July 30, 2009

Defensive line shines in Top Gun Camp

PAISLEY, Fla. - At an event as talent-laced as the FBU Top Gun Camp, it takes a lot for a single position group or even a single player to stand out above the crowd. However, following the first full day of work at the camp, there was little doubt which position group impressed the most.

There was plenty of talent all over the field to choose from, led by the No. 2 player in the country in Lache Seastrunk, one of the nation's top offensive tackles in Robert Crisp and recent Tennessee commit Markeith Ambles at wide receiver. When the dust settled, though, the defensive line made the biggest splash on day one.

It's not as if it was surprising.

The group consisted of three five-star players in Sharrif Floyd, J.R. Ferguson and Ronald Powell, the nation's highest rated defender. Outside of those three are more players that are under serious five-star consideration in Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Gabe King.

Of that group, all five players are rated in the top 30 in the Rivals100 and that fact does not go unnoticed within the group.

"I think it was really a great group of people," Odighizuwa said of the defensive line group. "There's five defensive linemen in the top 30 on Rivals that were here, and it's a big year for defensive linemen. It was just great to be around them and see what they do."

The competition and the coaching brought out the best in the players, many of whom were looking to increase their stock even more with a strong performance. Odighizuwa made no secret of the reason for his attendance at the camp.

"Honestly, I was looking for a fifth star," he said. "So I came into this being humble and working my hardest and just hoping to see what happens."

Odighizuwa did not disappoint.

He posted a strong performance using great quickness and a big frame to pressure the edge. King also did plenty to place himself into the discussion of five-stars. He has one of the best defensive line bodies of the group, and his quickness with his big frame makes him a very rare prospect.

Among the five-stars, the most highly rated of all of the defensive prospects actually struggled the most. Powell was sick heading into the camp and almost didn't participate but still managed to fight through the sweltering heat and still show some flashes of why he is so heavily recruited.

Floyd and Ferguson were of perfect health and it showed. Floyd showed, as he does wherever he goes, that the battle of leverage is so key. His ability to play low and powerful allowed him to dominate to the level that has become expected. Ferguson also had an outstanding day, showing a wide range of pass rush moves and physical presence.

Offensively, some linemen were up to the challenge by the defensive line, most notably Robert Crisp. Crisp's size, length and nimble feet have been a staple of every camp he has attended. but on Thursday he added great physicality as well. He was one of the day's top performers.

Also having great days on the offensive line were Arie Kouandjio and Quinton Spain. Both players have massive bodies with a tremendous punch. Spain, while not as polished with his footwork as some other linemen, was as physical as you can ask and incredibly strong.

Pocket Rockets
Offensively, there were a number of players that were incredibly explosive if not incredibly big. Players with height limitations have to be special with the ball in their hands and have an innate ability to get open and catch the football. There were a few players that fit that bill on Thursday.

The most notable prospect that excelled despite his limited height was D.J. Morgan. What makes Morgan so special is that while he is good with the ball in his hands, he is extremely fluid getting up field in pass routes, shows great body control when the ball is in the air, and soft hands. He also clearly has terrific speed and once the ball is caught, he is looking for more.

At 5-foot-7, 155 pounds Beaumont (Texas) Central running back Keith O'Neal may not even have the size of Morgan, but he has the start-stop ability that is a must as a scat back. O'Neal was incredibly shifty in space and also demonstrated the ability to catch the ball. One of the unheralded prospects coming into the event, O'Neal could be a versatile prospect on the next level.

At the wide receiver position Tehvyn Brantley deals with his limited size of 5-foot-8 with pure speed. Brantley gets vertical as quickly as anybody at the camp and shows tremendous burst and a knack for pulling in the tough catches. Despite his size, there is no doubt that Brantley is more than simply a special teams player on the next level.

Offensive headliners
Perhaps the biggest name coming into the week's event was Lache Seastrunk out of Temple, Texas. The nation's top rated skill player did not disappoint on Thursday showing the explosiveness and quick twitch abilities that make him so tough to tackle. In an open field tackling drill, Seastrunk is the only back that can come to a complete stop and still find a way to dance away from a linebacker.

