Sunday, January 4, 2009
Updated: January 6, 9:16 PM ET
Barkley, Gary Brown among big risers in Orlando
By Craig Haubert and Billy Tucker
This week's festivities from Orlando -- the Under Armour game and the practices leading up to it -- were a success. The practice fields and the game field were a great proving ground for these fine players; they got to test their skills all week against players of equal caliber.
The experience gave the players a good opportunity to gauge how ready they are for the next level, and it gave us a good chance to size these players up in person and against great competition. Several players really impressed and improved their stock.
On the flip side, while some moved up, others had to move down. Although no one on the selected roster looked out of place, a few players failed to live up to expectations and had their stock drop some. Here is a look at a few of the up prospects and down prospects of the week.
Barkley entered his senior season with very lofty expectations. As a junior, he racked up numerous awards after a great season. He was the Gatorade Male Athlete and Player of the Year and threw for more than 3,500 yards. He was widely considered the top prospect coming into his senior season, so it was going to be a tough task for everybody's All-American to continue to maintain those expectations. His senior year saw his touchdown numbers fall and his interceptions rise, and his stock dropped a little as a result. Although the senior was not great, it was still evident that Barkley had tons of ability and was an excellent quarterback. This week, with the chance to compete against other top quarterback prospects, he seized the opportunity to re-establish himself as the player everyone thought he was after his fine junior year. Barkley had the best outing of the week among quarterbacks. He threw well and quickly assimilated to the new surroundings. He grabbed the starting spot for the White team and proved to be the most polished of the quarterbacks in the game. When the lights came on, he performed very well, throwing two touchdown passes and winning MVP honors. The USC commit showed that, with good talent around him, he is an excellent quarterback. He also took the opportunity to shine in the skills competition, winning the quarterback portion of the event. Barkley had slipped from No. 1 to No. 10 over the course of the season, but his play warranted a rebound back toward the top.
|USC-bound Matt Barkley slipped a little this year, but he proved once again that he is an elite QB. |
Florida Gators fans who have followed the Under Armour coverage the past two years have to be very excited about the future of their defensive line. Last year, DT Omar Hunter really impressed, and Gators commit Brown has demanded attention this year. Brown stood out among a talented group of defensive linemen on the White team throughout the week of practice and caught the eye of the NFL coaches who worked with him. He displayed good quickness off the ball and was a disruptive presence in one-on-one and team drills. He displayed good athleticism for a big man, plus versatility. His true home in college will be at the defensive tackle position, but he showed the ability to line up at end and rush the passer. We were impressed with Brown coming into the week, but his performance in Orlando really proved he is further along then we first thought. The Under Armour alum pair of Hunter and Brown could cause problems for future SEC teams.
, DT, West Gadsden HS/ Quincy, Fla.; Florida
From the beginning of the first practice Wednesday, Te'o quickly demonstrated why he is considered the top overall linebacker prospect in the country. After dominating against lesser perceived talent out in the Hawaiian Islands during his high school career, Te'o didn't need long to stake his claim as the best linebacker and maybe overall player on the mainland. His great speed, striking explosiveness and uncanny instincts stood out all week, even to former NFL coaches who were in awe of his talents. Te'o took most of his reps on the inside, displaying the great scheme versatility he will bring to the next level. We knew he had the closing burst and overall tools to develop into a disruptive perimeter 'backer in college, but we were impressed this week with the short-area power, strength and leverage he showed between the tackles at the point of attack. Te'o made a living blowing up opponents' backfields in Orlando; he dominated in a fashion similar to that of last year's No. 1 overall player DaQuan Bowers (Clemson).
, Athlete, Lowndes HS/Valdosta, Ga.; Undecided
Reid was arguably the biggest surprise of any Under Armour All-American participant the entire week of practice, and he capped it off with an MVP performance Sunday night. He simply came up with big play after big play and made it nearly impossible for opposing receivers to create separation. Although not one of the biggest or fastest corners in this class, Reid showed us this week that he might be one of the quickest and most instinctive perimeter defenders in the country. He consistently jumped routes, showing great anticipation skill, transitional quickness and closing burst. When you couple those traits with his outstanding ball skills, you have an upper-tier cornerback prospect and a very versatile athlete who also can provide a spark in the return game. Reid decommitted from the Florida Gators this week, and his performance should make him one of more coveted national prospects down the stretch. Also, expect a significant jump in his ESPNU 150 ranking.
