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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The first practice for the Black team at the Under Armour All-American Bowl under former Buffalo Bill head coach Marv Levy was very installation-intensive. With only three total practices before Sunday's game, it was paramount that the team get all of its offensive and defensive assignments down.
Houston Cypress Ridge five-star quarterback Russell Shepard was excited to be in Orlando and playing football again, but even he admitted that it must have been a tough practice for analysts and casual observers.
"It was really laid-back as far as the contact and everything," the LSU commit said. "The coaches gave us a lot of stuff all in one day. We really had to sit there and get everything down. It's not like we had two-a-days or anything before this. This is the first time any of us have played together and we only have three days to get ready for the game. That's not a lot of time."
Shepard did say that a lot of contact isn't necessarily needed for the players in the game.
"At this point and with the talent level that's here, we shouldn't need fundamentals," he said. "I know it's fun with tackling drills and stuff like that, but we should all be to the point where we don't need that.
"Also, the season hasn't been over that long for most of the players. A lot of the Texas guys, I know we played into December. Shoot, Garrett (Gilbert) and Paden (Kelley) just won the state championship a couple of days before Christmas. We haven't had a long layoff, so it's not like we need to get the rust off or anything."
Shepard did say he is hoping for a little more action in the next two practices, though.
"We got going at the end," he said. "We had 11-on-11 drills. It wasn't necessarily full contact where you take the runner down, but the lines got in a lot of work and so did the receivers and DBs trying to jam each other. The D-linemen got after the quarterbacks, too. There were some times where I felt pressure, so I just tucked it and ran."
PATTERSON AND REID DO BATTLE
Several players stood out, especially during the 7-on-7 passing drills. While all three quarterbacks admittedly struggled for much of the day, they had their moments. That allowed the wide receivers to shine.
Jamal Patterson had perhaps the most impressive overall day of any at the position. The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Stanford commit routinely beat the defenders off the line of scrimmage and made several spectacular grabs. One player that was able to hold him in check a few times was fellow Georgian Greg Reid. The two had a lighthearted back-and-forth battle.
"Greg Reid was definitely the toughest guy to go up against one-on-one," Patterson said. "A lot of people see him on offense and think he's perfect at receiver or running back, but he's a great corner. He's a shut-down corner.
"We actually both just played in the Georgia North-South game where we were on the same team so I got to go up against him a lot that week, too. I think we bring out the best in each other."
When asked who has had the upper-hand the most often during their week-plus of battles, Patterson was quick with an answer.
"I did, of course," he said laughing. "Greg's good, but he's not that good."
Perhaps the most fun one-on-one match-up to watch among the linemen was between Florida State defensive tackle commit Jacobbi McDaniel and Texas center commit Mason Walters. At 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, Walters is the biggest center that McDaniel says he has ever seen.
"Have you seen him," McDaniel jokingly asked. "He's huge. He moves well, too. He's probably the biggest lineman on our team and I definitely didn't expect him to come out and line up at center. I figured he was a tackle, for sure. I'm not used to going up against guys with that long of arms."
Walters was the most impressive offensive lineman for the Black team, but it took him a few repetitions to catch up with the speed of the other All-Americans. Playing for Frenship High School in West Texas, he does not often come across players that can match up with him physically. However, McDaniel gave him a taste of what to expect at the next level during the duo's first battle.
"I got him on that one," McDaniel said. "I just bullrushed him. I don't think he was expecting it. He was good, though. He got me quite a few times, too."
After trying several players out at the position, the Black team seems to have found a deep snapper. Though a middle linebacker by trade, Sefer (Fla.) Armwood's Petey Smith looked like a natural at the spot, both on punts and kickoffs.
The debate heading into practice on Wednesday centered around whether Shepard or fellow Texan and five-star Garrett Gilbert would start at quarterback. After one day, it remains unanswered. While Gilbert worked with the first team during walk through, Shepard took the first snaps in the live 11-on-11 drills.
The Black team will be running a four receiver set, but the tight ends seemed a little left out on Wednesday. Both Barrett Matthews and Jordan Najvar are very good receivers and both said they planned on talking to the coaches about lining up in the slot on Thursday.
2010 Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) wide receiver and early member of the Rivals250 to Watch Chris Dunkley was on hand as a spectator for the entire practice to watch good friend Nu'Keese Richardson. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior already holds more than a dozen offers and ended up doing several interviews himself.