Seastrunk's high intensity, full speed style as well as his big personality always set him apart on the field, but on Thursday he showed that he has more than just a toss sweep in his arsenal. He was very adept catching the ball, rarely dropping any passes and really showing some of the most consistent hands among any of the backs.

Seastrunk also showed that if football doesn't work out, he may have a career in gymnastics. Even after a long day of work, Seastrunk found the energy to do a number of flips to wow onlookers.

Though he has slightly less fanfare than Seastrunk, Silas Redd was equally as impressive. More of a north-south back than Seastrunk, Redd's style was much more balance and his demeanor much more soft-spoken, but his production was hard to miss. He was very tough to defend in pass routes and in open-field tackling, no running back was able to make cuts at full speed as effectively as Redd.

Currently listed as an athlete, Redd showed that he has everything you need to be a big-time college football running back.

At wide receiver, Markeith Ambles looked to have the most effective day. Fresh off of his recent commitment to Tennessee, Ambles showed fantastic route-running ability and a smooth stride in and out of his routes. As far as his on the field ability, Ambles' hands and polish give him a very high floor with regards to his potential on the next level.

Quietly Competing
With the stable of big-name players at the event, one prospect that just quietly goes about his business is running back Rajion Neal of Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek.

Neal just has everything you want out of a running back. He has good size at 5-foot-11 and over 200 pounds. He has enough speed, fluidity as a receiver, soft hands and great feet.

Not only does Neal quietly get the job done on the field, but he has quietly gone about his recruitment as three fortunate teams are still in the running for his signature. From several offers, Neal is closing in on a commitment to either Mississippi State, Louisville or Kentucky. He hopes to make his decision in the coming weeks, before the start of his senior season.

The Lone Star
At the quarterback position, several good players had strong performances such as Jake Heaps, Taylor Graham and C.J. Bennett. However, Texas commit Connor Wood had his game on a different level.

Wood is a big strong prospect with deceptive athleticism that eats up ground quickly with the ball in his hands, whether that be on his drops or on his rollouts. On Thursday, he also showed a great arm, a sharp release and tremendous accuracy. He was hitting his intermediate routes to perfection and showed some touch on the deep balls as well.

For a player that has been inconsistent at times on the camp circuit, Wood showed some of the potential that has to have Texas coaches excited.

Young guns
The class of 2011 was well-represented, particularly at the running back position. Texas running backs Malcolm Brown and Aaron Green came into the event considered two of the top running backs in the country for the class of 2011 and though they did not disappoint, neither was the best back of the day from among the juniors.

That title would have to go to Marlin Lane.

Lane, a Clemson commit, continued to catch the eye of coaches and onlookers with a plant-and-go quickness that not many backs could match. He has good size, is only getting bigger and he catches the ball naturally. Each time he made one of his vicious cuts he seemed to take everyone by surprise. Expect Lane to be among the best Florida running backs in 2011.

At wide receiver, the star 2011 prospect was the teammate of Heaps, Kasen Williams. Williams has the body of a tight end or long linebacker but there's no doubt he has the skills of a wide receiver. Williams had some of the most reliable hands on Thursday as well as some great body control and presence.

Defensive notables
At linebacker, Khairi Fortt is an imposing figure. He has great size but none of the stiffness that you expect out of a 6-foot-3, 230-pound high schooler. Fortt showed the best fluidity of all the linebackers and played the position with a swagger and confidence that was detectable.

Two more physically impressive prospects were the days top two defensive backs: Geismar (La.) Dutchtown safety Eric Reid and Greensboro (N.C.) Northern Guilford athlete Keenan Allen.

Reid is a very big safety, big enough to pass for a linebacker. However his hips in coverage, his awareness and his ball skills are all elite as a defensive back. Reid's physicality and hitting ability is obvious on film, but he showed on Thursday that he is perfectly capable in coverage as well.

Alongside Reid in the defensive backfield, Allen is similarly big and similarly athletic. He has great range, great ball skills and perfectly natural in a backpedal. Allen's athleticism makes him a BCS-level prospect as a wide receiver but he has All-American potential at the safety position.


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