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January 2, 2009
U.S. Army All-American Bowl position battles
MORE: West practice video | East practice video | Army AA Bowl coverage | More all-star coverage
SAN ANTONIO - There is a ton of elite talent set to compete in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl and there is a high concentration of that talent in several key position groups on both the East and West rosters. The 2009 edition of the game presents some position battles within the game that will be intriguing to watch.
West Defensive Line vs. East Offensive Line: The West squad has a dominating defensive line led by tackles Chris Davenport and Jamarkus McFarland and ends Alex Okafor, Nick Kasa and Sheldon Richardson. The group has been hard to handle all week in practice going at less-than-full speed and you can bet they're itching to hit someone. The East counters with massive guards Eric Shrive and Morgan Moses as well as tackle Xavier Nixon but they look overmatched on paper.
West Linebackers vs. East Running Backs: Vontaze Burfict has been a hitting machine all week and Tana Patrick and Nico Johnson have also been impressive, but can they corral Bryce Brown and keep scatback Roderick McDowell from getting free in the secondary? Brown is very shifty for a big back and McDowell is not a good matchup in space for the big West linebackers. If the East offensive line can give them some space, watch out.
West Wide Receivers vs. East Defensive Backs: The West wide receivers have been limping around all week and seemingly less-than-enthusiastic while the East defensive backs haven't had as much practice time and have been susceptible to the long ball. Something has to give. Rueben Randle could dominate if his hamstring holds up and Greg Timmons has been the best wide receiver for either team all week. East cornerback Michael Carter has been beaten in the scrimmages and could be a weak link. If the West wide outs come to play and are healthy, this is a troublesome matchup for the East.
East Linebackers vs. West Running Backs: The East linebackers are very physical but a bit undersized while Christine Michael has clearly been the best running back for the West and has been hard to handle. The key here will be how middle linebackers Shayne Skov and Jon Bostic can handle Michael up the middle and if Dorian Bell can use his speed to run things down to the outside. If the West had three Michaels in the backfield they would have the edge, but the East 'backers can likely keep him in check and handle Cierre Wood Chris Whaley.
West Offensive Line vs. East Defensive Line: The West offensive line has had the unenviable task of dealing with the likes of Davenport, McFarland, Kasa, Okafor, Richardson and the rest all week so going against the East defensive line will be less of a challenge. The big matchup here will be West tackle D.J. Fluker against East speed rusher Donte Moss and the West interior line against East defensive tackle William Campbell. Based on practice and the scrimmage, the West has the edge here.
East Wide Receivers vs. West Defensive Backs: The East wide receivers have improved during each practice but they are going up against a tremendous West secondary. Gabe Lynn, Cliff Harris, T.J. McDonald, Kevin Brent and the rest of the West defensive backs have been awesome all week and should be able to handle the East wide outs. The only problem could be East wide receiver Logan Thomas who could be too big for the corners or Jeremy Gallon, who has a knack for finding open space. But the talent and depth on the West side appears to be too much.
East Quarterbacks vs. West Quarterbacks: Games often come down to quarterback play so it will be interesting to see how the seven signal-callers in the game perform. The West quarterbacks have been erratic all week with AJ McCarron the closest to being consistent. The East quarterbacks have each shown flashes and have surprised as a group. Aaron Murray is solid but the real key here will be how Kevin Newsome handles pressure and if he can use his arm and legs to make plays.