Overall the defensive unit didn't show as much in the morning practice. There was much more walk through action and teaching going on than on the offensive side. Keep that in mind as you read this. We'll have a much better feel for the defensive guys as the week goes on.
This position was a little thin this morning with Darius Fleming in street clothes. I was disappointed to not see Fleming out in practice. I'm told he had a stinger and was back out in the afternoon practice. I talked to two different analysts and they raved about Fleming. He was the most dominant defensive end on the first day of practice. I'll watch him a lot more tomorrow. Shayne Hale is playing defensive end during the Army All-American game. He is a linebacker in high school, but some are projecting him as a defensive end. Right now Hale is more athlete than he is football player. He's very raw but has very good size, strength, and athletic ability. He shows a good first step but, that's where it ended from what I saw. William Green is a very athletic young man but is very thin. Green also shows a very good first step and he could actually play some linebacker. Quinton Coples was the most impressive defensive end this morning. He's extremely long and has a good burst off the edge for a big guy. All of the defensive ends are pretty raw football players.
There is no doubt that Marcus Forston is the best defensive tackle in the Army All-American game. Forston could use a little bit more fire at times, but he is just extremely talented. He's big, strong, quick off the line, and just dominates anyone he chooses to dominate. Another player who came into this game with a lot of hype is DeAngelo Tyson. Tyson is very inconsistent. When he gets after it he is very good, but he doesn't bring every snap. That's a big concern for me and I'll be interested to see how he does the rest of the week.
I didn't see much of Reggie Ellis today. That isn't to say he wasn't impressive, I just didn't get to see him much. As for the Notre Dame guys, I came away pleasantly surprised. Sean Cwyner is battling for the second starting defensive tackle spot beside Forston. Cwyner isn't the athlete that Forston and Tyson are but he has a great motor, plays strong, and showed a better burst off the ball than I had seen before. Cwyner used a real good swim move and a nice spin move to beat linemen. When he gets in trouble is when he stops his feet. When he drives off the ball he's hard to hold off. I wasn't a big Brandon Newman fan coming into this game. Newman was a pleasant surprise today. He's quick off the ball, is strong, and plays with a natural leverage. The one thing Newman must do is get in better shape. This limits what he can do. He's a perfect fit for the Notre Dame nose guard position and should be a nice compliment in time to Ian Williams.
WOW! That's about all I can say when asked to give my thoughts on the East linebackers. Arthur Brown is the player who came into this game with the highest rankings and most hype. Although it's been limited due to how they've practiced as a team, Brown hasn't done anything to disappoint. Brown is a very athletic linebacker with great speed. I'm interested to see how he will hold up against bigger and more physical players as the week goes on. Nigel Bradham was better than I expected but I don't get wowed by him. He's a solid player but I don't believe he is an elite player. He's a good athlete but not a great athlete, and isn't as instinctive as you'd like. He's physical but not nearly as powerful as Brown.
Etienne Sabino might be the best linebacker of the group. He's a legit 225 pounds and is very smooth. He doesn't always look as fast as the smaller guys but covers a ton of ground. His smooth style is deceiving, but make no mistake about it, Sabino can move. I'm excited to see him the rest of the week. Marcus Robinson and Lerentee McCray look like safeties. Neither is much more than 200 pounds, but both guys can absolutely fly. Steven Filer is the biggest of the linebackers. While he struggled in pass protection, and was at times a bit late on his reads, Filer was impressive at times. He's a smooth player and when he gets going he can bring some pop. He needs technique work but brings great size and solid athletic ability to the position. Brendan Beal has a real good motor, is very physical, and flies sideline to sideline. He's a good athlete but not in the same class as the rest of the East linebackers. I'm not saying he isn't as good, he's just not as athletic. Beal is the only other linebacker who rivals Filer in size.
I wasn't able to see any of T.J. Bryant this morning. He was sitting out after getting hurt on day one. That prevented me from being able to compare him to Patrick Johnson. Johnson showed tremendous athletic ability and ball skills. He's hands down the most impressive athlete of the cornerbacks. Johnson needs some technique work and can be beaten by good route runners, but the skills he brings to the field are second to none. Boubacar Cissoko is a dynamic athlete. He has very quick feet and is the most physical of all the cornerbacks. What hurts Cissoko is his size. He will always struggle against taller wide receivers and physical players.
Robert Blanton is a completely different player than the other cornerbacks. When you watch Johnson and Cissoko you are impressed right away by their athletic ability. That doesn't happen when you watch Blanton. But just keep watching. The more you watch him the more impressed you will become. Blanton has good feet and is very long. By that I mean he has good height, long arms, and the frame to get bigger. Blanton also has the best instincts on the East secondary. It's as if he knows the play the way he breaks on the ball. Blanton is also the best cornerback in run support. He isn't afraid to come up and get after it in the run game. Blanton needs to be more consistent. He'll bite on double moves and at times gets too far back on his heels, which makes him slow out of his peddle. But he proved to me today he can play cornerback at a high level in college.
Brandon Smith is a very impressive safety prospect. He looks like a linebacker but runs like a safety. I wasn't able to watch the safeties much today but from I saw from Smith athletically I was very impressed. I wasn't able to see much of Darius Barksdale today. I will watch him more in the remaining days.
TOP PLAYERS – DEFENSE
• Marcus Forston, DT
• Etienne Sabino, LB
• Arthur Brown, LB
• Marcus Robinson, LB
• Brandon Smith, S
• Sean Cwyner, DT
• Brendan Beal, LB
• Robert Blanton, CB/S
• Boubacar Cissoko, CB
• Quinton Coples, DE
Note: Remember that Darius Fleming and T.J. Bryant were not at this practice. From the various people I spoke with today Fleming and Forston were the two most impressive DL's on day one.
First Look at the Talent on the East--Defense
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