NCF On The Trail: Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Peppers can fly

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
5:40
PM ET
Michigan signee Jabrill Peppers ran the 100 meter dash in 10.52 seconds at his state track meet last week. That time would have put him in the top 20 of the NCAA East preliminary round that also took place this past weekend.



The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Peppers beat out 2015 Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick in the race, and he was flying.

Michigan fans are excited to see that kind of speed and size combination in the defensive backfield when Peppers gets to campus in a few weeks. He should be an early contributor, as he is coming in as the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country.

Signing day wrap: Big Ten

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
8:12
PM ET


Signing day certainly lived up to the hype. With commitments, decommitments and drama across the board, there was a ton of action throughout the day within the Big Ten.

The biggest news on the day was when ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) committed to Michigan State, but never sent in his national letter of intent. Before the announcement, McDowell's parents were open about the fact they did not want their son to pick the Spartans.

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
John Albright/Icon SMIESPN 300 DL Malik McDowell picked Michigan State, but his parents aren't happy with his decision.
When he did commit to Michigan State, the parents refused to sign the letter of intent. While that document isn't completely necessary for the No. 60 ranked prospect to attend Michigan State, he does need to sign his Big Ten tender. That document ensures his scholarship and also needs a parent's signature.

The Spartans' coaching staff has been working feverishly to get the parents on board, but it has been an uphill battle.

B1G surprises

Amidst the McDowell drama, Ohio State snuck in and was able to get three-star defensive end Darius Slade (Montclair, N.J./Montclair) to flip from Michigan State.

Slade initially said he wanted to wait on signing with the Spartans and visit the Buckeyes after signing day. The Michigan State staff spoke with Slade and decided to move on once Slade said he wanted to take the trip to Columbus.

The Buckeyes reaped the rewards as Slade then sent in his letter of intent to the Ohio State fax machine and is signed for the 2014 class.

There must have been something in the water with Big Ten defensive end commits as former Nebraska commit Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped to South Carolina.

The three-star defensive end had been committed to Florida State at one point, then decommitted and chose the Cornhuskers. All seemed to be well until signing day when McClain flipped to the Gamecocks. It is a significant loss for Nebraska at an inconvenient time.

B1G movers

Michigan State saw a huge rise in the class rankings, moving up 10 spots to No. 29 overall. A big part of that increase was due to McDowell. If the Spartans can keep him on board it will be a huge coup.

Michigan State also landed three-star athlete T.J. Harrell (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic), giving the coaching staff 14 three-star commits to go along with eight four-stars in this class. Defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wisc./Sun Prairie) didn't commit on signing day, but he was a late flip, switching from Wisconsin.

Northwestern dropped four spots, but that was essentially due to the lower numbers in the class and the fact that the Wildcats had closed out their class.

Future is bright at Penn State

The Nittany Lions picked up a commitment from linebacker Torrence Brown (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Tuscaloosa Academy) to cap off James Franklin's first class as Penn State's head coach.

Franklin was not only able to keep the class intact, but added some outstanding prospects.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) did decommit, but the addition of ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) and three-star athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) helped Penn State finish No. 24 in the class rankings.

Franklin and his staff have already hit the ground running for the 2015 class as well and several junior prospects reported the Penn State coaches even spoke with them on signing day. There are apparently no brakes for this staff as they look to start building their first full class at Penn State.

Impact signings

Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) faxed in his letter of intent to Michigan on signing day. On the surface that might not seem like much, but right up until the night before signing day Peppers had been contemplating holding off on putting ink to paper.

The nation’s No. 2 prospect had heard from a few other schools, but ultimately decided Tuesday night that he would sign with the Wolverines.

That was a crisis averted for Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who brought in the No. 18 class in the country. The Wolverines hadn't landed a commitment in the 2014 class since August and most recently fell from No. 12 overall. That is significant given the fact that Michigan at one point had the No. 1 ranked class for 2014.

Minnesota was also able to hang on to its biggest commitment with running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn). The ESPN 300 prospect had been wavering and hearing from a few schools, but announced he would stay committed with the Gophers during a ceremony at his school.

That is as good a commitment as coach Jerry Kill and his staff have landed. Jones is an explosive back.

All in all it was an exciting day for the future of the Big Ten. The conference ended with 34 ESPN 300 prospects and three teams -- Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State -- ranked in the top 25 of the class rankings.

