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July 10, 2012
The Opening by Nike took place over the weekend with testing and camp on Friday and 7-on-7 and Big Man Challenge on Saturday and Sunday. Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell was there for all the action and, as has become customary for big events, he breaks down the best and the worst in his Farrell Awards, led by tight end O.J. Howard, who is making a case for something even better than five-star status.
Lightning in a bottle
This award usually goes to a smaller player with great footwork who dominates in space and has an amazing suddenness to him. However, this time around it goes to a massive tight end in Autauga (Ala.) Academy star O.J. Howard, who was the best all-around prospect at the camp when it comes to athleticism, size and rarity. I have never seen a tight end with so many gifts in my decade-plus covering prospects and his performance would have been even better had he been targeted more. Howard is a clear five-star, there's no hiding that, but can he make a push up to the top of the rankings charts?
Honorable mention: St. Petersburg (Fla.) Catholic running back Ryan Green is very explosive, has excellent feet and he has very good hands for a running back. He made some of the most electric plays of the weekend, highlighted by a one-handed catch over linebacker Matthew Thomas for a score. His ability to turn the corner was remarkable as well as he outran a few players even though it's one-hand touch.
This is for the player who looks the best off the bus at his particular position. Once again this has to go to O.J. Howard, who looks more like Dwight Howard physically with his massive shoulders, thin waist and so much room to add good weight. He was the one player catching the ball you could see from more than 100 yards away and know it was him. However, Howard might be too easy a choice, so let's go with Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian Academy linebacker Mike Mitchell, who looks like a slightly smaller version of Brian Cushing coming out of high school. The kid is ripped and will be a 250-pound monster in no time.
Honorable mention: Auburn, Ala. linebacker Reuben Foster once again looked great physically before he went down very early with an injury, but the guy who stood out to me was offensive lineman Steve Elmer. Elmer, from Midland, Mich., has a great tackle body. He's massive at 6-foot-6 and over 300 pounds and he doesn't carry a ton of bad body weight. Once he gets into a college weight room and training program, he will be a monster.
This award goes to the smallest player who had the biggest impact. That's Charleston (W.V.) George Washington athlete Ryan Switzer. Switzer is very difficult to cover in a camp setting because he changes direction so well and has excellent burst. For safeties and linebackers trying to check him in the slot, it's nearly impossible because he's so low to the ground and quick. He was a big part of his team's run to the title this weekend.
Honorable mention: Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central cornerback Will Likely was all over the field and did well covering receivers bigger than him which was essentially everyone because he's only 5-foot-7. He is quick, can be physical and he has good hops.
This award goes to the player who was consistently the most physical and angriest, and of course it goes to a lineman. Madison, Fla. offensive guard Ira Denson was easily the most physical offensive lineman at the event, and he hammered a few guys to the ground. He is very strong, moves his feet constantly and is an excellent drive blocker.
Honorable mention: Upland, Calif. defensive end Joe Mathis pretty much bull-rushed every time he took a 1-on-1 rep and started a fight after nearly each one. This isn't really rewarding him as a player. Instead it will hopefully be a wakeup call. Cussing out the camp's offensive line coach while ESPN cameras were rolling isn't a great reflection on him.
This award goes to the player who raised his stock the most from the camp and that would have to be Memphis (Tenn.) Memphis East offensive tackle Christian Morris. Morris has great size, long arms and he uses both to ride players to the outside. But what's really impressive is how he moves his feet to handle inside pass rushers. A mid-level three star right now, that will be changing.
Honorable mention: Bushnell (Fla.) South Sumter safety Keanu Neal is currently ranked No. 250 in the country and 21st at safety. That will change as the Florida commitment has good size, moves well and closes on the football well. Big kids who can move at that position are important and we all know he can hit based on film. What we didn't know is how well he could cover.
This award goes to the player who lowered his stock the most from the camp. While Pickerington (Ohio) Central defensive end Taco Charlton looks the part, he really struggled. He has great size, long arms and he is very athletic. However, he is also very upright, only has an outside move and when coaches tried to teach him misdirection or crossover, he didn't grasp it well at all. He was beaten on almost every 1-on-1 rep he took.
