January 3, 2008

Offense-Defense West Notebook: Possible starters

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Offense-Defense Bowl West squad linebackers spent much of the week disappearing into the background, as none of the current players on the roster were doing much to catch the attention of those in attendance.

After struggling to close off the edges and stop the run on Wednesday, the West defensive coaching staff sat down with the linebackers unit and challenged them to step up their game. On Thursday, they did exactly that, as they began to make their presences felt early in the day.

"They told us to be a little more aggressive and not let the running backs do what they want to do," said West linebacker DeWitt Stuckey. "We have to force them to which side we want them to go to. I think we have to play a lot harder and show the [running backs] where we want to take them to."

With Stuckey and fellow linebacker Will Compton stepping up their games and following their coaches' instructions, Thursday's performances were much better. They were particularly impressive against the run in goal line defensive situations. They did have problems fending off the tight ends on Thursday, but all in all the entire linebacker corps were doing a good job of controlling the action.

According to Stuckey, the West's struggles at linebacker were happening for many reasons, but in his case it was the adjustment from his high school's old style of defense to that of the West's 4-3 scheme.

"I come from a high school who runs a 46 defense, so coming here and running a 4-3 defense is a little different from me playing the outside linebacker and then moving to play the inside," Stuckey said. "I'm having to read the receivers more and make some other adjustments."


STARTING LINEUPS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE

On Thursday morning the West team's starting lineup began to take shape, as the coaching staff repped its top players for the majority of the morning.

Among those who have appeared to lock down a starting position is quarterback Matt Scott. After struggling early in the week, Scott found a comfort zone and developed a strong connection with his receivers. Though Nathan Stanley started the week as the top signal caller, Scott improved at a much quicker rate and established himself as the leader of the offense.

The running back spot is still up for grabs, as Jamal Womble and Cyrus Gray both put in an impressive week of practice.

The wide receiver starting slots appear to be set, as Jeff Fuller will enter tomorrow's game as the West's top player at the position, followed by Marvin Jones and Kemonte Bateman in the slot.

After not seeing much from the tight ends early in the week, Matt Branch and Steven Figueroa stepped up their play over the last two days, with neither separating themselves from the other. The starter for this position looks to be a game-time decision.

Other than the right guard position, the starters for the offensive line seem to be intact. The rest of the lineup is expected to go something like this: Derek Tuimauga at left tackle, Alameda Ta'amu at left guard, David Decastro at center and Deveric Gallington at right tackle. Kermit Tyler and Andrew Sampson are battling for the final starting spot.

The defensive line will likely be made up of Datone Jones at right end, [/db]Trevor Guyton[/db] at right tackle and Armond Armstead at left tackle. The left defensive tackle spot is still up in the air, as Damien Holmes, Everrette Thompson and Chase Clement are competing for the starting role.

Will Compton and DeWitt Stuckey appear to be locks for the linebacker corps, while Kurt Mangum and Rueben Willis are vying for the third and final spot.

The defensive backfield will be comprised of Aaron Hester at right corner and Marc Anthony at left corner, while the safety slots are still up for grabs.


TIGHT ENDS HAVE HUGE DAY

Matt Branch and Steven Figueroa both looked as though they had something to prove in practice today, as neither could be contained. Figueroa was all over the field and managed to haul in multiple touchdown passes across the middle from quarterback Matt Scott. Branch was also impressive, as he pulled in one Scott pass along the right sideline and carried it another 10 yards with linebackers and defensive backs climbing all over his back.

With the two setting themselves up as reliable targets, Scott and the other quarterbacks began looking at the two as their security blanket. Their strong performance even convinced the West coach to place the squad in a two-tight end set at one point in the practice.

Look for both of these players to play a significant role in Friday night's game.

MANGAN PLAYING CATCH UP IN SOUTH FLORIDA

Through the first two days of practice, linebacker Kyle Mangan was missing in action. Late Tuesday night, the three-star prospect finally found his way in to South Florida after having his flight delayed in Colorado.

Mangan, who was in Colorado on a ski trip, saw his flight get delayed due to heavy snow in the area at the start of the week.

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