January 20, 2010

Ask Jamie: Auburn reeling in talented class

Jamie Newberg is a football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. He tackles your questions in his weekly mailbag feature.
Previous mailbags:
Jan 13: Recruits adjust to coaching moves
Dec 23: Strong gets started at Louisville
Dec 17: How well will Kelly recruit?

Got a question? Click here to send it to Jamie's Mailbag

The Auburn Tigers find themselves in the top five of Rivals.com's team recruiting rankings, and Gene Chizik and Co. could be poised to move higher.

Can Texas land defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks?

Can Syracuse steal linebacker Darrin Kitchens from the Florida schools?

These topics and more are addressed in this week's mailbag.


Closing strong?

Who do you believe Auburn will close with in its recruiting class?

- Corey from Orlando, Fla.

Auburn has quietly flown under the national radar. Coach Gene Chizik's team, however, sits at No. 4 in the Rivals.com national recruiting rankings - behind only Florida, Texas and Alabama.

Three five-star prospects have committed to the Tigers: junior college quarterback Cameron Newton, running back Michael Dyer and offensive lineman Shon Coleman. Other headliners headed to the Plains are wide receivers Trovon Reed, Jeremy Richardson and Antonio Goodwin, defensive end Craig Sanders and linebacker LaDarius Owens. And Wednesday, Auburn received a commitment from four-star offensive guard Eric Mack.

How high can Chizik and Co. go with their 2010 recruiting class? Obviously that depends on how they close, and all indications are that Auburn will close strong. The Tigers would like to add approximately four more prospects, and it's an impressive list of players atop their board.

It's either Auburn or South Carolina for five-star running back Marcus Lattimore. The Tigers are fighting Georgia for defensive tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Mike Thornton. Then there's defensive end Corey Lemonier, who should pick between Auburn and Florida State.

Many teams are trying to take advantage of the recent coaching transition at Tennessee, and Auburn is one of those programs. It appears five-star wide receiver Markeith Ambles will visit the Tigers on the final visit weekend this month. If that does materialize and he visits the Tigers, can they pull him away from the Vols?

For this time of year, that's a ton of big-name prospects within their grasp. Many of these recruiting battles are too close to call, and it won't be an easy final two weeks. But right now it looks like Auburn is in pretty good shape with Lattimore and Whitaker. It will be interesting to see what Whitaker does in the end, especially with the Bulldogs switching to a 3-4. All of a sudden he becomes a key piece for the new Georgia defense.

Those aren't the only players in Auburn's sight, but they are the key ones. If the Tigers land their share, they certainly can earn a higher ranking - and perhaps challenge for the top spot on National Signing Day (Feb. 3).


Future for five-stars

What have you heard lately about Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks?

- Mike from Pasadena, Texas

I don't think much has changed with Hicks, a linebacker out of West Chester, Ohio. It's three schools - Ohio State, Texas and Florida - for the top-rated player at his position.

The funny thing is that when you talk with some folks they say he's going to Texas. Others say it's Florida. What I don't hear people say much is that he's staying home to play for Ohio State. After speaking with him in Orlando, Fla., following an Under Armour All-America practice, I did get a vibe from him that it was either Texas or Florida.

I think it's just too close to call, and something tells me not to fall asleep on Ohio State.

I have felt for a long time that Jeffcoat would always pick between Texas and USC. With the coaching change for the Trojans, it's still unclear to me how Jeffcoat stands with the new regime at USC. Therefore, I really feel that Texas is the team to beat here. I was leaning that way even before Pete Carroll bolted to the Seattle Seahawks.

Now there could be a new wrinkle with the Jeffcoat saga. His father, Jim Jeffcoat, has been the defensive line coach at Houston under Kevin Sumlin. But with Oklahoma defensive ends coach Chris Wilson leaving for Mississippi State, there are rumors circulating that the Sooners could hire the elder Jeffcoat in Norman to be their new defensive ends coach. Oklahoma has always been on the short list of the younger Jeffcoat, a five-star defensive end. He's also scheduled to make an official visit to Norman this weekend.

There's no question Texas is the team to beat for Jeffcoat. But if OU hires his father, all bets are off.


Syracuse success in south Florida?

Do my Orange have a real shot at linebacker Darrin Kitchens from south Florida? I hear he could be an absolute steal for the 'Cuse?

- Jim from Buffalo, N.Y.

Kitchens has been popular lately. The Homestead High School standout led Dade County in sacks with 19. At 6 feet 3 and 215 pounds, he mainly played defensive end, but also lined up at the three technique at defensive tackle.

Just a few weeks ago it looked like Syracuse was the team to beat. The Orange offered early and Kitchens visited in early December. Then Florida offered. Then Florida State. USF has also offered, and he will make an official visit to Tampa this weekend.

Can Syracuse hang in there and steal him away from the Sunshine State? At this time it doesn't look likely.

So where will he end up? I don't think Florida will have room in its class. The play here could be Florida State. The Seminoles are sky high on him. Or maybe the Bulls blow him away this weekend.

Sorry Jim, right now I don't think Kitchens is headed to Syracuse.


To each his own

Should all recruits refrain from committing until they have taken all the official visits they intend to take? Why or why not?

- Malcolm from Mobile, Ala.

To each his own, that's what I say. What we all need to understand is that each prospect is different; his recruitment is unique to his specific situation and what he is looking for in making a decision.

To say a recruit can't change his mind is like telling a coach he can't make a change either. It works both ways. While I will be the first to admit that it seems more prospects take additional visits after their initial commitment to a particular school, we also need to realize that more kids are making this decision earlier in the process.

Personally, I think recruiting has accelerated too quickly. Schools are evaluating earlier, offering earlier and recruits are taking the bait, whether they are ready or not. When this happens, doubt can creep in, a coaching change may happen or perhaps the team they committed to had a poor season.

Regardless of the reason, many prospects continue to make additional visits. It's just part of the process that we all have to deal with. That's why a commitment is non-binding.


Beyond the highlights

Some athletes are "winners" and some are very talented. How do analysts factor in "competitiveness?" How can you look at a highlight tape and determine who is a winner and who is just gifted?

- Gene from Chambersburg, Pa.

If you rely on tape alone, you really can't tell the difference. When you watch a highlight tape you really can't evaluate competitiveness. You evaluate the talent that a particular prospect is showing on film. After all, a highlight tape is just that, a series of plays showcasing his talents.

But something you may be able to catch is his "motor," or how hard he plays from the snap of the ball to the blow of the whistle. You get an even better gauge when watching game film, where you can evaluate a player from start to finish.

There are several ways to gauge competitiveness. Certainly you can talk to the high school coaching staff, see how he performs at practice or in offseason events.

Doing what we do, we love kids who shine on a highlight tape, as that is usually the first part of many in the evaluation process. We try and see as many players as possible with our own eyes and do our best due diligence with all parties involved. Evaluating is fluid and changes through the recruiting year.

Being competitive or being a winner is certainly part of the equation.

Jamie Newberg is a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his mailbag.




 

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