US Army: West Notebook - Day One

San Antonio - During spring football it is common to see the defense playing better than the offense early as the offense builds up their inventory of plays. During the 'spring ball' portion of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the West defense took the adage of 'defense wins championships' to heart. They put in a spirited practice at Alamo Heights High School Monday that saw the offense and defense partake in some unexpected full-contact sessions.

The best way to characterize the West's offensive line is 'thin'. With Ekom Udofia and Matt Reynolds out of the game and no replacements were added at the last minute, West Head Coach John Barnes will have to dig deep in his bag of tricks to keep his OL as cohesive and fresh as possible.

Right now, the West squad has only six healthy offensive linemen; Reginald Youngblood, Jesse White, Josh McNeil, Craig Roark, Daniel Borg and Rodney Picou. White, who is listed at 6-foot-3, looks to be a lot closer to 6-foot. Barnes said Monday that the C/OG from Denver (Colo.) Mullen has been dealing with a thumb injury all season and was actually going to the hospital that night to get his hand checked out. Either way, it sounds like White will be playing on Saturday, even if a cast is needed.

A few players did manage to shine despite the adversity. C/OG Josh McNeil out of Collins, Mississippi started off slow, but once the offense got a few snaps under their belts things started to iron themselves out. "Yeah, we started off slow, but you figure that's going to happen," Josh told Steve Ryan of Big Red Report,'s Nebraska site. "We got it going though and I know I had at least seven pancakes." McNeil is committed to the university of Tennessee.

And the defensive linemen, especially the first-team front four; Marcus Shavers, DeMarcus Granger, Jerrell Powe and Raymond Henderson, were a terror in drills that were supposed to be at 'thud' tempo but turned into a tackling fest nonetheless. A highlight was Powe, all 6-foot-4 and 322-pounds of him crashing into West QB Ryan Perrilloux, even though Ryan was wearing red. Powe was

Yes, there is that little rule about not taking players down, but you tell someone to just stop a 340 pound lineman and we'll see how that goes. "Hey, I'm a big man," Jerrell said. "I can't just stop like those little running backs."

The two interior players - Powe and Granger, as well as Roy Miller - just wreaked havoc over a West offensive line that was outsized and outmatched. Shavers was the unquestioned vocal leader of the defense, while TE Martellus Bennett kept the offense nice and loose.

In fact, the defensive front was the most dominating factor all day. "We were on them the whole time," Demarcus Granger said. "In a game like this, you have to come strong and we were bringing it from the second we touched the field."

The offensive line was almost totally overmatched the entire practice as they were trying to learn and fend off 300-pounders at the same time, but future Nebraska players like Rodney Picou and Craig Roark still managed to have some success. After a rude-awakening after one of the first encounters with Henderson, Roark heated up his game and a couple of other linemen in the process, one being all-everything defensive linemen Miller.

It's funny about these events, though, as players you only hear about and see on film or in pictures, you can finally see up close and personal and often, they aren't quite what you expected.

Reginald Youngblood fit that to a tee, but only because as big and as imposing as you think he is, stand close to him. He's more imposing than that. One of the best battles of the day was Youngblood versus Oak Creek High's Raymond Henderson. Henderson's success came from beating Youngblood off the snap, something the lightning-quick was capable of, but if Reginald got his hands on the Wisconsin All-American, that was all she wrote.

Because of the depth issues, Barnes will most likely use at least Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Lewis to help spell the six already on the o-line. The head coach, who coaches at Los Alamitos High School in California, is known for putting together imaginative gameplans, so he'll do what he can to get his main offensive weapons in space.

Skill Saw: When talking about those weapons, it's hard not to immediately jump to the 'twin towers' - the one-two double trouble brought by tight ends DajLeon Farr and Bennett. Farr,'s number-one tight end prospect at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, and Bennett at 6-foot-7 and 242-pounds is's number-two TE, give Barnes a tremendous amount of flexibility when game-planning. Look for both players to be utilized in a number of different sets and positions as Barnes tries to create mismatches. It won't be hard to do, as both Farr and Bennett look the part of big-time college prospects.

Thunder and Lightning and then some: The West also has a couple of top-ranked running backs in Jonathan Stewart and Marlon Lucky. But also look out for Texas commit Jamaal Charles. Stewart, at 5-10 and 220-pounds, is's number-one ranked running back, and with comparisons to the Baltimore Ravens' Jamal Lewis Stewart gives Barnes a back that can run with power on down-and-distance situations and can also bust one for the distance at any time. Lucky, from North Hollywood, California, is rated the seventh-best RB in the country. He is taller than Stewart, and runs with more of a slashing style. He can also take it to the house with legitimate 4.4 speed.

Roy Miller told Inside Texas' Clendon Ross that he felt Charles was the best back he had faced all day, based on his cutting ability and burst to clear himself from defenders. The Longhorns are loving the fact that Jamaal decided to stay close to home.

California receivers shine bright: DeSean Jackson and David Gettis did well in their first practice for the West. Jackson is a player that does not look overwhelming at first glance - he definitely appears to be shorter than the 6-feet listed in the official press guide - but he is a true burner that also brings a lot of technique and savvy to his game. With nearly all the throws sent his way, Jackson had clear separation from his corner every time. The taller Gettis made a very nice grab even while getting bit by the dreaded turf monster, and showed that he can get up and make catches in the deep third.

Perhaps the most impressive receiver Monday was in-state product David Nelson. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Nelson, from Wichita Falls, showed a remarkable ability to adjust to the ball as it was being thrown to him, regardless of either type of route or how deep the ball was thrown. He also consistenly caught the ball at it's highest point, showing good fundamentals. He's not a thick kid, but he will go up and battle for jump balls with the best of them.

Tomorrow's notebook will include an analysis of the West's two-headed quarterback monster (Ryan Perrilloux and Mark Sanchez), as well as an in-depth look at the linebackers and secondary.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is played in San Antonio, Texas., at the Alamodome on Jan. 15, 2005, and broadcast nationally on NBC at 1 p.m., Eastern. is a sponsor, the official selection partner and exclusive on-line partner of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, as well as the associated U.S. Army Combine for underclassmen.

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