SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Usually the defense is well ahead of the offense on the first day of practice in any all-star game setting. However, at first it looked like that would not be the case early for the East squad on Monday. While both quarterbacks, Tim Tebow and Zach Frazer, were inconsistent at times, the passing game clicked early for the most part and the defense needed to make some adjustments. By the second session though, it was the defense that made things difficult for the offense to even things out. Here's the East Notebook for Monday's practices.
Tebow tends to flutter his long ball every once in awhile, but his running ability makes linebackers bite on play action and opens up the intermediate routes. He was the more accurate of the two passers all game long and ran the offense more smoothly. The big lefty also ran effectively a few times. While most of his passes were slants or drag routes on roll outs, he completed a couple of long balls including a nice one to wideout Vidal Hazelton.
Frazer looked accurate early, although that was in drills. When he needed to go through progressions, he rushed his delivery and struggled. However, he flashed his immense potential at times as well, including a pretty touch pass on a fade to Chris Bell. Frazer has a very strong arm and looks a bit more nimble than he did last year, but his struggles with accuracy continue. There were also a few mishandled snaps between Frazer and Daniel Wenger, who are getting used to each other for what Notre Dame fans hope are four or five very good years.
Good Start For WRs
Bell was the most impressive wide receiver during the morning session, but all the wideouts except for Jarred Fayson all did well at first. Fayson missed most of the day due to a leg injury. Percy Harvin, who stands between 6-foot-0 and 6-foot-1, looked smallish compared to Bell, Fayson, Hazelton and Dorin Dickerson who all have good size. Harvin clearly has the most burst of the wideouts and his feet are super quick. Most of his catches were slants where he could create afterwards. Hazelton was tough to handle one-on-one because of his size and strength, but equipment problems kept him out of much of the afternoon session. Barry Gallup made a nice shoe-string catch and was very quick off the line.
Tight end Nate Byham had an up-and-down day. He caught quite a few passes and showed good hands, but was offsides on many plays. He looks to be a threat in this East passing game.
Not So Fast For DBs
The defensive backs struggled at first as Raeshon McNeil got beaten a couple of times and A.J. Wallace lost a battle to Hazelton on a deep ball. Safety Antwine Perez was the center fielder and looked solid in coverage while Myron Rolle, who wouldn't look out of place with any group of linebackers, played physical press coverage on the slot receivers. Rolle had a chance at an early interception but it bounced off his chest. Overall he looked solid in coverage.
The East linebackers are absolutely huge. Aside from Akeem Hebron, who is very quick with long arms but very undersized, the average East linebacker looked at least 240 pounds. Brandon Graham, who also played some fullback quite effectively, Brandon Spikes, Jarrell Miller and Micah Johnson are all big and can run, although Johnson and Spikes are the quickest of the four. Miller missed the afternoon session due to a groin pull. Spikes had three potential interceptions in his hands and was all over the field, at one point talking to his hands and asking them why they let him down. Spikes is tall, rangy and has long arms. He's also very talkative on the field and active. He was the best defensive player on the day for the East.
Speaking Of Huge
Florida offensive tackle Sam Young is just massive and technically very sound. The East offensive line is a tad short in the middle with Justin Boren and Wenger looking around 6-foot-2, but the rest of the line is huge. Carl Johnson is big and wide, but got off balance a bit too much on Monday and missed a few blocks as well. Andre Smith is very impressive, at one point schooling Robert Rose so badly that he received an impromptu standing ovation for his efforts from his offensive linemates. Connor Smith is a tough kid. He was off balance in the early session, but adjusted well in the second session. Justin Anderson is a massive kid, but too slow to play tackle where he started the day. Clifton Geathers has a great frame. but looked lost much of the day and overpowered.
I'll say one thing about the East defensive line, they're tough. Although they lost Ricky Sapp to a foot injury early and didn't get much rest due to limited numbers, they came at the offensive line. Rose looked good early, but when linemen adjusted on him he struggled. He also played some tight end in two-tight sets. Jared Odrick played defensive end and did well, at one point running down a play across the field from his left defensive end position. The inside guys, Bart Eddins and Corey Hobbs are both motor guys and hustlers, but neither got a sustained push up the middle. Maurice Evans is very quick off the ball and beat Geathers and Anderson easily a couple of times, but he's undersized and struggles once the big guys get their hands on him. Jacques McClendon didn't get his arms out in front enough and was moved around a bit. The line has a long way to go before it comes together, but the effort is there.
It's always hard to gauge running backs on the first day when no one is really tackling. Are they hitting the hole and getting upfield because of vision and quick feet or because no one is tackling them? In the second session, when there was more hitting involved, one thing was clear -- Chris Wells was getting up field because he has good vision, quick feet and an excellent burst. Oh yeah, and he's a truck. Wells was walking off the field after practice with Andre Smith and there didn't seem to be that huge a size difference. Sure there's 90 pounds and a couple inches, but Wells has very broad shoulders and looks like a big linebacker or defensive end. Wells was playing full speed all day and was so excited when the running plays began, he forgot there wasn't any true hitting. He ran over safety Perez and stiff-armed linebacker Hebron, sending both backwards. Wells is a load to handle.
Not So Shabby
James Aldridge looks a little light, probably closer to 200 pounds, and is running more like a Darius Walker than a Jerome Bettis. He's shifty, showed great ability to stop and start and cuts very well. He also has a killer stiff arm and the speed to get outside. C.J. Spiller got the least work of the three backs, but showed good hands in passing drills.
Okay, enough about what happened on the field. So what are the juicy rumors out there in regards to recruiting? Honestly, there aren't a ton of surprises. Wallace told me that Nebraska is third on his list because they have a lot of young running backs and he didn't get as much of a feel of the opportunity to get a shot both ways at Nebraska as much as he did from Penn State and Ohio State.
Alabama fans will be happy to hear that Spikes has them on his mind, although Florida still seems to be the favorite. Spikes has apparently been talking about the need for linebackers at 'Bama and early playing time. 'Bama fans won't be pleased at how hard Tebow is working on Andre Smith to get him to come to Florida. Tebow and Smith have been chummy for awhile and took some visits at the same time, but Alabama is still the clear leader in my opinion.
USC sure does tempt a lot of kids. Dickerson and Evans and a few others said they are tempted to take official visits out to USC in January, although both said they are leaning away from it. Dickerson, a Pitt commitment, said all schools except for USC have stopped recruiting him now. Evans said that good friend and USC commit Hazelton is trying to convince him to take a visit. USC seems to be involved with about every uncommitted player on either team.
Rumors are swirling that Miller will not be headed to Virginia Tech as many expected from the start of the process because the Hokies want him as a defensive end and he wants to play linebacker. That puts both North Carolina and Virginia in good shape for Miller, although don't count out Tennessee. Florida is likely too full up to take Miller, especially since Spikes is higher on their board.
Sam Young shocked a lot of people when he eliminated Florida from his list and said he's down to USC, Penn State, Michigan and Notre Dame. With so many Domers on hand, Young is certain to get a full court press, but word has it that his USC visit will be a tough one to match.