BATON ROUGE, La. -- The LSU Nike Football Training Camp brought out top-level 2011 prospects from the Southeast. There was a strong showing from Louisiana, which looks to have one of its better classes in recent years. The great talent on hand was well-dispersed from the skills to the trenches. One prospect stood out from the crowd and looked very comfortable catching passes on his future practice field.
Jarvis Landry (Lutcher, La.) took home the wide receiver MVP and could have taken home that honor for the entire camp if such a distinction existed. The silky-smooth LSU commit snagged every ball thrown to him, displaying good arm extension, good concentration and large hands that just plucked every ball in his catch radius. Landry's route-running was excellent, and his footwork was polished, tight and sharp. He separated effortlessly out of his breaks, showing great quickness, fluidity, crispness and burst. The future Tiger also appears to be adding some size to his leaner frame. Landry didn't really get to show off his big-play ability after the catch, but we were impressed by his overall improvement as a short-to-intermediate route-runner.
Landry wasn't the only receiver with a strong showing in Baton Rouge. The group in general was very athletic, and several prospects demonstrated the tools and athleticism to also be recruited as defensive backs.
Odell Beckham Jr. (New Orleans/Isidore Newman) may be built more like a safety and likely will get recruited as one by several programs. On Saturday, however, he showed the hands and skill set to remain a wideout. In addition to displaying great quickness, he looked balanced and smooth in his movements at receiver and made several of the day's most impressive grabs, exhibiting very good body control and hand-eye coordination.
Bralon Addison (Missouri City, Texas/Hightower) was one of the more fluid and consistent receivers on hand and should emerge as a top 2012 prospect. He showed smooth hips, good sink, quickness and burst coming in and out of his breaks. He also made several nice grabs away from his body. His great ball and transitional skills may garner more of a look at corner. This kid is a versatile athlete to keep tabs on.
Other receivers who looked good were Ryan Byrd (Greensburg, La./Saint Helena), who is athletic; Chris Briggs (Franklinton, La.), who has high upside; Joe Morrow (Ocean Springs, Miss.), who is a huge target; and sleek runner Tray Becton-Martin (Eads, Tenn./Briarcrest Christian).
Cleaning the Kitchen
The receivers on hand faced some stiff competition from a competitive group of defensive backs, and Daren Kitchen (Houma, La./Vandebilt Catholic) may have been the best of the bunch. The Louisiana native needs to add size to his lean, rangy frame, but he showed sharp footwork and fluid transitional skills in and out of his pedal. He flipped his hips and turned without much wasted movement.
Although Kitchen holds national offers from programs such as Stanford, several sleepers in the defensive back group could emerge this spring. Nick Shepard (Houston/Cypress Ridge), brother of current LSU wideout/quarterback Russell, showed good range in deep coverage at safety and closed well. He has a solid frame to help with run support. Casey Freeman (Milton, Fla.) passes the eyeball test and was one of the better high-pointing safeties. Brian Isaac (Natchez, Miss.), who was the event's MVP among defensive backs, has a great build and long, stronger arms needed to effectively jam and press at the next level. Pensacola's Joseph Hunter (Pensacola, Fla.) needs to work on playing with more sink given his tall frame and elongated lower body, but we liked his length and height on the perimeter. He made a few nice breaks on the ball.
Backs in all shapes and sizes
The running back group had a good mix of contrasting styles as well as a wide spectrum of recruiting attention. Jeremy Hill (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist) was the household name of the group and showed flashes of why he's considered one of the best backs in Louisiana in the class of 2011. You appreciate his thick, prototypical load-back frame more in person as well as his straight-line speed. The camp was not a great platform to showcase his productive downhill style, but the LSU commit showed some good burst out of cuts and deceptive lateral agility for his size. Although Hill needs to work on his blitz-pickup skills, he caught the ball well out of the backfield and has every-down qualities at the next level.
Fellow LSU commit Terrance Magee (Franklinton, La.) took all his reps at running back. Like Hill, he is athletic for his size and has a thick, powerful lower base. Although he was physically impressive, we question his hip fluidity and ability to play tailback for the Tigers, particularly with Hill and fellow ESPNU 150 Watch List running back Kenny Hilliard (Patterson, La.) already committed to this class. McGee may grow into a fullback or an H-back for the Tigers.
Other running backs looking good were big-play sophomore Daniel Taylor (Lutcher, La.), quick-cutting Robert Kelly (New Orleans/ O. Perry Walker) and well-rounded surprise Ameer Abdullah (Birmingham, Ala./Homewood).
Linebackers looking good on the hoof
Collectively, the linebackers in Baton Rouge looked the part; the group was very impressive from a physical standpoint. Ryan Simmons (Cibolo, Texas/Steele) measured in at 6-feet, 229 pounds. Although he sometimes had difficulty breaking down in space, his overall lateral agility for a strong, downhill filler was good. Simmons also showed strong-hand technique, shedding blockers during one-on-one drills.
Inconsistent quarterback play
Three quarterbacks stood out from the pack, and each made great and erratic throws. Zach Oliver (Baton Rouge, La./Catholic) was named MVP of the group. He showed flashes of good arm strength, velocity and sound reads. This thickly built, dropback passer was accurate placing the football when he followed through and stepped into his throws, but he also let a few passes get away. Broderick Hall (Phenix City, Ala./Central) had a fluid release and threw some of the better balls of the day with zip when needed and good touch on intermediate routes when he came over the top with his release. He looked very athletic at times throwing on the run, and his chiseled 6-foot-2 frame may attract some programs looking to employ him as an athlete, at least while he's developing under center. Like Hall, Daniel Sams (Slidell, La./Salmen) looks like a Division I athlete and made a couple of good throws, showing off his raw arm strength. The Kansas State commit will need some time to refine his footwork and throwing mechanics before he contributes at quarterback.
Sleeper emerges up front
There was good quality on both sides of the line Saturday. For the most part, the big names on the recruiting trail were as advertised, but the highly flexible Ethan Hutson (Destrehan, La.), who holds just one offer from Tulane, may have opened the most eyes. He has good bulk and overall size to play center or guard at the next level, but his ability to bend, stay balanced and quick-set in pass protection left the biggest impression. The O-line MVP could sink his hips and anchor the bull rush. He should see his recruiting stock soar through the spring evaluation period. Corey White (Baton Rouge, La./Capitol) also has desired size for an interior lineman; he showed good feet while sliding and mirroring in pass-protection. The LSU commit countered with some quick strikes, but it looks as if his upper body needs to strengthen. Keep your eyes on massive 2012 tackle prospect Derek Edinburgh (New Orleans/Edna Karr). This young pup is massive with good bulk and long arms, and he moved fairly well. His keys to improvement are better leverage and explosion.
The defensive line may have had some taller prospects, but none more explosive than Mickey Johnson (Covington, La./Saint Paul's). This 6-foot fire hydrant is built like a block of granite with an extremely strong base. He outleveraged and powered most of his competition during one-on-ones and beat other campers with great short-area quickness and an explosive first step. The D-line MVP also has a strong pair of hands needed to rip through blockers and is technically sound. Defensive end D.J. Pettway (Pensacola, Fla./Catholic) made the trip up from Pensacola and showed good athleticism throughout the day, making outside linebacker in 3-4 a potentially good fit for this 6-2, 250-pound hybrid.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.