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Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Under Armour All-America Game preview

By Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill

The practices are in the books and now is the time for the nation’s top prospects to showcase their skills under the bright lights of the Under Armour All-America game (4 p.m. Thursday, ESPN). With an outstanding collection of talent taking the field, it can be easy to feel a football sensory overload. No matter where you look, you will see a promising prospect in action, but to help guide your focus, we put together a few viewing tips. You can’t go wrong wherever your eyes take you on the field, but the following could be a good place to start.

If you want to know where next year's top college freshmen will play …

Top-ranked Leonard Fournette is one of seven prospects who will make college announcements Thursday.
This game will provide some answers. Throughout the course of Thursday's game, seven prospects, all within the top 75 of the ESPN 300, will make their college announcements. Included in that group are three five-star prospects, led by No. 1 overall, running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine). If you’re an LSU fan, this is must-see television. The Tigers are in the mix for more than half of the prospects announcing, including Fournette, who will choose between Alabama, LSU and Texas. LSU has more to gain in the five weeks leading to national signing day than any other team. Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr), Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) and Gerald Willis (New Orleans/Edna Karr) are all considered to be heavy leans toward the Tigers.

If you’re an Alabama fan and want to get a feel for what the future might hold …

Keep an eye on Team Highlight. Eleven commits from the Crimson Tide's top-ranked class are on the All-America roster and six will be playing on that team, led by top-rated offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe). The trenches will be of particular interest to Alabama fans as the Highlight offensive line, in addition to five-star Robinson, will also feature No. 1 guard Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa) and No. 1 center Josh Casher (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal).

If your team needs an offensive tackle and you’re a fan of a Pac-12 program …

Casey Tucker is showing why he's considered one of the top linemen from the West.
Keep an eye on Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton). Of the seven tackles suiting up for the game, only Tucker remains uncommitted. Lining up for Team Highlight, the No. 5 OT is a tenacious blocker who reminds us of another former Under Armour All-American from Arizona, Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan. A one-time verbal commitment to USC, both Stanford and Arizona State now look to be the top teams vying for Tucker's commitment.

If you're looking for the next instant-impact cornerback …

There are three players to watch closely. Last year, Under Armour All-American Vernon Hargreaves III played an outstanding game and proceeded to have a strong freshman season at Florida, becoming a first-team All-SEC choice. If you’re wondering who might be the next talented cornerback from this event to step in and have an impact as a freshman, keep an eye on No. 1-rated CB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), who has very good size and is an athletic playmaker with the tools to make his presence felt quickly in Michigan’s secondary. Peppers, the No. 2 player in the ESPN 300, has drawn high praise all week from the coaches, including head coach Herm Edwards. No. 2 cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) is uncommitted, and this electric athlete is a candidate to contribute right away wherever he lands. No. 3 CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover) also is uncommitted. With good size, speed and football smarts, he will likely be tough to keep off the field.

If you like skilled utility weapons in the spread offense …

Pay close attention to Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) on Team Nitro and Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) on Team Highlight. Both will be utilized as slot receivers, but you can also expect to see them in the backfield and most notably employed on reverses and end-arounds. McKenzie is a spark plug with sudden speed and explosiveness and is sure to create some excitement in space and on special teams. Scarbrough is a different type of player, but is similarly difficult to defend. He is a race horse of an athlete that every single defensive player has a hard time matching up against, even cornerbacks. These two will be fun to watch and provide explosive potential.

If you want to watch a future top-five NFL first round draft choice …

Alabama pledge Cameron Robinson is one of the best offensive line prospects to come along in years.
Pay close attention to Alabama commitment OT Cameron Robinson. There have been several offensive tackles in the past nine classes that were pretty clear-cut no-brainers, but we are not sure any of them stack up to Robinson at the same stage, and that includes Andre Smith, Andrus Peat and Cyrus Kouandjio. Robinson does not have red flags off the field and displays few deficiencies on it. He has already learned how to manage his height and play with leverage, which is usually one of the most difficult things for young tackles to do when it comes to playing with proper pad level.

If you like to watch defensive linemen get after the quarterback …

On the field will be several of the nation’s top-rated defensive linemen, and here are a pair on each team to keep a close eye on. On Team Highlight, defensive end Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/Martin) is a player to watch coming off the edge. A Texas A&M commitment, Garrett has drawn praise from Robinson and with his size, length, initial quicks and athleticism, and he can make a lot of offensive tackles take notice. Inside, top-rated defensive tackle Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith) is a big, explosive player who has been a disruptive force throughout the week of practice. On Team Nitro, five-star Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.) has performed well throughout the week. The Alabama commit has shown he can be violent with his hands as a pass rusher, and he has been able to transfer speed to power and just push blockers back into the pocket. On the interior of the line, Ole Miss verbal commit Garrald McDowell (Covington, La.) lacks ideal size, but he is quick and active with his hands and can be tough to handle. This group of defensive linemen, led by these four, will not make it easy for the quarterbacks.