Big Ten recruiting roundtable

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
9:00
AM ET
National signing day is just 48 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren spared time from their busy schedules to answer these questions:

Ohio State and Michigan again lead the way in the Big Ten recruiting rankings. How much late drama do you expect with those two programs?

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
Tom Hauck for ESPNDE Malik McDowell, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, could come down to a signing day decision between Ohio State and Michigan.
Tom VanHaaren: Probably not much for Michigan as it is really only targeting ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield). McDowell visited Ohio State Jan. 31 and has hosted every head coach in his top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

He will take his decision out to signing day, so there is a battle going on there, but there's still a chance he ends up at Michigan State or Florida State. He has kept everything close to the vest and it's anyone's guess as to where he ends up. Ohio State could have a little drama, but that happens when you land top ranked prospects.

Tom Luginbill: I really just expect to see where McDowell falls.

What other Big Ten programs have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Wisconsin. Badgers coach Gary Andersen is adding more speed and athleticism to this class, including QB D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault). They would love to close with CB Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation).

TVH: Michigan State has put together a good class. I really like ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) for the Spartans defense. I think Northwestern has put together a really good class as well with three ESPN 300 commitments. The Wildcats added in-state defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook), which was a big get for them. Illinois did a lot to help fill immediate needs as well. The Illini lose four receivers and brought in some junior college prospects to compete right away.

How much impact has James Franklin made on Penn State's recruiting in a short time?

TVH: It seems to be all positive for now. It's not surprising that he has flipped so many Vanderbilt commitments to Penn State, because he was the coach who recruited them. The recruits, however, that have flipped will all tell you that he is the guy they want to play for. There is already some excitement in the 2015 class and in the Pennsylvania area, so I think Penn State fans are going to be very happy with what Franklin and his staff does in the near future.

TL: Significant, but it should be noted that Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) all enrolled early prior to his hire, but after Bill O’Brien departed, which tells you of their commitment to the program. Since his hiring, Penn State has added seven verbal commits, including flipping Rutgers commit WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) this past week.

How much of an effect, if any, has Michigan State's on-field success had in its recruiting so far?

TL: Minimal. They do what they do. The biggest myth is that they are made up of 2- and 3-star players, which is not true. It has been 4- or 3- star players the past three to four classes The Spartans develop players as well as anyone. They don’t give in to external pressures to recruit anyone and they identify not only good players, but the right players for them.

TVH: It had some impact in the 2014 class, but because that class was already almost over by the time the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, the real affect will likely be on 2015 and 2016 prospects. Michigan State already has one of the top in-state prospects committed with Kyonta Stallworth (St. Clair Shores, Mich./South Lake) and there is a realistic chance the Spartans could land most of the top prospects from the state of Michigan. They have already heard from some prospects that they otherwise would have been out of the running for, so I think 2015 could be where you see some of those affects.

How have Maryland and Rutgers done in recruiting, and are their efforts up to Big Ten standards?

TVH: Rutgers has suffered a lot of decommitments in the 2014 class. It seems like this is a whole new class from what it used to be. The most recent was Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State. Maryland has had a better time recruiting in this class, but is still outside the top 40 in the class rankings. The Terrapins have had a lot of injuries to deal with, so I think once they get healthy and get back on track they will start to see a little more success. Now that they're in the Big Ten they can tell local recruits that they can stay close to home and still play in big stadiums and on national television, which will be a big draw.

TL: Rutgers is crumbling. At one time they had four ESPN 300 prospects and all have decommitted. This is not a good start for the Knights heading into the Big Ten. We very much like the top third of Maryland’s class, and the middle third has upside, but there is a significant drop off in talent in the bottom third, in our opinion.

What teams do you view as disappointing with this class?

TL: Rutgers. The rest have essentially been as expected for the most part.

TVH: Can I cop out and give everyone a trophy? I don't think anyone has a really disappointing class. I imagine Rutgers' coaches aren't thrilled with the way things have gone, but for the Big Ten teams from this season I think most of them have done a really nice job filling needs and getting a few big recruits in the class.

Finally, name a few players who we can expect to have an immediate impact in the 2014 season.

TVH: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is probably the first name that sticks out. He is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for a reason and could end being an outstanding college football player once he's done. I expect him to play early in some capacity. Potentially, a guy like Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) at Indiana at receiver, running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn) if he sticks with Minnesota, Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) at Ohio State and maybe juco defensive lineman Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland (Kan.) Community College) at Nebraska.

