NCAA Football News

Highlights and Analysis from The Opening New Orleans Regional

NEW ORLEANS — After a competitive day at New Orleans' Joe W. Brown Memorial Park, five athletes added their names to the growing list of competitors who will compete at The Opening finals, set July 5-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. That list is now 63 strong.

The five athletes—running back Cam Akers, safety Todd Harris, wide receiver Devonta Smith and offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Nick Brahms—headlined a group of more than 400 athletes hoping to earn the summer trip. Here are some of the best stories of the day from the event:

 

2 OLs highlight event, 1 without player rating

Of the five invited to The Opening, two were offensive linemen. From a recruiting rankings perspective, on paper, the two entered Sunday's competition on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one hand, you had Alex Leatherwood, an Alabama commit and the nation's No. 9 offensive tackle. Leatherwood is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a 4-star offensive lineman. On the other hand, you had Nick Brahms, a player with 30-plus reported offers, but someone who not only wasn't ranked but also didn't have a composite rating as of early Sunday evening.

Ratings—or the lack thereof—never really bothered Brahms, he said following the competition. The composite rankings, per 247Sports, "compiles rankings and ratings listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services, creating the industry's most comprehensive and unbiased prospect and team rankings."

Brahms said he was unsure why he didn't have a composite rating, but after Sunday, all that mattered was getting an invitation to compete against the elite athletes who did have ratings.

"It feels real good; it's amazing," Brahms said. "I've been working hard since freshman year or eighth grade to get to this moment. I'm looking forward to the season and everything coming up."

Brahms and Leatherwood both were impressive during linemen one-on-one battles. Leatherwood held things down at left tackle, while Brahms made an impression playing right guard.

"I came to put in work, and I came to be dominant," Leatherwood said. "I got the results. It feels good."

 

Mississippi's No. 1 recruit records 2nd-highest rating

There's a reason why 4-star running back Cam Akers is the top-ranked player in the state of Mississippi and the nation's No. 3 running back. He stays in the proverbial lab, perfecting his body, honing his skills and constantly tweaking his craft.

The extra work paid dividends Sunday, as Akers was invited to The Opening following an impressive showing not only in one-on-one competition but also in skills competition. His Sunday rating of 141.33—the second-highest rating of the 2016 circuit—caught the eyes of The Opening's representatives, and he was able to punch his ticket to Oregon.

"It's definitely a dream come true. It definitely shows that hard work does pay off," said Akers, who, at 5'11" and 212 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.09 seconds, threw the power ball 40 feet and recorded a 40.6 vertical jump. "I've been training really hard for this. It's a blessing."

A former Alabama commit, Akers said he is "wide open" with his recruiting process after decommitting from the Crimson Tide in March. He showed up to The Opening wearing an Ohio State hat and Georgia gloves. Both schools, as well as Arkansas, Ole Miss and others have extended offers.

For now, Akers is focused on getting better to showcase his skills at The Opening. He said he will continue working with his trainer and continue being someone who spends multiple hours in the weight room.

"Praying and working, that's what helped me get here," he said. "That, and just doing what I'm supposed to do."

 

Rich Rod on hand to watch son, Arizona QB commit

Arizona commit Rhett Rodriguez is a 3-star quarterback who attends Catalina Foothills High School just outside of Tucson, Arizona. He also is a native of New Orleans and made a trip back home for the first time in several years.

He's also the son of Arizona Wildcats head football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was a proud dad in the stands watching his son compete for a chance to attend the Elite 11 finals this summer in Los Angeles. Rhett has been an Arizona commit since January.

The elder Rodriguez said it's been fun watching his son mature into a college-bound quarterback. He also said he's been very upfront with making sure his son understands the recruiting process, even as an Arizona commit.

"It's kind of unique when you have a son who's a potential college player," Rich Rodriguez said. "He's grown up around it, and I think a lot of times, coaches' kids understand it more than others. But you still want to educate him on the process. As I told him, you want to make sure you're doing everything right so there are no negatives on the resume.

"Academics, work habits, leadership ... especially if you're at a position like quarterback, you want to do the right things. I'm proud of him. He's done all the right things and has had a great high school career. With one year left, I think he's primed for his best year."

Rhett Rodriguez is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a dual-threat quarterback. Per MaxPreps, he threw for 2,503 yards, 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 12 games as a junior for Catalina Foothills. He also rushed for 624 yards and 14 touchdowns.

 

4-star Harris the lone DB selected from NOLA event

Todd Harris remembers watching athletes get invited to The Opening at last year's New Orleans regional. He also remembers the feeling he had when he didn't hear his name called for an invitation to Oregon.

That was enough motivation for him to come back this year and compete. In the end, Harris, a 4-star athlete, a top-60 overall player and the nation's No. 4 safety, earned his stripes and punched his ticket.

"I saw guys get invited last year, and I kept saying, 'I can be in those guys' shoes,'" Harris said. "This year, I rested my body, and I came out and competed. Good things pay off."

Harris was a nuisance in one-on-one competition throughout Sunday, and he performed well in warm-up drills and seven-on-seven play. He was the only defensive back selected to compete at The Opening on Sunday—something he takes pride in.

"I just can't wait to ball," he said. "I was praying the whole time for it. It's amazing."

 

The Opening alum offers advice to 2017s

Shyheim Carter was a part of The Opening festivities last year. The Alabama signee was on hand Sunday taking in all the action.

He also was reminiscing.

"It's very different being on this side of it," said Carter, the nation's No. 9 cornerback and No. 71 overall player in the 2016 class. "I wish I was out there again."

Carter watched the hundreds of athletes fight for limited invitations to play in Oregon, and while he watched, he gave some advice that he said helped him as he was looking to not only improve as an athlete but also play for the coveted golden ticket.

Carter also gave advice to athletes on recruiting. He originally committed to the Crimson Tide at the end of his sophomore year on July 15, 2014, but decommitted just before the start of his senior on Aug. 10, 2015, to weigh his options. He ultimately recommitted to Alabama on national signing day.

"Go out and compete," he said. "You have some of the best players around the country come to New Orleans just to compete and get an invite to The Opening. That's the main goal."

Carter continued: "Don't commit to a school too early. You want to weigh your options until you feel comfortable knowing where you want to be. Take your time with your recruitment."

Carter was in attendance as an Opening alum, as was Kristian Fulton, an LSU signee. Fulton was the nation's No. 2 cornerback and No. 21 overall player in the 2016 class.

 

Additional highlights from Sunday

Speed galore and the multiple highlight-reel catches were among the topics of discussion once The Opening New Orleans regional concluded.

To start the day, The Opening had its "Fastest Man" race, pitting those with the fastest times in the 40-yard dash testing. The race included running back Caleb Jolivette, who won the Houston regional's race after running the 40 in 4.35 seconds.

It was Travis Etienne Jr., however, who stole the show. Etienne, a 3-star running back with a dozen reported offers, ran the fastest time of the camp, recording a 4.43-second 40, and then won a five-player race.

Outstanding catches seemed to dominate the day. One of those catches belonged to Devonta Smith, who ultimately earned an invitation to The Opening with his play. In red-zone drills, Smith made a leaping catch over a defender where it appeared he took away a potential interception.

While that catch was great, the one that arguably received the most oohs and aahs came from Gregory Clayton. The 2018 receiver from Lutcher, Louisiana, shook his defender and then made a remarkable one-handed catch.

Clayton has early looks from in-state FCS schools McNeese State and Nicholls State.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2016 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional

NEW ORLEANS — Clear blue skies and steady, but firm, winds greeted the number of quarterbacks hoping to punch a ticket to the Elite 11 finals with a strong performance at the 2016 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional.

While no one was able to earn that coveted invitation at the camp's conclusion, the Elite 11 coaching staff still had a handful of options to plug into the camp’s pressure-chamber showcase—which selects the five best passers to compete at the end of the camp in a half-skeleton drill against the camp’s best linebackers and defensive backs.

Brian Stumpf, who serves as the president of events for student sports, noted the strength of the group after watching film on the players prior to the event.

“I think we came in saying there might not be the guy that has the pre-camp resume combination of good tape and physical traits and that sort of stuff. But, I think they competed well,” Stumpf told Bleache Report. “I think at the end of the day, we talked about with this group that it was the closest race we’ve had for MVP with our coaches going back and forth on two or three guys. But overall, this was a really good group where eight or 10 guys could’ve made the final five for the showcase.” 

The group featured stud recruits such as 4-star Louisiana native Lowell Narcisse and other prospects such as 3-star Virginia standout Lindell Stone—who had already competed at one of the earlier regionals. 

In the end, a few under-the-radar field generals emerged—including a player who won MVP despite battling a case of food poisoning in the hours leading up to the camp. 

Which prospects were worthy of earning a spot among the camp’s top five overall performers?

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Ohio State Looking to Showcase All Kinds of Speed in 2016 Spring Game

Ohio State got an infusion of speed when head coach Urban Meyer took over the recruiting in 2012, but with preparations for the 2016 season in full swing, the Buckeyes are looking to get even faster. 

