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Friday, June 27, 2008
Friday Mailbag

Since it's camping season, I'll lead the mailbag with that.

From Jesse in Anaheim, Calif.: What were your impressions from USC's Rising Stars camp? I heard the talent level was awesome there.

Feldman: Matt Barkley, considered by many as the top-ranked QB in the country, sure looks the part. He was very accurate and had a lot more zip on his throws than the other quarterbacks, and this was after having come from a three-hour workout earlier in the day with his high school team.

Barkley, who is already committed to USC, didn't have much to prove although his real worth this week really might be as a recruiter since he roomed with DE Devon Kennard, an athletic pass-rusher from Arizona, who just might be the top overall player in the entire class of 2009.

Kennard's about 6-2, 245 and was unblockable in one-on-one pass-rush drills. He created the biggest buzz at the camp. In fact, there were a handful of promising Arizona kids in attendance including lanky DE Craig Roh, who has over 30 offers. Roh is still very lean but competed with a ton of energy and proved to be stronger than he looks. His teammate Taylor Lewan, a 6-7, 265-pounder from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral is another guy who caught my eye. I talked to him and his dad (a former Minnesota O-lineman) for a bit following the afternoon session ended.

The younger Lewan, who earlier this summer nabbed offers after strong performances at Minnesota and ASU camps, has an ideal frame for an offensive tackle, although this is his first year playing the position.

He is, of course, still very raw, and that certainly showed some times Wednesday. In fact, Lewan had a turn for his one-on-one rep just as Pete Carroll walked over and stood right behind the DE. Lewan got beat to the outside for a sack. Carroll motioned for Lewan to go again, this time against a different DE, who then beat the Arizona product with a quick inside move. Once again, Carroll had Lewan line up. This time, the third defensive end got the sack on a bull-rush.

Lewan looked disappointed but he didn't seem to stay down for long and went on to acquit himself pretty well the rest of the day. Later, he made a joke about it. "I guess that's why I signed up for the two-day camp."

The summer camp process is a fascinating one to observe. I did a whole chapter on it in "Meat Market" about how coaches use it to prioritize their recruiting boards. Watching Lewan and his dad reminded me of being at the Ole Miss lineman camp two years ago when there was a short, feisty center named Tyler McDermott who won all of his reps and seemed to be having a great day. McDermott was also a good student but was only about 6-1 and in the 265-pound range. Despite his strong performance that day when the Rebels staff met in their war room to discuss what they'd seen, they were split. Ultimately the head coach, Ed Orgeron, wasn't sold on McDermott's long-term potential as an SEC lineman. (He ended up signing with Colorado State.) Lewan might be the flip side to this and I could see his stock rising over the course of the next six months.

I was also really impressed by a rising junior from Oakland, Calif. named Chris Martin, who arrived a bit later in the day Wednesday and promptly dominated all the reps he took. Martin is a rangy 6-4, 220-pounder who flies off the ball and looks like he will blossom into quite the DE recruit next year. Word was USC offered him the day before.

There were also a handful of big, athletic receivers in town. One, 6-4 Alshon Jeffrey came from South Carolina. Another 6-4 Marlon Brown came from Memphis. Emory Blake, the son of former NFL QB Jeff Blake, came from Austin, Texas. I met the Blakes at last year's EA Sports Elite 11 QB Camp. The younger Blake is about 6-2, 190 and really carries himself well, on and off the field. I think he surprised a lot of people Wednesday. He is polished, has soft hands and made a bunch of DBs miss.

He told me he's already been offered by a bunch of schools including Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas offered him if he'd grayshirt.

Hall of Famer Joe Montana was there to watch his son Nick, a junior QB at powerhouse De La Salle. The younger Montana appeared to be one of the better QBs at the camp.

From Marty in Los Angeles: Les Miles gets no credit because his players are "Saban's players" and Nick Saban gets no blame because the players arrested under his watch were not recruited by him? Am I in the wrong line of work or can you point me to a job where I can make $4 million a year, take no blame, even if I have a disaster (ULM) like losing a mission critical database and still get credit for the databases running great at my old job, after all, I set them up and the next guy only tuned them for three years. (FYI Oracle databases won't last three weeks without a good DBA.) Man, the media gives Saban a huge pass.

Feldman: I think Saban has gotten plenty of blame for losing to ULM and I don't think he's getting a complete free pass on the run of player arrests. Miles also got a lot of credit nationally for leading LSU to the title, although you make a fair point that he probably didn't get as much credit as he deserves for that.

From Sarah in Dallas: I don't get how people can even question how slow the Big Ten is. It's a joke. Watch those BCS title games. The Big Ten is closer to the MAC than it is to the SEC in the caliber of athletes they have.

Feldman: I got a bunch of questions and comments about the speed blog from Wednesday. This one is too far out there. True, Ohio State flopped in the last two title games, but OSU didn't look that outclassed when the Buckeyes went to Austin and beat a loaded Texas team, and Michigan didn't look out of its element against Florida in the bowl game.

From Paul Kettering in Fairmont, W.V.: What's your take on WVU's 2009 recruiting class so far?

Feldman: They're doing really well in Virginia and I'm sure with the staff changes they've made, they'll probably get hot down in Florida later this year. I do think losing WR Shawney Kersey to Rutgers does sting a little though.

From Matt in Brooklyn: In regard to your blog about the ugly side of modern recruiting, I just don't understand what's so wrong about what Oregon did. They have a certain number of spots to fill at each position. Aren't prospects made perfectly aware of this, and don't school use this limitation as a way to apply subtle pressure to get kids to commit sooner? I guess I just wasn't perfectly clear on where the deception or miscommunication came into play as well as why the coach and prospect feel so mistreated.

Feldman: It's really just one of the realities of recruiting now. The "official" offer letter makes this seem worse because it makes the prospect think it's golden. It's not. Every college coaching staff has to decide what's worth it to them in the long run. Can you burn a kid (and his high school program) for what you think might be a better player? I doubt this would've happened if it involved a player at an in-state powerhouse program because Mike Bellotti probably couldn't afford to alienate the high school coach.


• Nebraska has one of the better stories in college football on its roster. Tyrone Fahie, a 25-year-old DE who made the team through an open tryout. As Brian Christopherson writes, Fahie had served six years active duty with the U.S. Navy. He had been to Iraq - twice. Click on this story, this is a player definitely worth reading about.

• Note to college coaches, if you know a recruit you want is going to come and try to take a visit, don't be on vacation. Justin Jones, a 6-8, 240-pound DE, is committing to Kentucky after taking a disappointing visit to South Carolina, where the coaches were out on vacation and only a grad assistant was around to give him a tour, reports Jeff Hood.

I do wonder how much Steve Spurrier's staff wants Jones. I doubt this happens if this involves one of the top guys on their board.

• If it seems like there has been a lot of attrition at Louisville since Steve Kragthorpe took over, there has. Brian Bennett counts up the players who are no longer with the program since the last spring. The number is 21, which is more than twice the norm that you usually have from players retiring from injury, failing out, giving up football or transferring out.

• One-time Florida State QB Xavier Lee, once known around the Noles program as Xavier The Savior, has been cut by the Baltimore Ravens after trying to make the team as a tight end, where he apparently did show some flashes.

"I think he was into it a little bit," said coach John Harbaugh said of Lee following a minicamp. "He was running routes and catching the ball and he would have a chance athletically to play tight end. They were right at Florida State. He could be a heck of a tight end. We've got to talk about it, but he looked pretty good."

• Some interesting fallout from comments La. Tech coach/AD Derek Dooley made about Louisiana-Monroe, writes Matthew Hamilton.