TL: Peppers, (Ohio State LB) Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Jones, if he sticks.

Ultimate ESPN 300: Future members 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
11:00
AM ET
It’s never too early to look ahead to next year. Here are five current prospects in the 2014 class we feel could make their mark in future editions of the Ultimate ESPN 300.

RB Leonard Fournette (LSU): It’s not just based on the fact that he’s the top-rated player in the ESPN 300, but rather the perfect blend of talent, need and fit that awaits him at LSU. Fournette is an ideal downhill back for LSU's system. He is physically ready to carry the load and should have an immediate chance to make an impression with the Tigers' lack of depth in the backfield.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
8:00
AM ET
We are almost out of the dead period, which ends on Jan. 15. That means things are starting to heat up for Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail. Here is a look at what happened throughout the conference this past week.


Biggest commitment:
Indiana landed ESPN 300 receiver Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike), when he announced his decision on Jan. 7. Booth had been committed to Tennessee, but he decommitted and will now enroll early for the Hoosiers.

He is a big pickup for the Indiana offense and is a high ranking in-state prospect who coach Kevin Wilson and his staff are keeping home.

Nebraska also secured a wide receiver with Jariah Tolbert (New Orleans/Edna Karr) on Thursday. Tolbert joined his teammate, athlete Jaevon Walton, in Nebraska’s 2014 class.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

These cornerbacks remind me of ... 

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
10:00
AM ET
If a program runs a high-concept scheme on defense, cornerback can be the most difficult position to make the leap from high school to college, aside from quarterback of course. Rarely do prospects face a player across from him who is bigger, faster or quicker in high school and they just don’t get challenged very often, which is why it can be very difficult to project the success of cornerbacks in college. Also, many players are not devoted to playing corner fulltime and must become acclimated through reps and experience to maximize their ceiling for production. Here are our top five cornerbacks and a comparable productive player for each at the collegiate level.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
8:00
AM ET
Despite the dead period there was still plenty of action within the Big Ten on the recruiting trail. Here is a look at what happened throughout the conference this past week.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.


Jabrill Peppers. He just gets it. Easily adjusts and adapts to what is asked of him. Very coachable and humble, but he knows he good. Michigan does not have a skilled player on its team like him. I know it is easy to make the Charles Woodson comparisons here, but let’s allow the kid to make a name for himself by carving out his own niche. He is more than capable of playing both ways if needed, but as far as cover corners go, he is a more explosive version of Dee Milliner, and we love that he welcomes contact too. He is mature and knows that there are high expectations for him to perform.
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 …


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

UA Game notebook: Talking a good game

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
4:54
PM ET

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The third day of practices for the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, which will air live Thursday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN, was full of entertainment. Players engaged in some back-and-forth trash talk, coach Deion Sanders gave some dance lessons, there was a special guest in attendance and a linebacker hit Racean "Roc" Thomas so hard he nearly broke his face mask. Here’s a closer look at the latest news and notes from the third day of practice.

Talking the talk

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Miller Safrit/ESPNJamal Adams has drawn attention for his stellar play and unmatched trash-talking ability.
The top prospects in the country aren’t just skilled on the field but also in the art of trash-talking. Many of the players took part in verbal intimidation during practice, but there were a few who seemed to excel at it.

Defensive back Jamal Adams' (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) name has been brought up the most as one of the best trash-talkers so far. His persistence is what most, including receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), have noticed.

“Jamal is the best at it,” Dupre said. “It doesn’t get in my head anymore because I know him really well. He knows I got him a lot earlier. He’s a good friend of mine and I know he’s probably the best at it because he’s nonstop. The more you do it, the more you get under people’s skin.”

Receiver Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road) agreed and added that he can’t help but laugh when Adams starts talking.

Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) was often opposite Adams on the field and was brought up as another excellent trash-talker. He isn’t as constant as Adams, but he let receivers know when they made a mistake.

“One particularly play, [Peppers] batted down a pass on Ermon Lane, and Jabrill and I were ready to get at it,” Dupre said. “I never went up against him, though. Jabrill was just screaming, 'It’s not going to happen' and 'Shutdown.'”

So you think you can dance?


Former NFL great Deion Sanders was known for his celebration dances, and on Tuesday, his team got a firsthand look at how to execute the patented high step and touchdown dance from Sanders’ playing days.
Sanders showed the players how to do both dances, then let them take a test run in case they score a touchdown in Thursday's game.

