January 1, 2008

Under Armour Notebook: 1-on-1 battles

Orlando, Fla. - Just roll out the ball and let them play.

That could be the mentality of the coaching staff on the Red Team in the Under Armour All-Star Game and the team would probably do just fine. With elite talent at every position on the field and a competitive atmosphere driven by the high level of play, every snap has the potential to be spectacular.

Despite the temptation to "just let them play", the Red coaches have stayed extremely busy installing philosophies, teaching technique and coaching up the high school seniors. However, on Tuesday morning during one-on-one pass drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs, there was a relative return to the playground as two position groups battled each other for every ball.

The wide receivers and the defensive backs for the Red Team are arguably two of the most talented position groups on either team and it was evident that the level of play was high when they went at each other.

"You've got a lot of pride, a lot of personal pride out there" said Ron Meyer the head coach of the Red Team. "They are very very competitive because they know about (Josh) Jarboe, they know about Julio Jones and they all want to take a big king size bite out of them."

It was hard to say who was taking a bite out of who on Tuesday morning but both sides of the ball put up impressive performances.

Julio Jones and Charles Whitlock took part in the most consistent and hotly contested rivalry in the period. Whitlock jumped onto the field at every opportunity to defend the highly-touted receiver and he did a fantastic job in coverage.

The two went back and forth an several occasions. Whitlock stayed step for step with Jones on a comeback route, showing terrific instincts and getting a pass breakup. Jones then got a step on Whitock for a deep ball, nearly made a spectacular grab only to lose the ball at the last minute. Jones would then break the cornerback off on a slant route only to battle for a ball on the sidelines minutes later.

While Jones' performance did nothing to diminish his standing, Whitlock may have raised his stock by taking on the challenge of defending Jones. He showed great reaction and instincts and relished in the opportunity.

Two other players that impressed on the defensive side of the ball were fellow Florida commits Janoris Jenkins and Will Hill. Jenkins doesn't have ideal size but he is a natural cover corner. He just doesn't get beat. His receiver may catch the ball but Jenkins will always be close by to contest the pass.

Hill showed a great knack for getting a jam at the line of scrimmage. He is strong and has incredible lateral quickness. He is probably best suited for safety, but he absolutely showed that he is a safety that can step down and cover a wide receiver or a slot.

Offensively, there was one player that even Hill was hard-pressed to get a jam on. DeSean Hales may be small, but bigger defensive backs may want to think twice before deciding to try their luck in press coverage. Hales is so quick and so sudden that he is extremely difficult to get a hand on at the line. Once he got into his routes, Hales was equally impressive in his route-running and hands. He has a chance to be special in the slot despite his diminutive stature.

Decatur (Ga.) Cedar Grove wide receiver Joshua Jarboe put together his second consecutive strong day of play. Jarboe created space between himself and the defensive backs with crisp routes, he used his body and size well and he showed superb hands with several uncommon catches.

While some top performers stood out, there wasn't a bad performance on the field and every player was savoring in the opportunity to compete. It was just what a coach would want to see.

"It's competitive and that's how you like it," Coach Meyer said afterwards. "You just don't want anybody to get hurt."

  • Injury Bug: Unfortunately, coach Meyer wasn't speaking in generalities. Jamoris Slaugher out of Tucker, Ga. was forced out of the drill with a knee injury. The safety got a cleat caught in the ground in a non-contact play and sprained his MCL. He is questionable for the game on Saturday.

    Hales also sat out practice shortly after the one-on-ones with a shoulder injury. He sustained the injury before his arrival and simply re-aggravated it on Tuesday. He is expected to continue to practice this week.

    Not tall, just good

    The defensive front for the Red Team is anchored by a group of undersized but productive defensive sparkplugs. Omar Hunter and Jarvis Humphrey are listed generously at 6-2. Though the two could very well be a notch or two below that listing, you won't hear any complaints from the Red Team coaches. However, you may hear some grumblings from the Silver coaches on Saturday.

    Hunter has been an extremely dominating presence on the inside. He has a quick burst off of the line of scrimmage and has great power at contact. He has been extremely effective with his bull-rush against bigger offensive linemen but has also been the most skilled defensive lineman on either team with the use of his hands and his quick feet.

    Humphrey has been impressive in his own right. He has displayed great feet in the line drills and is a good technician with his hands. The two are very similar in a lot of ways and should be a productive tandem on Saturday.

    At the ends for the Red Team, size is also sacrificed for athleticism. Both Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw have spent time at defensive end but both are probably better suited for linebacker. However they will form what could be a very strong pass-rushing tandem.

    Tyler Westphal should also add to that pass rush. He also demonstrated some great quick feet and had one of the quickest get-offs among all of the Red defensive linemen. He is tall but light, however he has good height and he will add weight in college to become a very promising defensive end prospect.

    Land of the Giants

    The relatively small defensive line provides a stark contrast to the massive offensive line for the Red team. Tyler Love leads the way for the Red at 6-7, 280 pounds. Love is very well-proportioned and is built like an athlete. He moves like one as well.

    Among those joining love are 6-8 295-pounder Matt Meyer, 6-7 296-pounder Dann O'Neill, 6-5 300-pounder Khaled Holmes and 6-6 275 pounder Zebrie Sanders.

    The group has been as physically imposing as you might expect and looks the part of a major college offensive line. They have really looked strong protecting the passer, particularly from the tackle positions, and should be a major strength for the Red team on Saturday.

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