In the film room…U.S. Army AA Game

It’s no surprise that Irish linebacker commitment Josh Barajas showed well in the U.S. Army All-American Game. There’s talent to mold in offensive linemen Jerry Tillery and Tristen Hoge, and linebacker Asmar Bilal. Safety Nicco Fertitta will try to prove his doubters wrong.

Here is our Tale of the Tape/In the Film Room segments rolled into one for the Jan. 3 U.S. Army All-American Game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Notre Dame was represented by five verbal commitments: interior offensive lineman Tristen Hoge (Pocatello, Idaho), offensive/defensive lineman Jerry Tillery (Shreveport, La.), linebacker Josh Barajas (Merrillville, Ind.), linebacker Asmar Bilal (Indianapolis, Ind.), and safety Nicco Fertitta (Las Vegas, Nevada).

The West defeated the East in a shootout, 39-36.

OG-Tristen Hoge

Prototype interior line frame/build. Played center in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which is likely where he begins at Notre Dame, but also would slot well at guard.

Mostly light on his feet. A good athlete as interior offensive linemen go. A willing user of his hands. Must be pretty well-conditioned because he went from start to finish for the West squad. Did not seem to battle conditioning issues, which is impressive because he played a ton of snaps against quality competition.

Didn’t show a lot of pop. Expected more of a physical presence. Absorbed a lot of blocks instead of initiating them, although got good push on a running play with under three minutes remaining.  Didn’t snap on placekicks.

OL/DT-Jerry Tillery

Played left guard for West squad alongside Hoge. Liked his initial quickness off the snap, particularly early in the game. Good mobility on the move. Exceptional line-play frame. Wide backside. Has the tools necessary to be a quality offensive lineman, but it starts with consistency and conditioning.

Needs to keep bringing his feet play after play. Would like to see him adapt to the play on the move. Would like to see him unleash his assets a bit more. Less reaching and pushing; more exploding and blocking. Carrying some “sloppy weight” in the belly area. As of now, more of a right offensive tackle prospect than left tackle candidate.

As for talk of him starting out along the defensive line at Notre Dame, he has the skill set. But until he gets himself into major college condition, there will be a question of quickness and the ability to accumulate a high work volume. Believe his best football is on the offensive side.

LB-Josh Barajas

The most impressive Notre Dame verbal commitment in the game by far. Carries himself with the maturity of a man. Moves around the football field like a mature athlete, not a high school senior.

Plays fast. Can pack a punch from coming-off-a-block-to-impact in a short amount of space. Doesn’t need to get a big head of steam to lay the lump on someone, which is a huge asset for a linebacker. Such good range and easy, natural flow to the football. Outstanding feet. Has the look of a natural football player with instincts for the game. A savvy football player.

On the first kickoff, he came off a block to make a tackle. On the second kickoff, he made the tackle. On the third kickoff, he didn’t make the stop, but came flying over the top of the tackle. Like everyone in this game, you can play aggressively on special teams or go through the motions. Barajas played aggressively and effectively.

Even played peacemaker on a scuffle following the opening kickoff of the second half. A star-in-the-making.

LB-Asmar Bilal

Very good foot-speed. Light on his feet. Seemed most effective when he lined up off the edge (in a two-point stance), particularly in the red zone. Came off left edge on two-point conversion to force inside flow to defenders.

Much like Te’Von Coney in that he lines up in a very low, knee-bent base, although contrary to Coney, probably a bit too low. But also like Coney, he’s spring-loaded from that stance, which also benefits his pad level. Showed a good work volume by playing virtually every snap.

Was the beneficiary of a look-what-I-found fumble recovery at his feet. Made a key tackle on 3rd-and-10 in waning seconds of the East squad’s comeback attempts. No great distinguishing quality in this game on display, but a lot of good ones that add up to a good prospect.

S-Nicco Fertitta

A tough, hard-nosed, physical football player who isn’t afraid to mix it up. Willingly sticks his nose in there. Not afraid of contact no matter how much weight he’s giving away.

