Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Updated: July 23, 12:41 PM ET
Several quarterbacks have big days to open Elite 11
By Greg Biggins
ALISO VIEJO, Calif. -- The 2008 Elite 11 kicked off Monday night at Soka University under beautiful blue skies and with ideal weather, and workout No. 1 is now in the books. With three workouts still to go, the race for this year's pick as the Top Gun in the camp is still wide open.
Here's a breakdown of all 12 quarterbacks as well as the winner of the first Golden Gun accuracy challenge.
Unlike in previous years where one player (Blaine Gabbert in '07, John Brantley in '06) dominated the action, this year there were a handful of players who had big days.
One player we've seen a lot of over the last week is Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla./Plant). Murray, at 6-1, 200 pounds, just led his team to the NIKE 7ON Passing Championship in Oregon over the weekend, and he continued his hot streak Monday.
Murray is as gifted physically as anyone in this camp. He has a live arm, is very accurate and is a plus athlete as well.
"Murray was just what we expected him to be," Elite 11 QBs coach Tee Martin said. "He's on a different level right now but still has some things to work on. He's great when he can throw to his first read but when he has to check off to his second or third read, there are times when his mechanics suffer a bit.
"Sometimes he'll double clutch or struggle to make that quick read but as he gets more comfortable in the pocket, he'll overcome that and be just fine. He's a big time talent for sure."
Two other players Martin and fellow QBs coach Matt James raved about were Eugene Smith (Miramar, Fla.) and A.J. McCarron (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul's Episcopal). The 6-3, 180-pound Smith doesn't say a whole lot, but his play on the field speaks volumes for him.
"Eugene really understands the game," Martin said. "I love the tempo he plays with. He never rushes anything and is always under control. He threw the ball very well today and you can tell he still has a lot left in his tank."
McCarron, at 6-4, 180 pounds, reminds us a lot of former Elite 11 and Alabama QB Brodie Croyle. Like Croyle, McCarron has that shaggy brown hair and same live arm. He has one of the quickest releases in the camp, is very light on his feet and got a lot better as the day went on.
"I thought he improved more from the start of the workout to the end than anyone else I saw," James said. "He has a lot of physical tools but mentally, you could tell he was starting to understand things more. When the game slows down for him, he's really going to make a big jump."
Tajh Boyd (Hampton, Va./Phoebus) might be the most likeable kid in the camp and one of the most talented as well. He's right there with McCarron in terms of quick releases, and his arm strength is very good as well.
At 6-1, 210 pounds, some have questioned Boyd's upside, but there is no doubt he can play. He has the feet and athleticism to make it in a dual-threat system but also the passing skills to play in a traditional system as well. He's extremely coachable, wants to get better and really loves the game.
The California duo of Richard Brehaut (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos) and Allan Bridgford (Mission Viejo, Calif.) both showed they belonged and were very steady all day long.
Brehaut, at 6-2, 205 pounds, does everything well and can play in any system. He has a live, athletic body, a strong arm and is tough. He has an over-the-top release that may need tweaking, but his ball comes out spinning very consistently and is able to make every throw.
Bridgford, at 6-4, 210 pounds, has a smooth, easy delivery and the ball comes out of his hand with little effort. He throws one of the prettiest balls in the camp and is as solid mechanically as you can be.
In the Golden Gun accuracy challenge at the end of the day, Bridgford won round 1 going away and will be sporting the yellow leader's jersey Tuesday.
In terms of arm strength, the two guys with the most heat on their ball were easily Zach Mettenberger (Watkinsville, Ga./Oconee County) and Raymond Cotton (Fort Meade, Md./Meade). Both players are in the 6-4, 230-pound range and can absolutely bring it when they need to.
Mettenberger was a little more consistent and was able to spin it a little better of the two. He's not as athletic as Cotton but with his size and arm is a very intriguing prospect. It will be interesting to see if both Metternberger and Murray still decide to stay committed to Georgia following this camp after a week to size each other up.
Cotton is a very intriguing player to watch. He might be the most raw of any quarterback here but also could have as much upside as anyone. He's a huge kid with a great arm but is athletic and moves around the field effortlessly. He's headed to Auburn where he should draw a lot of Jason Campbell comparisons over the next few years.
Another player who had a solid all-around camp was Michigan State commit Andrew Maxwell (Midland, Mich.). At 6-3, 195 pounds, Maxwell has a great frame and was as consistent as anyone. With his newly-shaved head, he was tough to recognize at first but made a quick impression on all the coaches.
"He was good in every drill," James said. "He makes quick decisions and is a decisive player on the field. He knows where to go with the ball and can make all the throws. I like him a lot and feel he'll have a great week here."
Tom Savage (Springfield, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara) had an up-and-down day. He made some great throws and has plenty of arm strength. His release was long at times however and looked like he was running out of gas at the end the day.
At 6-4, 220 pounds, Savage must put staying in tip-top shape as a high priority. He lost almost 15 pounds from two summers ago and looked great at the NIKE Camp at Penn State in May. The tools are there for Savage and if he continues to train and work hard, he could do big things for Rutgers.
One player we were very excited to see was Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis). Gilbert was a ball boy at last year's Elite 11 and had a monster junior season. A shoulder injury and ensuing surgery threatened to cost Gilbert his entire summer, but he rallied and was back in action Monday.
The 6-3, 190-pound quarterback told us he was close to 100 percent but appeared to take it easy during most of the drills and never really aired it out, which was smart. Just like a running back hesitant to make that first cut following knee surgery, Gilbert will likely need some time before he's ready to cut it loose.
Bryn Renner (West Springfield, Va.) had his moments and still has room for growth the rest of the week. Renner has only been starting for one season at quarterback having been an all-area receiver previously.
At 6-3, 190 pounds, Renner looks rail thin but has the frame to easily add weight. His arm strength is there but on Monday it appeared he was thinking too much rather than just throwing. We expect Renner, who shined in the final Las Vegas elite 11 regional workout, to pick things up Tuesday.
Speaking of workout No. 2 Tuesday, this has been traditionally the day when the quarterbacks make the biggest jump in performance. After learning the pace of the workout and getting their legs underneath them Monday, Tuesday is when the players are most comfortable yet still have plenty of life in their arm before fatigue sets in Wednesday and Thursday.