 

Decisions ahead


Seven of the nation's top prospects, including three five-star players, are set to make their decisions during the game. Here’s a look at who will be making their decisions:

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNJalen Tabor is one of seven top prospects who will announce his college decision during the Under Armour All-America Game.
RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine): The nation's No. 1-ranked player will decide among LSU, Alabama and Texas.

WR Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman): A standout during practices this week, Rudolph will be choosing among Alabama, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Auburn and Ohio State.

DT Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Ranked the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, he will likely choose between LSU and Florida.

DB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen): The five-star defensive back will choose between Alabama and LSU despite a shoulder injury that will could keep him out of the game.

DB Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship): The nation's No. 15 recruit Will choose between Arizona and Alabama.

S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron): The No. 23 player in the country will choose among Florida, LSU and Ole Miss.

ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Noil, the No. 8 player in the country, will choose between LSU and Texas A&M.

Top players


It’s one thing for scouts and evaluators to give their opinions on the top performers, but it’s always interesting to hear who the players themselves think are excelling on the field.

Here are a few of the Under Armour All-Americans talking about the best prospects they faced throughout the week:

RB Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy): “Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover), I just think that he has great defense and you have to be really physical when you going against Marlon Humphrey. JuJu Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly), you really have to come with it with JuJu because if you don’t come with it, he’s going to come with it.”

[+] EnlargeMarlon Humphrey
Miller Safrit/ESPNMarlon Humphrey has impressed his fellow All-Americans with his performance this week.
DB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra): “My best matchup, well all those guys are high caliber. From Speedy Noil to [Chris] Godwin, [Cameron] Sims, Travis Rudolph, everyone was good. I just like competition, and they’re going to bring the best out of me and I’m going to bring the best out of them.”

WR Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis): “My whole defensive back corps was good. Jamal Adams, Tony Brown and Jabrill Peppers. All those guys were really good.”

OL Sam Mustipher (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel): “I went up against a lot of good guys. All those defensive linemen are good, but Da’Shawn Hand was one that stood out. He is quick off the ball and you can’t fall for his hand fakes, the way he uses his hands.”

RB Dalvin Cook (Miami/Miami Central): “Linebacker Ronnie Clark.”

QB Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South): “Oh man, I’d say Adoree' Jackson was probably the best. Him and Tre' Williams.”

Smashmouth football


Lavar Arrington did everything he could to pump up his linebackers during Tuesday’s practices with some not-so-gentle persuasion.

During inside run drills, Auburn linebacker commit Tre' Williams (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal School) flung his entire body at running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) in a tackle attempt that drew a round of hoots and hollers from Arrington.

A few plays later, Florida State linebacker commit Kain Daub (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) got Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) with a clean hit so hard he broke one of several clips on Thomas’ face mask, causing it to hang from the helmet.

“That’s the way to hit, Kain,” Arrington said. “You broke his freaking face mask. Oh wow.”

Special guest


There has been a special guest in attendance during the Under Armor All-America week of practices. John Shulby, a friend of 2012 Under Armour All-America tight end Colin Thompson, has Down syndrome and has been invited back as a special guest every year since Thompson participated in the game.

Shulby has been welcomed by the coaches, players and everyone else involved in the game. In fact, Shulby was asked by linebackers coach LaVar Arrington to assist in some individual drills.

 

Bill Shulby, John's father, said he and his son never expected to receive this much attention.

“From our perspective, we’ve never imagined John having this type of experience,” Shulby said. “It’s been wonderful and unbelievable. The players and coaches have included him in every day. The way LaVar Arrington included him this morning -- you could just see the joy in his face.”

Jeremy Crabtree and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.

UA Game notebook: RBs make noise

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
5:31
PM ET

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The second day of practice at the Under Armour All-America Game is in the books. The players are getting more familiar with the play calls and each other, which means there were some big plays and friendly trash talking between teams.

Options at RB


Team Nitro has three unique weapons at running back with Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn), and the coaches plan on using their skill sets in a number of different ways.

Cook, the No. 4 running back in the ESPN 300, likely will get the bulk of carries and is the most well-rounded back on the roster. Cook is committed to Florida but has said he will make a final decision this week between the Gators, Florida State and Miami. He was used in Monday’s practices to run between the tackles and also catch the ball out of the backfield.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Miller Safrit/ESPNDalvin Cook has impressed on the field and kept fans guessing off of it.
"I think I create some matchup problems because of my speed and the ability to run people over," Cook said. "The coaches said they think I’m the every-down type of back."

