- Bill Conley
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LOS ANGELES -- It looked like USC freshman orientation at the Nike Football Training Camp on the Trojans' campus Sunday. Many of the outstanding players in the 2009 recruiting class who have verbally committed to Southern California were there. Among those athletes were quarterback Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), offensive lineman Kevin Graf (Agoura, Calif.), tight end Morrell Presley (Carson, Calif.), outside linebacker Chris Metcalf (Compton, Calif.), inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict Corona, Calif./Centennial), athlete Patrick Hall (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) and outside linebacker Marquis Simmons (Compton, Calif./Dominguez). It was a sunny day in Los Angeles but an even brighter day for the future of USC football.
The two hottest quarterbacks in camp -- Barkley and Allan Bridgeford (Mission Viejo, Calif.) -- held court on the gridiron Sunday afternoon. The camp's co-MVPs were clearly the most talented players at their position in a group of very good quarterbacks. Barkley continued to show why he is considered one of the best high school passers in the Class of 2009 (if not the very best). He throws the football with tremendous velocity and accuracy. He loves to compete, and he often teamed up with many of the talented tight ends and receivers to display his skills, throwing everything from outs and slants to takeoffs and post patterns. Bridgeford, meanwhile, proved he has the technical skills to excel at the position. He displayed great timing with his receivers as he released the football, and he can throw the ball on a rope. He has definitely taken the next step in being recognized as a premier high school quarterback. Athlete Patrick Hall spent the afternoon working at quarterback and surprisingly displayed a strong arm, throwing a tight spiral. There is no doubt this gifted athlete will be a dual threat as a runner and a passer for St. Bonaventure in 2008.
The all-hands team
As talented as the quarterbacks were Sunday, the tight ends and wideouts weren't far behind. Led by tight end Morrell Presley and receiver Shaquelle Evans, the one-on-one passing competition went to the offense. Presley demonstrated exceptional feet during the agility drills and was just as smooth running patterns. That ability, along with his soft hands, makes him one of the more athletic tight ends in high school football. Evans was also impressive in the agility stations, demonstrating the ability to cut on a dime and accelerate out of a cut. During the competition, he wasn't afraid to go up to fight for the football. Simmons and Evans weren't afraid to challenge the defensive backs, and both seemed to thrive on the competition.
Fierce up front
There was a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on during the one-on-one pass-protection/pass-rush competition. Both the offensive and defensive lines went lights-out during this spirited struggle. The one player who stood out in the crowd was Kevin Graf. This mountainous man was extremely light on his feet for a 6-foot-6, 302-pound offensive lineman. He uses his hands well, and once he locks on, the defender has no chance of getting to the quarterback. He kept jumping in to take on all challengers, and he won the vast majority of the battles. The other offensive lineman who wouldn't be denied was Greg Capella (El Diamante, Calif.). He went repetition after repetition, getting tougher and tougher as the competition heated up.
Payne delivers it
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was defensive tackle Craig Payne (Ontario, Calif./Colony). He caught my eye first during the agility stations. This big guy went through the ropes and foot-speed drills with ease. He impressed everyone as the day went on. Payne really made his mark during the pass-rush competition. He demonstrated the ability to power rush and come hard off the edge. He used the swim-and-rip techniques almost to perfection, but it was the great effort he gave that separated him from the rest. He's a guy who wasn't on a lot of people's radars, but Payne showed he could be a difference-maker on Sunday.
To be or not to be
Two very gifted athletes had great camps Sunday even though they may not play the same position at the next level. Both Marquis Simmons and Jayson Almond (Bloomington Calif.) worked out with the linebackers. Simmons looks like a Greek god (don't tell the Trojans) and has a motor that never quits. He gave 100 percent every play, all day long. His strength and athleticism could make him a tremendous rushing end, and I really think he could be a force to be reckoned with at the collegiate level. Meanwhile, Almond was by far the biggest linebacker at camp. He went through the drills with outstanding body control and agility. Like Simmons, he could find a future up front. His toughness and mobility were indeed impressive.
Best of the rest
Dijon Washington (Lawndale, Calif./Leuzinger) lived up to his hype as a defensive back. He is a real technician and proved he has great burst while backpedaling when it's time to break on the pass. He can really go up for the interception and should be exceptional in zone coverage. ... Chris Metcalf is a rangy athlete with good instincts. He can run and has a big enough frame to grow into an outside linebacker before he graduates from college. ... Inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict can do it all at his position. He runs well laterally and has the speed and hip flexibility to excel in coverage. He displays toughness to go along with his athleticism. I pity the opposing quarterback when he comes on the blitz.
Bill Conley worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Since retiring from Ohio State in 2004, Conley has worked as a contributor and analyst for Columbus-area print and broadcast media and as a professional speaker. He also published a book recounting his years as a Buckeyes recruiting coordinator, "Buckeye Bumper Crops."
ESPN television is currently in production on a special that will profile the top prospects at the Nike and Elite 11 training camps. The information used in this article was gathered as part of the television production process.
There was plenty of skill-position talent on USC's campus for the Nike Football Training Camp on Sunday, writes Bill Conley.