|Greg Reid might not be the fastest corner, but he proved to be one of the best in the country. |
We might have been spoiled last year with prospects such as A.J. Green (Georgia) and Julio Jones (Alabama) making spectacular grabs as UA All-Americans, but we still were a bit disappointed with what we saw in Orlando and overall in this 2009 wide receiver class. We did not see many game-breakers on either squad, but certainly were impressed with the hands and skill set we saw from Carter. With his future Hall of Fame father Cris in attendance during the week, Duron put on a display, making some outstanding catches reminiscent of his father. Carter displayed his soft hands, great leaping skills and body control throughout the week of practice. He consistently plucked the difficult throws in traffic with his long body and outstanding concentration. Although Carter is a long strider without great top-end speed, his route-running skills are ahead of the curve. Like his dad, he put on a clinic in red zone drills. Look for that skill set to get him on the field early in Columbus.
St. Thomas Aquinas/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Ohio State
Downs has been an interesting prospect in this recruiting cycle. He impressed us from the get-go on film, but the actual film on him was limited. His explosiveness off the ball caught our eye, and that along with his motor reminded us some of 2008 Under Armour player and current Clemson Tiger Brandon Thompson. Downs spent much of the season in the shadow of his teammate, wide receiver Rueben Randle, who is ranked seventh nationally. A debate also was waged over which side of the ball he should play on; at one point, he was graded highly at guard. More film evaluation warranted a move to defensive tackle and an invite to the Under Armour game. This week, he answered any questions. Downs is projected properly at DT. He also is deserving of plenty of spotlight in his own right. Downs was very explosive all week long, and he consistently caused problems in one-on-one and team drills. He does not have great size. Out of pads, he is very unassuming and looks more like a linebacker or fullback. In between the white lines, though, he is very productive. Downs is a good prospect who not only met our expectations but exceeded them -- LSU has another excellent defensive tackle on its hands.
Matthews was a player we were very excited to see coming into the week. We knew he lacked ideal height for the tight end position, and he was about the size we thought he would be when he arrived. He did show good speed during the week and did a nice job of blocking when called upon. He displayed some rawness, though, in his route-running ability and, despite some good speed, had some trouble creating separation. The Texas commit also had some drops, and the week did not feature any of the big plays we had hoped to see from him. The No. 2-ranked tight end tended to blend in this week while the No. 1-rated tight end, Morrell Presley, had an excellent week. We still believe Matthews is a fine tight end, but the gap between him and Presley is apparently wider than we had thought.
While one future LSU Tiger exceeded expectations, another raised a few questions. Lowe, a projected offensive tackle, did not match our thoughts for him in the future. We are well aware that playing offensive line in an all-star game is tough. The one-on-one battles with defensive linemen are very challenging for the offensive line, but Lowe never really displayed some of the fine athleticism we saw on film. He did not look, from a physical standpoint, like he did on film. He had a stockier build in person, and he struggled some with inside counters as a pass-blocker. We still think Lowe has good ability, but a change in position is likely. After this week, Lowe looks better suited for the guard position, where his strengths will be better used and his few weaknesses will be better masked.
Brown came into the week as the top UA All-American receiver but really didn't do much in practice to justify it. Although his overall size and body strength were really impressive in person, he showed just adequate burst out of his breaks and top-end speed after the catch. Brown obviously made an early statement in the UA game itself, showing better speed in the second level and big-play ability. He might be a gamer, but we still feel his play is inconsistent. There is no questioning his striking frame and big hands as an outside receiver prospect, but we thought we would see more fluidity, explosiveness and game-breaking ability deserving of a No. 2 overall receiver. Although still an impressive athlete for his size, Brown just did not flash the game-changing ability we expected to see and at times blended in with the pack.
Ealey's season didn't conclude until mid-December, and he certainly carried the load for his district champion ECI squad (2,825 yards, 41 touchdowns). But banged-up or not, he didn't run like a top-5 running back this week. He looked thicker in person, and his initial burst through the hole and overall explosiveness were lacking. At times, he struggled sliding through the small cutback creases and making himself thin when needed. His change-of-direction quickness and overall suddenness we saw on film were lacking in Orlando, but we still feel this downhill, power runner will develop into a productive back at Georgia. All-star games are not always the most conducive environments for backs with Ealey's "carry the load" running style.
Billy Tucker and Craig Haubert are recruiting coordinators for Scouts Inc.