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December 29, 2009

Under Armour: Sizing up the rosters

MORE: Breaking down the UA All-Americans | Under Armour AA Game rosters | All-star coverage

Eighty-eight of the nation's best high school football players will participate in the third annual Under Armour All-America Game on Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The teams - White and Black - will practice at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex for three days, beginning Wednesday, to gear up for Saturday's main event.

Who has the edge?

It will come down to the team that does the little things better and limits mistakes and turnovers. That sounds cliché, but it really rings true in an all-star setting because these teams are limited to three days of practice sessions. That's not much time to get everyone on the same page and find a rhythm.

So who looks the best on paper? For the most part the teams appear to be balanced, with each squad having positions of strength.

Obviously, quarterback is a key spot. There are six really good QBs here, but the edge has to go to Black - which has the nation's top signal-caller in dual-threat QB Devin Gardner from Detroit as well as the No. 2-rated pro-style QB in Phillip Sims from Chesapeake, Va. In addition, Black's third quarterback is Westlake Village, Calif., standout Nick Montana. All three are accurate passers and each possesses enough athleticism to make some big plays.

White also has some fine quarterbacks in Chase Rettig of San Clemente, Calif., Jesse Scroggins of Lakewood, Calif., and Blake Bell of Wichita, Kan. The higher-rated guys are on the Black side, so we'll see if they live up to the billing.

Which team has the better group of receivers?

While there's a ton of talent on both sides, the edge here goes to White, which will be led by Da'Rick Rogers of Calhoun, Ga., and Chris Dunkley of Pahokee, Fla. Sure the other receivers (Kadron Boone, Tai-ler Jones, Antonio Goodwin, Demarco Cobbs, Brandon Coleman and tight end Xavier Grimble) are talented, but Rogers and Dunkley are special - particularly Rogers. He's big, strong and an amazing athlete.

Perhaps the best matchup to watch on Saturday will be Rogers against the nation's No. 2-rated cornerback, Demarcus Milliner from Millbrook, Ala.

Then you have the dynamic Dunkley. Sure he's on the smaller side, but he has uncanny ability in space to make something big happen with his speed and quickness.

Helping out at safety for team Black is Jonathan Dowling of Bradenton, Fla. While he may not be the most physical safety in the world, Dowling is terrific in pass coverage and he has super range and a good radar for tracking down the ball.

On the flip side, Rivals.com's No. 1- and No. 3-rated corners reside on the White team in Lamarcus Joyner of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Joshua Shaw of Palmdale, Calif., respectively. They have a ton of talent but will have their hands full with Black's wideouts. Black has big and talented receivers in Justin Hunter of Virginia Beach, Va., and Darius White of Ft. Worth, Texas. Black also features small, speedy playmakers in Solomon Patton of Mobile, Ala., and James Louis of Delray Beach, Fla. There's no question that the matchups to watch this weekend are wide receiver/secondary battles.

Of course, much of the game will be predicated on who wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. On paper, the edge has to go to White. Offensively, the tackles are strong with Chaz Green of Tampa, Fla., James Hurst of Plainfield, Ind., and Jawuan James of Suwanee, Ga., and interior linemen like James Stone from Nashville, Tenn., Kolton Houston from Buford, Ga., and Torrian Wilson from Miami.

Meanwhile, White has some beef in the middle and speed and athleticism on the edge with defensive tackles Mike Thornton of Stone Mountain, Ga., and Louis Nix of Jacksonville, Fla., and defensive ends Corey Lemonier of Hialeah, Fla., and Corey Miller of Duncan, S.C., among others.

While there are only two running backs on each roster, don't expect that quartet to get a large number of carries Saturday. Typically, passing dominates in an all-star game setting. Still, you have some impressive backs to watch. Blue has the powerful Michael Dyer of Little Rock, Ark., and the dynamic Jordon James of Corona, Calif. Then you have a pair of Black running backs from the Peach State in Mack Brown of Lithonia, Ga., and Storm Johnson of Loganville, Ga. These four all have one thing in common; they have versatility to their game and can also catch the ball out of the backfield. So when they do get their touches, something big could happen.

It seems as if there are some contrasting styles in the linebacker corps. For Black, you have some very good athletes who are a tad undersized in Aaron Benson of Cedar Hill, Texas and Corey Nelson of Dallas. Black's standout linebacker is the athletic Jordan Hicks of West Chester, Ohio. Both teams have tackling machines in Black linebacker Jake Holland of Pelham, Ala., and White linebacker Michael Taylor of Atlanta.

White also has a Sunshine State duo that many fans are excited to see in the nation's top middle linebacker, Jeff Luc of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Rivals100 outside linebacker Christian Jones of Orlando, Fla. Konrad Zagzebski of Schoefield, Wis., has some good size, while Shaun Lewis of Missouri City, Texas, is smaller with good speed.

So while there may be different style linebackers who represent both Black and White, the bottom line for both sets of defenders is that they all make plays. Look for this position group to get severely tested in pass coverage.

So which team has the advantage going into the game? It's too close to call. Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses but overall look pretty balanced. In the end, it will come down to which team makes the least mistakes and takes advantage of field position.




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