Commentary

Tuscaloosa Nike Camp draws speed; Elite 11 brings top QBs to the South

Originally Published: May 6, 2008
By Tom Luginbill | Scouts Inc.

Zach MettengbergerTom Hauck for ESPN.comGeorgia-bound QB Zach Mettenberg was the top QB at the Elite 11 event in Alabama.
As we continue our tour of the Nike Football Training Camps and Elite 11 combines, a few things continue to stand out about the very talented prospects who have chosen to show up and compete against one another.

First, all things being equal, getting off of press coverage is still the true measure of who will be a cut above at the wide receiver position. Second, defensive linemen are still trying to develop pass-rush moves and proper use of their hands. Third, quarterback footwork and balance mean everything when it comes to the most important trait of the position: accuracy.

Lots of talent and very little technique and know-how is expected at these events. After all, prospects choose to attend because they want to leave better than they were when they showed up.

The Tuscaloosa, Ala., event showcased speed and athleticism at the skill positions, and the quarterbacks likely were the best group to attend the Nike portion of the day and the Elite 11 workouts of any combine yet this spring. Big names who were expected to attend but were absent included CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Gadsden, Ala.), QB Chris Garrett (Tupelo, Miss.), DT Terrence Coleman (Mobile, Ala./Williamson) and OG Dallas Lee (Buford, Ga.).

There were quite a few prospects who made an impression Saturday -- both at the Nike Camp and at Elite 11. Many of them will be players unknown to recruiting fans, but these guys deserve mentioning because of their performances. Here's hoping this event will jump-start recruitment for many of these prospects as they head into their senior campaign.

Oh by the way, possibly the best player at this event was a sophomore. Class of 2010 WR prospect Markeith Ambles (McDonough, Ga./Henry County) is the new teammate of WR Jamal Patterson after transferring in from Griffin (Ga.) High School, where he caught only 17 passes as a sophomore. Expect him to be one of the most highly recruited wide receivers in the country next year.

Stock up

NFTC: Darren Myles Jr. (Atlanta/Carver)
[+] EnlargeDarren Myles
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comMyles is capable of lining up at safety and corner.
OK, here's the deal: Cornerback and quarterback are always the toughest positions to evaluate. Although we first evaluated and graded Myles as a safety, which is the only defensive position he has played, this is the first time perhaps anyone had seen him line up on the perimeter, and oh what a pretty sight for college coaches. He's already tall and physical and can run like a gazelle. He showed against the camp's top wide receivers that he is more than capable of holding up outside against upper-echelon talent. His dad, Darren Myles Sr., who is also his coach, was on hand to witness his son's performance and said that no one has seen him at corner … yet. Well, the cat is out of the bag, and guys like this in the secondary do not grow on trees.

Elite 11: QB Wes Luquette (Newman, La.)

Six-foot-1 Luquette gets "stock up" honors because despite being dramatically undersized in terms of height (not weight or build), he consistently showed a live arm and smooth delivery mechanics and was one of the most, if not the most, accurate passers of the entire event. What hurts Luquette beyond his lack of ideal measurables is that he neither plays in the spread, where his physical traits as a passer could be put on display, nor gets a lot of opportunities because of his scheme. However, because he does not play in the spread, he and Zach Mettenberger were the two quarterbacks on hand who showed the best drop speed and footwork -- because they are both rarely in the shotgun. Someone is going to have to be willing to take a chance on Luquette, just like Kansas was willing to take a shot on Todd Reesing.

Surprise performers

NFTC: OG Jeremy Simmons (Ashland, Ala./ Clay County)
In an event primarily featuring skilled athletes, Simmons stood out among the big guys on this day. The one-on-one and endurance drills are tough to get through, but Simmons seemed to handle them with ease. The problem I have always had with one-on-one drills between offensive and defensive linemen is that the offensive linemen are at a huge disadvantage and the drills really aren't a true gauge of players' ability to play the game. However, this is where Simmons was at his best. Despite the absence of DT Terrence Coleman, who would have been Simmons' toughest competition, this big man showed good footwork, a sound, consistent base and top-notch strength. He was never intimidated, and he lined up on the right and left side of the ball at tackle and guard. We will work to get him evaluated in the near future.

