Ace, David, and I traveled to Wayne State last Saturday to take in part of the annual Prep Kickoff Classic. As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often get delayed by storms for almost three hours and force you to sit in a
sauna press box wondering if the game will be canceled. I may have altered the saying to fit the situation.
Anyway, the Martin Luther King v. Southfield game started late and ended early for both Ambry Thomas and your intrepid MGoScouts, and that’s no coincidence. Thomas cramped up at the end of the second quarter and exited the game. Trainers worked on Thomas extensively, and he appeared as though he was ready to enter the game early in the third quarter. When Thomas tried to get up from the bench, which he was using to keep his leg elevated, his coach told him to sit back down. With a 27-0 lead coming out of the half, there was no reason to let him re-enter. By the second time his coach help the stop sign up in his face, we knew both of our days were done.
There was still plenty to take in during the first half. Thomas shadowed three-star receiver Brandon Gray to great success; he also had over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown, and that total could have been three if he wasn’t tripped up near the goal line on a screen pass he took 60+ yards and overthrown in the end zone once after putting a nice move on the DB.
On the other side of the ball, Sam Johnson cemented his status as a rising sophomore. He caught Ace’s eye last year, and the 6-4 potential Michigan target did so again this year thanks to his improvement in areas of relative weakness last season.
[After THE JUMP: Thomas highlights and a multi-player scouting report]
2017 Martin Luther King CB Ambry Thomas (M offer)
Flick on the highlights and the first thing you’ll see is 6-5 Brandon Gray and 5-11.5 Ambry Thomas locked in and ready to go after each other; they started the game with a mutual jam and their best David Boston-Charles Woodson impression. The shoving match lasted for a bit, but by halftime the tables had tilted in Thomas’s favor. Gray was shut down the entire half, and his enthusiasm quickly turned to visible frustration.
The play at 00:10 shows pretty much everything I like about Thomas and the one area I thought he needed to improve. Watch Gray; his stutter step to the outside does nothing to Thomas, who patiently waits, reads Gray’s hips, then flips his own to carry the receiver down field. All the while, Thomas is looking into the backfield and as soon as he reads run he lets Gray go and closes hard and at a good angle. He then uses the sideline to make the stop, because right now he leaks yards when forced to hit in the open field.
A second example of that crops up at 00:57, where Thomas is in off coverage and makes a nice break on the ball, but then gives up a couple of extra yards as Gray keeps his legs churning. The situation at 1:07 is essentially the same as the preceding play: off coverage, good break, then a momentary struggle to get the guy stopped. Having difficulty stopping Gray, while still an issue, is a little more understandable considering he’s a three-star on the 247 composite with offers from a few MAC schools and Syracuse. In light of the other two plays, it was apparent that, at least from this viewing, tackling is Thomas’s one area where improvement is needed. To be clear, that’s solely from the perspective of strength. You can see from the film that there was no issue with his desire to help in run support or the angles he took.
The rest of the highlight reel alternates between Thomas at CB playing press and driving Gray insane (check 1:20 or 1:39) and Thomas at WR burnanating the poor corner across from him (the carnage begins at 1:28).
Southfield QB Sam Johnson threw some nice deep balls (more on that later), but he wasn’t able to complete any on Thomas. At 1:49 Thomas runs with Gray and when he thinks it’s a fade he turns his head, checks the ball in the air, confirms, then takes a big step that pushes himself in a bit to try and cut off Gray and steer him toward the sideline. It works, and the pass falls incomplete.
The other thing Ace and I noticed live was how good Thomas’ on-field awareness is. The plays at 2:03 and 2:20 nicely illustrate this offensively and defensively, respectively. The telling part of the screen pass is around 2:08, where Thomas reads the position of the defenders closing in and the one blocker he has, sees that his man isn’t going to get the guy in front of him, then waits for that guy to get out of the way before attempting to cut hard to the inside and away from the arm tackle of the defender. The cut didn’t work, but he certainly saw what his best move was. At 2:20, Thomas again turns his head at the right time on a go route and adjusts to the ball better than the receiver.
Thomas has been lauded for his camp performances over the summer, and it seems that the skill he showed on that circuit is translating well to the field. He’s excellent in press man and off coverage, and as a receiver he ran great routes; he’s a technician. He has the football IQ, speed, and athleticism you’d want in a CB who, should he commit to Michigan, will likely spend his college career primarily as a press man corner. As for his downside, it seems to be nothing that a college strength and conditioning program can’t fix.
2019 Southfield A&T QB Sam Johnson (M target)
I’m leaning heavily on Ace for this evaluation since he saw Johnson play last year. It was apparent by the middle of the second quarter that this guy could pass; he was slinging deep balls 45+ yards with ease and placing them where only his WR could get it. His receivers didn’t help him out, dropping dead-on passes often. Thomas erasing Gray only exacerbated matters.
Still, Johnson’s worth keeping an eye on. He didn’t attempt many short throws on Saturday, but when he did he put zip on the ball; he’s a more accurate passer than a guy who tries to steer the ball in gently. He’s not the kind of player who seems like they’d be more comfortable stretching their arm out and placing it in a receiver’s hands as opposed to, you know, actually passing. Ace said that he was accurate on relatively short passes last year, and with his size (6-4, 185) and newly improved deep ball accuracy you can bet that more than just MAC schools, Syracuse, and Illinois will come calling should he continue on his current trajectory.