As small as anticipated. Got lost in the shuffle on a screen pass and bounced around. Lost battle with long Lawrence Cager on deep ball. Late break with no cornerback coverage help, which put him in a tough spot on this 54-yard reception.

Read an ultra razzle-dazzle play, converging on the final ball carrier, but ran by the tackle after getting a hand on the runner. Didn’t see anything that changes the notion that it’s an uphill battle for this undersized prospect.

Here are a few other prospects of interest:

• TE-Alize Jones – A little squatty in his three-point stance for a young man of his length, but that allows him to have excellent initial pad level, although it may take away a bit from his pop.

Similar to recent comments about Equanimeous St. Brown in that Jones really presses the secondary with his outstanding get-off and long strides. Puts DBs on immediate alert, much like a wide receiver would.

Used mainly as a blocker and pass-receiving decoy in U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Targeted in the red zone, but pass was overthrown near the pylon.

• DE/LB-Porter Gustin: Not sure why he played linebacker in this game instead of defensive end – probably a numbers/personnel issue – although he eventually received snaps at an off-the-edge position, which is where he excels.

 Doesn’t have natural footwork dropping back into pass coverage, yet he picked off a pass and raced to the end zone, showing good wheels. A natural defensive end/off-the-edge outside linebacker. Looks like he’s really filled out since our first glimpse. Best use of his athleticism is closer to the snap of the football.

Missed a tackle in open field after crossing-route catch. Yet when he lined up off the edge in a two-point stance, beat the right tackle and recorded the sack. Pressured QB off the left edge again on the next play. Alertly recovered onside kick as East squad tried to complete the comeback.

• RB-Jordan Cronkrite: Limited ball-carrying opportunities for the losing East squad, which was chasing points from early in the game, and thus, went with the passing game.

Got squared up in the backfield on early second-half carry for a loss. Executed a nice lead block on a halfback touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager. The announcers seemed to confuse Cronkrite with other East backs, which, quite frankly, made it confusing to determine exactly how many touches he received.

• WR-Lawrence Cager: Surprise change from the previous evening when he indicated to the broadcast team that he’d likely choose Alabama, although that may have been the Crimson Tide’s call. Cager verbally committed to Miami instead.

Wasn’t targeted much in the passing game. Won the battle with Nicco Fertitta for deep ball on halfback option throw for 54-yard touchdown. Pretty anonymous in the game until announcement for the U and long touchdown came within five minutes of each other.

All things being equal, if the Irish do get Equanimeous St. Brown over Cager, it should prove to work in Notre Dame’s favor.

• WR/DB-Ykili Ross: Surprised to see him working on the offensive side of the football, but worked out quite well with a solid performance. Threw a really nice downfield block on a completed pass. Made slant reception, looking natural as a slot-receiver candidate.

Not as tall as expected, but TV view may not be accurate with his body type. Kind of “faked himself out” on a kickoff return when he incorporated one too many moves. Perhaps the reason Notre Dame didn’t win this battle was exemplified when Ross said he’d be taking his skills to USC “for the next three years.” Must be planning that accelerated academic program.

• Notes: Was interested in seeing long DE Keisean Lucier-South. Lined up on right side in left-handed stance, but overtook blocker with good use of hands, and then ran quarterback down on far sideline. Outstanding length and long-term talent…What a burst of speed by fireplug punt returner Tim Irvin… WR Derrick Dillon (Florida commit) an explosive, long strider with power. Added easy, wide-open touchdown reception early in second quarter. Beautiful athlete…DB Marvell Tell (USC commit) brings the lumber on a pass in the flat, using every ounce of his physicality to drive through the receiver…DE Kyle Phillips (Tennessee commit) has dominating game for East team…DT Kahlil McKenzie weighing in at 354 pounds, which sounds a bit light from the look of things…Texas and USC clean up on commitments…Tarvaris McFadden looked like one of the best athletes on the field; an explosive kick returner…DT Trenton Thompson was unblockable…RB Mike Weber is a tremendous talent…LB Osa Masina, a former Notre Dame target, made a big third-down hit with under 30 seconds remaining. Top Stories