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May 8, 2013

RCS Chicago: Five things we learned

MORE: Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour

CHICAGO -- The 15th and final regional stop on the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour went down in the Windy City on Saturday. Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt looks at five things we took away from that event.

Defensive line dominant

The defensive line looked to be the premier position group heading into Saturday's camp, and it did not disappoint. When St. John (Ind.) Lake Central four-star Gelen Robinson ended up with the MVP award, it was one that was well-earned. Robinson took reps all along the defensive line, and he could not be stopped getting into the backfield.

But Robinson did not run away with the MVP. Chicago (Ill.) Mount Carmel defensive tackle Enoch Smith Jr., St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall 2015 defensive end Jashon Cornell, Sun Prairie, Wis., defensive tackle Craig Evans and Lombard (Ill.) Montini defensive end/tackle Dylan Thompson were close on his heels.

Evans' performance was watched closely because we had not seen him in a camp setting. He came in at a great weight -- 312 pounds -- and looked trim and fit. Likewise, Smith appeared longer and stronger than when we had last seen him before his junior year. His game has taken noticeable strides in a positive direction.

Other defensive linemen worth noting for their performances included Omaha (Neb.) Millard West defensive end Harrison Phillips, Lansing (Ill.) T.F. South defensive tackle Raphael Canty, Muskegon, Mich., defensive tackle Kenny Finley, Hartland (Wis.) Arrowhead defensive end Billy Hirschfeld, South St. Paul, Minn., defensive tackle Preston Woods, Fort Wayne (Ind.) South Side defensive end Nathan Braster and Muskegon (Mich.) Mona Shores 2016 defensive lineman Chris Daniels.

Midwest RB race tightens

Three of the top eight running backs from the Midwest in the 2014 class were at the Chicago Rivals Camp, and we had seen four of the remaining five at earlier Rivals Camp Series stops. The title of the top running back in the Midwest is hotly contested, and each of the three competitors on Saturday fared well.

St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall's Jeff Jones is the second-rated running back in the Midwest, but there will have to be discussion about him moving into that top spot after a near-MVP showing at the Rivals Camp. He is a solidly built kid with outstanding top-end speed and a general smoothness to his running style.

Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North's Justin Jackson sits inside the Rivals250 with Jones. At 6-foot, 180 pounds, he is built like a speed back but plays like a power back. We were not expecting a lot from Jackson because a camp setting does not show off his greatest attributes, yet he surprised in his ability to change direction and catch the ball out of the backfield.

Niles (Ill.) Notre Dame Prep's Chris James is a powerfully built back who showed a burst we were not expecting. There were times when he would line up as a wide receiver and cornerbacks had trouble staying with him down the field.

Impressive freshmen

Offseason camps are usually a time when we get our first look at the majority of rising juniors, but the Chicago camp boasted an unusually high number of rising sophomores who promise to be elite-level Division I prospects.

Leading the list of 2016 prospects on Saturday was St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall running back Brison White, who fit right in with a deep group of ball carriers that included several four-star prospects. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound White has a short, stocky build and great change of direction. He has yet to start a varsity game, but he is building a buzz about his future.

Downers Grove (Ill.) South freshman offensive tackle Erik Swenson was garnering strong Division I interest before this past weekend, and he continued to feed the hype machine with a solid outing against a deep group of defensive linemen. Listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, Swenson looks like a Division I offensive tackle prospect right now, and he possesses great athleticism.

The third class of 2016 prospect who made us stand up and take notice at the Chicago Rivals Camp was Muskegon (Mich.) Mona Shores defensive lineman Chris Daniels. A transfer from the San Antonio area, Daniels is listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds but may be bigger than that. He has a solid build and impressive athleticism for a youngster.

With the accelerated timetable of the recruiting process, we will not have to wait long to see the recruitments of these prospects play out, and in the case of Swenson, who holds two scholarship offers, recruiting is well under way.

Top linebackers have competition

The expected showdown at the linebacker position coming into Saturday's camp was between Rivals100 Chicagoland prospects Clifton Garrett and Nyles Morgan. That competition ended early, however, after Garrett tweaked an injury and had to sit following position work.

Before the injury, Garrett had received strong reviews from the linebacker position coaches. His exit allowed others to grab their own spotlight, though, and one who accepted the challenge was Lombard (Ill.) Montini's Nile Sykes.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Sykes could project to the defensive end position in college, although the way he moves in space is starting to make linebacker appear to be the more likely path. There were none better during the one-on-one portion of the event than Sykes, who came down with at least two interceptions during that session.

Morgan and fellow highly recruited linebacker Brandon Lee of Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central had a few more troubles hanging with running backs and tight ends in pass coverage, although both impressed in position work. The collection of those four prospects clearly stood out among the linebackers.

Wiegers keeps the pedal down

We thought Detroit Country Day quarterback Tyler Wiegers' 21 straight completions at the NLA national 7-on-7 tournament last summer was the most impressive feat we'd see out of the three-star passer, but his performance at Saturday's Rivals Camp in Chicago -- which made him the first quarterback MVP in 15 regional events -- may have been better.

Although Wiegers' outing on Saturday was not as quantifiable as 21 straight completions, we saw nearly flawless execution from start to finish and the continued development in his game. Wiegers has always snapped off a beautiful ball, but we're seeing his arm strength come along and he varies trajectories and possesses a more well-rounded game.

This is also a quarterback who led his team to the state title game in his first year as a starter, so there are intangibles there. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Wiegers has a linebacker's build and room to get stronger and add velocity to his fastball. Midwest BCS programs slept on Wiegers, and Rutgers reaped the benefit to get its quarterback of the future.



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