January 3, 2008

Coaches rave about East's athleticism

SAN ANTONIO - Cornerback Patrick Johnson does some things that cannot be taught. Either you have that special talent or you don't. Johnson, who has narrowed his list to Florida, LSU and Florida State, has those gifts and he's used them so far at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

"Speed is a killer," East cornerbacks coach Paul Gonnella said. "He has the ability to backpedal and come out of it. His awareness is tremendous and then you take all that athletic ability. He has those things you totally can't teach.

"You can get somebody a little faster if you work with them. He has those things that can come from (his head) and (his heart). When he wants it, which is most of the time, he's amazing. He can throw a football. He can catch a football. He runs. He jumps. He does everything."

Rivals.com rates Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 193-pound prospect from Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely, as the No. 1 cornerback in the 2008 class. He's third nationally regardless of position.

Fellow East cornerback Boubacar Cissoko, a Michigan commit, is also putting together a solid week. Gonnella said he has been impressed with Cissoko's physical play. The Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech standout is only 5-foot-8, but he's strong and sturdy and is not afraid to mix it up.

"We started bumping (Tuesday)," said Gonnella, the coach at Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge & Latin. "He got DeAndre Brown in one-on-one situations and he got physical with him. You're talking 6-6 and (5-8). You can see his arms. You can see his physical abilities are more advanced than most corners."

Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln's T.J. Bryant, rated as the fifth-best cornerback nationally, injured his ankle early in the first practice, but that has not stopped him from being involved with Gonnella and the game plan. Bryant is learning the defense so when he returns - which is expected to be Thursday - he can step back in and work for playing time.

"I invited him to my room to go over some stuff because he hasn't been totally in the drills," Gonnella said. "We're definitely going to need him. He's a yes, sir, no, sir kid. He was asking questions. It shows he wants to be here.

"I see him at dinner and I've seen him throughout the week and I told him, 'Relax, you're here for a reason.' I said, 'You'll be fine. You're going to get in that game.' I just want to make sure he's healthy before he gets back."

Coach Quarles impressed with Pryor

Terrelle Pryor is going to get better. That was the message from East quarterbacks coach George Quarles when he talked about the nation's No. 1 player. Pryor rushed for 36 touchdowns and threw for 23 more this season at Jeannette (Pa.).

"He's just so athletic," said Quarles, the coach at Maryville (Tenn.). "His best days are ahead of him. I know that's scary for people to hear, but when he gets in a system and gets that consistent coaching all the time he's going to separate himself even more. I never saw Vince Young play in person, but I can't imagine Vince Young being any more athletic than Terrelle."

Pryor, Alabama commit Star Jackson and MarQueis Gray, who will pick either Minnesota or Oregon during Saturday's game, are the East quarterbacks. Quarles said the plan is to let them make plays - whether it's through the air or with their feet. All three are capable of making things happen.

"That's what is going to be a key for us, is to let those guys make some plays," Quarles said. "If something breaks down, let them go. I was kidding coach (Robert Prunty) that might be our best offense right now is just letting one of them take off running. We're pretty good at receiver and the running backs, we're down to two, but both of those guys can play also."

Low in numbers but high in talent

The East only has Ryan Williams and Lamaar Thomas in the backfield due Jonas Gray's injury, but that duo is talented enough to make the running game a threat, assistant coach Craig Jeffries said.

"Ryan Williams is very elusive, makes you miss, pretty quick, pretty fast, he's a guy that can hit the home run any time," said Jeffries, who coaches at Washington (D.C.) Dunbar. "I'm impressed with his wiggle and his ability to put his foot in the ground and go when he has to. He's been doing really well for us."

Williams can run between the tackles and is known for his mixture of power and speed. Thomas, an Ohio State commit, is best getting to the outside and using his athleticism to get past defenders.

"Lamaar has been the surprise of all the backs," Jeffries said. "He's making the right reads. He's making good decisions and there aren't any questions about his speed. He can flat out fly. He's reading his cuts real well."

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