ATHENS, Ga. – One after another they called him out. They kept coming at him like waves crashing onto the beach during a violent storm. But Durham (N.C.) Southern offensive lineman Carl Johnson wasn't intimated by the taunts and stormed back at his opponents. By the time the smoke cleared this past Saturday at the NIKE Training Camp at the University of Georgia, Johnson proved why he's considered one of the nation's top offensive line prospects.
"Everybody wanted a piece of me," said Johnson, who was mountain of a man and easily measured in the 6-foot-6 range and more than 300 pounds.
"I accepted it as a challenge and decided that this is how it's going to be in college. Everybody gives it their best shot in college, and if this is what it's going to be like, then I will fight for it."
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Most of those fights he faced on Saturday, he won.
Clocking in the 5.2-second range in the 40-yard dash and showing amazing agility for a big guy, Johnson also was brilliant in one-on-ones. He did get tested a few times and was beaten once by Georgia commitment Brandon Wood, but for the most part he moved his massive frame with grace and showcased why he's one of the best linemen in the entire country.
"I wished I could be a little more aggressive, but we weren't in pads," Johnson said. "I would have really been able to hit them harder if we were in pads, and that would have helped. Brandon (Wood) is a really good player, and he's very quick. I would have liked to see what would have happened if we had the pads on."
It was very much the same story for Andre Smith, the other star offensive lineman at the camp. Smith, widely considered by most college coaches as the top offensive lineman in the South, was equally as dominant as Johnson.
Smith took a major step toward showing that he's one of the nation's best players – regardless of position. He admits that, like Johnson, Wood got the best of him a few times in one-on-ones, but he also offered something up that might make things a little different under the Friday night lights.
"Get those pads on, and don't let him know that it's a passing play on every single snap, and I'd own him," Smith said. "He got the best of me a few times, but if we were all strapped up and playing with pads on, then I think the story would be a little different."
Everything Smith did throughout the camp was impressive. His technique was flawless, and when he locked on a player, it was game over. He would use his great footwork, great upper-body strength and great hip roll in one-on-ones and in drills he displayed exceptional technique.
"There isn't a better offensive lineman in the country," one SEC assistant coach at the camp said. "There are a lot of good ones out there, but this kid is the best out there. He and Johnson are the two best linemen I've seen so far this year. They're both truly special."
And they were both on the same field this past Saturday, which is something you'll only see at a NIKE Training Camp.
Three of the better quarterbacks in the camp were from Alabama as Neil Caudle of Birmingham (Ala.) Spain Park, Earl Alexander of Phenix City (Ala.) Central and Steven Ensminger of Opelika, Ala., had their moments at the camp.
Alexander, who is around 6-foot-3 ½, was especially impressive during testing, clocking in the 4.4-second range in the 40. He could easily project at another position in college and should be highly recruited.
Caudle and Ensminger were also solid, did a lot of things right and are still two of the better quarterbacks in the South. Caudle even clocked in the 4.7-second range in the 40. But it's going to be tough to figure out where they fit into the national quarterback picture, because it looks like fellow southern quarterbacks like Tim Tebow and Mitch Mustain rose to a different level with their NIKE Camp performances in Tallahassee and Oxford, respectively.
Another prospect started to catch the eye of several college coaches toward the end of the camp after a strong showing all day was Keith Parker of Fayetteville (N.C.) Pine Forest. He was an athletic looking quarterback and once he spent more time with NIKE quarterback coach Bob Johnson, his technique showed rapid improvement. He has a great frame to work with – looking like he could be in the 6-foot-3, 190-pound range – and his stock could rise after the strong showing and a shuttle time that was in the 4.3-second range.
There was a loud buzz humming around the running backs from college coaches and most of the talk centered around blue-chip junior-to-be running back Caleb King. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound running back from Lilburn, Ga., already has an offer on the table next year from Georgia, and it was easy to see why on Saturday.
King ran an amazing shuttle time in the 3.8-second range and was very impressive in one-on-one drills. Keep his name on your list for next year, because he has a shot at being one of the best in Georgia and in the Southeast.
Norman Whitley of Richmond (N.C.) Rockingham has a low center of gravity and it was easy to see why some teams like him, despite the fact that he's not the tallest. Mario Fannin, who tore up the Elite Combine last week in New Jersey, did not test on Saturday, but he showed again that he's one of the better backs in Georgia. Word is that Fannin's performance sparked Georgia to offer a scholarship after the event.
Ronnie Tyler of Wagner (S.C.) Salley also impressed with a solid day and his frame and build could make him a great defensive back, too. He walked away with several new scholarship offers already for his performance on Saturday.
Wide receivers/tight ends
The receiver group wasn't the deepest in the camp, but it still was full of good quality players.