Honorable mention: Oakley (Calif.) Freedom wide receiver Darrell Daniels has great size and can run well, but his hands betrayed him. He dropped passes and fought the football as if it was his worst enemy.
It was very clear that Warren (Mich.) De La Salle quarterback Shane Morris had the best arm at the event. He has a cannon of an arm and there's not a throw he can't make. With some of the other quarterbacks showing funky mechanics or not spinning the ball that well, it was fun to see him rear back and let it rip. He has a hose, as they say in the quarterback business.
Honorable mention: Fork Union (Va.) Fork Union Military quarterback Christian Hackenberg has a really strong arm. It's a tick behind Morris, but not too far. However, it is sometimes his worst enemy as he tries to force the ball. Having confidence in your arm is a good thing and Hackenberg has all the tools to be a good one, but he needs to let it rip only at certain times.
Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside running back Taquan Mizzell pretty much wins this award every time we give it out at a camp he attends. His footwork is amazing, his route-running is rare for a running back and he's a blur in the open field.
Honorable mention: Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven running back Mark Dodson Jr. was really good in drills on Friday, especially in the gauntlet where you need to escape a linebacker one-on-one. He also made some people miss in 7-on-7 play. Alvin Kamara from Norcross, Ga., as well as Ryan Green, were both impressive taking handoffs in 7-on-7 play and making people miss.
This award goes to the receiver who shows the best hands and looks like he has Stickum on his hands a la Lester Hayes and others from the NFL past. Crete (Ill.) Crete Monee wide receiver Laquon Treadwell made the most acrobatic catches during the weekend, including a couple of amazing touchdown grabs under duress and in traffic. While he was slowed by a minor concussion and poor quarterback player on Sunday, he was still the wide out that made everyone take notice.
Honorable mention: Orlando (Fla.) Jones wide receiver Levonte Whitfield caught almost everything thrown at him and he was the most reliable wide receiver for his team throughout the 7-on-7 tournament. He's not big, but he is quick and he can separate.
Poise under pressure
Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood Senior quarterback Cooper Bateman had rough days on Friday and Saturday, but when his team needed it the most on Sunday, he came alive. He made some key passes, some very good decisions and didn't make any key mistakes in leading his team to the title.
Honorable mention:Keanu Neal from Bushnell (Fla.) South Sumter looked like a defeated man early in the championship game when he let a touchdown pass sail over his head into the arms of the wide receiver he was responsible for. However, he never let himself get down and ended up making a huge play at the end of the game when he batted away a potential tying touchdown pass. That's the kind of short memory a defensive back needs.
This award goes to the quarterback who didn't see the field as well as his team hoped and Whitewright, Texas, signal-caller Tyrone Swoopes struggled more than anyone else. When he locked in on his first read, he was easy to pick off or at least get a hand on his passes. When he had to reverse his field of vision to the opposite side, that's where things got worse.
Honorable mention:Warren (Mich.) De La Salle quarterback Shane Morris was clearly one of the top three quarterbacks at the event, but his team was the favorite to win it all with weapons like O.J. Howard, Taquan Mizzell and Ahmad Fulwood. However, his Land Sharks team was eliminated early mainly because Morris focused on one side of the field and locked in on certain players. He has a cannon of an arm and a ton of upside, but his field vision needs to improve.
This award goes to the defensive back who blanketed receivers the best. While in Atlanta it was Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy cornerback Jalen Ramsey who took the award home over Olney (Md.) Good Counsel cornerback Kendall Fuller, this time it is reversed. Fuller wasn't tested often and when you watched him he was amazing at playing off one receiver and jumping on another's routes, essentially covering two guys at once.
Honorable mention: Ramsey takes the runnerup position here and it was once again a close battle. Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central cornerback Will Likely also gets a nod here as being one of the most consistent players in coverage.
