UA Game notebook: RBs make noise

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
5:31
PM ET

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The second day of practice at the Under Armour All-America Game is in the books. The players are getting more familiar with the play calls and each other, which means there were some big plays and friendly trash talking between teams.

Options at RB


Team Nitro has three unique weapons at running back with Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) and Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn), and the coaches plan on using their skill sets in a number of different ways.

Cook, the No. 4 running back in the ESPN 300, likely will get the bulk of carries and is the most well-rounded back on the roster. Cook is committed to Florida but has said he will make a final decision this week between the Gators, Florida State and Miami. He was used in Monday’s practices to run between the tackles and also catch the ball out of the backfield.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Miller Safrit/ESPNDalvin Cook has impressed on the field and kept fans guessing off of it.
"I think I create some matchup problems because of my speed and the ability to run people over," Cook said. "The coaches said they think I’m the every-down type of back."

Jones, a Minnesota commitment who ranks as the No. 14 running back, came into the game with a résumé that didn’t quite stack up with some of the others, but his stock is quickly rising after two strong practices. He’s played very much like a top-five back so far and schools have noticed.

"Florida called me yesterday on the way to the Orlando Magic game," Jones said. "Their running backs coach, Brian White, called me and said he liked my film and liked what they saw on tape. He wanted me to come take an official visit and I agreed. I know they are a great team, they are a pretty good school and they do well in the SEC every year."

In addition to Florida, Michigan State has also showed interest in the talented back. Jones is planning to take a visit to East Lansing, Mich., but does not have a specific date set up yet.

"I like the University of Minnesota," Jones said. "I can see myself there, but I’m just making sure I’m not missing out on any other opportunities that could be good for my future. I mean the distance matters some, but at the same time, if you have to travel some for your future to be set, then so be it."

McKenzie is the X factor for Nitro. Originally listed as a receiver, McKenzie has been given opportunities to touch the ball on traditional runs, reverses, screen passes, passes while lined up in the slot, and he even took snaps while lined up in the Wildcat.

"I think we complement each other really well," said McKenzie, who will likely end up at Notre Dame if he can qualify academically. (("Jeff Jones is our power back. He gets up the field and gets us those tough yards we need. He's always pushing the pile forward. And then Dalvin has blazing speed. With the way I complement Dalvin, it's kind of like him in high school with his teammate [four-star running back] Joseph Yearby. I'm his Joseph Yearby in this game with how they’re using me all over the place."

Peppers stands out

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNJabrill Peppers took flight during Monday's practice at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Former NFL coach Herm Edwards, who has been a head coach for the Under Armour All-America Game the past three years, said he hasn’t had a better defensive back in this game than Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic). That is high praise for the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country, but Edwards, a former defensive back himself, believes Peppers will be a star. "It’s not even close. He’s the best one I’ve coached. I called Deion [Sanders] over and said look at that guy, and Deion saw the same thing," Edwards said. "[Robert] Nkemdiche was really good last year, he was a big guy who could run and [Peppers] is comparable to that as far as skill level at the position he’s playing. I played that position and coached that position for a long time and he’s a special talent." Edwards noted that Peppers loves to practice, which can be rare for such a highly ranked prospect. Peppers knows he’s going to be a good player, but still has humility about himself and his game. There is potential for Peppers to contribute on offense and defense at Michigan. "He’s going to play on offense here. We have some plays for him here; he’s going to touch the ball," Edwards said. "One thing smart coaches do is get the players that make plays and get them the ball. I promise you, the first big hit, No. 5 will be involved in it. I’d be shocked if he’s not."

Conference allies


With so many players committed to different conferences, it’s only natural for players committed to the same conference to show some solidarity during practice. With 35 prospects committed to the SEC, the players have a reason to stick together.

"You know in the SEC, we are pretty much the most dominant right now and we are trying to stay like that," Florida commit Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South) said. "If I go against someone in the ACC or Big Ten, I’m just trying to kill ‘em. We keep that going. The SEC is the place to be at."

The Big Ten has far fewer with 16 commitments, and those prospects feel they have something to prove. Since the SEC gets most of the attention, Michigan quarterback commit Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School) said he wants to make sure his future conference is represented well.

"As far as the SEC versus the Big Ten, I think they do have the right to come in here and think they’re the top dog. Looking at the past 10 years they have dominated," Speight said. "I think the guys coming into my recruiting class are annoyed with that and ready to do something about that. We’re going to go in and do our best to make our team and conference the top dog."

Bates impresses

[+] EnlargeDillon Bates
Miller Safrit/ESPNDillon Bates impressed with his ability to shed blocks and find the ball carrier.
After an up-and-down first day, Monday was a different story for the Team Nitro linebackers, especially Tennessee commit Dillon Bates (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla./Ponte Vedra Beach). Bates, the No. 4 outside linebacker in the ESPN 300, made would-be blockers look silly with his ability to shed blocks and find the ball carrier. And when he found the running backs, he made sure they were aware he was there. ((

"The first day was all install, and we were just trying to get everything set for the week and just trying to get our mind ready for the week," Bates said. "We really were more in reaction mode versus attack mode. This morning we had a really great meeting, ran through some things we weren't getting yesterday, made some changes to things and it just really clicked for everybody. It just felt kind of natural for me."

Ohio State linebacker commit Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) was a force again, but Bates believes all of his team's linebackers are capable of big things and will get even better as the week moves on.((

"All of us are definitely very fast, and you have a bunch of guys like McMillan who can plug holes," Bates said. "We are all-around sound. With the great coaches we have, we'll definitely be making plays."

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Alabama wide receiver commit Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) has been one of the top receivers in practice so far. He has a big body with long arms, and has been able to make some big catches.

Offensive lineman Braden Smith (Olathe, Kan./Olathe South) doesn’t say much to the media, but he made a big statement on the field Monday.

 

An SEC battle took place between Texas A&M commit Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin) and Alabama offensive line commit Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) in practice.
Offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory) was practicing at left tackle despite being recruited as an interior lineman. The four-star prospect held his own on the outside, though, and showed off his talent.

 

Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine), the No. 1-ranked prospect in the country, has received plenty of attention so far during practice. All eyes have been on Fournette and fellow Louisiana native Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) as two top uncommitted prospects in the game.

 

Jeremy Crabtree and Derek Tyson contributed to this report.

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