The 2014 Under Armour All-America game week has arrived, and the collection of talent is outstanding, with a roster that consists of nearly 90 ESPN 300 prospects, including 13 five-star recruits.
Throughout the week there will be plenty of electrifying plays and great battles. Below are some of the matchups to keep an eye on during the practices and the game (Jan. 2, ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).
Robinson and Garrett are the top-rated players at their respective positions and among the top five nationally, setting the stage for some great battles throughout the week of practice. With both possessing prototypical measurables for their positions, the tale of the tape portrays a heavyweight-like showdown.
In Robinson, you have a nimble big man capable of protecting the edge. The Alabama verbal can set quickly with knee bend, get hands on and mirror rushers. He also displays some nastiness and a competitive nature. In Garrett, you have a defender with an impressive combination of size, initial quickness and athleticism. As a pass-rusher, the Texas A&M verbal possesses the ability to attack blockers in multiple ways and keep them guessing. When these two line up across from each other, neither will be able to rely on his size and natural ability alone. Robinson will need to be sound in technique, and Garrett will need to have a plan. Both will need to bring their A-games.
Players at these two positions often are challenged the least during their high school careers; they are often the best skilled athlete on the field and can get away with being undisciplined or taking chances because they compensate by being athletically superior. Brown and Lane are going to find out what they are made of in one-on-one situations, because the defenses will be in man coverage the entire week. In 2008, Janoris Jenkins and Julio Jones matched up on the first day of practice, and Jones got stunned for the first few reps. That relationship created an incredibly competitive environment.
When I think of competitive, Tony Brown comes to mind. He also will be confident. Lane must bring his best stuff and use his size and strength to make plays in tight quarters. It is always fun to see who sinks and who swims. When you get beat, do you sulk and go in the tank or do you rise up and play the next down? Something tells me these two will battle in quite a few contested matchups during the week.
With a wealth of talent along the offensive and defensive lines, the trenches will provide some great matchups all week. A great battle to watch inside will be between No. 1 defensive tackle Brown and top-rated guard Pierschbacher. Brown, who is committed to Virginia, is an explosive player capable of being a handful as a pass-rusher, while Alabama verbal Pierschbacher can be a tenacious blocker. Working around Pierschbacher could be tough, as he can set quickly and move easily laterally, though with a nice combination of size and power, Brown could challenge Pierschbacher with his bull rush.
In a class that features very few true pass-rushers but several topflight run-stoppers, DE Chad Thomas likely will stand out in one-on-one situations. He will be one of the best natural pass-rushers in the 2014 Under Armour All-America game. Conversely, Jamarco Jones is one of the more athletic big men in attendance, but as with most young offensive tackles, he can be raw and technically unrefined. This is where the offense is at a distinct disadvantage. Thomas will be able to pin his ears back and go with an athletic edge between the two. Jones will have to pay close attention to his feet, balance, bend and lateral agility to hold up against Thomas' speed and explosive first step. However, where Jones can shut down Thomas is by using his strength and getting his hands on Thomas quickly. Thomas is undersized and lacks lower-body strength, which Jones must take advantage of to try to frustrate Thomas off the edge.
When the paths of these two five-stars cross at the UA game, it will be a meeting of players with outstanding athleticism. Both could line up at multiple positions and have an impact, but No. 1 CB Peppers will be roaming the secondary, while top-rated athlete Noil will be lining up at receiver. Peppers is a fluid athlete with good size and great speed and can be a lockdown corner.
With Noil, the name Speedy pretty much sums it up, as the kid can fly. He fills multiple roles for his high school and thus is still a bit limited in experience at receiver, but he possesses soft hands and is a talented athlete with a bit of a natural feel for the position. If he isn't sharp in his route running, creating separation against Peppers could be tough, but if Noil can get his hands on the ball, he can be very dangerous in the open field. These are two playmakers capable of bringing out the best in each other and providing an exciting matchup.
QB-PP Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) vs. Defensive secondary
Unfortunately, we have had four of our six Under Armour All-America game quarterbacks go down with injuries this fall. The bright side is that this provides opportunities for other worthy signal-callers, including Mahalak. We chose Mahalak vs. the entire secondary because this is going to be a significant jump in talent and speed for him when it comes to timing, anticipation and accuracy. In fact, this will be the biggest adjustment for all the quarterbacks.
Mahalak is a wonderful athlete and an instinctive player who spent time as a wide receiver and kick returner before becoming a full-time quarterback as a senior. But he actually hasn't played all that much, since he played on a dominant team that rarely gave him many snaps after halftime of games. The likes of J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee), Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) and S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), among others, will provide a great measuring stick for Mahalak and all the quarterbacks.
TE Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian) vs. S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron)
Both rated No. 3 at their respective positions, these two could make for some hard-fought battles in practice. Adams plays smart, fast and physical, and making plays against this top-25 prospect can be tough for any target, including Blazevich. While getting open against the talented safety will be challenging, Blazevich still can present a tough matchup. The Georgia commit has the size advantage, which can allow him to make the play in jump-ball situations. He has strong hands and good body control to adjust to passes, and even when covered he still can make the grab. Lastly, while he might not be able to run away from Adams, he displays some savvy as a route runner that could help him to create separation at times.
This is a matchup of perhaps the best route runner and set of ball skills (Rudolph) against the best pure cover corner when it comes to explosive quickness (Jackson) this game has to offer. Rudolph is a technician when it comes to route running. He consistently understands leverage, attacks alignment, eats up cushion, stays low and perhaps most important snaps his head around to be prepared for the football. As expected, this will force Jackson to employ the same level of discipline in man coverage, as he will not be able to rely solely on his superior skill set. Rudolph is really skilled at creating separation, and Jackson has proved he can close the gap. Something has to give. One thing is for sure, Jackson's coverage likely will be in place, but can he make plays on the ball against a player who relishes contested matchups? This is going to be a fun one-on-one to watch.