New names and faces will arrive in Columbus as Ohio State continues its quest to replace eight starters on both sides of the ball. Meyer and the Buckeyes coaching staff are struggling to establish a depth chart with all the youth and injuries, but one thing they can establish is a new pace and identity. 

That will be on display on Saturday, when the Buckeyes take the field in Ohio Stadium for the annual spring game. 

 

Defensive Speed

Ohio State's defense was fast a season ago, and a number of former Buckeyes—defensive backs Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple and linebacker Darron Lee—proved that by running 4.4 40-yard dashes at the NFL combine.

But despite the departure of a number of blazers, there are many who think Ohio State's 2016 defense will be even faster than the '15 edition.

"It's fast, it's a fast defense," defensive end Tyquan Lewis said, per Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "It's probably the fastest defense Coach [Larry] Johnson has ever seen. It's pretty good."

Johnson, Ohio State's defensive line coach, who held the same position at Penn State from 1996-2013, has seen some fast defenses in his day. The new projected starters will have to bring a decided edge for this to be true, but that's the feeling some have for the new guys.

"Dante is a way better athlete," middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said when comparing projected outside linebacker Dante Booker to the departed Joshua Perry, per Marvin Fong of the Plain Dealer. "When he gets on the field, he does some things y'all haven't seen yet. He's one of the fastest guys on the defense regardless of position, and he just brings that pop."

Burners such as linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker and defensive backs Denzel Ward and Malik Hooker should bring more speed to an already-fast unit. 

 

Offensive Tempo

Ohio State's offense is working on a different kind of speed.

After last year's offense entered the season with high expectations that it failed to meet through 10 games (which ended in a sloppy 17-14 home loss to Michigan State), the Buckeyes moved co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner from the field to the booth and implemented an uptempo, hurry-up offense. 

The results were effective, as Ohio State torched respectable Michigan and Notre Dame defenses for an average of 43 points and 534 yards of total offense. 

The strategy worked so well that Meyer wanted to implement it for the entire 2016 season.

“The last two games, I want to say [the offense was] 80 percent tempo and it worked out really well,” Meyer said, per Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “We’re going to do a lot more uptempo offense than we’ve done.”

Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who's at his best as a distributor, where he can make fast decisions in both the passing and running games, thrived at the helm of that kind of offense in 2014 and at the end of 2015. Now, co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck is trying to speed things up even more.

"The biggest thing right now is just getting [Barrett] to play fast, getting him to play consistent, kind of how he did toward the end of the year and how he did in '14," Beck said Thursday, per Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "I like what I see so far."

Buckeyes fans will get to see that progress and heightened pace for themselves this Saturday. 

 

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M OT Germain Ifedi's Upside Makes Him Worthy of 1st-Round Investment

The 2016 NFL draft will once again prove there is no exact science for predicting what will happen or the how the results will play out over the next few years. With 253 total players selected, some are bound to provide an instant impact. Others may take 2016 as a developmental season or even need multiple years to hit their strides.

Players with upside such as Texas A&M Aggies offensive tackle Germain Ifedi weren’t able to fully grasp the nuance of their positions in college. The term "upside" has become a buzzword in evaluation, but it doesn’t always apply. Prospects blessed with great athleticism who have not maximized their entire physical skill sets and have played at a high level in spite of technical shortcomings should be the only ones labeled like this.

Ifedi’s a special case because of his pedigree and the Aggies’ recent history. There has been a Texas A&M offensive tackle drafted in the first round in each of the last three drafts. The latest of the trio, Cedric Ogbuehi, was the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick in 2015 despite having a torn ACL and essentially being a redshirt in his rookie season.

Ogbuehi going in the first was a good indicator that Ifedi should as well, even if they’re different players stylistically.

In the last six draft classes, a total of 39 offensive linemen have been selected in Round 1. The NFL is desperate for quality blocking, and it pushes developmental players up the board for the possible long-term payoff. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as the staff has patience for the individual to improve over time.

Looking at Ifedi, he was a 4-star guard prospect in the class of 2012, per 247Sports. With Johnny Manziel at quarterback and bookend tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, Ifedi played right guard before kicking out to tackle as a sophomore in 2014. He then spent two years at right tackle instead of moving over to fill in for Ogbuehi at left tackle.

People shouldn't view this as a negative, as the right tackle position is still valuable in the NFL. Right tackle is not just for road-graders like the old-school NFL. Poor pass protectors at the position will face edge-rushers like Von Miller, Cameron Wake and Jerry Hughes, so there’s no hiding them at the next level.

