Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Under Armour practice matchups to see
By Craig Haubert and Billy Tucker
The Under Armour All-America Game pits the best versus the best. So many great players are on the field that the entire week can be overwhelming, especially during the simultaneous practices on two fields. Although there are countless great matchups to watch during the week of practices, these are some we think are certainly worth checking out. Remember, you can view the practices and these matchups on ESPNU (Jan. 2 at 3 p.m. ET and Jan. 3 at 4 p.m. ET).
OT Christian Westerman vs. DE Jadeveon Clowney
Any time two five-star prospects who are No. 1 at their respective positions square off against each other, it demands attention. Westerman, from Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., is a tough, well-put-together big man who plays with an aggressive and tenacious style. Clowney, the top prospect in the nation, brings an excellent combination of size, speed and athleticism. These players' size and physicality will make for an interesting matchup in run-blocking situations. Westerman can be a dominant run-blocker with the ability to quickly explode out of his stance and get into defenders. With his good base and leg drive coupled with good size, strength and nastiness, he can push defenders off the ball.
Clowney, from South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C., has excellent reach and outstanding first-step quickness, and he can be tough to block. However, the tall and rangy defender also can play high at times. It will be fun to see whether Westerman can handle Clowney's quickness and get a good-enough shot to push him off the ball. On the flip side, it will be interesting to see how Clowney can anchor when the tenacious blocker gets into him. Will Westerman be able to drive him off the ball? Or will the quick and powerful Clowney be able to use his reach, hold his ground and do what he normal does -- swallow up ball carriers?
There also should be some fireworks when these two face off in one-on-one pass protection. The interesting thing to see will be whether Westerman can handle Clowney's quickness and length. Also, although Westerman has good athleticism and nimble feet, he can be overaggressive, and if he tries to look for a big punch and gets overextended, Clowney will take advantage of that opportunity and work by him quickly. We recently saw Clowney dominate a regional all-star game, and two summers ago, we saw Westerman, then a rising junior, hold his own against several of the nation's top defensive ends at a USC summer camp. Both have excellent ability and can rise to the occasion against good opposition, and now we'll see how these two five-star prospects fare against each other.
OT Cyrus Kouandjio vs. DE Jadeveon Clowney
This matchup between fellow five-star prospects Clowney and Kouandjio could be labeled Goliath versus Goliath. This is the type of battle that Disney could almost bill as another attraction, and you could bet there would be lines that rival Space Mountain's. Both are impressive-looking prospects, as they are in that 6-foot-6 range and around 260 and 300 pounds, respectively. Passersby would not be blamed if they quickly mistook Clowney and Kouandjio for NFL players. It isn't often that you see two prospects with similar size and athleticism square off in the trenches like this at the high school level.
Going into the Under Armour All-America Game, you would give Clowney the edge in one-on-one pass-rushing drills, while Kouandjio is a little more ahead as a run-blocker compared to his pass0blocking. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Kouandjio, from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., handles someone with similar attributes. Both players will need to make sure that all aspects of their game are sharp. Clowney's first-step quickness could frustrate the best, and Kouandjio will need to play with good technique, but if the No. 2-rated offensive tackle can get his hands on Clowney, he has the reach, power, athleticism and mean streak to stuff or ride him past the pocket. Clowney is a dangerous pass-rusher, but he will need to be sure to have a plan when attacking Kouandjio.
OG Cyrus Hobbi vs. DT Christian Heyward
An argument could be made that Hobbi will be the most technically sound and versatile offensive lineman in the game. The No. 1 rated guard from Saguaro High school in Scottsdale, Ariz., could play offensive tackle and shows very good technical ability in pass protection for a high school prospect. Heyward and his swing-player build can be a dangerous interior pass rusher. The uncommitted four-star defensive tackle can get off the ball quickly. He is active using his weapons to try and knock a blocker's hands down and displays a violent club and swim move that allows him to quickly get in a quarterback's face.
While Heyward, from Point Loma High School in San Diego, Calif., shows good ability as a pass rusher, Hobbi can be a tough obstacle as a pass protector. He has a good, quick set and is also good with his hands and can deliver a devastating initial punch. In one-on-one pass-rushing drills it will be fun to see to how these two against each other.
RB Isaiah Crowell vs. LB Lawrence Thomas
This is an intriguing matchup because we know what Crowell can do -- he's arguably the most explosive package at the position this year. However, Thomas (Detroit/Renaissance) will be more scrutinized. Although he's rated in the ESPNU 150 and is a big, athletic defensive prospect, we have questions about his lateral agility on video and whether he will be able to play in space as a linebacker at the next level.
Crowell, from Carver High School in Columbus, Ga., will be a true test during the week, not so much during nine-on-seven, downhill run-oriented drills but on seven-on-seven passing matchups where the 6-3, 230-pound thick linebacker may have to open his hips and turn and run with ESPN's No. 1 ranked rusher. The Under Armour week may give us a good idea of whether the future Spartan has the hips to play outside, must remain inside or needs to play with his hand on the ground.
