OBSERVATIONS: U.S. ARMY ALL-AMERICAN BOWL

An all-star game is generally a bad venue to make value judgments about football talent for a number of reasons -- not the least of which is unfamiliar players at unfamiliar positions playing in unfamiliar systems and by unfamiliar rules.

Add a dome, artificial surface, national television, random substitution, ringing cell phones, clandestine conversations, as well as a non-stop schedule and evaluating prospects in such high-profile affairs becomes as reliable as reading tea leaves.

Sure players emerge and the cream will rise to the top, but just as often it's an inaccurate gauge for rating gridiron talent. However practices leading up to games can be very revealing and a better means of drawing conclusions. Seeing defensive backs working one-on-one against receivers out of the framework of a secondary scheme is insightful. The same is true for seeing offensive and defensive linemen going against each other in drills.

It's highly advantageous to see quarterbacks throwing all the pass routes under ideal conditions because it's a given that protection can vary wildly. That's why judging the play of Jonathan Crompton based on his game stats is unfair. The entire starting O-line of the East team was comprised of five tackles including 6-foot-5, 350-pound Michael Oher at center. The West D-line was particularly strong while pass blocking was virtually nonexistent for any of the East's three signal callers.

That's why it was puzzling the East coaching staff called so many deep throws on streaks and fades. Why would you ask a line that's being overwhelmed to protect four seconds when it was having trouble holding off the opponents for two ticks of the clock? And why do you throw deep when you haven't established the run, short passes or intermediate routes?

Throughout the week of workouts Crompton proved he could make all the throws and had the strongest arm among the signal callers. He was the biggest QB and the strongest and he ran tougher than the other all-American quarterbacks. He sees the field well and makes good decisions. He's generally cool under pressure which he exhibited by chasing down a bad snap and in the game, turning a potential 20-yard loss into minus seven with a strong dash upfield.

Crompton ran a picture-perfect option to his left, displayed a strong arm and made no turnovers in limited action. Overall he left San Antonio higher ranked than what he went in and when you're No. 6 nationally that's saying something.

The same holds true for Patrick Turner who dazzled scouts with his play in pratice but didn't shine brightly in the game. Likewise Turner fell prey to an unusual game plan that elected to use him as a deep threat and on tunnel screens as opposed to running him underneath or using him in combination with the other wideouts.

Turner, who appears to be bound for Tennessee, raised his stock considerably and may go into national signing day as the nation's No. 1 or No. 2 receiver.

Overall it was a good day for the Vols who seem destined to sign the nation's No. 1 class in 2005. No it won't contain Toney Baker, who was simply lost to numbers. In the end UT liked Montario Hardesty's speed and versatility better than Baker's. Only time will tell if the decision was a good one. Obviously, it won't hurt Tennessee's recruiting ranking much and it should be pointed out that both Jabari Davis and Derrick Tinsley were top 5 running back prospects four years ago. Both turned out to be productive players but neither was a solid starter, much less a star.

Rico McCoy played like he practice by making plays all over the field and arriving at the ball with a vengeance. Restricted by the no-blitz rules, McCoy still managed to shine. Likewise, Josh McNeil proved to be as good as advertised and finished his high school career without allowing a single sack. Raymond Henderson gets off the ball well but with the pounds he'll add he could be destined to move inside. Henderson plays hard and will benefit greatly from college training, coaching and competition.

Much more on this and other subjects later today.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories