March 29, 2009

Nike Camps kick off with Miami talent

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The 2009 circuit for the Nike Football Training Camp kicked off this weekend in one of the most densely populated areas for football talent in the country: Dade County. The University of Miami was the setting where an impressive group of prospects came together to compete in positional drills and one-on-ones to state their case for national rankings and college scholarships.

Just walking through the door, there were numerous prospects that stood out among the crowd and none was more impressive on the hoof than five-star linebacker Jeff Luc.

The inside backer from Port St. Lucie (Fla.) Treasure Coast doesn't look to have an ounce of bad weight on him. He is thick, muscular and well-proportioned and is big enough that there is cause for concern of whether he can maintain athleticism at that weight. Luc answered any of those concerns quickly.

As expected, Luc was dominating in pass rush drills. His strength was unmatched by any other linebacker or running back. Running backs that were dominant in pass protection against other linebackers were made to look silly against Luc. There is just no match for his strength and explosiveness at the point of attack. At times, it was almost scary to watch Luc work.

While Luc's domination in the pass rush was to be expected at his size, he didn't let his play slip when he was forced to run with backs in coverage. Luc is not stiff despite his mass and he was able to effectively run with a very athletic group of running backs. There is a reason why Luc got the overall linebacker MVP award and if there was an overall MVP on the day, it would be tough to find a performer that made a more dominating impact than Luc. national recruiting analyst Barry Every came away impressed.

"He has just a tremendous powerful body - upper and lower body," Every said. "He's a lot faster and quicker than you would think of someone in the 6-foot 230 range would be. He has just a great combination of quickness and power and is an ideal inside linebacker prospect. He probably was the most dominant performer of the camp."

There were other prospects that passed the look test with flying colors and more than one of them were lining up with the wide receivers. Delvin Jones out of Miami (Fla.) Miami Palmetto could be a tight end, defensive end or big wide receiver and on Sunday, he played the role of wideout. Nationwide there aren't many players with the upside that Jones has from a physical standpoint.

West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer linebacker Gerald Christian worked out at wide receiver and tight end on Sunday and while he probably is better suited athletically for linebacker he was an imposing figure on the field. He's a thick athletic prospect that is a little stiff an unnatural running routes but has all the tools to be a nightmare moving downhill defensively.

Also among the tight end prospects was Kendall Montgomery out of Opa Locka (Fla.) Monsignor Pace. Montgomery is relatively new to the game of football but as a tight end he has worlds of potential. Montgomery does not know how to run routes and is very raw in that regard but at 6-foot-6, 226 pounds, he is naturally very athletic with soft hands.

In the trenches, there wasn't a bigger prospect than Montgomery's teammate Jonathan Ragoo. Ragoo stands at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds and for a player of his mass, moves remarkably well.

Across from him on the defensive line, Corey Lemonier out of Hialeah was as good as his billing. Though he has narrow shoulders, he has extremely long arms, is well-put together, has a great burst off the line of scrimmage and was eager to learn. Lemonier looks like he could be a can't-miss defensive end prospect out of the area.

Wide receivers/Defensive backs

When you come to south Florida, you expect to see a lot of skill at the wide receiver position and the Miami event didn't disappoint. Miramar, Fla. wide receiver Ivan McCartney came away with the MVP award out of that position group and he earned it.

McCartney has great length and size and though he has the body of a big possession receiver, he runs some of the best routes of anybody. Not only is McCartney long but he is quick off the ground and attacks the ball in the air, allowing him to climb the ladder to haul in almost any pass thrown in his vicinity.

McCartney - the cousin of Chad Johnson - was tremendous last year as a rising junior at this event and took things a step further as a rising senior.

Some of the other elite talent in attendance at the wide receiver position included Willis Wright, James Louis, De'Joshua Johnson and Quinton Dunbar. While all of those names are proven commodities, one of the other top performers at the event is still an emerging name.

Steven Green out of Boyd Anderson High School missed the 2008 season and he has been making sure that he isn't forgotten as the 2009 season approaches. Green doesn't have great size but he does have speed, acceleration and explosiveness. He likes to work out of the slot and has a great ability to get off of the line of scrimmage and move defensive backs where he wants them.

Green's quickness and precision make him one of the toughest matchups at the camp, even among some proven names with long offer lists.

The group of defensive backs slated with the task of stopping that strong group of receivers had some standouts of its own. The player that continued to garner praise from coaches no matter what the drill was Steven Clark, also out of Boyd Anderson.

The most common term used to describe Clark among the coaches in attendance was "playmaker". Clark always seemed to find the ball, showed good instincts and made enough of an impact to earn himself the defensive back MVP.

Neck and neck with Clark was Khambrel McGee out of Miami (Fla.) Northwestern. McGee's makeup speed and fluidity in and out of his backpedal were among the best in the camp. With as much talent as has come out of the Northwestern program over the past few years, McGee should not be overlooked as an elite talent.

Linebackers/running backs

Though Luc was in a class of his own among the linebacker group, some other athletic performers stood out in their own right. Darius Davis out of Dr. Krop is another prospect that is low on the recruiting radar because of missed time as a junior but he is proving that he is a name to recognize. Davis is a physical, high energy player who is big enough but extremely athletic.

Davis is the type of player that stands out in every drill and is always at the front of the line eager to compete. Once college coaches are able to see Davis in person this spring, it would be surprising if his offer list doesn't explode with activity.

Another extremely athletic prospect out of the linebacker corps was Jamar Bass out of Miramar High School. Bass doesn't have great size but he fits the new mold of athletic outside linebackers to a T. He can run with receivers or running backs and rarely allowed a step to opposing backs in one-on-ones. Bass was also productive in the pass rush drill with his speed and showed good hips in open field drills.

When the top linebackers were beaten in coverage, often times it was at the hands of Jakhari Gore or Dareyon Chance.

Gore is very thin in the waste but his open field ability and pass-catching skills are top notch. He excelled making people miss in the open-field tackling drill and he called out the best linebackers and then beat them in the one-on-one passing drills.

Chance also doesn't have great size. He is a short third-down type back but his route-running out of the backfield is terrific and he hands the hands of a wide receiver. Because of his size, Chance is somewhat limited in what he can be on the field but playing a specific role, he is very very good.

Offensive line/Defensive line

It was clear that Miami (Fla.) Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler came into Sunday's event focused. The four-star prospect had the look in his eye of a player that wouldn't be denied and he rarely was on the day. En route to the defensive line MVP award, Chandler showed great strength, technique and motor and was a terror for offensive linemen to handle.

With his body structure, Chandler's physical upside is limited. He may not be able to grow into a massive run-stuffing defensive tackle but his athleticism and explosiveness should allow him to be a penetrating pass rusher from the interior.

Chandler and Lemonier were the top defensive linemen along with a very strong performance out of Pahokee (Fla.) High School's Richard Ash. Ash has the body to carry a lot of weight and maintain his athleticism and his aggressiveness and explosiveness was evident on Sunday.

On offense, there were some very big bodies to go with the mass of Ragoo. Several of the linemen had good performances and perhaps the best was from Miami (Fla.) Northwestern's Torian Wilson. Wilson has good size but better feet. He does a good job of keeping defenders away from his body and finishing blocks.

Wilson was joined by Kevin Farrell, Perry Meiklejohn, Michael Vanucci and Ragoo as some of the top performers.

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