first day. All six of the QBs have a lot on their plate, but when you are throwing against the U of A (University of Air), you have to be crisp, and on Day 2, this was not a great area for the Nitro QBs. They have talent, live arms and at times made some things happen, but they need to settle in and start making the routine throws.

Offensive line: Defensive linemen have some advantage in one-on-ones so it’s not surprising to see several offensive linemen struggle today in that drill. But often times their struggles weren’t due to lack of ability, but lapses in technique. Alex Bars (Nashville, Tenn./Montgomery Bell) was one player we would like to see more consistency from on Day 2. In the first rep we saw of the Notre Dame commit, he quickly opened up so his shoulders were parallel to the sideline and gave the rusher an easy path. He has good feet and is capable, but he needs to improve his set and stay square. Miami commit Kc McDermott (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central) did some very good things today, but he was another who had some struggles. On several reps he was quick to lunge while on others his pad level was high. Those two are examples of several linemen who struggled, but now with a practice under their belts and some of the initial shock gone, we would expect this group to have a stronger Day 2, particularly if they execute with more consistent technique.

Most Impressive Position Groups

Defensive backs: As a whole, this is a really competitive group on both squads. CB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Catholic) made a distinct impression as did Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen). John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) looks like a linebacker playing safety and can really run. Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) and Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala.), among others, forced tight windows for the QBs to throw into.

Wilton Speight
ESPN 300 prospect Wilton Speight was among the signal-callers who were inconsistent on on Day 1 of Under Armour All-American Game practice.
Wide receivers: Big, fast, small, quick. All of the above would describe this group. All appear to have quick hands and quickly got into a groove on Day 1. From Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) to Speedy Noil (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr) to Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) to Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG), this is a fast and physical group. Even the small guys like Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, NC/Leesville Road) play big and attack the football. Lots in these groups for the QBs to work with.

Player to Track for the Week

OLB Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala.): Evans is a player who has already made some moves up the ESPN player rankings throughout the year, but he could still be on the rise. The ESPN 300 defender has predominantly played with his hand down at D-end, but he’s making the transition to OLB. With a lack of experience at the position, there will be some growing pains, but he is an explosive and athletic player who is showing some feel for the position and the ability to make a fairly quick and smooth transition. Physical with the ability to play in space, he has earned some positive reviews early on from the coaches.

Surprise Performer

Jacob Bragg (Nacogdoches, Texas): Bragg is a center prospect who impressed us on tape, and we have felt he is worthy of some more recognition among the offensive linemen in this class. During Day 1, the Kansas commit came out and performed well and backed up our thoughts on him up to this point. He came in lighter from the last time we saw him, shedding some unneeded weight, and that has allowed him to move better. He might not possess some of the same type of natural ability as other linemen on the roster, but he is tough, savvy and, quite simply, a good football player.