– The current buzz word surrounding Miami’s program currently is “swagger”. Can you say that boys and girls? Swag-ger. And this up and coming roster deserves all the discussion hovering around their impressive start to their 2009 campaign. Sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris has opened eyes and impressed almost everyone with his stellar play early this season. It is hard not to like what he has done averaging over 300 yards passing, a completion percentage hovering around 70%, and totaling five passing touchdowns. As a pure passer, his calm under pressure and ability to stand in the pocket has been uncanny as a young gunslinger. What he has lacked early is showing the ability to complete passes in tight windows or making the decision to check down. Harris loves to stretch the field and try to let his receivers make plays. Some of this is not faults of his own. Teams have left Hurricane wide receivers wide open, and this signal caller is simply taking advantage. Obviously, this young gunslinger will need to develop physically at only a listed 190 on his 6-feet-4-inch frame.
Harris’ backside is protected by the lone senior up front, Jason Fox. This blindside tackle is long, lean, and technically sound. He moves well in his pass set and is hard to beat with a pass rush. As a run blocker, he appeared tentative against Georgia Tech and simply settled by walling off defenders. Fox rarely delivers a blow in this regard and too often catches defenders. This left tackle also looks slender even at a listed 6-feet-7-inches tall and 314 pounds. Possessing a very angular frame, Fox is not very thick along his trunk or lower body and thus lacks power. His overall play is somewhat reminiscent of a more physically talented Joaquin Gonzalez who played at a high level during Miami’s championship runs’ earlier this decade.
Offensively, the ‘Canes have a ton of young weapons. The most dangerous is arguably Graig Cooper. This junior from Memphis, Tennessee has been lightning quick and hard for opposing defenses to stop. His explosion in and out of his cuts is special. This running back can also double as a more than competent receiver out of the backfield. After early viewings, Cooper is arguably the most talented runner to step on the field for Miami since Frank Gore left campus.
As for Georgia Tech, their roster was out of sync the entire game. Stud fullback Jonathan Dwyer left the game early with a shoulder injury [NOTE: He is set to return this weekend against North Carolina]. The running game simply never got on track. Defensively, end Derrick Morgan was quiet throughout and did not appear as the same All-World talent his play seemed to dictate a week earlier against Clemson. Morgan looked lost in space when asked to play from a two point stance and simply gave the impression of being gassed completely after competing in three games over a twelve day span.
Up in the great Northwest, the Huskies of Washington miraculously upset a powerhouse Southern California. Maybe not so miraculously since there is some talent left over by Tyrone Willingham for new coach Steve Sarkisian. In particular, Jake Locker has been the belle of the ball and rightly so. An athlete extraordinaire, this quarterback’s improvement as a pure passer has already improved leaps and bounds just through the first three games of the season. Locker’s completion percentage is at 60% (it was never over 54 in his previous two seasons). He currently holds a 5 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. And he has been trying to force plays less and less. He does appear to have a slight windup to his throwing motion but counters by snapping the ball off quickly. The most obvious improvement has been Locker’s footwork in the pocket. Less and less is he simply relying on that athleticism and pure arm strength while starting to use proper steps which allow him to guide to the football to their targets. Particularly, he has been working the middle of the field very well. Against Southern Cal, he did force one or two throws when flushed out of the pocket which almost cost the team. Also, he has had trouble consistently throwing the passes outside of the hashes. From this game in particular, scouts will love his toughness and the intangibles he displayed. The icy calmness to lace a completion down the middle of the field in a small window on third and fifteen to keep the final drive going. His ability keeping drives alive with his feet getting the tough yards. This quarterback simply displays the knack to make plays when needed. Jake Locker stock continues to skyrocket and is entering the discussion as one of the potential elite prospects of this class. Now, can he keep that type of play up throughout his junior campaign?
