SAN ANTONIO - The West offense's development continues to be a work in progress through three days of practice at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. But the growing pains on offense can largely be attributed to the defense, which is the clear strength of the team.
San Antonio (Texas) Madison head coach Jim Streety is the West head coach and he can't say enough good things about what he's seen from his defense in practice, particularly at defensive end and safety.
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Leading the way for the West at defensive end are Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verede five-star Ronald Powell and Portland (Org.) David Douglas five-star Owamagbe Odighizuwa. The duo has caused havoc in the West backfield all week.
"I think our defense is really stronger probably than we are offensively right now," Streety said. "We just aren't hitting on all cylinders offensively, but I know when game time comes things can happen and hopefully they will."
Long Beach (Calf.) Poly head coach Raul Lara is serving as the defensive coordinator for the West this week.
Over his coaching career, Lara has seen many great players, but not very many like Powell.
"I haven't seen a player like that in a long time," Lara said. "I think he can play any position and he could become successful."
As for the rest of his defense, Lara also feels good about what he has across the board at linebacker and in the secondary.
"At linebacker I really like V.J. Fehoko from Hawaii," Lara said. "That kid is a really smart, heady football player. He knows how to find the football. Tevin Jackson is very athletic, Josh Shirley is very athletic, Cecil Whiteside is very athletic and C.J. Mosley can play inside and outside. I'm really happy there.
"In our secondary, we really like our safeties and our corners. It's just an impressive group, a really impressive group."
First things first
One of the bigger storylines this week in the West practices has been the center-quarterback exchange problems that have stubbornly continued at varying degrees.
During Monday's first practice, West quarterbacks struggled to even get a single snap off. The exchanges still weren't perfect in Wednesday's practice at the Alamodome, but the problem was much improved compared to Monday's workout. In all, a total of five snaps were fumbled by the West during Wednesday's team session, which lasted 25 to 30 plays.
"People often overlook the basic premise of a simple center-quarterback exchange," West offensive line coach and Shawnee Mission (Kan.) Bishop Miege head coach Tim Grunhard said. "You are looking at the best high school athletes in the country here, but if you don't do it and you don't practice it you are going to struggle. A lot of these guys are shotgun guys and shotgun quarterbacks and all of this spread offense and everything else has infiltrated the ranks of high school sports and you are losing a little bit of (the basics).
"I hope that that's a wake-up call for some of the high school coaches around the country to make sure they work on that center-quarterback exchange, because you never know when you are going to need it. I think it's a disservice sometimes that they don't work on those things. We had to kind of go to square one with those guys and teach them how to short snap."
The West defensive backfield is a little light on true cornerbacks, but Lara likes what he has seen from his secondary so far this week.
"The kid that really stands out to me is Eric Reid," Lara said. "You can tell that this kid is pretty special, especially when it comes to the run game. He really knows how to banana in there and get his nose dirty. The other guys are pretty much equal.
"I'm also impressed with Ahmad Dixon, Keanon Lowe and Demetrius White. Those three guys right there have been playing corner for us. We won't really know how well these guys are going to do until they're tested out here. In practice they look pretty impressive."
Business before pleasure
It's been both a mentally and physically challenging week for several Army All-Americans through three days of practice.
Grunhard said he feels like it's been an adjustment for a lot of the players this week to get used to how hard they've had to work in practice.
"I think some of these guys, especially on that first day they came in and it didn't come as easy to them as everything has (before)," Grunhard said. "I think maybe they lost a tiny bit of confidence, especially up front on the offensive line.
"We've built that back in and they've really come a long way from Monday morning to Wednesday afternoon. They've really come a long way and that's what great athletes do."
During Wednesday's skill competition in the Alamodome, Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline quarterback Jake Heaps was easily the most impressive of the quarterbacks from each squad, as he was consistent with all of his different throws.
The starting offensive line at this point for the West squad is Seantrel Henderson at left tackle, Trey Hopkins at left guard, Jake Matthews at center, Andrew Rodriguez at right guard and Nick Demien at right tackle.
Lara said there's still a chance that Plano (Texas) West defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat will attempt to play in Saturday's U.S. Army Bowl.
"He keeps telling us that he's going to try," Lara said. "Obviously we are more worried about his future, because obviously if he's banged up there's no reason for him to play for one game. He's got a bright future ahead of him, but it would be nice to have him out here."
The West team will come back on Thursday for another two-a-day practice session at the Blossom Athletic Center.