The Opening wrapped up Sunday with linemen 1-on-1s and a 7-on-7 tournament and both proved to be incredibly valuable from an evaluation standpoint. Here is a breakdown of the top three players at each position on defense:
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DT A'Shawn Robinson, 6-5/304, Fort Worth (Texas) Arlington Heights: Robinson had a very strong performance at The Opening. He has a great build at the defensive tackle spot with a wide frame, plenty of good weight on that frame, and a strong base that he is able to draw a lot of power from when taking on offensive linemen. He is very athletic for his size showing the ability to use a quick first step and quick feet to make moves in tight spaces to evade offensive linemen and get into the backfield quickly. He has a strong initial punch to get the upper-hand against offensive linemen and uses his hands effectively to get off blocks. He consistently won reps in the 1-on-1 setting and the few he lost, he was quick to avenge.
SDE Demarcus Walker, 6-4/280, Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood: Walker is a versatile defensive lineman, able to work at defensive end or defensive tackle. He is a well-put-together 6-foot-4 and is a load for interior linemen to deal with. But he also has the speed and strength to cause issues off the edge. He did his best work at The Opening working at defensive tackle. He does a good job of exploding off the line and getting leverage on blockers, working with a good pad level. He flashed good quickness, at times stepping around offensive linemen and getting into the backfield. He will be a major asset as a run-stopper at the next level.
SDE Frank Herron, 6-4/236, Memphis (Tenn.) Central: Herron is a tall defensive end who has a good first step and does an excellent job of using his length. He showed the ability to quickly change direction and burst around blockers, making quick work of them and getting into the backfield in a limited number of steps. He used a variety of moves when taking on offensive linemen and kept them on their heels with his ability to work around the edge or to the inside. He is raw in some ways and has a tendency to play a bit high, leaving his body open, but with proper coaching and more physical development he can dominate off the edge.
OLB Jaylon Smith, 6-3/212, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers: It is difficult for linebackers to shine in the 7-on-7 setting as the physical part of their game is eliminated, but the athleticism and versatility of Smith puts him in an elite group of linebackers. He has great range, showing the ability to quickly work down to a spot when attacking, move fluidly when working laterally and covering space from the middle of the field to the sideline, He can even flip his hips and drop back into coverage, staying in stride with running backs, tight ends, and receivers. When the ball is put into the air, he is aggressive at going after it, and regularly breaks up the play. From a physical standpoint, he looks ready to contribute from Day 1 of his collegiate career.
OLB Matthew Thomas, 6-3/205, Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington: Thomas was very good during both days of the 7-on-7, showing a nose for the ball as he broke up a number of passes and intercepted his fair share. He has great length at the linebacker spot and is incredibly athletic. Much like Smith, he exhibits great range and the ability to work at all levels. When he settles into the middle of the field, his ability to get off the ground and use every inch of his build allows him to contend for balls in the air and neutralize the middle of the field. As Thomas adds bulks and strength, he will round into a dominant linebacker.
ILB Larenz Bryant, 6-1/203, Charlotte Vance: Bryant will likely settle in at the inside linebacker spot in college as he bulks up even further on his frame. But he has good athleticism that will make him an asset outside of the tackles at the next level. He showed great instincts as well as the ability to read and react in coverage, recording a few interceptions during the event. Another reason he was able to intercept or break up passes was that he understands the proper depth to work at in his drops. He exhibited good quickness when he broke on the ball in the air. Bryant's motor never seems to stop as he is going full-speed on every snap.
CB Kendall Fuller, 5-11/189, Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel: Fuller's opportunities to shine were limited by the simple fact that quarterbacks didn't regularly go after him. He was rarely thrown at during either day of the 7-on-7 competition. Fuller is a fluid athlete in coverage who can stay step-for-step with any receiver and will ride their hip down the field. He is excellent at positioning himself to cover a large portion of the field and he does an effective job of reading the play and adjusting on the fly. He capped the weekend with a crucial interception in the final game of the weekend.
CB Jalen Ramsey, 6-0/190, Nashville Brentwood Academy: Ramsey continued his strong summer with a solid performance during The Opening. The strengths of his game have been discussed at length in recent weeks -- a mixture of great length and athleticism at the cornerback spot. He does a great job of getting himself or at least a limb between the ball and the intended receiver. He shows good recovery speed when receivers are able to shake him with an initial move, but consistently he puts himself in a good position to deny a pass attempt with blanket coverage from the snap.
S Keanu Neal, 6-1/203, Bushnell (Fla.) South Sumter: Neal impressed onlookers at the opening by showing that he is a big safety with good athleticism and the ability to cover down the field. On film, Neal is an extremely physical safety who is capable of sliding down into the box and acting as a linebacker. In the 7-on-7 setting of The Opening, he showed that he is able to drop back into coverage, read the play, and react quickly, going after the ball and either breaking it up or intercepting it. His mixture of ball skills and his physical presence on the field make him a complete safety who can be an asset in every kind of situation.
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