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April 15, 2006

Shooting Stars

LOS ANGELES - Hollywood couldn't have written a better script.

In what was billed as a showcase for blue-chip prospects, the Los Angeles NIKE Training Camp on Saturday at the University of Southern California more than lived up to the hype. But in typical dramatic fashion several underdogs that had been overlooked heading into the camp gave Oscar worthy performances.

Offensive linemen Jaivorio Burkes, Martin Coleman and Ryan Miller were the headliners coming in to the camp and none of them disappointed one bit. But it was an underclassman that had everybody buzzing before, during and after the camp.

Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde offensive tackle Tyron Smith passed the eyeball test when he measured in around 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. His looks alone had analysts and other players asking questions about him before the camp started.

Nobody really knew he who was, and when it was discovered he was only a sophomore going into his junior season jaws dropped.

Smith continued his stellar performance all the way through the camp with his great footwork in drills and impressive technique. Then he hit the one-on-ones where he dominated against other players that were a full year older than him.

By the time he was done Saturday, Smith went from a virtual unknown to a name that is surely going to rank among the nation's best for the class of 2008.

"It's not really sunk in yet," Smith said when asked about what his performance could do for his stock. "I really didn't think I would come out here and do what I did. I came out to do my best, and I was pleased with how I did, but I'm still surprised since I was going against the older kids.

"I didn't expect it to happen. This was my opportunity to measure and test myself against the best."

Smith passed without a doubt.

"I couldn't believe that Tyron Smith was a sophomore," NIKE Training Camp offensive line coach Pete Brock said. "He's still young, and he's already outstanding."

It's no surprise teams like Stanford, Washington, Colorado and Texas have already requested information on him from his coach. Smith, who plays left tackle and is also a basketball player at Rancho Verde, said he grew up a USC fan and wouldn't mind hearing early from the Trojans.

"I like the team," Smith said. "It's a great school and they're a great team."

Miller of Littleton (Colo.) Columbine came into the camp as possibly the nation's top offensive tackle prospect, and he did nothing to wreck that train of thought.

He measured in around 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, and ran in the 5.4-second range in the 40-yard dash. All those were impressive, but where Miller stood out was in the little things.

"Ryan Miller is the real deal," said Brock, who played every position on the offensive line during his 12 years with the New England Patriots. "He's the whole package. He's got great feet and he is one of those kids that are very coachable.

"He was 'yes sir', 'no sir' and paid attention. It's not like he knew everything, and it's not like I know everything either, but he paid a lot of attention and wanted to get better. That's what I want to see from a great offensive lineman."

Burkes and Coleman also did quite well.

Burkes measured in at 6-4 and 311 pounds, and moved quite well for a guy his size. In the one-on-ones, he dominated an opponent and shoved him to the ground with his long arms and amazing upper-body strength.

Coleman was built like a rock and showed nimble feet and also asked a lot of questions about technique. It's still pretty impressive when you think he's only played one year of organized football.

For some reason Coleman didn't get a chance to participate in the one-on-ones, which was the only disappointment for him in an otherwise stellar day.

The other sleeper that stole the show was Cameron Jordan from Chandler, Ariz.

He wasn't on anybody's elite prospect list heading into the camp, but the 6-4, 240-pounder looked like a monster with a great frame and displayed a lighting fast pass-rush move in the one-on-ones.

Jordan said he wasn't surprised he did so well at the camp, and after further review maybe neither should anybody else.

Jordan has football in his blood.

His father is Steve Jordan, who played tight end from 1982-94 with the Minnesota Vikings. As a junior, Jordan said he spent a lot of time along the offensive line, so his defensive stats aren't exactly that impressive. But after watching him tear it up on Saturday, he might just have a future on the defensive side of the ball.

PASSING THE TEST
Along with the NIKE Training Camp, there was an EA Sports Elite 11 Regional workout immediately after the camp. Almost all of the signal-callers that performed in the camp piggybacked the event and participated in the Elite 11.

But there were several blue-chip quarterbacks that came out strictly for the Elite 11 only. Some of the most notable names were Keith Nichol of Lowell, Mich., Aaron Corp of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran and Peter Lalich of Springfield (Va.) West Springfield.

Nichol, a Michigan State commitment, looked like he had a much stronger arm in person than on some of his film. When asked to, he was really able to put some fire on the ball and it zipped out of his hands. Corp got a lot of praise from camp counselor and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez for his footwork and drops. Lalich looked very impressive on the rollouts and deep outs. He also had a strong arm and definitely looks the part physically.

There were several quarterbacks that looked great at both the camp and at the Elite 11 workout, most notably Griffin Robles of Spanish Fork, Utah, and Chasen Stangel of San Jacinto, Calif.

Robles was an impressive looking athlete with a great build and Stangel spun the ball extremely well all day long.

ALL THE SAME, ALL GOOD
If you were looking for your typical I-formation running back, then Saturday's camp wasn't the place for you. But if you're looking for a versatile all-purpose back, then the practice fields at USC was the right spot.

There was a pretty good collection of similar in size and similar in speed players at the running back spot, and each one of the guys used the event to test themselves against each other.

Two guys that really hit it off both on and off the field were James Davis of Monrovia, Calif., and Aaron Harris of Los Angeles Baldwin Park. Both are in the Reggie Bush mold with explosive speed and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

"Aaron and I pushed each other all day long," Davis said. "He made some cuts against the linebackers during one-on-ones that I wish I could do. He's got a great extra gear, and we liked working with each other and hyping ourselves up."

Harris agreed.

"I see a lot of my game in James," Harris said. "We're both about 5-9, and we both can catch the ball out of the backfield. Colleges need running backs like us that can take it to the house on any play in both the running and the passing game."

A REAL CATCH
With most of the attention focused on the offensive line and quarterbacks, it was easy to miss some of the talent on hand at the receiver spot. But it's a good thing that players like Drew Davis of Denver Montbello were there.

Davis, who has an offer from Colorado, put on a show all day long and after his one-on-one performance almost every single receiver coach at the camp had him near the top of their list.

Another solid receiver that looked great and is quickly shooting up the charts is Reggie Dunn of Los Angeles Verbum Dei.

With an offer from Arizona already in his pocket, Dunn caught everything that was thrown at him and he also had a solid day in testing. He's quickly becoming one of the top receiving targets in the West.

THE REAL DEAL
Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure coach Jon Mack said heading into the camp that his star defensive back Michael Williams wouldn't be 100 percent because of a slight injury. But if Saturday was any indication then 75 percent easily is enough to put him among the top athletes in the nation.

Williams, a pre-evaluation period Rivals100 selection, tested off the charts with a vertical leap of almost 40 inches, and he was silky smooth throughout the day in drills and other portions of the camp.

For complete coverage of the Los Angeles NIKE Training Camp, log on to StudentSportsFootball.com.


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