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April 21, 2012

New Level Pittsburgh: Top storylines

MORE: New Level Athletics page | Players to watch

For the second straight week, Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt will be in Pittsburgh covering an elite camp. This weekend it's the New Level Athletics 7-on-7, and he previews the event with the top things he'll be watching.

Loaded teams

There may be as many as 35 teams competing in this weekend's New Level Athletics 7-on-7 in Pittsburgh, but a few teams jump off the page immediately based on the talent they are bringing to the event. Maximum Exposure from the Detroit area made the semifinals of this event last year, and come back with seven prospects rated three stars or higher, led by quarterback Shane Morris, the nation's No. 16-ranked prospect.

AWP is based on Fort Wayne and its prospects have had several strong performances at recent camps. Led by Rivals 100 linebacker Jaylon Smith, AWP is expected to be one of the top teams in this event. Meanwhile, PCC! features several Washington, D.C.-area standouts, including four-star linebackers E.J. Levenberry Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue as well as stud 2014 defensive back Jalen Tabor.

Also watch out for the team from Virginia which features Rivals 100 running back Taquan Mizzell. You may even see class of 2014 defensive tackle phenom Andrew Brown running some tight end for that team.

Linebacker supremacy

The NLA Pittsburgh stop will give us a chance to see several of the nation's top linebackers all in one spot. Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers four-star Jaylon Smith, the nation's No. 34-ranked prospect, has been sensational this summer, dominating invitationals in Indianapolis and Michigan. Woodbridge (Va.) C.D. Hylton's E.J. Levenberry Jr. is currently ranked ahead of Smith at No. 15 in the country and No. 3 (compared to Smith's No. 5 ranking) among outside linebackers.

Not to be overlooked, Washington (D.C.) Friendship Academy four-star Yannick Ngakoue won linebacker MVP honors over higher ranked prospects at the Rivals.com/ VTO Elite 100 in Virginia earlier this month. He'll look to continue his streak of good play and see how he measures up against the likes of Smith and Levenberry this weekend.

Sleeper defensive backs

Several defensive backs expected to be in Pittsburgh this weekend have had breakout performances at previous camps this spring. The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers' trio of Tyvel Jemison, Andrew Spencer and Kendrick Mullen were among the best defensive backs at the Adidas Invitational earlier this month.

Detroit Crockett cornerback Desmond King needs only half the number of interceptions he posted as a junior to take over the career interceptions record in the state of Michigan, while his teammate, Alton Yarbrough of Grand Blanc, Mich., is just starting to see his stock rise. Also keep an eye on Lansing (Mich.) Everett's Jaleel Canty, whose name is starting to gain popularity among college coaches this spring.

Piscataway (N.J.) three-star Kyle LaPorte holds just one offer, from Penn State, but he could use a big performance this weekend to boost his scholarship numbers.

Earning Respect

Last year, teams from Detroit, Virginia Beach, Maryland and an all-star team comprised of prospects from all over the country boasted the most talent coming into the event, but it was a team of mid-Michigan prospects who, at the time, were not nearly as heralded as the aforementioned squads, that came away with the championship.

Now, that team did feature eventual four-star linebacker and Michigan State signee Jamal Lyles was well as several prospects who signed with MAC programs in February. Going into the event, however, no one was picking them as the team that would walk away with the title. Is there a team that can pull off that feat this year? And, will that help to boost the recruitments of players on a squad the way it boosted recruitments of the players on the Michigan Elite team last year?

Keeping evaluations in perspective

7-on-7 play is really a game unto itself. There are elements that overlap with the actual game of football, but the best players in 7-on-7 do not necessarily translate over to being the best in full contact, 11-on-11 play.

There is value in evaluating a 7-on-7, but it varies by position. There is a lot of value in evaluating wide receivers and cornerbacks in this setting, because play after play they are being asked to run routes and cover whereas many are asked to do that in a high school setting only on a limited basis. Although quarterbacks are not facing a rush, the way they dissect coverages and throw the football is valuable in evaluating their potential.

On the flipside, running backs and linebackers are not being asked to make tackles or break tackles - crucial elements of their position. We are able to assess linebacker's abilities in pass coverage and running backs' value as receivers out of the backfield, but the most important aspects of their position are not showcased in a 7-on-7.



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