While Locker stole the headlines, USC’s offensive line had a solid game as a unit which will be overshadowed by the uninspiring play of their quarterback and turnovers by the skilled positions. Charles Brown is the leader at left tackle. Every time one views his skill set, he moves well in his pass set. He displayed strong hands and a good initial punch. One area of concern is if he plays a little too much over his toes trying to overcompensate for a lack of bulk at a listed 285 pounds. Jeff Byers is a nice athlete and technician at left guard but seems overpowered too often. His best position may be at center in the NFL. A position he was once the top high school recruit in the nation while playing. Kristofer O’Dowd is a very talented pivot prospect, but has been slowed by injuries. He had his struggles against Washington’s bulky interior defenders. Rarely did he really push anyone off the ball, instead relying on running them down the line. The right side of the line is where this unit really played well. In fact, the majority of their big runs came off the backsides of right guard Alex Parsons and right tackle Tyron Smith. Both are very quick off the snap and can get to the second level. Smith may be the most inexperienced as a first time starter, but he just may be the best of the bunch even as sophomore. He sits in his pass set well, hips deep in the seat. He is very quick to his blocks, often beating defenders to the spot. And he has a little bit of a nasty streak. A very talented unit to be sure with each individual part possessing legitimate NFL potential.
Saturday night featured a rain soaked competition as the West Virginia Mountaineers traveled to Auburn, Alabama. One of the premiere individual match-ups of the weekend starred WVU’s right tackle Selvish Capers versus the Tigers’ top pass rusher Antonio Coleman. Both prospects carried an early round grade entering this season. Capers certainly left this battle worse for wear. A highly athletic tackle prospect this Mountaineer played off balance, took bad angles, and was never much of an effective run blocker in this game. Coleman almost put Capers on his backside three separate occasions, and finally did so on a fourth. The tackle showed a nice initial kick step but simply bailed too early against a quicker Coleman often turning his shoulders unreasonably early and thus entangling his feet. The Auburn defensive end did a nice job playing skinny and using a single arm shiver to keep Capers’ hands off his body. Only one instance was Selvish Capers impressive in the game, when he was able to scoop block a defensive tackle almost two gaps down the line. Otherwise, Antonio Coleman clearly got the better end of this conflict with 6 total tackles, a quarterback sack, and a fumble recovery.
West Virginia’s offense was clicking early, but struggled as the game proceeded. Senior quarterback Jarrett Brown appears to have all the physical tools to be a top notch NFL quarterback, but pressed far too hard late in the game making multiple bad decisions. From a physical standpoint, he is very similar to Donovan McNabb with his athleticism and big arm. He can spin the ball relatively well. His escapability and nifty feet in the pocket are very impressive making plays he should not by all intents and purposes. This also leads to some gambles on his part which can look spectacular or boneheaded. Certainly an interesting prospect to watch to see as he develops in his first full year as a starter. Senior runner Noel Devine should not go without mention either. This back possesses elite quickness and top end speed. He is undersized at a listed 5-feet-7-inches, but with the popularity of the Wildcat formation in the NFL and the success of Darren Sproles, Devine should not be immediately overlooked.
Time to dip into the FCS ranks (formerly Division I-AA) for the first time this season. California PA is a very successful lower tier program that currently claims two talents bordering on draft worthy status. First and foremost is their 6-feet-6-inches tall and 230 pound wide receiver A.J. Jackson who has dominated early this season against inferior competition. Supposedly running in the low 4.5 forty yard dash range, Jackson is a deep threat that often makes highlight reel grabs. This tall target highpoints the ball very well and is a threat any time near the endzone. His first quarter stats against conference rival Gannon were more than most receivers have for entire games with his 3 touchdown grabs in that first installment alone. His downfall may come in the tertiary aspects of the position in which Jackson does not work very hard. His play is lax if he is not directly targeted and his blocking effort is atrocious. In just over a week Jackson has a fantastic match-up against one of the top cornerbacks in the draft, Akwa Owusa-Ansah of California PA, a player this site highlighted earlier in the week. California has a talented cornerback of their own, Terrence Johnson. This cover man was barely tested against Gannon but displayed nice ball skills while keeping the ball in front of his line of sight. Johnson possesses nice size at well and the ability to mirror any receiver at that level. Talent is always found in these ranks and should not be neglected.