SAN ANTONIO - There is only one way to play if you're a defensive back in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, it's man-to-man. The complex zone coverages that prevail over the vast majority of college football today simply can't be put into working order in the week that head coach Bob Jones and defensive coordinator Steve Dean has to implement them.
Thankfully for Dean, the head coach at Ada, Okla., what he lacks in time, his team more than makes up for in talent.
"This whole group, I wouldn't mind taking them home with me and having them put our uniforms on," Dean said following the West squad's practice on Wednesday.
One of the players who has stood out the most is Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton four-star athlete Gerell Robinson.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound two-way athlete has worked as a safety throughout the week and has struggled some in pass coverage, but he says it stems from an absence of practice during the past few seasons at Hamilton.
While Robinson is being recruited by many as a defensive back he has spent the past few years starring as a quarterback and receiver for his high school.
"Mainly I've been trying to get my feet back. I know I can come out with the best of them and show out and do my thing," Robinson explained. "For the most part I'm getting better and better everyday; by Saturday I should be picking off some passes."
His defensive coordinator echoed his thoughts, but also said that he has seen massive amounts of improvement from the first day to the next. However, he thinks that man-to-man coverage may not be an issue for him into his college future.
"He has come from a program where he hasn't played any man-to-man, and yesterday was a little uncomfortable," Dean said. "He has that big old frame, it won't surprise me if once he moves to college he doesn't move to strong safety or linebacker."
All of the East quarterbacks, I should be able to read them pretty good… based on what I've seen of the film we've watched, I wouldn't be surprised if I got two picks. I'm looking to get one if not two.
- West DB Gerell Robinson
Another player that physically looks the part and has also backed up that talk is long-time Texas commitment Aaron Williams. The Round Rock (Texas) McNeil product has been the most physical corner on the West squad to date and has more athletic ability than even his hefty reputation has led people to believe.
Williams has drawn comparisons to many players but Dean, who coached the defensive backs last year, says he compares favorably to a current Longhorn and former Army All-American.
"He has been phenomenal, he reminds me a lot of Curtis Brown from Gilmer, Texas that I coached down here last year," he said. "Aaron has tremendous instincts, feet, and with his hands and when you play pressman you have to get your hands on them but still have to have your feet and base under you and you watch his body posture as you come through. Curtis has turned out to be a pretty good one and Aaron will do too.
"You don't notice it with Aaron because he looks a little more smooth than Curtis. Don't get me wrong, Curtis is a great player and I had a lot of fun with him last year I just see a lot of similarities."
A team's pass defense is only as good as either side of it's defense and with Williams dealing with one corner, it's certain that the East quarterbacks will try and go after his opposite. That player figures to be Fresno (Calif.) Edison four-star cornerback Robert Golden who has looked immensely impressive from start to finish.
If there was an interception tally being kept during the West practices this week there is no question that Golden would be the man holding the trophy.
"He is really athletic, and you know when we come in on Sunday and you don't know what the kid looks like or what kind of program he has come from you're not sure what you've got," Dean said. "Obviously guys have great athletic ability; you have to play so much man coverage in this game you want to make sure they are truly press corners and he has proven to be one.
"He just has great feet, he plays physical and as big as these receivers are these days you have to be a physical corner too."
While the West line has been talked about at great length as one of the team's strengths the defensive back groups has been another team strength. Much the same there is always talk about the cohesion of an offensive line being fundamental to it's success, defensive back groups have a different form of connection but that doesn't make it any less important.
It's about communication, and communicate they do.
"Everything is going pretty good, everyone is pretty smart based on what they know. It's not too hard, everyone handles their own. The coaches don't try to harness us too much, they let us show why we are here and what we're doing. It's not too hard at all," Robinson said. "I'd say everyone has their leadership role down. But we all bring everything to the table, but I'd say Nolan Brewster based on everything he does and knowing his stuff is one of those kind of kids."
The group isn't shy about their talent and what they are capable of and Robinson is one of the leaders of that confidence. In the game Robinson has big expectations and plans to put on a show for the national audience.
"All of the East quarterbacks, I should be able to read them pretty good," he said. "I've seen them throw and everything else, based on what I've seen of the film we've watched, I wouldn't be surprised if I got two picks. I'm looking to get one if not two."