Jones, a Minnesota commitment who ranks as the No. 14 running back, came into the game with a résumé that didn’t quite stack up with some of the others, but his stock is quickly rising after two strong practices. He’s played very much like a top-five back so far and schools have noticed.

"Florida called me yesterday on the way to the Orlando Magic game," Jones said. "Their running backs coach, Brian White, called me and said he liked my film and liked what they saw on tape. He wanted me to come take an official visit and I agreed. I know they are a great team, they are a pretty good school and they do well in the SEC every year."

In addition to Florida, Michigan State has also showed interest in the talented back. Jones is planning to take a visit to East Lansing, Mich., but does not have a specific date set up yet.

"I like the University of Minnesota," Jones said. "I can see myself there, but I’m just making sure I’m not missing out on any other opportunities that could be good for my future. I mean the distance matters some, but at the same time, if you have to travel some for your future to be set, then so be it."

McKenzie is the X factor for Nitro. Originally listed as a receiver, McKenzie has been given opportunities to touch the ball on traditional runs, reverses, screen passes, passes while lined up in the slot, and he even took snaps while lined up in the Wildcat.

"I think we complement each other really well," said McKenzie, who will likely end up at Notre Dame if he can qualify academically. (("Jeff Jones is our power back. He gets up the field and gets us those tough yards we need. He's always pushing the pile forward. And then Dalvin has blazing speed. With the way I complement Dalvin, it's kind of like him in high school with his teammate [four-star running back] Joseph Yearby. I'm his Joseph Yearby in this game with how they’re using me all over the place."

Peppers stands out

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNJabrill Peppers took flight during Monday's practice at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Former NFL coach Herm Edwards, who has been a head coach for the Under Armour All-America Game the past three years, said he hasn’t had a better defensive back in this game than Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic). That is high praise for the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country, but Edwards, a former defensive back himself, believes Peppers will be a star. "It’s not even close. He’s the best one I’ve coached. I called Deion [Sanders] over and said look at that guy, and Deion saw the same thing," Edwards said. "[Robert] Nkemdiche was really good last year, he was a big guy who could run and [Peppers] is comparable to that as far as skill level at the position he’s playing. I played that position and coached that position for a long time and he’s a special talent." Edwards noted that Peppers loves to practice, which can be rare for such a highly ranked prospect. Peppers knows he’s going to be a good player, but still has humility about himself and his game. There is potential for Peppers to contribute on offense and defense at Michigan. "He’s going to play on offense here. We have some plays for him here; he’s going to touch the ball," Edwards said. "One thing smart coaches do is get the players that make plays and get them the ball. I promise you, the first big hit, No. 5 will be involved in it. I’d be shocked if he’s not."

Conference allies


With so many players committed to different conferences, it’s only natural for players committed to the same conference to show some solidarity during practice. With 35 prospects committed to the SEC, the players have a reason to stick together.

"You know in the SEC, we are pretty much the most dominant right now and we are trying to stay like that," Florida commit Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South) said. "If I go against someone in the ACC or Big Ten, I’m just trying to kill ‘em. We keep that going. The SEC is the place to be at."

The Big Ten has far fewer with 16 commitments, and those prospects feel they have something to prove. Since the SEC gets most of the attention, Michigan quarterback commit Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School) said he wants to make sure his future conference is represented well.

"As far as the SEC versus the Big Ten, I think they do have the right to come in here and think they’re the top dog. Looking at the past 10 years they have dominated," Speight said. "I think the guys coming into my recruiting class are annoyed with that and ready to do something about that. We’re going to go in and do our best to make our team and conference the top dog."

Bates impresses

[+] EnlargeDillon Bates
Miller Safrit/ESPNDillon Bates impressed with his ability to shed blocks and find the ball carrier.
After an up-and-down first day, Monday was a different story for the Team Nitro linebackers, especially Tennessee commit Dillon Bates (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla./Ponte Vedra Beach). Bates, the No. 4 outside linebacker in the ESPN 300, made would-be blockers look silly with his ability to shed blocks and find the ball carrier. And when he found the running backs, he made sure they were aware he was there. ((

"The first day was all install, and we were just trying to get everything set for the week and just trying to get our mind ready for the week," Bates said. "We really were more in reaction mode versus attack mode. This morning we had a really great meeting, ran through some things we weren't getting yesterday, made some changes to things and it just really clicked for everybody. It just felt kind of natural for me."

