All-American Bowl: Branch breaks out; QB's shine
SAN ANTONIO – Practices for the All-American Bowl moved indoors to the Alamodome Thursday with the East and West teams taking the field in back-to-back sessions. Practices were truncated and not as action-packed as the previous two days, but there was still takeaways from Day 3.
MORE ALL-AMERICAN BOWL: Day 2 practice thoughts | Rival Views on TEs Arik Gilbert and Michael Mayer | Mind of Gorney on Media Day | Prospects that could earn a fifth star | Lavon Bunkley-Shelton | Jahmyr Gibbs | Dwight McGlothern | Bryan Bresee | Alfred Collins
BREAKOUT BY BRANCH
The East did more 7-on-7 and full team scrimmaging than the West, so more East players stood out from Thursday’s play. Defensively it was Rivals100 defensive back Brian Branch who had the most notable performance. The Alabama safety commit had flashed once or twice earlier this week, but was largely quiet until Thursday when he seemed to be all over the field. Branch broke up a pair of passes in 7-on-7 play, including one in the end zone, and showed great range from his safety position.
Offensively, the rapport between East quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and wide receiver Jordan Johnson continues to grow. The pair of five-stars connected several times Thursday, including a long touchdown over cornerback Devito Tisdale. Uiagalelei picked on Tisdale again later in the day with a long bomb to Texas A&M wide receiver commit Muhsin Muhammad. It was a great throw, but Muhammad also set the route up well to create the separation needed for the catch.
One player who did pop on the West was receiver A.J. Henning. The future Michigan Wolverine has been quiet most of the week, but the West coaches were working on ways to get the versatile offensive weapon the football. He took a couple jet sweeps, but most impressively made two tough catches, one he pulled in from his fingertips and a second he secured in traffic despite a good play from safety Lathan Ransom.
YOUNG, UIAGALELEI SEPARATING AT QB
The top two quarterbacks in the 2020 class are playing like No. 1 and No. 2 this week in San Antonio. A slow start on Day 1 from Uiagalelei has been quickly forgotten with two outstanding performances on Wednesday and Thursday. Once Uiagalelei settled in and found his rhythm, the future Clemson Tiger has looked every bit the player who spent most of this recruiting cycle as No. 1 overall in the class. He does wind up a little more than ideal on shorter throws, but his long ball is among best I have ever seen at this age.
What makes Alabama’s Bryce Young so effective is how quickly he gets the ball into the hands of his playmakers. That is not a new revelation or unique observation, but it is an aspect of his game that is being verified by seeing him throw alongside other top quarterbacks in this class. Young is so efficient with the football and that allowed him to put up huge numbers as a senior. He does not miss the forest for the trees, but just moves the ball down the field. This rivalry did not start out as hotly contested as Trevor Lawrence-Justin Fields, but it is finishing that way.
RANKING THE QUARTERBACKS
3. C.J. Stroud
5. Evan Prater
WEST WIDE RECEIVER CONCERNS
West coaches had to be encouraged to see a guy like Henning break out today, because what once looked like a position of strength for that team has suddenly devolved into a position of concern. Five-star Jaxon Smith-Njigba was having an outstanding start to the week before he went down on Wednesday afternoon with a fluke injury. It is unlikely we see him play the rest of the week.
Meanwhile, Smith-Njigba’s future Ohio State teammate, Gee Scott Jr., was also not seen during Thursday’s practice. The West has explosive playmakers in the slot with Henning and four-star LV Bunkley-Shelton, but Jalen McMillan struggled with drops compounding the issues on the outside in the absence of Smith-Njigba and Scott.