SAN ANTONIO - Heading into next Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, both the East and West teams are loaded with talent on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. However, these games usually come down to quarterback play and gamebreakers, and on paper the West squad seems to have the edge led by speedster Randall Carroll and the nation's No. 1 prospect, Rueben Randle.
Randle, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who plays quarterback in high school, is as dynamic a playmaker as you'll find in the class of 2009. The Bastrop (La.) High star will line up at his future college position at wideout and will be hard to handle for the East defensive backs. Throw in Carroll, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound blur from Los Angeles Cathedral who can make opponents look foolish from the slot, and you have an amazing 1-2 punch for a potent West offense.
Randle and Carroll aren't the only talented wideouts on the West team. Macon (Miss.) Noxubee County standout Patrick Patterson, Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City star Kendall Kelly and Inglewood (Calif.) High wide receiver Shaquelle Evans are all big, physical targets and potential matchup problems.
The quarterbacks on the West lucky enough to throw the ball to this talented group of receivers are led by Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul's gunslinger AJ McCarron and Mission Viejo (Calif.) High signal caller Allan Bridgford while Sulphur Springs (Texas) High dual-threat Tyrik Rollison will be difficult to keep in the pocket.
The East counters with some talented defensive backs led by five-star cornerback Darius Winston from West Helena (Ark.) Central and the top two players from the state of Ohio in safeties Jamie Wood from Pickerington (Ohio) Central and Justin Turner from Massillon (Ohio) Washington. However, aside from Winston there isn't a lot of size on the corner and Michael Carter from Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely and Justin Green from Louisville (Ky.) Male could struggle with the bigger receivers. Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway star Corey Brown could play defensive back and be pressed into service at corner because of his 6-1 frame.
It will be up to the East defensive line to get pressure on the West quarterbacks to help the secondary. Five-star defensive tackle William Campbell from Detroit Cass Tech will need to provide a big push up the middle while rush ends Ryne Giddins from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood, Donte Moss from Jacksonville (N.C.) Northside and Florence (S.C.) West Florence star Malliciah Goodman will need to get pressure off the edge and contain Rollinson when he's in the game.
The West offensive line, at least on paper, looks up to the task when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Foley (Ala.) High five-star D.J. Fluker and Slidell (La.) Northshore tackle Chris Faulk anchor the outside while San Bernardino (Calif.) Arroyo Valley Michael Philipp leads things up the middle. In addition to giving the quarterbacks time to pass, the offensive line will also try to open up holes for massive backs Christine Michael from Beaumont (Texas) West brook and Chris Whaley from Madisonville (Texas) High and slasher Cierre Wood from Oxnard (Calif.) Santa Clara.
The East linebackers will be charged with keeping the running game in check. Five-star Dorian Bell from Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway is a tackling machine as is Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central 'backer Jon Bostic, but both are a bit vertically challenged. Pawling (N.Y.) Trinity Pawling linebacker Shayne Skov has the size to support the run and the quickness to drop in coverage and could be the key for the East defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, it appears that the running game and short passing game could be the strength of the East squad. Wichita (Kan.) Wichita East running back Bryce Brown is the top player at his position in the nation and Oak Park (Mich.) High back Edwin Baker and Monticello (Miss.) Lawrence County Kendrick Hardy both run with great leverage. Sumter (S.C.) High all-purpose back Roderick McDowell will likely be utilized in the passing game and Lynchburg (Va.) Brookville tight end Logan Thomas is a matchup nightmare for anyone at 6-6 and 233 pounds.
The West linebackers will have their hands full with Thomas and the running backs but it's hard to find a better combination than Corona (Calif.) Centennial monster Vontaze Burfict and Andalusia (Ala.) High star Nico Johnson who are both at least 6-2 and weigh more than 225 pounds. However, Brown and McDowell will be hard to check and if Thomas is utilized properly in the slot, the flat and middle of the field could be open.
When trying to get the ball downfield, the East will rely on East St. Louis (Ill.) High wideout Kraig Appleton, Philadelphia (Pa.) Northeast star Je'Ron Stokes and Apopka (Fla.) High waterbug Jeremy Gallon out of the slot. They'll be checked by huge cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick from Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City and Gabe Lynn from Jenks (Okla.) High and the deep middle will be patrolled by Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne safety Byron Moore and Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure athlete Patrick Hall The secondary looks to be the strength of the West defense.
The play of the East quarterbacks will be the key for the East team. Two of them, Tampa (Fla.) Plant's Aaron Murray and Hampton (Va.) Phoebus standout Tajh Boyd will be less than 100-percent going in. Murray is recovering from a broken fibula and dislocated ankle while Boyd will be playing with a torn ACL. The other two quarterbacks, Chatham (Va.) Hargrave dual-threat Kevin Newsome and Springfield (Pa.) Cardinal O'Hara signal-caller Tom Savage could end up getting more reps as a result.
With the mobility of Murray and Boyd limited and with Savage's strength as a pocket passer, plenty of pressure will be on the East offensive line. Tackle Morgan Moses from Richmond (Va.) Meadowbrook and LaGrange (Ga.) Troup guard Chris Burnette are excellent run blockers and Fayetteville (N.C.) Jack Britt tackle Xavier Nixon and Naples (Fla.) High stud Nick Alajajian are both polished technicians. They will try to keep massive tackles Jamarkus McFarland from Lufkin (Texas) High and Chris Davenport out of Mansfield (La.) High from blowing up the middle and defensive end Alex Okafor out of Pflugerville (Texas) High from getting around the edge. And watch out for five-star Sheldon Richardson from St. Louis (Mo.) Gateway who could play tackle or end. The West defensive line has the size advantage, but the East offensive line is agile.
In the end, this game will come down to which team can keep its quarterbacks clean and which playmakers can bust loose and make a difference. On paper at least it appears that the West has the clear advantage in that department.