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January 4, 2013

Army Dawg breakdowns

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. - Georgia came into the 2013 class with a glaring need to sign inside linebackers that could play right away.

The first commitment at the position was West Laurens linebacker Johnny O'Neal, and the four-star prospect has never waivered.

As the Bulldogs' first commitment at the position, O'Neal got the ball rolling, but he also may be the linebacker prospect that is most physically equipped to step in and play right away.

UGASports had the opportunity to watch the Dexter native work against top competition at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices on Thursday, and while O'Neal was out of his element a bit, he had a solid day.

Where he was great: O'Neal is clearly a player that is physically ready to handle the rigors of SEC football. He is a true 6-foot-2, 240-pounds and has a thick build.

At the point of attack, O'Neal is tough to handle due to his mass and explosiveness. He hits like a ton of bricks and does an excellent job of attacking blockers.

Where he was good: O'Neal has really solid speed for a 240-pound linebacker. He isn't particularly quick, but once he gets down hill, he covers a lot of ground quickly.

O'Neal also possesses solid instincts. When he sees a play open up, his first instinct is to step down hill and fit. That is a skill that is crucial in a 3-4 defense.

He also does an excellent job of keeping his head on swivel and making contact with receivers that cross his face in zone defense. He isn't going to flip his hips and run with running backs, tight ends, or receivers, but he has the upper body violence and awareness to find crossers and reroute them.

He has some struggles in coverage, but his coverage instincts are solid. He uses his hands very well.

Where he needs work: O'Neal is naturally tight, but he has some room to loosen up in his hips and shoulders.

He will be a liability in man coverage against running backs because of those stiff hips, and that will limit him to certain coverages or cause offenses to scheme to create mismatches with him if he doesn't improve.

O'Neal will also have trouble scraping and being a primary play-maker on plays that get to the edge. He doesn't have the lateral quickness at this point to get there in time to square ball carriers up and make the play.

Overall: O'Neal isn't an every down linebacker at this point, but Georgia really doesn't need for him to be. He isn't going to be a full-blown liability right now in coverage, but he needs to become more flexible and craftier in coverage. Due to his natural stiffness, O'Neal will need to develop the ability to anticipate routes and get his hands on pass catchers before they create separation. He has the ability to be a solid linebacker in zone coverage right now, and will give Georgia a thick, powerful, and durable run stuffing linebacker right away. He is fearless, physical, and loves contact. On Thursday, he delivered a big hit on five-star American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) running back Greg Bryant, and hopped up and jogged back to the huddle, so he is a very even keel player that knows how to control his emotions as well.

Safety Tray Matthews

According to Rivals.com, Matthews is Georgia's top ranked recruit and, because of his status as an early enrollee and ability to play safety, he is likely the most valuable.

The Rivals100 defensive back steps into a situation in Athens where he will compete for playing time in spring practice, and on Thursday, UGASports witnessed why many feel Matthews has a excellent shot to start game one of the 2013 season for the Bulldogs at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl practices.

Where he is great: First and foremost, Matthews is has an ideal body for a safety. He has a lean, muscular build that is compact enough to deliver big hits over the middle and separate pass catchers from the ball.

One of the most underrated aspects of Matthews' game might be one of the most elite, and that is his range. Matthews isn't going to run the 40-yard dash with a sub 4.5-second time, but he has excellent game speed. With the pads on, Matthews covers a ton of ground.

The four-star safety also has an excellent ability to read plays and react. He gets down hill quickly to support against the run, but can also react quickly to balls in front or behind him and make the appropriate break.

Where he is good: One thing too look for with Matthews at the next level is his length. He tips balls that many defensive backs can't make contact with because of his long arms.

Matthews is also a solid and fearless leaper. When the ball is in the air, he shows no regard for his own safety and will go up and over receivers to get it despite the obvious consequences.

Matthews does a good job of transitioning out of his backpedal in coverage. He can turn and run with a receiver when in man coverage or get in trail technique in a crossing route. He can also drive on balls in front of him and either make a play on the ball or deliver a punishing hit.

The most improved part of Matthews' game is his ability to take optimal angles. As a sophomore and junior, the Peach State blue-chipper would often miss plays due to poor angles, but he is more aware of his capabilities now and takes consistently solid angles now.

Where he needs work: Right now, Matthews has a habit of getting a little too high in his back pedal. If he improves on this, transitioning out of his pack pedal will go from being a solid attribute to one that is elite.

At times, Matthews' likes to fly up for the big hit and won't bring his arms to wrap up. He needs to work on that and become more of a form tackle. At the high school level, he has the explosiveness to lower the boom on receivers and knock them down without wrapping up, but that won't be as easy at the next level.

Overall: Matthews' has a chance to play right way. It wouldn't surprise us to see him to start every game of his career with UGA. Odds are against that, but it is certainly feasible. Watching him on film doesn't do his talent justice as he does so much pre-snap and post-snap as a leader. Matthews' does an excellent job of getting the defense aligned, and is one of the biggest cheerleaders for the defense after the play. His love of the game, football IQ, and instincts will make it hard to keep him off the field and his raw talent makes it almost impossible. Matthews could also give UGA some help in the return game and showed a couple of times in Thursday's practice that he can go get the football and make big things happen when he does.

Offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow

Georgia made Kublanow an early priority, and landed a commitment from the four-star prospect in the summer.

Right away, Kublanow's ability to finish, tendency to play to the whistle, and strength stood out, but on Thursday, UGASports was on hand to see the Peach State lineman compete against some of the top talent in the country at the East's practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

It was nothing but good news for Bulldog fans.

Where he was great: Kublanow is an excellent athlete. He is a tad raw in his footwork but it is obvious that he has the athleticism to make all of the run and pass blocking steps necessary to excel up front.

Kublanow also showed an ability to make big blocks in space. The East had a 20-minute period where they worked solely on the screen game, and the Walton standout was impressive. He did an excellent job of getting to his landmarks in a quick but controlled fashion.

He also showed incredibly upper and lower body strength in inside drill. On the first play of the drill, the offense ran an outside zone play and Kublanow locked on to Eastern Christian Academy (Eklton, Md.) defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow, a five-star prospect and one of the most impressive players in practice this week, and pancaked him.

Where he was good: Kublanow runs his feet very well after engaging with a defender. He could do a better job of running them right away, but once he makes contact he does a solid job of getting his feet started and driving with a wide base.

He is also strong when gaining position with his body. On a couple of plays, he was able to reach block to his to a technique to his play side shoulder and use his feet to gain position and seal the defender. That is a key block in Georgia's run game from the interior linemen.

Kublanow also delivers a solid punch at the point of attack. His hand placement is high at times, but when he connects, it is effective.

Where he needs work: Kublanow showed no major flaws. He lost some battles up front, but the only real problem in his game that showed more than once was his high-hand placement.

Overall: It was a strong day of practice. Kublanow continually drew praise from the East's offensive line coaches and rarely got scolded for making mistakes. His mental makeup is exactly what most schools are looking for in a interior offensive linemen, and once he becomes more polished in his footwork, his long arms and athleticism will likely make him one of the best overall interior linemen in the UGA program going forward.

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