Everything from Ifedi’s 6’6”, 324-pound frame and 36-inch arms draws excitement as an evaluator. But it’s not just his frame that oozes potential; it’s how he moves. Below is an example of how easily he can cut off an edge-rusher’s speed using his own quickness and length.

Football comes easily to Ifedi when just looking at movement ability and how much he stands out in this regard. He kick-slides with ease and also hits the second level of the defense on run plays for someone with a high body density. This is commonly referred to as “planet theory.” There aren’t many humans who are that size with that kind of strength and explosiveness. The NFL commonly gravitates toward these individuals in the draft.

As far as effectiveness, there are certainly times when Ifedi shows why he’s an upside prospect and probably needs to redshirt his first season. He was able to get the job done well enough in his two seasons at tackle, but it was far from pretty. In six games I charted, he allowed 11 quarterback hurries in 275 passing attempts.

How Ifedi loses is directly related to inconsistent hand placement and footwork. His ability to win in a variety of ways is a great trump card, but he doesn’t yet know it nor consistently executes it. Below is Alabama’s Tim Williams using speed to get Ifedi to the edge of the pocket, then spinning inside to take advantage of Ifedi’s poor footwork.

Had Ifedi properly stayed balanced and used his length to engage Williams, he could have controlled the countermove or even shut it down before the attempt. These are nuances that a coaching staff and veteran offensive line can help teach Ifedi. His potential will be unlocked when he can mirror rushers like the play below consistently.

When Ifedi wins early in the snap and squares his lower body with his shoulders, he is hard to beat. Defenses tried to isolate him in space to give their rushers options to get around him, but Ifedi responded well to these opportunities.

According to Pro Football Focus, he had a pass-blocking efficiency of 96.2 percent. This ranked just 76th in the country, which is obviously lower than what his skill set would indicate where he should be. The 21-year-old has incredible peaks to his game, and those moments indicate first-round talent. It’s the valleys that’ll be challenging for him and a team’s coaching staff to overcome.

This dichotomy from where Ifedi is to where he can be as a lockdown pass-blocker will require the right blend of situation and hard work to be successful. His tendency to lean into defenders and mistime punches are death knells at the next level, and soothing out these issues won’t be done in one training camp.

Ifedi’s youth is another positive. He’s spent just two seasons at right tackle, and although there’s considerable work to be done, the possible payoff is huge. There aren’t many right tackles capable of performing with the fluidity of a finesse left tackle.

If he struggles or even fails to show growth at tackle, he has enough experience and good tape at right guard to believe he can make that transition. He doesn’t explode off the line as a run-blocker, but that was in part to the Aggies’ offensive scheme. Their run-pass combination plays limit what happens post-snap for linemen.

Above is the most common responsibility for Ifedi on run plays. Simply create an outside angle to entice the edge player to attack, then wall off the interior angle for the ball-carrier to attack. The promising part of this play is that Ifedi keeps his target engaged until the back is to the second level and does not allow him to chase down the back from behind.

Certain teams will have no interest in taking the time to craft a potential star like Ifedi. He wasn’t as dominant as the hype may have suggested, but he’s a solid player in his own right. With the proper support and coaching, he is well worth a first-round investment.

The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs appear to be perfect landing spots for Ifedi in the late 20s of the 2016 draft. Seattle needs more immediate help, but it has shown a willingness to endure growing pains with its young linemen. The Chiefs could take Ifedi and start him at guard after losing Jeff Allen this offseason.

 

All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Winners and Losers from the Aggies' 2016 Spring

The Texas A&M Aggies concluded spring practice on Saturday with their annual spring game that saw the Maroon squad defeat the White squad, 42-38.

Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight received the majority of playing time for the Aggies and took full advantage of his opportunity. Knight completed 25 of 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, according to Travis Brown of My Aggie Nation.  

Fellow quarterback Jake Hubenak played some in the first half before departing with flu-like symptoms, per head coach Kevin Sumlin, via Suzanne Halliburton of the Austin American-Statesman

With spring practice now complete for the Aggies, we take a look at some of the winners and losers for A&M this spring. 

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Winners and Losers of Saturday's College Football Spring Games

The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and yes, there's college football in the air. Who cares if the scoring was modified and the stats don't count?

Saturday marked the first sizable batch of college football spring games—various forms of scrimmages meant to put a bow on offseason practice with an open-to-the-public workout. Intended to serve more as confidence-building events than true talent evaluations, these games aren't likely to have much bearing on how teams will look in the fall.

However, the performance of some players, position groups and teams did manage to stand out in either a good or bad way. We have your rundown of the biggest winners and losers from Saturday's spring action.

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