September 30, 2010

Hughes and Stevenson Go to War Together

SPRING, Texas - Nowhere is Oklahoma's recent success in Houston area recruiting more evident than the Klein independent school district, most notably Klein Oak, home of 2011 Sooner commitment Nathan Hughes and Max Stevenson. On Thursday night the two took part in a North Houston battle with rival Klein Collins and Sooner target Charles Jackson.

On the night the Panthers fell short of Collins, 24-9 but that's not to say that Hughes and Stevenson didn't make an impression.

Hughes, Oklahoma's 6-foot-6, 258-pound defensive end commitment, split his time between middle linebacker and defensive end, the latter of which he spent much of his time standing up similar to Oklahoma's 'spinner'. The big pass-rusher showed off more athletic ability than had been reasonable to expect from a player that many felt might end up on the interior of the defensive line in the college game.

While Hughes showed some ability as a pass-rusher against a run-heavy team like Collins it was never going to be the way in which he made himself noteworthy. At middle linebacker Hughes really moved well from sideline to sideline and though he won't be playing the position in the college game he did show a good nose for the ball, meeting several unfortunate Collins backs in the hole.

What was a bit surprising is that Hughes, while at defensive end, wasn't quite the physical presence at the point of attack that some might anticipate. At times he struggled with future Cotton Bowl combatant Garrett Greenlea. It should be said that many of these problems were strictly pad level and making it too easy for the talented tackle to get his hands on Hughes. As technical issues they seem things that the Sooner staff should be able to clear up as he hits campus in Norman in the coming months.

As mentioned many have discussed Hughes, who ended the game with 10 tackles, as a potential defensive tackle in the college game however watching him move and his ability to lean, change direction, and overall flexibility there is no reason to think the Sooners aren't very sincere in their pursuit of him as a defensive end.

While Hughes was moving all around on the defensive side of the ball his good friend, current and future teammate, Stevenson was busy showing off his abilities both as a receiver and his need to grow as a blocker.

In the second quarter came the embodiment of Stevenson's talent and the reality that he still has some ways to go as a complete tight end.

With the Panthers driving towards a score Oak junior quarterback, Nicky Baratti, tossed a pass to Stevenson down the seam and the big pass-catcher elevated above defenders to make a catch that would have put Oak in the shadow of the goal. However, like many receivers he began to try and make the run after the catch before securing the ball and the pass was jarred loose.

While he had one tough moment it's important to note that Stevenson had three catches on the night and showed off soft hands and a natural feel for sitting in open space. Work must be done to become a pure tight end but the skills are there as a receiver.

It's a common mistake for flex-tight ends to see themselves as receiver but as time wears on and Stevenson learns to become a pure in-line tight end he'll realize that going across the middle, for his position, is simply about making the catch and moving the chains.

That's not to say that Stevenson didn't have his solid moments; perhaps learning from his earlier mistake the 6-foot-6, 230-pound went up in the fourth quarter to secure a pass

Another interesting role that Stevenson has yet to perfect is blocking, which isn't surprising considering his lean frame and the quality of talent Collins puts on the field. What is a good sign is that Stevenson is willing to mix it up and wasn't a poor blocker, simply an unversed one. As he learns proper hand placement and better leverage he'll someday be a solid blocker although catching passes will almost undoubtedly be his forte.

NOTES:

* Oak kicker Michael Shroble hit three field goals from 50-yards or more, and had room to give on each and every one of them. Shroble didn't just show off great leg strength but looked comfortable making the kicks almost unanimously splitting the uprights. Right now he has no offers but it's hard to imagine him staying a secret for much longer.

* A.J. Hilliard a 2012 Oak linebacker showed good range and an impressive knack for getting after the quarterback with three sacks during the game. He is a rangy linebacker that is somewhat physically reminiscent of former Sooner signee Daniel Tabon though he is probably more of a pure linebacker than the Altus, Okla. native.

* Though he stars at quarterback for Oak Nicky Baratti figures to play at either receiver or safety in the college game though with his frame he might be most likely to end up on the defensive side of the ball. He is a physically impressive player that looks like an in the box safety moving forward. That said he has surprising quickness and in the right system could be another in the ever-growing group of receivers that look more like running backs.

* Collins' pair of safeties Ryan Santos and Charles Jackson] both had impressive games but failed to get to really show a lot with Oak and Baratti focusing heavily on the ground game and short passes. Jackson is smaller than his listed size but is willing to play physically and has impressive athletic ability. Santos is a stout safety who showed the ability to run through ball-carriers.

* The elder Santos, and Nebraska commitment, David Santos, while not an Oklahoma recruit was simply too good not to mention. Santos was all over the field on Thursday night making tackles from sideline to sideline and forcing Baratti to get rid of the ball on multiple occasions.

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