The Shrine Bowl provides an opportunity to watch the top players from North and South Carolina match their skills. Pack Pride was on hand to scout numerous players on NC State’s recruiting board and breaks down how several performed on Saturday.
The NC State commitments
Tobias Palmer...Palmer finished the game with 85 all-purpose yards. He rushed 12 times for 22 yards but most of the yardage he gained was on his own as the North Carolina offensive line was unable to consistently open holes for their running backs. Palmer is explosive and has tremendous acceleration. That, combined with his frame would make him an ideal candidate for cornerback down the road but the Pack coaches may give him a look at tailback first.
Dwayne Maddox...Physically, Maddox is what you’re looking for. He certainly has the frame and size needed to play early at linebacker for the Pack. On Saturday, he finished the game as NC’s second leading tackler with six. Fundamentally he tackled well and found himself in position to make several plays. Honestly, he probably could have made more plays but I don’t know how comfortable he was in North Carolina’s defensive scheme with just a few days of practice.
Brandon Barnes...Barnes had several pass breakups that were critical in helping keep the final score as close as it was. There were a few plays where the NC defensive backs seemed to be confused on who was doing what and it cost them. Like Maddox, Barnes has a great frame and good athleticism and he will probably start out at running back for State. He didn’t play his best game at safety on Saturday- taking a few bad angles that probably would have put him in position for interceptions versus pass-breakups and was late coming over the top on a couple of deep posts.
The “real” defensive MVP...Usually the guy who puts up the most stats wins MVP at the Shrine Bowl. Not to take anything away from Justin Venable but Kevin Reddick was the top defensive player in my opinion. He finished with seven tackles, one sack and four tackles for loss. He was in the South Carolina backfield constantly and made several bone-jarring hits on the SC backs. Reddick is a defensive playmaker and has been one of the state’s more under-rated players in my opinion.
Willie Young clone?...Physically, DE Devin Taylor is almost a copycat of Wolfpack DE Willie Young. I really like the upside of this player down the road. He has tremendous range and plays aggressively. When his body fills out he has the potential to be a good one down the road. Unfortunately, the Pack simply hasn’t been able to get in the race for him thus far.
Jack of all trades, master of what? EJ Abrams-Ward has been labeled as a potential wide receiver, QB, tight end, defensive end and linebacker. To be honest, I’m not sure where he ends up in college. Considering the overall lack of talent at wide receiver for the NC squad and Abrams-Ward’s desire to play that position, one would have thought he would have had a chance to start out on offense. However, he lined up at OLB and did have an interception when he dropped into coverage and had the ball thrown directly to him without having to move. Typically the player who plays at the OLB spot at the Shrine Bowl finishes up with impressive numbers because they’re turned loose to make plays but Abrams-Ward finished with just two assisted tackles and no solo stops. However, it would be unfair to judge him based on this game because he spent the entire year on offense and was thrust into a position that was unfamiliar to him. While some have pegged him the top player in North Carolina, I’m simply not sure what you base that on.
Via will have better days...One player that would probably like to forget the Shrine Bowl is OL Michael Via. He got yanked in the fourth quarter after whiffing on the SC defensive end on several consecutive plays. In his defense, South Carolina knew the North Carolina squad had abandoned the run so they were basically pinning their ears back and going after the QB. On a couple of consecutive snaps, Via had barely gotten out of his stance before the SC DE’s had blown by him. Via seemed to play “heavy” and he’ll need to improve his foot speed down the road.
So will Robert Blanton...Unless Blanton gets bigger, he is going to be a matchup problem for Notre Dame. South Carolina targeted him several times with their bigger wide receivers and had success throwing over him for big gains. His best attribute is his speed so it was a little surprising to see the Sandlapper wideouts get behind him on a couple of throws.
A dream week...If there was one storybook week it had to be that of LB Sterling Lucas. He came into the Shrine Bowl as a complete unknown on the recruiting scene. After several days of impressive workouts, he landed two major scholarship offers from NC State and Michigan State. The week then culminated in Lucas being named the defensive MVP for the SC squad. After the game, Lucas could barely contain his giddiness. On the field, Lucas finished the game as the Shrine Bowl’s leading tackler with eight. He also snagged a crucial interception that was returned for 19 yards. Perhaps most impressive to me was the run he made after the interception. I would put Lucas on par with Dwayne Maddox although not quite as developed physically but they are close. Lucas wasn’t disruptive on defense like Reddick but he always seemed to be around the ball. I think the best description is that you could tell Lucas belonged on the field. Occasionally a player will come to an all-star game and disappear. That wasn’t the case for Lucas.
Best effort from a player committed to Duke...Well, there was only one and that was CB Lee Butler. But I was extremely impressed with this guys heart and passion. Butler is a smallish guy but he certainly didn’t shy away from contact and pound for pound, hit as hard as anyone. Physically, he’s not as impressive as some of the other kids committed to bigtime schools but he certainly proved that he was a worth Shrine Bowl participant on Saturday.
The best...Because the talent levels are so close in all-star events, it’s typically difficult for one player to separate himself from the rest. However, I came away feeling that WR AJ Green was the best player regardless of position on the field. Green simply has the unbelievable combination of speed, size and athleticism that you rarely see on the high school level. He finished Saturday with four catches for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Top offensive lineman...In all honesty I didn’t focus as much on the SC offensive line but of the NC players, I felt RJ Mattes was the best. As has been stated previously, his fundamentals are tremendous. He sets up so low, has tremendous flexibility and moves his feet well. The only thing Mattes will need is time to get stronger. He doesn’t get as much push in the running game as you’d like but that will come with time. It was fun watching him match up against guys like Everett Dawkins, Devin Taylor and Daquan Bowers and he more than held his own.
Best run by a guy weighing more than 300 pounds...on a run by NC RB Bobby Morrison, OL Jonathan Cooper somehow found himself down-field running side by side with Morrison for nearly 40 yards. The big guy showed he could certainly get to the “second” level.
Terrell Manning...I spoke with Manning after the game who was walking with a slight limp. He indicated that he and the State coaches had agreed he wouldn’t come in January so he will focus on rehabbing and finishing out his school year at Scotland County. He also stated he knows he’ll redshirt next year to completely get his knee back to 100%.
The top 5...Just one man’s opinion and others may have seen it differently but these were my top five players from the game on Saturday.
1. WR AJ Green
2. LB Kevin Reddick
3. DL Daquan Bowers
4. DE Everett Dawkins
5. LB Sterling Lucas