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SAN ANTONIO – Game day is almost here and East quarterback Aaron Murray said he is pumped. He's ready to go. He's ready to play in the Alamodome, on national television and against some of the best high school players in the country.
"I can't wait for it," Murray said. "I'm going to go out there and hopefully do my thing."
Practice has been grueling enough but Murray said after Thursday's workout the biggest difficulties this week were getting used to the speed of his teammates – especially his wide receivers – and getting on the same page with everyone about terminology and play-calling. Kickoff for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is set for noon local time Saturday.
"The offense is starting to click a little better," said Murray, a Georgia commit from Tampa (Fla.) Plant. "We started to get it toward the end of the week. To learn the whole offense is tough but we're getting it. We have a good feeling out there and we're pretty excited for Saturday.
"Different route reads for me, different receivers, the speed of the game is different, the defense is faster. It's a whole new game. It's like playing against college-level guys. It takes some time but you also have college guys on your team blocking for you and making catches for you so we're jelling and hopefully by Saturday it will be 100 percent."
East coach Terry Smith tried to make the terminology as simple as possible so his players could not be so concerned with the play calls as much as using their abilities to make things happen. Smith said the East squad is one of the best groups he's ever been around.
"The intensity is picking up, we're starting to get closer so guys are starting to pick their spirits up," said Smith, an assistant on the 2007 East squad. "We had a really good practice (Thursday). Much better than (Wednesday) so I feel good about it right now.
"We don't have one kid that I would say is a hot dog or shenanigans. These guys listen to everything we say, they do what we say and it's a fun-spirited group and it's a pleasure coaching them."
There are some injury concerns, though. Four-star linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has Florida, Georgia, LSU, Southern California and Texas as his final five schools, missed Thursday's practice.
Jones broke his hand during the season and has it in a cast but aggravated it during Wednesday's scrimmage. He is expected to get an X-ray and his status is unknown.
Right guard Chris Burnette was also sidelined with an ankle injury but he should be ready by Saturday. Five-star lineman Morgan Moses moved over to fill in during Burnette's absence. Penn State pledge Eric Shrive stepped in at left guard to replace Moses.
Michigan wide receiver commit Jeremy Gallon irritated his groin and was used sparingly on Thursday. The 5-foot-8 dynamo from Apopka (Fla.) has been the East's most productive receiver this week in practice. Not having him 100 percent would be a significant blow to the offense.
There was also good news when it came to injuries. Five-star cornerback Darius Winston, an Arkansas commit, worked out Thursday and looked like he was on his way back from an ankle injury he sustained in Monday's practice.
The West Helena (Ark.) Central recruit missed Tuesday's practice and warmed up before Wednesday's workout in the Alamodome but said he could not plant on his injured ankle so he sat out a second straight day. Winston was active and looked to be his normal self Thursday. He's expected to play.
Highlights from team drills
The quarterbacks and defensive tackles looked especially sharp during 7-on-7 drills and an extended, scripted scrimmage session with linemen Josh Boyd and Tyler Stockton leading the way.
During 7-on-7 work, quarterback Tom Savage hit wide receiver Corey Brown for a nice gain down the sidelines. Brown also had the nicest catch of the day when Murray hit him for a big gainer over Willie Downs midway through team drills.
On the first play of 11-on-11, quarterback Kevin Newsome hit receiver Joshua Adams for a long gain but it would have been called back because Adams started to run before the ball was snapped. Newsome had a nice run and then cornerback Michael Carter picked off one of his passes.
Savage connected with Corey Brown again for a nice gain and then hit Je'Ron Stokes and Orson Charles on consecutive plays. Murray hit running back Bryce Brown coming out of the backfield, a play utilized many times in practice this week.
Later in practice, Newsome and Corey Brown hooked up on a nice pass play, Bryce Brown strung together a couple nice runs and Kendrick Hardy busted up the middle for a big gain.
Toward the end of team drills, Murray and Stokes got together for some nice yardage and Bryce Brown took a screen pass for a significant gain. Boyd, a Mississippi State commit, had his best play late when he broke through the line and stuffed Hardy in the backfield.
Weather note: It was cool and cloudy early in practice and numerous players had to receive extra attention from the training staff. Linebacker Shayne Skov had a tight groin, Stokes, defensive end Donte Moss and running back Roderick McDowell also spent extra time getting stretched.