This award usually goes to a defensive back, but Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas had three interceptions in one game against Georgia quarterback commitment Brice Ramsey from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County and came very close to a few others. For a linebacker to be that dominant in coverage and have that many picks is amazing.
Honorable mention: Numerous players had multiple interceptions, so this is a hard one to narrow down. New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr cornerback Noel Ellis had at least a couple, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. safety Tahaan Goodman had three and Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips safety Marcell Harris also had a few. Midlothian (Va.) Manchester defensive back Holland Fisher also had a few while Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech cornerback Jourdan Lewis and Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep's Tre Bell also had more than one interception on the weekend.
Prosper, Texas wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. has to be in this discussion with his impressive performance this weekend. He caught as many touchdown passes as anyone and helped lead his team to the title. A mid-three-star kid, Hunter might not be a four-star, but he should be closer to that status than he is.
Honorable mention: Los Alamitos, Calif. offensive lineman Alex Redmond is a mid-range three star and he had a very strong weekend, including a pancake block of Placer, Calif., defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes which knocked him out of Sunday's competition. Redmond, an Oregon commitment, is better than his current ranking.
Jekyll and Hyde
This award often goes to a quarterback because their play can be so up and down. There were a few signal-callers who fit the bill, but this time it goes to Mesquite (Texas) West Mesquite wide receiver Eldridge Massington. After a very weak performance at the Rivals100 Five Star Challenge in Atlanta, Massington came out Friday and was the best player on the field. But in 7-on-7 play, he once again struggled. Yes he had a quarterback who struggled in Whitewright, Texas, athlete Tyrone Swoopes, but dropping two sure-fire touchdown passes didn't help. He has skills, but he is very erratic.
Honorable mention: Take your pick between quarterback Brice Ramsey from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County and quarterback Cooper Bateman from Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood Senior. Ramsey was one of the best if not the best quarterback on Friday and struggled in 7-on-7 play and threw a ton of interceptions. Bateman went the opposite way as he was not good Friday or Saturday but really came on Sunday to lead his team to the title.
All or nothing
Fork Union (Va.) Fork Union Military quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw a lot of interceptions on the weekend, but he also threw some nice touchdown passes. The problem is that there were more picks than scores overall and he tried to fit the ball into too many tight windows. When steady and consistent was needed, his team got too much of the hot and cold we saw in Atlanta at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
Honorable mention: Crescent City, Fla. defensive tackle Caleb Brantley was all or nothing in his reps. When Brantley is on, he shows off rare athletic ability and quickness off the snap and an array of excellent moves. But when he loses off the snap, he simply gives up and his motor stops. You can never quit on any rep and Brantley quit on many of them.
Tampa (Fla.) Wharton cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III injured his ankle in the shuttle on Friday and was on crutches all day after that. But there was some hope that he would test it out Saturday or Sunday, especially when he wasn't limping noticeable either day. However, he was never able to suit up for either day of 7-on-7 other than to snap center for his team. His tweet that he was the most athletic center in the country was a good one, but it would have been great to see him out there battling Kendall Fuller for the No. 1 cornerback position.
Honorable mention: Auburn, Ala. linebacker Reuben Foster was injured on his 40-yard dash and some players said they could hear his hamstring pop. It was unclear why Houston (Texas) Alief Taylor defensive end Torrodney Prevot missed almost all of the action, but honorable mention here goes to Yulee, Fla. athlete Derrick Henry, who participated in the SPARQ challenge Friday night but was unable to go either day in 7-on-7. It was unclear what his injury was.
This award goes to the player who let us down the most, either on the field or off. Hands down it was Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton defensive end Carl Lawson, who has always been very nice and easy to deal with. Being sent home from The Opening for disrespectful conduct not only hurt his image, but also didn't allow us to see him go at it Saturday or Sunday.
Honorable mention: While it's not his fault he got injured, Auburn, Ala. linebacker Reuben Foster was a guy we really wanted to see again in action. He was nursing a knee injury at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, but still impressed. At The Opening, he got hurt running the 40 on Friday and then disappeared without telling anyone he was heading to take an unofficial visit to Washington.