As we previously mentioned in our preview of the 2009 EA Sports Elite 11 national camp, tough decisions had to be made in the selection process for this year's class. No one player at any regional qualifying camp separated themselves as a cut above the rest. However, for this reason, many less-heralded prospects have earned opportunities to shine and stack up against the higher-profile signal-callers in attendance.
This unique group has provided as competitive an event as you could have. We like the fact that players such as Tyler Bray (Kingsburg, Calif.) and Chandler Whitmer (Downer's Grove, Ill./South) chose to attend more than one regional qualifier to prove they belonged. Both players deserved Elite 11 selections, and they are proving it. Whitmer won the first day's Golden Gun award as the group's most accurate passer in the aerial, stationary target portion of the event that ends each day.
It just goes to show that the Internet, media or general hype does not make a player. The player's production and willingness to compete makes the player. Guys like that are hungry to prove themselves, and when you get guys like that in an environment in which they have an opportunity to heighten their profile and exposure from a recruiting angle, you ramp up the competition for everyone else.
The higher-profile names in attendance have earned their hype. Still, it's good to see a player get pushed by hungry, competitive up-and-comers out to prove they belong. I promise you, a prospect like Bray will come out of this event a better player, but so will a player like Phillip Sims (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith) because of Bray.
Day 1 had its ups and downs for all 12 prospects. Those early struggles were likely due to nerves, rapid pace of reps and mostly being unfamiliar with what was being asked -- many of these prospects are likely doing the circuit drills for the first time.
At the quarterback position, there is nothing worse than trying to play at your best when you are over thinking things and unsure. As the day wore on, you could see guys settling in a bit. A slight learning curve is expected, and we are always careful not to make too much of a Day 1 assessment. Usually, the first aspect of a player's game to suffer on Day 1 is accuracy, and that was the case Monday evening.
However, Day 1 had some bright flashes. Most notably was Under Armour All-American Sims' arm strength and the rate at which he adapted to instructions. The Alabama commit got into a rhythm and was on the mark. The arm was live, he had great feet (although his footwork from a fundamental standpoint needs the most improvement) and he was extremely consistent from drill-to-drill, especially on difficult throws and throws on the move.
Speaking of consistency-- it's Jake Heaps' middle name. No matter what the drill, what the throw or what Heaps (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) is being asked to do, he does it well on every play. He has grown, his overall arm strength has increased (which has given him more range) and he is technically and fundamentally sound on the little nuances of the position. There are going to be prospects more physically gifted, but you always know what you are going to get out of him. Coaches can teach him the offense and let him go. Little time will have to be spent cleaning up technical areas.
Robert Bolden (Orchard Lake, Mich./Saint Mary's) and Devin Gardner (Inkster, Mich.) could almost be considered identical. They are the same in height, weight, frame, athleticism, arm strength, dual-threat capabilities -- you name it and they are probably alike in it. It is hard to tell the two apart. Bolden surprised a bit with how compact, quick and capable he was of getting rid of the ball. At times, the ball jumps off his hand with tremendous zip and power. Gardner is mechanically more like Vince Young with a bit of a three-quarter release, but he has the same "pop" out of his arm as Bolden. As the week wears on, these two will likely see a big jump in overall, consistent accuracy. Bolden, a Penn State commit, and Gardner, a Michigan commit, are terrific fits for their respective programs from a scheme standpoint. In fact, one of this year's camp counselors is current PSU QB Darryl Clark. Along with Clark, Texas QB Colt McCoy, Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson, Illinois QB Juice Williams and former Missouri QB Chase Daniel are on hand to share time and wisdom with these future hopefuls.
In our opinion, the time spent at the Elite 11 off the field between counselors and prospects is more valuable than the insight the counselors give on the field. For these prospects to hear a story from McCoy or Clark on what it takes to be the best, what it takes to get there or how difficult the road ahead of them can be is invaluable. The college QBs were once in the prospects' shoes, and if these youngsters are smart, they will keep their ears open. Right now, all the prospects are big fish in a small pond, but in several months their worlds are going to change dramatically.