Ohio State linebacker commit Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) was a force again, but Bates believes all of his team's linebackers are capable of big things and will get even better as the week moves on.((

"All of us are definitely very fast, and you have a bunch of guys like McMillan who can plug holes," Bates said. "We are all-around sound. With the great coaches we have, we'll definitely be making plays."

Top social media posts



Alabama wide receiver commit Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) has been one of the top receivers in practice so far. He has a big body with long arms, and has been able to make some big catches.

Offensive lineman Braden Smith (Olathe, Kan./Olathe South) doesn’t say much to the media, but he made a big statement on the field Monday.

 

An SEC battle took place between Texas A&M commit Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin) and Alabama offensive line commit Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) in practice.
Offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory) was practicing at left tackle despite being recruited as an interior lineman. The four-star prospect held his own on the outside, though, and showed off his talent.

 

Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine), the No. 1-ranked prospect in the country, has received plenty of attention so far during practice. All eyes have been on Fournette and fellow Louisiana native Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) as two top uncommitted prospects in the game.

 

Jeremy Crabtree and Derek Tyson contributed to this report.

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.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When more than 90 of the top football prospects gather in the same place, like they have for the Under Armour All-America Game, the water cooler conversations can be quite entertaining.

One of Sunday’s hot topics was whether a defensive player could win the Heisman Trophy again in the near future. We asked some of the Under Armour Game participants for their opinions:

[+] EnlargeTony Brown
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star cornerback Tony Brown thinks a defensive player, maybe even him, will win the Heisman Trophy in the near future.
Five-star cornerback and No. 11 overall prospect Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen): Oh, 100 percent I do. It will be either my sophomore year or junior year when a defensive player wins it. You got to be a game-changer. The Heisman is about being a game changer the second you step on the field, so I have to be a game changer. Tyrann Mathieu was very close to winning it, but he missed games. You just have to catch picks, make plays in the return game and make big plays that change the outcome of games.

No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine): That’s kind of a hard question -- maybe in the next couple of years. Maybe one of the guys from our incoming class like Adoree’ [Jackson] or Jabrill Peppers. It’s a lot of dedication. There are a lot of offensive players that are outstanding now. They have a lot of outstanding defensive players too, but the offenses are bringing out more talent than the defense nowadays.

Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus N.J./Paramus Catholic), the No. 1 CB and No. 2 overall prospect: Absolutely. He’s going to have to have some punts and kickoff returns for TDs, six or seven picks and have more than 45 tackles. I have seen a lot of great defensive backs, but I didn’t see anybody put it all together yet. Basically all the things I just said I have to do, and I want to make it a little easier on myself if I get to play a little offense too.

Georgia tight end commit Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Christian): No, just because everyone is so focused on the stats, who is most productive and some people don’t know football. Defensive players sort of grind it out; they are good football players but are the unsung heroes. All people see is the stats, people follow the hype … same thing with the Heisman. It will take a lot of stats and flashy stuff -- probably a defensive back with a lot of returns for touchdowns, like a Tyrann Mathieu.

Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson {Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra): Of course. They have to do special teams. You have to do something to get the crown oohing and ahhing. You can do a lot of things on defense, but when you do special teams and show how versatile you are ... that is when a defensive player will win the Heisman again.

No. 28 overall prospect Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis): "Man, that will be difficult in this day and age. I think offensive players are becoming more explosive and are used in better ways with the spread than in the past, when a defensive player could have won it. Like last year, [Johnny] Manziel won it over [Manti] Te’o. He should have, and it wasn’t close."

Alabama commit Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe), a five-star offensive tackle and No. 3 overall prospect: I mean maybe so, but the player will have to do more than just play defense … maybe return kicks and play some Wildcat quarterback. Probably a corner or a safety is the best bet. The kick return game will be huge because you get to display a lot of athleticism and pure instinct. Last year, Johnny Manziel won it over a defensive player, and it wasn’t close. Actually, my guy Manziel should have won it again this year.

No. 29 prospect Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Yeah, me. The goal is to get three or four sacks a game and just ball out on the field the whole season. Yep, I think Landon [Collins] can win it. It's picks, taking them to the house, make a lot of tackles and having outstanding stats.

No. 106 prospect Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/James Bowie): It’s possible. You got to play both sides of the ball and have punt and kick return ability. I would say a corner has the best chance. They are fast, catch picks and have the ability make a big impact in the return game.

[+] EnlargeDerick Roberson
Miller Safrit/ESPNDefensive linemen such as Texas commit Derick Roberson wish their position group got more respect from Heisman voters.
Auburn cornerback commit Steven Roberts (Opelika, Ala./Opelika): That’s a tough question, man. I say yes, though. Defensive backs go through a lot. They are sticking good receivers every play and have the chances to make big plays. It will take a lot of interceptions and being an all-around playmaker.

No. 22 prospect Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), a safety: I don’t know if it will ever happen again. I’m going to try and go win one, but they [media] show a lot of favoritism to offensive players. You can’t just play defense. You have to play special teams. It will be a defensive back that wins it if it happens. It won’t be a defensive end or linebacker.

Texas defensive end commit Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/Brennan), the No. 78 prospect: You would have to average three or four sacks per game at my position [defensive end], probably. Usually it would be a defensive back or linebacker with the best shot, but I think a D-end can win it.

No. 23 overall prospect Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), the No. 3 safety: I sure hope so. I hope I can say I did one day. I mean, it’s a tough thing to do as an individual goal. You have to be a straight dog on the field, making a lot of plays. Defensive backs play special teams, and if that’s one of your roles ... then you have the ability to show out. Defensive backs have the best chance because we are more versatile.

Alabama five-star DE commit Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge): It should be the best overall player that wins the Heisman, not just the best offensive player. I can see a defensive player winning it again. I think a defensive end can win it because we are the best position on the field. A lot of people don’t see what a defensive end has to go through. A quarterback, everybody sees that, but what about the end that takes on a double team that helps cause everyone else to make plays, and helps make everyone else better?

Auburn quarterback commitment Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University): Yeah, sure, if a defensive player makes a lot of plays and cause turnovers; probably like a corner or defensive back that makes a lot of big interceptions. It’s happened before, so I do think it can happen.

Wide receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman), the No. 61 prospect: No. Because I feel like a defensive back is so good that teams won’t throw his way and he won’t get the chances to put up stats. It can be tough to get the chance to make enough plays to win the Heisman.

Ohio State five-star LB commit Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County): Yes, because a defensive player has the ability to make big plays just like an offensive player. It will probably be a defensive back that makes a lot of interceptions though -- a guy that also returns kicks and punts.

Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross): Yeah, a defensive player should win the Heisman. Defensive players have more impact on the game than people recognize. I think [Jadeveon] Clowney could have come real close to it. I hope defensive players keep evolving and can have the chance to win it.

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


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

UA Game notebook: First impressions

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
4:40
PM ET

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -– Team Nitro and Team Highlight took to the fields at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports on an overcast Sunday morning for Day 1 of practice for Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET). There were several players who impressed, a top linebacker is feeling pressure to stay at home and the nation's No. 1-ranked player isn’t too concerned with his lack of touches on the first day.

ESPN 300 linebacker feeling the pressure


Four-star linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) was one of the most impressive-looking linebackers during individual drills. The No. 84-ranked player in the country continues to have four schools at the top of his list.

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
Miller Safrit/ESPNRashaan Evans is feeling the pressure from hometown fans off the field.
"I still have four schools -- Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and UCLA -- on top,” Evans said. “Those four schools, they are pretty even. I’m going to take this whole thing slow and pretty much I’m going to take it out to signing day.”

Evans already took an official visit to UCLA in September and is planning to take two other visits in January.

"I’ll take either Bama or Auburn on Jan. 17,” he said, "and then on the 24th maybe Georgia."

As a native of Auburn, Ala., Evans admits he feels constant pressure to stay at home.

"It’s pretty bad,” Evans said. "Most of the time my day consists of Auburn people telling me, ‘Hey, don’t go to Bama, go to Auburn.’ It’s pretty bad, because most of the people I’m around are Auburn alumni. So I hear about Auburn each and every day. So when I go on visits, everybody knows about it and they always shoot me messages about Auburn.

"I feel like I would disappoint people if I did go somewhere other than Auburn. I’m in Auburn, I love Auburn, I’ve lived in Auburn all my life. I have family at Auburn. Most of my family has graduated from Auburn. People would be curious as to why I would want to leave Auburn, but at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for me."