QB Jeff Driskel vs. CB Nick Waisome
This is an appealing matchup to watch because there's a significant off-the-field storyline. Waisome, from South Lake High School in Groveland, Fla., recently switched his commitment from Florida to Florida State, and instead of a preview of a future practice in Gainesville, we will now get a glimpse of a future rivalry game. Between the white lines, Driskel (Oviedo, Fla./Paul J. Hagerty) has a rocket arm with the zip to fit the ball into tight windows, while Waisome is your ideal cover corner who can break and close as quick as any and will bait quarterbacks into testing him. This should be a good battle of both mental and physical skill because both are highly athletic, confident players willing to take chances.
OT La'El Collins vs. DE Steve Miller
Collins, from Redemptorist in Baton Rouge, La., is a big boy who can be a crushing run-blocker. One of three five-star offensive tackles in the game, the LSU commit has the size and athleticism to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage. Miller, from McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio, may be a little underappreciated on the national scene, but we think he is among the top defensive ends in the nation. As a result, we are very interested to see how he fares against a top tackle prospect like Collins.
Miller is one of the top run-defenders among the ends. He will give up a considerable amount of bulk to Collins, but Miller has a good reach and uses it well. He shoots his hands, and despite being a little long and lean, he plays with good leverage and can be tough to block one-on-one. Collins has great explosion to quickly get into a defender as well as the playing strength and balance to control and knock a defender back. It will be interesting to see whether Miller can press the bigger, stronger Collins off him and hold his ground or whether Miller's athleticism and ability to defend the run with good technique will neutralize Collins' domination as a run-blocker.
OG Angelo Mangiro vs. DT Anthony Johnson
Johnson, from O. Perry Walker in New Orleans, is the No. 1-ranked defensive tackle in the country and has the tools to be a disruptive force from the interior of the trenches. The five-star prospect set the Louisiana career record for sacks, and thanks to his very good size and first-step quickness, he can blow by or power through blockers to get to the quarterback. Although Johnson has the tools to be dominant, he should face a tough and challenging battle with Mangiro.
Mangiro, from Roxbury High School in Succasunna, N.J., is an athletic big man who combines some Northeast big-city swagger with toughness. His feet should help him deal with the quickness of Johnson, and his size and strength should help him anchor if Johnson tries to win with power. The Penn State commit has the tools to handle quick or powerful defenders, but it will be interesting to see how he matches up with Johnson, who can attack with a very good combination of both. The battles inside often don't get much attention, but this is one you will want to check out.
TE Jay Rome vs. S Karlos Williams
This is a matchup between two big athletes with playmaking ability at their respective positions. Rome, from Valdosta High School in Valdosta, Ga., is a tight end with good size for the position, especially for a high school prospect. He has the ability to be a favorite target for the White Team quarterbacks because his size presents a nice target and he possesses soft hands and good straight-line speed. Rome also can be difficult to stop after the catch, as he shows good toughness and balance.
Williams, from Ridge Community High School in Davenport, Fla., is a safety with good size and overall athleticism. He can hit like a linebacker and cover like a defensive back with matching ball skills. Throwing his way is a risky proposition. These are two big, athletic and well-rounded players at their respective positions, and they should collide for some fun and exciting matchups in the passing game.
RB Brandon Williams vs. LB Stephone Anthony
This game has become the national platform for less-heralded prospects to make a name for themselves. From CB Janoris Jenkins in 2008 to DT Dominique Easley in 2010, we are sure there will be a prospect to emerge in 2011 who may not have had the hype coming in. That prospect this year could be Williams, from Brookshire Royal High School. In an unprecedented year of spectacular backs in Texas, he may have fallen under the radar, but he will have a chance to show off his rare blend of size, speed and elusiveness during practice versus the nation's best outside linebacker in Anthony, from Anson Senior High School in Wadesboro, N.C.
Williams' only concerns when projecting him for the next level are his narrow base frame and whether he will be able to earn productive yards after contact for Oklahoma. Anthony will be a good test because he's one of the bigger and more explosive linebackers in the country and makes a living on driving through ball carriers and limiting second efforts.
RB Mike Bellamy vs. CB Doran Grant
This is a showdown of elite quickness and athleticism. Clemson commit Bellamy, from Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla., will remind Tigers fans of C.J. Spiller with his ability to make plays in space from the backfield in the slot or as a returner. Grant (Akron, Ohio/Saints Vincent and Mary), the No. 3-rated corner, has supreme foot quickness, short-area burst and good change-of-direction skills to match up with the No. 4-rated running back, but it will be a challenge during passing drills and simulated game scrimmages. The Midwest's prospects sometimes have an inferior reputation in regard to speed, but Grant could change that.
Craig Haubert is the recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has more than a decade of coaching experience. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter. Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.