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Student Sports is the organization that founded and operates the Elite 11 Camp held at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. this weekend. Student Sports and the Elite 11 have undergone several changes through the years including affiliations with Scout, Rivals, ESPN, and they are once again independent.
Likewise, the Elite 11 has undergone several changes through the years. It was at its foundation an instructional camp that attracted very little media 15 years ago, but as the recruiting industry has exploded, so has the interest in the nation's top quarterback camp.
Last year the Elite 11 got away from its roots as an instructional camp and was geared more towards the television production, reality show that showcased the counselor(s) more than the players themselves. The quarterbacks got 30 live throws across a five day period in a painstakingly slow process that is typical of television production as the camp turned into a competition of 20+ quarterbacks to name the Elite 11. In the past, the Elite 11 would invite the top 11 quarterbacks in the country for the instruction.
Student Sports is once again an independent entity, and based on the schedule, it looks like the Elite 11 is getting back to its roots with a streamlined schedule that will focus more on the quarterback instruction.
For the first time that I can remember, the Elite 11 isn't being held in California, as it is now being combined with the best camp of the year The Opening.
The Elite 11 is an event that showcases the pure mechanics of passing. There is no defense, no pass rush, no hitting, but there is, or should be in most years, a huge amount of throwing. It gives scouts the opportunity to grade the mechanics and physical prowess of a quarterback including footwork, release, arm strength, and accuracy in a closed environment. The counselors also place a heavy emphasis on classroom work and film sessions as well as personality.
The evaluation process at the camp heavily favors the passers rather than the dual threat quarterbacks, but the teaching aspect of the camp arguably helps the dual threat quarterbacks the most as they get instruction in the passing aspect that they might otherwise miss out on depending on the offensive system they're asked to run in high school.
With 18 quarterbacks headed to the Elite 11, the final Elite 11 quarterbacks will once again be named at the conclusion of the camp, so there will still be an element of competition. From a scouting perspective, this is a little like scouting a slam dunk contest. We can learn a lot about a player's physical ability in a dunk contest, but we won't know what kind of basketball player he is until he hits the court. Same goes for the Elite 11. This is a terrific way to grade mechanics and physical ability, but the mental aspect of the game only happens under the pressure of the gridiron.
The nation's top quarterbacks have all been scouted on the football field as well as the Elite 11 tryouts, and Scout will be there to report how each quarterback is faring in the Elite 11 setting, but it's important to remember, while a useful tool in the evaluation process, it still isn't football.
Eight of the nation's Top 10 quarterback prospects as ranked by Scout will be in attendance led by Texas A&M commitment Kyle Allen (6'3/195) of Desert Mountain, Ariz. Allen has superb game tape, making plays in and out of the pocket and displaying accuracy from all angles of the field, in the pocket, and on the move. Allen easily had the most impressive Elite 11 showing I saw this year, but he also got a controlled environment playing indoors in Chicago, while the first three Elite 11 tryouts were held in rather strong winds. This isn't to take anything away from Allen. He also competed on a windy day at the Nike Camp in Los Angeles, and had little trouble beating a stiff wind.
Alabama commitment David Cornwell (6'5/220) of Norman, Okla. is the No. 5 quarterback nationally, but in my mind he had the No. 2 performance at all of the Elite 11 Tryouts. A naturally strong arm, Cornwell had little trouble ripping the ball through the wind in Dallas, and he stayed strong through the day as other quarterbacks who hadn't learned to pace themselves began to tire.
Clemson commitment Deshaun Watson (6'3/190) of Gainesville, Ga. had an excellent day in Atlanta. When I speak of the mental game not being showcased unless the pads are on, I'm speaking of Watson. He's not overly big. He doesn't have a big arm, but he's accurate in short and intermediate routes, and he is a brilliant field general. He showed enough arm at the camp in Atlanta to be an elite quarterback on the college level. What he does best is command his offense from the line of scrimmage and manage the game. But players still need enough physical tools to make it on the next level, and Watson showed that he has plenty of arm to compliment the intangibles that are so strong.
Florida commitment Will Grier of Davidson, N.C. is the only invitee that I didn't get to see throw this year. He wasn't able to attend a regional tryout, so I'm interested in seeing him in comparison with the other quarterbacks I've seen. On film, he's similar to Deshaun Watson in that he's incredibly accurate, a good runner, but doesn't necessarily have a huge arm. Kyle Allen showed an increase in arm strength this Spring, and Grier will have an opportunity to showcase his physical improvements since the end of his season as well.
Notre Dame commitment DeShone Kizer (6'4/200) of Toledo, Ohio is one of the more intriguing prospects in attendance, and he's the ideal example of a player who can benefit from the teaching environment. When I saw him in Ohio last month my first notes on him where "can't throw". There was a simple hitch pattern to his left that he turned and missed badly, badly with accuracy, badly with velocity. Then he had se veer al other throws where he dropped straight back, set his feet and threw the ball well. I mentioned to a colleague, that his footwork was failing him. Footwork is the most easily correctable aspect of a quarterback's game. At the end of the camp, one of the counselors noticed the same thing. He corrected Kizer's footwork, and all of a sudden his sideline throws were being thrown as well as his throws down the middle.
Texas commitment Jerrod Heard (6'1/190) is another player who will benefit from the instruction while maybe not performing as well in the setting. Heard rushed for over 400 yards in a game last year, and he has a very good arm. He was another player who battled the gusting winds in Texas, and he also showed that he has enough arm to keep defenses honest and be a dual threat. When watching Heard, all one has to remember is this: if you like him at Elite 11, you're going to LOVE him where it counts.
Miami commitment Brad Kaaya (6'4/215) of Los Angeles, Calif. has used the Spring to his advantage after taking over as a starter at Chaminade his junior season. Kaaya played in the shadow of uber back Terrell Newby who signed with Nebraska last year, but he has had terrific showings on the camp circuit. He earned an invite to the Elite 11 finals, and more importantly, a Miami offer. With limited throws last year, Kaaya will benefit from the reps he'll get this weekend in Oregon.
Purdue commitment David Blough (6'2/200) of Carrollton, Texas may be a sleeper to watch in the Finals. He had good showings in Texas and in Chicago to earn his invite to the Finals, and he's the type of character kid that the counselors love to elevate when posting their own rankings. His intangibles coupled with another solid showing this weekend could see the 3-Star quarterback among the Top 3 finalists as chosen by the Elite 11 staff.
California is well represented at the Elite 11 again including Kaaya as well as the nation's No. 2 quarterback prospect Keller Chryst (6'4/220) of Palo Alto, one of the few uncommitted signal callers. Chryst showed huge physical tools at the tryout at the 49ers practice facility, but he admittedly struggled with his accuracy. With several days to get comfortable, Chryst should shine at the Elite 11 and the opening with his huge arm and easy delivery.
The Elite 11 now coupled with The Opening gives scouts five days in a controlled environment, and it will give the entire Scout staff the ability to compare side by side players from different regions that they may not have been familiar with. After seeing these players on the field for the better part of the last 18 months, I never expect big rankings changes at quarterback following these events, but seeing them compete, succeed, fail, recover, and celebrate gives us a little more information into the overall quarterback picture.