Orlando Nike Football Recruit Training Camp Notebook: Defense

Cecil Cherry - Student Sports

Many top defensive recruits came out to the Nike Football Camp tour stop in Orlando on Saturday.

The story of the defensive line at the camp mirrors the larger story in Florida this year: all ends, no tackles. 2015 is a very good year to get pass rushers from the Sunshine State, but a very, very bad year for defensive tackles based on early returns.

Five-star recruit CeCe Jefferson didn't make the trip, but plenty of other stars did. It was difficult to keep track of everyone, and it would not shock me to see five or six defensive ends from this group go on to play FBS football.

Byron Cowart discusses his recruitment.

Byron Cowart, of Seffner (Fla.) Armwood, earned an invite to The Opening. Cowart was extremely active and vocal on the day, showing great energy. He disappointed somewhat in his reps at defensive end, however, and I am still not convinced that he is a natural pass rusher.

Cowart is, however, an elite football player with a lot of strength and a high motor. When he moved inside, he found a lot more success, although the competition at guard and center in this event was much, much worse then the opposition at offensive tackle.

In the linked video, Cowart says that Florida is standing out due to immediate playing time and the success of defensive line coach Brad Lawig, who developed Jadaveon Clowney at South Carolina. He also discussed Alabama and Florida State.

Scott Patchan, of Tampa (Fla.) Freedom is a prospect that I feel is somewhat underrated. He is 6'5, 230 with a great frame capable of eventually playing closer to 260 or 270 pounds. Patchan moved well and showed out in the defensive line pass rush reps. He is the son of a former offensive tackle for the Miami Hurricanes and Philadelphia Eagles, and his brother played for the Florida Gators and Boston College Eagles.

Patchan has 22 FBS offers and is enjoying the process. He was careful to not name any favorites, but did note that his most recent offers are Louisville and Nebraska.

"All schools are special to me if they're showing interest in me to come play for them," Patchan said.

Patchan said he plans to commit this summer and doesn't want to stretch out the process.

"I could have fun with it, but if I can sacrifice to build a good team and recruit other guys to my team, that's what I'll do. I want to win. I have a winning mentality, and if I have to give it up that doesn't bother me."

One school is recruiting Patchan the hardest: Miami.

"I hear from them every day," he said, also noting that North Carolina and Florida State are in routine contact.

Patchan is planning summer visits to UCLA, USC, Miami, Florida, Florida State, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and likely a few others, but most believe he will end up at Miami at this point.

Other c/o 2015 players who did well: Marques Ford, of Gibsonton (Fla.) East Bay and Reuben Jones, of Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson. I think Jones will be a solid outside linebacker, as he is a bit small for defensive end. He has some natural pass rushing ability.

Janarius Robinson, of Panama City (Fla.) Bay High School, was one of the top underclassmen at the event. I spoke with him about what it means to compete at a Nike event as a sophomore, and he came right out and revealed the school he wanted to attend, which was a bit of a surprise.

"I want to go to FSU, so I'm putting in work to be able to do that," Robinson said. "I've always likes the Seminoles, I love their coaches, grew up going to games."

Robinson doesn't have any offers at the moment, but says he has received handwritten letters from Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Clemson. He was extremely impressive at 6'5 and 226 pounds in drills, but did not fare as well in football reps. I was told that he is new to playing defensive end and is a former receiver, which would explain quite a bit.

Another young defensive end who caught my eye was Malik Barrow of Tampa Catholic. He profiles as a weak-side defensive end and could blossom into a five-star type prospect.


I was not blown away by the linebacker group. There were some good players, but none who I consider to be truly elite, and there was an overall lack of length at the position. I did not see a player who I would project to turn into a superstar.

Cecil Cherry, of Frostproof (Fla.), has been committed to Tennessee for some time. But that's not deterring other schools from talking with him.

"Florida State, Alabama, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, all of them," Cherry said when asked about what schools are still coming after him hard. He indicated that he plans to take five official visits.

"Arizona State, where my brother is at, USC Trojans, Alabama, South Carolina, and Penn State;" he said, but then indicated that he would take his final official to Tennessee, which would be six if you're scoring at home (one over the limit of five).

Cherry made it clear that the official visits will just be for fun.

"That's not possible," he said when asked if it was possible for him to change his mind about Tennessee.

Cherry said that coach Butch Jones and his future position coach contact him all the time, and that he appreciates that they talk with him about life and not just football.

I felt that Cherry did well, and he earned an invite to The Opening, but I do have questions about how close he is to his ceiling. He is very muscled (6'1, 219), and not the most agile player, though camp is not the best format for the very physical Cherry.

Sherrod Pittman, of Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast, had a decent day and also earned an invite to The Opening. But like with Cherry, I have questions about the South Carolina commitment's ultimate ceiling. He looks almost exactly the same as he did two years ago. Is 6'1, 215 going to be it?

Shaquille Quarterman, of Orange Park (Fla.) Oakleaf, was probably the top underclassman linebacker at the event. Like Cherry and Pittman, he is short and muscled (6'0, 235), but he moved well for his size.

Defensive back

One player stood out above the rest: Derwin James. Out of Auburndale (Fla.) Haines City, James was not only the best safety at the event, but he would have been the best corner and very likely the best receiver, too. In fact, after dominating at cornerback, James flipped over to offense and 'Mossed' one poor defensive back, then burnt another on a go route.

James earned a return trip to The Opening. It's not hyperbole to suggest that the 6'2, 205-pounder would be starting for a number of major schools this fall if he could somehow skip his senior year of high school. His acceleration, change of direction and body control are elite. He very well could be the best player in the state, and was actively recruiting others like running back Jacques Patrick to join him at FSU.

After James, there was a steep drop to the next best player, but I was impressed with Orlando (Fla.) Olympia cornerback Jalean Perkins. Perkins has very good length at 6'1, 175, and showed good hips relative to his size.

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