SAN ANTONIO - One starter for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl has already been decided. Brandon Linder has taken nearly every snap at center during the first two days of practice.
"We could probably put somebody else in there if we had to, but Brandon is our only offensive lineman that has experience playing center," East coach George Quarles explained. "He will probably take every snap offensively in the game."
Linder played primarily at offensive tackle for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but did see some action at center as a sophomore and early on during his senior season.
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"I am willing play all the snaps at center," said the soft-spoken Linder, who plans to sign with Miami. "I'll do whatever I can do to help the team."
Tuesday more competitive
The defense dominated most of Monday's practices. On Tuesday, both sides of the ball had their moments, which encouraged Quarles.
"I thought we looked more polished and the intensity level was better," he said. "The offense made some plays and is starting to gain some confidence and get in a bit of a rhythm. I think everybody feels much better today than they did yesterday. We like where we're at right now."
Tennessee-bound Markeith Ambles is one of the players that sparked the offense. Fellow wide receiver Kyle Prater also continues to impress.
East defensive line coach Otis Yelverton has tutored top defensive ends like Kevion Latham, who is at Penn State, and four-star defensive end Gabe King - who is set to announce at this Saturday's game.
But Yelverton is particularly excited about the group he has to work with in San Antonio this week, namely the defensive tackles.
Sharrif Floyd, the nation's top-ranked defensive tackle prospect, has impressed Yelverton both with his talent and his ability to overcome the odds.
"Sharrif Floyd is a very special young man," Yelverton explained. "Even when he tells you his story about his life, it's real touching that a kid is that focused and has that adversity which he's had in his life. You see other kid's take it for granted, what the Lord has given them - and not appreciate it like a kid who's gone through the things he's gone through.
"Some of the things he's shared with me, I'm very impressed with the young man. Whoever gets him, they're getting an outstanding young man."
Yelverton was emphatic with his answer about who has pleasantly surprised him through the first two days.
"[Jeffrey] Whitaker," he replied quickly. "He's really impressed me. He's very explosive. He's not that tall - he's a very powerful guy though. He's very explosive for a defensive tackle."
Lots of Lions
During the East's afternoon practice on Tuesday, a player shouted out, 'We are!' which was immediately followed by 'Penn State!' from across the field.
There are five future Nittany Lions playing for the East in this year's Army Bowl. Three of them will be enrolling early at Penn State.
"All five of us are close, we've all become good friends," said running back Silas Redd, one of the East players that will depart for University Park next week. "I don't think Penn State has ever had this many commits in the Army game. It is pretty cool."
Quarterback Paul Jones and linebacker Khairi Fortt will also get an early start on their college careers by joining the Nittany Lions for spring practices.
"I remember the first time we got together out here [in San Antonio], you would have figured that we went to grade school together," said Jones, who hails from McKees Rocks, Pa. "It was like we all knew each other since we were 6 years old. It is a fun situation. I knew Penn State was putting together a really strong recruiting class, so I'm not surprised we are so well represented."
Mike Hull and Zach Zwinak won't enter the mix at Penn State until this summer, but they are equally excited about their college choice.
"I have been a fan of Penn State ever since I was little because my dad and uncle both went to school and played there," said Hull, a linebacker from Canonsburg, Pa. "So when Penn State offered me a scholarship, it was a really easy decision for me. I love everything about the football program and school."
Fortt and Redd are the top two prospects in Connecticut this year. They are rooming together this week and they plan to be roommates at Penn State.
"Being from Connecticut, we haven't faced the same level of competition as we would have if we were from Texas, but on Saturday you are going to see we can play with the best of them, too," Redd said.
Fortt expressed the same feeling.
"I am trying to represent Penn State and put Connecticut on the map," he said. "We are kind of the underdogs in this game because of where we come from."
Zwinak is expected to play fullback for the Nittany Lions, but he is playing linebacker for the East this week. He played on both sides of the ball for Linganore High School in Frederick and was named the 2009 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year.
"I know I am not the fastest guy, but I like to hit. I love contact," Zwinak said. "Fullbacks are a dying breed. When I go to Penn State, I want to be a big power back and a dependable blocker."
-Fortt had an interception during one-on-ones on Tuesday and safety Matt Elam picked off a pass during 11-on-11 work. Outside linebacker Chris Martin had the day's biggest hit, on Redd.
-Defensive end Chance Carter did not practice on Tuesday due to an ankle injury. Wide receiver Shakim Phillips also sat out with a shoulder injury. "I don't know their status for Saturday yet," Quarles said. "I would say Carter is doubtful and Phillips is questionable to probable."
-Late during Tuesday afternoon's practice, the East worked on their short yardage offense. J.R. Ferguson, a five-star defensive end prospect, lined up at fullback. "He got pretty excited about it and is actually pretty good at it," Quarles said.
-Quarterback A.J. Derby has been practicing as the East's long snapper on punts and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz has been the snapper on field goals and extra points.
-The East is scheduled to work out in the Alamodome from 3:15 to 4:30 pm on Wednesday.
"We are going to do a little bit of scrimmage work but for the most part it will be like a normal practice," Quarles said.