Print and Go Back ESPN.com: On The Trail: Midlands Region [Print without images]

Monday, December 30, 2013
Day 2 superlatives: Under Armour Game

By Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert


As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:

Top performers

WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.

Cameron Sims
Alabama commit Cameron Sims performed well on Day 2 of Under Armour All-American Game practice.
CB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Catholic): If you have followed us in our efforts of recruiting coverage and evaluation you will certainly know that the one thing we don’t do is overhype prospects. We have always tried to add perspective and balance of the good and bad. With that being said, in the past nine classes we are not quite sure we have seen a skilled athlete on defense like Peppers. He is as naturally gifted and explosive of an athlete as we can recall and he could play five positions. He might be the one player here that just about every other player has noticed.

DT Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith): The top-rated defensive tackle was a disruptive force at times Monday. During Highlight’s team drill the five-star prospect could regularly be seen collapsing the pocket. Explosive with very good size, he was able to overpower blockers with a strong bull rush and at one point was still able to press the pocket against a double-team. Brown will need to monitor his weight, but he possesses very good initial quickness and fires off the ball with good pad level, demonstrating the ability to consistently win the leverage battle. In one-on-ones he was a handful. He does a good job of being active with his hands and can be a violent player. Brown’s performance was not a surprise but it was still impressive.

ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr): The top-ranked athlete has been working at wide receiver and thus far the five-star prospect has not disappointed. An electric athlete, Noil has shown playmaking ability from the receiver position. With a name like "Speedy," not surprisingly he has demonstrated the ability to be a vertical threat, but even when defenders have been able to stay with him he has shown the ability to still make the play. On one vertical route Monday, Texas commit Jermaine Roberts was in position, but Noil still was able to elevate and make a grab over the shorter Roberts. Noil has also displayed good consistency as a pass-catcher, as dropped passes have seemed to be rare. The instinctive Noil, who was used in multiple ways at his high school, has demonstrated a nice feel for the WR position and the ability to a dangerous weapon in that role.

Play of the Day

WR Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road): From QB Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate), Berrios was running a deep crossing route at about 15 yards and Speight rolled to his right and threw the ball right out in front of Berrios. It looked completely uncatchable. Berrios, however, dove with his left hand out in front -- he’s right-handed -- and plucked this ball out of the air like he had suction cups on his fingers. He then quickly secured the ball to his chest with one hand while he hit the ground and retained possession. Berrios has stood out and has the respect of everyone here, but this play was particularly spectacular.

Most impressive position group

Team Nitro defensive backs: The wide receivers and quarterbacks have had their hands full trying to separate and complete passes and not just against the corners, either. Safeties Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) and Arrion Springs (San Antonio, Texas/Roosevelt) can not only match up versus backs and tight ends, but also the likes of Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and Berrios, who are smaller and quicker. Cornerbacks Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), Kalvaraz Bessent (Kingsland, Ga./Camden County), Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne) and Peppers can lock up and keep pace with every receiver on the roster, which has created terrific one-on-one battles.

Most improved

Nitro Team offensive line: Several of the offensive linemen on Nitro experienced some struggles on Day 1 of practice and we pointed out it was a group that needed to have a better Day 2 and overall they responded. Collectively the group displayed some mental toughness and competitiveness to come out, battle and show improvement. Alex Bars (Nashville, Tenn./Montgomery Bell) was a player who had a rough first day, but the Notre Dame verbal performed better on Day 2. We have never doubted his ability to be a good pass protector as he possesses the physical tools, but the difference Monday was he consistently executed with better technique and as a result was able to be more successful. Miami commit Kc McDermott (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central) showed some flashes on Day 1 and followed that up with a strong and more consistent performance Monday. He is arguably that group's most versatile and steady member. ESPN 300 guard Braden Smith (Olathe, Kansas/South) is a big, strong player and pass-rushers found little success trying to overpower him. He displayed a strong punch with good placement and when he was able to get locked on he could consistently anchor and control rushers. This group showed nice improvement on Day 2, and we were glad to see that and now the expectation will be for them to build on that for Tuesday's practice.

Making a name for themselves

WR De’Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro): He is lightning-quick and starting to learn the little nuances of the receiver position.

Braxton Berrios
Miami commit Braxton Berrios made the catch of the day on Day 2 of Under Armour All-American Game practice.
OLB Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn): When he settles in at outside linebacker, his stock will soar. Don’t forget, he can still play end, too.

WR Corey Holmes (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas): He has quietly made a ton of plays in traffic and is much faster than defensive backs give him credit for.

OLB Dillon Bates (Pondre Verde, Fla./Pondre Verde): Bates is smart and savvy. He needs a college weight-room program in the worst way, but he just naturally gets it.

OC Josh Casher Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal): Size is this kid's only detriment. He has the rest of the stuff you want.

OC Jacob Bragg (Nacogdoches, Texas/Nacogdoches): We are still trying to figure out why this kid isn’t being recruited by bigger programs.

S/OLB Ronnie Clark (Calera, Ala./Calera): This kid reminds us of Florida State LB Christian Jones, a former Under Armour All-American himself. Clark must gain weight.

Player to watch

With all the talent on the field it can be easy to overlook some good players who arguably deserve a little more attention than they might be getting. With two practices in the books, a player to make sure to keep a close on eye on before this opportunity passes is John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly). The ESPN 300 athlete has been playing safety and quietly performing very well. He possesses very good size, range and can be physical. He could very easily develop into a LB at the college level. Smith is a big, impressive athlete who is worth taking a little time during Day 3 to check out and, like us, we think you’ll be impressed by what you see.