One of the better players at receiver was Homewood, Ala., standout Tim Hawthorne. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Hawthorne was long and lean but still had a very muscular build. He tested extremely well running in the 4.5-second range and he did well in drills against defensive backs. He might have solidified his stock as one of the Southeast's better receiver prospects.
Ricky Dixon of Reserve (La.) East St. John made the trek over from the Bayou and made it worth his time. He was extremely fluid and was able to twist, turn and make his body move around in ways that normal people can't. He's already racked up numerous offers and it was easy to see why college coaches like him.
One of the better overall performances of the day came from Crawford Kilpatrick, who came in around 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds. He tested in the 4.5-second range and showed why he's one of the better pure athletes in the state of Georgia with great route running and the ability to create major match-up problems with his size. He might not have as much national hype as some other national receivers, but he's better than some other taller receivers that have been gotten a lot of early attention.
After Smith and Johnson there were plenty of big guys for the coaches to look at. Jeffery Adams of Cadiz (Ky.) Trigg County was definitely tall enough, but looked a little out of shape and tested in the 5.4-second range. If he gets in shape, then he has a monster frame to work with. Similar things can be said about Lionel Mapp of Greensboro (Ga.) Greene County and Maurice Hurt of Milledgeville (Ga.) Baldwin. Both appeared to be a little heavy – especially Hurt – but if they work hard in the off season then there is room for them to improve their prospects for the future.
Defensive line was where it was at Saturday.
The offensive line vs. the defensive line proved to be some of the most impressive one-on-one battles of all of the camps at any position. Defensive linemen were calling out offensive players for battles and both groups took turns beating up on each other.
That was especially true for Wood, who was named the camp's most valuable player.
Wood, a Georgia commitment, took home camp top player honors after an impressive morning in testing when he clocked in with around a 4.3-second time in the shuttle and had an even better performance in the one-on-one portion of the camp. Wood challenged both Smith and Johnson to one-on-one battles and the three took turns winning the battles.
"I knew that two of the top offensive linemen in the nation were out here today, and I wanted to test myself against the best players and see where I stood," Wood said.
"I guess I did pretty well."
That would be an understatement.
Student Sports recruiting analyst Greg Biggins said he'd never seen anything like it when Wood would call out the top linemen for one-on-one challenges.
"It shows you again how competitive it is in the South," Biggins said. "You would never see anything like this anywhere else – well maybe in Miami. But you wouldn't see the top players at the camp calling each other out and telling them to bring it on like they did here. That was incredible."
Columbia (S.C.) Richland Northeast defensive tackle Adam Patterson ran a Tommie Harris- like time in the 40-yard dash. The 6-foot-3, 262-pounder clocked in the 4.6-second range and was extremely quick off the line of scrimmage throughout drills and one-on-ones. He definitely further solidified his name as one of the top two or three players in the state of South Carolina.
Defensive end/linebacker Morrice Richardson of Atlanta Westlake continued to prove why he's picking up national scholarship offers right and left. With very impressive testing results, including a 40-yard dash time in the 4.5-second range, and the ability to push both Johnson and Smith in one-on-ones showed that he's one of the South's best at his position.
Jermaine Cunningham of Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson was a little thin, but he had an amazing frame and looked like once he fills out he's going to be one heck of a prospect down the road. He also ran in the 4.6-second range, but said he was disappointed and knew that he could have easily clocked a 4.5 time.
Victor Ugenyi of Atlanta North Springs also impressed, but he will need to get to work in the weight room to fill out his very lean frame. Still, some college coaches were overheard talking about his quick first step.
Bo Harris of Conyers (Ga.) Heritage has been talked about as being one of the top five to 10 players in the Peach State and he proved that he was worthy of the hype.
Harris tested off the charts with a 40 time in the 4.6 range and a shuttle that was right around 4.0-seconds. He also did well in the drills and looked to have a good grasp at what it takes to be a successful linebacker on the next level.
Vandaral Shackleford Riverdale, Ga., also impressed and with his 6-foot, 190-pound frame. Word is that at least one SEC school offered him shortly after his performance at the receiver spot.
He listed himself as a linebacker, but it's easy to see him as a play making safety prospect, too.
There were a few others that passed the eyeball test, including Robert Bryant of Jessup (Ga.) Wayne County and Jerome Hall of Atlanta Crim.
Brent Brewer of Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek had good testing results and impressed during drills and was one of the better defensive backs in the camp. His 40 time of around 4.4-seconds was one of the better times in the event.
Yet the defensive back show appeared to be stolen by Rashad Jones of Atlanta Booker T. Washington.
Heading into the camp, Jones was already a well known name. However his ability to lock down almost everybody at the receiver spot and his solid shuttle time in the 4.1-second range allowed him to blow up big time.
His name was unanimous among the college coaches observing at the top defensive back in the camp and don't be surprised if he ends up picking up quite a few more offers after this camp.