April 5, 2009

Linemen take the stage at TCU Nike Camp

FORT WORTH, Texas - So often, camps and combines are the place for skill players to showcase themselves and bask in the spotlight. However, at the Nike Football Training Camp on the campus of TCU on Sunday, the wide receivers, defensive backs and quarterbacks all took a back seat to the talent that was on display in the trenches.

All it took was a warmup period and stretching drills before it became clear that the offensive line group was loaded with talent. To a man, it seemed that nearly every offensive lineman prospect in attendance was blessed with a great frame and a college-ready body. As always though, the top players separated themselves once the whistle was blown.

On this day, the top performer was Evan Washington out of DeSoto, Texas. Washington was one of the biggest linemen at the event with a great 6-foot-5 frame and a thick but athletic lower-body. At over 300 pounds, Washington really moved well, had a strong punch at the point of attack and was one of the top competitors there. At times, the coaches had to pull Washington back to allow other linemen to get reps.

Washington was the top performer but he was in good company. Texas A&M had two extremely talented commitments manning the line of scrimmage, Cedric Ogbuehi out of Allen High School and Luke Joeckel out of Arlington, Texas.

Of the two, Joeckel is the more college ready player right now with a great O-line body and one of the strongest finishers of the group. He also showed great balance and good feet on the day.

Ogbuehi on the other hand is still growing into his frame, particularly his upper body. But when he reaches his full physical potential, he could be an absolute star. He was as athletic as any lineman there but only struggled at times getting knocked out of position by stronger defenders. Once he has more weight behind his punch up top, he should excel.

Another lineman with unlimited potential is Tyrus Thompson out of Plugerville. Thompson has long arms and a big frame and looks like a tight end when he is going through agility drills. Thompson's frame, length and athleticism give him one of the highest ceilings of any lineman in Texas.

TCU commit Cameron Fleming looked right at home on his future practice field and was another prospect that will only get better with his great frame. Josh Allen also had a strong day out of Cedar Hill. He doesn't have the height as some of the other big names in attendance but he plays with very good leverage and is light on his feet, showing a lot of ability on the interior and certainly worthy of more than his one offer.

Defensively, Carlos Thompson stole the show. Making the trip all the way from Hollandale, Miss., Thompson made the most of his drive. At 6-foot-5, Thompson is extremely long and extremely quick off of the snap. He has an ideal frame for an athletic edge rusher and very few linemen were able to come up with an answer for him.

Deservedly, Thompson came away with the defensive line MVP and he had an ideal setting to show off his ability.

"It went pretty good, I just came out here and gave it my all and wanted more people to see me," Thompson said. "Really I just wanted to compete against the top offensive linemen and I got a chance to do that and show my skills."

Already with offers from all of the major in-state programs in Mississippi, along with Vanderbilt, Thompson is also hearing from Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Stanford.

Also on the defensive line, Dallas (Texas) Skyline's Rodney Williams showed great quickness and feet at defensive tackle just a day after working out at receiver for the Elite 11 camp. Also on the interior Darius Hudson proved to be a space eater and a mammoth defensive tackle with some quickness. On the outside Michael Daniels out of Garland (Texas) Naaman Forrest was tough to handle rushing the passer.

Defensive backs/wide receivers

Last year at the TCU Nike Camp, Marcus Trice burst onto the scene and went from relative unknown to a highly sought-after prospect. This year, his teammate had the same type of impact. Marshawn Grays won the defensive back MVP award with an outstanding day of coverage.

Grays is a pure cover corner who is about as natural in his backpedal as most people are walking forward. He is always playing with his shoulders over his toes, is quick out of his breaks and has great instincts. The 5-foot-9 prospect should see his stock continue to climb.

The Lancaster (Texas) High School defensive backfield machine keeps producing and after last year's class of three defensive backs signing Division I scholarships, Tyler Stephenson looks poised to continue that trend. The two-sport track star looked great in position drills with his feet and fluidity. Recently, he added Arizona State to his offer list and as he continues to get stronger, he will be a very good college corner.

Oklahoma commit Eddrick Loften was making plays at safety and giving Sooner fans something to look forward to. Though it was clear that he wasn't totally comfortable in man coverage, Loften's athleticism is evident. He's a springy, explosive athlete that has the athleticism to be effective in coverage but even on air in a camp setting, it's clear he has a safeties mentality.

On the offensive end, two wide receivers stood out among the group. Ricki Herod Jr. made a strong impression in his second major event of the offseason. He was already tabbed as one of the standout performers at the U.S. Army Combine in January and Sunday he added a WR MVP award to his resume. Herod is tall, long and very fluid in his routes. He also catches the ball with ease and is very comfortable keeping the ball away from his body and using his hands.

Joe Powell out of Dallas (Texas) Skyline joined his fellow Sooner commit Loften in standing out among the crowd. Powell is extremely quick off the line, explosive in and out of his routes and didn't drop any balls on the day. Powell had a quietly dominating day at the wide receiver position.

Linebackers/Running backs

The Dallas Skyline talent extended into the linebacker group where two of the best in attendance hailed from the talented program. Corey Nelson is not very big but he is extremely quick. He was more than almost any running back could handle in the pass rush drills and he also had a very effective day covering running backs out of the backfield.

His high school teammate Dominique Patterson also had a terrific afternoon. Patterson is thicker than Nelson though not quite as tall and showed that he has a complete set of tools at linebacker. He had an outstanding period in the open-field tackle drill and he had one of the more well-rounded days among any of the linebackers.

While Patterson and Nelson were relatively known commodities, one new name that emerged was Austin Wilson out of Tyler (Texas) Lee. Wilson was making plays in seemingly every drill. He is around 6-foot-0 but has long arms a nice frame and great speed and athleticism. It was hard to go through a drill without Wilson making a play somewhere along the way.

At running, Ben Malena led the way as the MVP. The Cedar Hill prospect is a physical bruising back but showed much more than just that aspect of his game on his way to the award. He is a compact runner but has a lot of burst to him and looks poised for another incredibly productive year running the football.

Jamaine Wilhite out of Denton Guyer didn't have as consistent of a day as Malena. He had some ball security issues in some drills but overall he showed a lot of talent. Wilhite was one of the quickest backs with the ball in his hands and competed at an extremely high level all afternoon long.

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