December 12, 2007

Shrine Bowl Notebook: The midweek hump

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Hump day at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas featured a noticeable drop in intensity level. After a Tuesday practice that could have easily been mistaken for a college coach's convention, there were only a handful of coaches on hand to see the midweek workouts. There was much less contact on both sides of the field and players started to show the wear of the week.

During the second session of practice, the North Carolina coaching staff responded to the midweek soreness by cutting practice an hour short and sending the players to the showers. South Carolina spent much of that hour with shoulder pads off just working on assignments.

The week has had varying effects on players. Some players didn't make it to the state playoffs and haven't touched a football in weeks. Some players such as Wilmington (N.C.) Hoggard's Jonathan Cooper are still recovering from a state championship game. Meanwhile five-star wide receiver A.J. Green had already switched sports.

"I'm just a little sore right now." Green said. "Back home I was still playing basketball. I played four games of basketball and then had to come back to football so my legs are a little tired. It was hard to look over at the North and see them gone after an hour but we just worked hard and had fun."

Green hasn't been involved in much of the contact during two physical days of practice on the South side, but he has been running countless routes in what looks to be a very pass-heavy offense.

Both teams will likely continue to taper down the intensity of practice as Saturday approaches.

Defense takes shape

At the skill positions alone, the South Carolina offense possesses three four-star prospects, one five-star prospect, one of the top sleepers at the Shrine Bowl and two highly-productive quarterbacks to choose from. The North Carolina defense will certainly have its hands full trying to contain such a stable, but through Wednesdays practice, the North looks to be coming together nicely on the defensive side of the ball.

Austin Johnson has been very productive at middle linebacker particularly against the run. Johnson has tackled well and taken on blockers with tenacity. He is joined by E.J. Abrams-Ward on the weak side. Abrams-Ward will be a serious factor in the pass game and rushing the quarterback. On the strong side, Kevin Reddick has been getting a majority of the snaps and Dwayne Maddox has shown steady improvement throughout the week and should be strong supporting the run.

On the line, Allen Crowder leads the way for an undersized but physical unit. 6-4, 230-pound Lanston Tanyi has shown good athleticism and aggressiveness off of the edge and inside Ernest Bridges and Jeremy Harden have been very steady.

The rest of the load is shouldered by the secondary that is led by Virginia Tech commit Lorenzo Williams. Williams had some nice breakups in the morning drills on Wednesday and has loads of athleticism as a 6-foot-2 defensive back. Robert Blanton mans the opposite corner with sleeper Ed Gainey providing a great option off of the bench. The two safeties at this point, look to be fellow ECU commits, Justin Venable and Joseph Womack.

All love

The hitting in practice is starting to wind down and it looks as though the week may end without so much as a shoving match between teammates. Often times in a competitive all-star setting, tempers can fly and fights can break out but both North Carolina and South Carolina have been keeping it clean and have only exercised some playful ribbing.

Towards the end of Wednesday's afternoon session, Duke commit Lee Butler laid a big hit on wide receiver Marquan Jones but Butler got the worst of it. On his way back to the huddle, Jones made sure to let Butler know about it.

On the next play, it was right back to work for both players.

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