Coaches impressed

Team Highlight quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke was impressed with his group of QBs during the first practice. LSU commit Brandon Harris (Bossier City, La./Parkway), Penn State commit Michael O’Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG) and Auburn commit Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School) all made nice throws during the course of the practice.

"I think the one thing is that is they have to understand, schematically, what they are doing right now,” Weinke said. "The first day always creates hesitation. I spent more time with Harris, White and O’Connor, but looking at all six guys, they all did a nice job on the first day.

"Brandon Harris spins the ball really well. The one thing with him is now he has to tie his feet in to what he’s doing. O’Connor did a nice job of being very accurate throwing the ball today. Sean White did a heck of a job making some throws in some tight spots.”



Defensively, Team Highlight linebackers coach LaVar Arrington already has a good feeling about his players, which he thinks are a special group.

“I know they’re good when I remember their names, and I remember all my guy’s names,” he said. “They have nicknames. They were balling so hard I nicknamed them. You have Jacob Pugh, so I call him J.P., Kain Daub is K.D. and Tre’ [Williams] is a nickname in itself.

“Then Rashaan [Evans], I grew up being called Shad, so he’s Shad.”

Fournette not worried about carries


Running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), the nation’s top prospect, handled the football only a few times during nearly three hours of practice.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Miller Safrit/ESPNLeonard Fournette likely will have a much busier day Monday than he did on Sunday.
On one of the opportunities designed for him to get the ball, White kept the ball on an option play when Fournette clearly had an open lane. It resulted in one of the funnier moments of the day: One of the Team Highlight assistants pointed over to Fournette and asked White, "You see him? That's the No. 1 running back in the country. You are to get the ball to him and he's supposed to run around and over people. You can't do that."

For his part, Fournette said he’s not concerned. It's not the focus of his trip to Florida.

“It’s about the decisions we have to make,” said Fournette, one of seven players who will announce their commitments during Thursday's game. “We have to focus on the decisions at the end of the day.”

Fournette slimmed his options early in the season to LSU and Alabama. Recently, he added Texas to the list of finalists at the urging of Saint Augustine teammate Jermaine Roberts, a receiver committed to the Longhorns.

Texas is considered a significant darkhorse for Fournette, who did not take an official visit to the school but made it to Austin, Texas, for an unofficial trip last summer.

Still, Fournette said, he’s not penalizing UT for its lack of a head coach as Mack Brown steps aside after the Valero Alamo Bowl on Monday against Oregon.

“Doesn’t concern me at all,” Fournette said.

He also won’t be swayed by the advice of fellow prospects here.

“Everybody’s going to go on their own path, do their own thing,” Fournette said.

Fournette said he would settle on a school after speaking with his parents, who arrive in Orlando on Tuesday.

Top social media posts


There were some great one-on-one battles Sunday. Here are some highlights:

Miami-bound offensive lineman Trevor Darling (Miami/Central), who usually plays left tackle, lined up at left guard during the one-on-one portion and more than held his own. Here’s a look at Darling winning a matchup against Georgia-bound defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard (Fayetteville, N.C./Pine Forest).



Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) also impressed on the first day of practices. Here’s Carter getting the better of Michigan commit Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic).



Uncommitted Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), the No. 2-ranked safety in the country, had a tremendous pass breakup on the goal line during the team portion of practice.

Speedy Noil, the No. 8-ranked prospect in the country, put on a show the first day of practice. He hauled in pass after pass and did it all while wearing a gold watch on his wrist. The five-star receiver even had an impressive one-handed catch.



Michigan-bound defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), the nation's No. 2-ranked prospect, took on Florida-bound receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior), the nation's No. 28-ranked recruit, in one-on-ones. Lane got the better of Peppers the first two reps, but the two will have plenty of time to battle it out leading up to the game.

Qualifiers for the American Family Insurance Skills Challenge


After practice concluded Sunday, several players competed for spots in the finals of the American Family Insurance Skills challenge. The finals will air on Jan. 1 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET). Here’s a look at who has qualified for the finals so far:

Running backs/linebackers
RB Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) -- Auburn commit
LB Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) -- uncommitted
LB Melvin Keihn (Baltimore, Md./Gilman School) -- Virginia Tech commit

Wide receiver/defensive backs
TE Jacory Washington (Westlake, La./Westlake) -- LSU commit
CB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) -- uncommitted
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover) -- uncommitted

Jeremy Crabtree, Mitch Sherman and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.

SPONSORED HEADLINES