Elite 11: QB Barrett Bailey (Baton Rouge, La./University Lab)
A virtual unknown, Bailey looked crisp, was sound fundamentally and showed the arm to make the necessary college throws. He displayed quality velocity and good athleticism for a pocket passer. Bailey was another prospect who showed good footwork when dropping because he is used to playing from under center. His recruitment should heat up quickly. He has ideal size and a frame to grow into, and his best football is definitely ahead of him. We will look to get him evaluated in the coming weeks.

Sleepers

NFTC: TE Philip Lutzenkirchen (Marietta, Ga./Lassiter)
This is a tough event for tight ends; they are sort of out of position in the wide receiver and one-on-one drills. They are faced with having to line up against corners and safeties and run outside routes they will never be asked to do as a tight end. Still, Lutzenkirchen held his own and looks the part of a complete tight end. He is physically imposing, runs well and has the frame to develop into a fine in-line blocker. He also displayed natural strength and good hands. He should be an ideal short and intermediate target in the passing game.

Elite 11: QB Raymond Cotton (Mobile, Ala./Faith Academy)
Cotton has all the tools but needs to focus on the basics to continue improving. He looks great, has a big arm and can make every throw, but he is a technical mess in terms of footwork and fundamentals. He plays in the shotgun and has little experience dropping from under center -- and it shows. He has been allowed to use his natural abilities to make plays from the quarterback position. To succeed on the next level, Cotton will need extensive time in footwork drills, classroom study, and to learn how to use his feet and body -- not just his arm -- to throw the football. Also, he is going to have to adjust to throwing with new balls at the collegiate level, not the worn, comfortable ball he used all day. Often, this can be a security blanket for many kids coming out of high school. Regardless, Cotton has tools, size and athleticism, but he really needs to be coached.

On the hoof

NFTC: DE Emanuel Dieke (College Park, Ga./North Clayton)
Dieke looks like a power forward -- long, lean and athletic. Once he gets into a weight program, he could be really something. Dieke has a massive wingspan and great height at 6-foot-6. Right now, he is strictly a speed rusher off the edge, and he must develop into a complete player. But he has the size, quickness and stride to become a great football player with proper coaching.

Elite 11: QB Zach Mettenberger (Oconee County, Ga.)
As far as pocket passers go, Mettenberger is it. Few, if any, quarterbacks in the past three classes -- outside maybe Matthew Stafford -- possessed this guy's arm and natural wrist velocity. He is the definition of a "power" passer, and although he has great size and the big arm, he is just that -- a pocket passer. His feet are solid for a player his size, and he can make any throw on the field with ease, but as with most young quarterbacks with a big arm, he knows only one speed: 90 miles per hour. If he can develop some touch and improve his overall accuracy, he will be an ideal pro-style passer.

Best prospects

NFTC: S/CB Darren Myles Jr.
Next to Ambles, Myles was hands down the best guy on the field not only on the hoof but athletically as well. His stock will skyrocket if he plays on the perimeter in the fall. We knew he had ball and tackling skills, but at this event, he showed he can be effective in press coverage and is very physical.

Elite 11: QB Zach Mettenberger
Strictly from an on-the-hoof standpoint, Mettenberger is one of those college-ready guys physically. This Georgia commit, coming in alongside QB Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla./Plant), will put the Bulldogs in an enviable position with great depth and talent under center and a scheme that will allow Mettenberger to succeed; he is not a spread guy or a scrambler, but he can throw the ball anywhere on the field.

Notes

[+] EnlargeMike Bowman
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comBowman was one of the top wideouts at the event.
• WR Jamal Patterson (McDonough, Ga./Henry County) showed flashes of being very good, but he also struggled at times catching the football consistently.

• QB Brett Whitmire (Orlando, Fla./Bishop Kenny) showed a live arm, but his sidearm delivery compounds his already below-average height.

• QB Phillip Butterfield (Hot Springs, Ark./Lake Hamilton) showed promise as a passer, but fundamentally, he must continue to clean up his mechanics.

• WR Chris Smith (Meridian, Miss.) is big and rangy and was one of the better wideouts on the field, as was WR Michael Bowman (Atlanta/Ridgeland).

• QB Tyler Russell (Meridian, Miss.), a Mississippi State commit, has some ability and very nice size, but, like most quarterbacks, he needs mechanical work and refinement.

• This camp lacked OL/DL and RB prospects for the most part, as far as high-profile recruits are concerned.

Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. Luginbill is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.

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.