Oklahoma commit and Under Armour All-American Blake Bell (Wichita, Kan./Bishop Carroll) is such an intriguing guy in this group because there is a lot to look forward with him three years from now and beyond. As with all the prospects, he is physically gifted, but he may also be the least experienced quarterback. At 6-5, with a live arm and tremendous athleticism, which doesn't necessarily get noticed in a camp setting, he is still feeling his way. This summer is the first time he has had any specific quarterback tutelage to help him grow and enhance his game. His senior year will mark only his second year as a starting QB after playing wide receiver and H-back as a sophomore. We like his ceiling because he is just now starting to figure it all out, and this setting is only helping him.
The more we see Barry Brunetti (University School/Memphis) the more he impresses. This guy is one of those hungry prospects we referred to earlier. He has a quiet swagger to him coupled with arguably the group's smoothest release. He is essentially a dual-threat guy, who is much further along as a passer in terms of fundamentals and mechanics than most at camp. On Day 1, Brunetti adapted quickly to instructions and got into rhythm. We love his velocity and the overall traits he brings to the position, despite lacking ideal height at 6-foot.
It's unlikely that anyone will ever say Joe Boisture can't make every throw. He possesses your prototypical pocket-passer's arm, and is capable of placing the ball just about anywhere needed. For him, it is all about feet. The Michigan State commit is going to be in an offense in which he is protected by a firm run game, enabling him to become a quality play-action guy that gets rid of the ball on time with accuracy. Improving his ability to move within the pocket will only enhance his value.
At the conclusion of Day 2, Washington commit and Under Armour All-American Nick Montana (Concord, Calif./Oak Christian) started to come to life and found a groove. He was a bit unsettled initially but was a different player once his got comfortable. Timing, feet, athleticism and a good feel for anticipation started to come to the forefront, and as a result, so did accuracy.
We mentioned Whitmer earlier, but you can't help but like this kid. He is gritty and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He oozes confidence-- not arrogance. Like Brunetti, he lacks height and the quickness in his delivery gives his arm the appearance that it is stronger than it actually is. However, that same release coupled with his feet makes him accurate and extremely consistent. He will make some throws because of his quick feet and timing. As far as dropping from center is concerned, he is one of the most groomed prospects at the event.
Consistency is going to be the name of the game for Austin Hinder (Steamboat Springs, Colo.). At times, the Cal commit looked sharp. He is a prospect that a college weight program and redshirt year will do wonders for. His Day 2 performance was more of what we expected from him once he settled in. He is a guy who cares about being good and puts a lot of pressure on himself. There are moments Hinder drops from center and gets rid of the ball without any wasted motion, flashing great rhythm and command. We like his upside because of his late-bloomer frame, and like Bell, it is hard to appreciate how good an athlete he is as a runner in this setting.
Under Armour All-American Jesse Scroggins (Lakewood, Calif.) burst on the recruiting scene red hot this past spring, and has garnered a lot of attention. We feel he was an easy selection for the event. The first two days he showed flashes of what we have seen from him before, but he seems to be working in new balls and trying to adjust to new throwing positions, which seems to have affected his grip and ball control. But when Scroggins lets it rip, he can be as impressive as any player at camp.
We saved Bray for last because he has made the biggest impression. His Scouts Inc. film evaluation was completed earlier this month. Like most college programs, we were on him late. Credit San Diego State and any program that has recognized Bray's talent level and more importantly upside.
A pocket passer with tremendous measurables and deceptive athleticism, Bray made his mark on us during the first two days of work at the Elite 11, Projecting how Bray could develop is the fun part because while his frame has a lot of maturing to do, rarely do you find a prospect with the tall and lanky build he has who can throw with such velocity and zip. His compact delivery is not what you normally see from a taller prospect that has yet to grow into his frame. He has fit in well, and is certainly not intimidated. He belongs at camp, and is proving the performances that got him here are justified.
In the EA Sports Elite 11, all 12 prospects are constantly being pushed. Competition is an integral part of each station and drill, and the most productive days for each player will come towards the end of the week, as confidence and comfort level comes and true talent level takes the lead. The goal is for all to get better and leave more advanced and ready for the next level than when they arrived. It is a challenging week of fun, learning, making relationships and getting better on and off the field.
Tom Luginbill is national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc.