We want to expand a bit on what we saw when we visited Everett on Friday, then Boston College and Brockton on Saturday.
Let's start in the college ranks with BC. Quarterback Anthony Brown did not look perfect or anything, but he was overall very sharp, hit open targets, and showed off the speed on designed runs and scrambles when he needs to do that.
Obviously, a lot rests on how healthy Brown can stay, as the Eagles need to have an experienced guy behind center when playing the level of competition they do.
That said, after watching Saturday's scrimmage, we feel a whole lot better about the depth behind Brown than we did even last week. No, the Eagles will not have anyone behind Brown who has played there following the departures of backups EJ Perry and Matt McDonald, but current split-second-teamers Dennis Grosel and Matt Valecce can run this offense if need be.
We like both players, and Valecce isn't a statue by any means, but Grosel adds another element with his legs, as he can power forward and gain yards on designed runs and scrambles, as well.
Running back AJ Dillon looks fully healthy from his ankle injury that hindered him last year. Again, the last thing you want is for him to get hurt, but the Eagles have solid depth there, too. True freshmen Pat Garwo and Quin Stott both have bright futures, and more experienced guys like David Bailey and Travis Levy also round out what is the stronger units in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
As far as the receivers go, look, we know true freshman Zay Flowers is getting a ton of hype already, but it is deserving. This kid can really do a lot of things that were not available to the Eagles in recent years. He's fast, shows off impressive cutting ability, and has sneaky strength for a player who is only 5-foot-11, 170 pounds.
The tight ends are still going to be a huge strength. Hunter Long continues to draw rave reviews, and he made some real nice plays on Saturday. He is a big target at 6-5, 255 pounds, and this guy is an NFL prospect all day.
And as far as the offensive line goes, we still love what we see, even with the wealth of talent there that left The Heights. Left tackle Tyler Vrabel looks bigger every time we see him, and overall the unit just looks ready to take on the rigors of these stacked ACC fronts it will see every week.
Based on what we saw Saturday and the people we've been able to talk with around the program, we just can't envision this offense struggling too much. Barring injuries, this should be a very productive group.
Defensively, a few players who will contribute heavily were nicked up and not out there on Saturday. That said, the linebackers and secondary have decent depth and top-end talent. As was the concern heading into the offseason after spring practice, the Eagles lost a lot of size on the defensive line. Clemson transfer Richard Yeargin will help, but that unit still needs to develop a bit to hold up physically against the bigger offensive lines it will face.
One bright spot out of the true freshmen on the defensive line was local product Mike Ciaffoni, a Lincoln-Sudbury grad. Even though he is a third-teamer at this point and a likely redshirt candidate, we liked what we saw from him Saturday. Just as he was with the Warriors, Ciaffoni has active, strong hands and good feet. He is certainly someone to watch down the road for the Eagles.
Let's hop back down to the high school level and start with Everett, who we got to check out on Friday.
We'll put it like this. There are a lot of teams with talent at the skill positions this year. Teams like Springfield Central, Catholic Memorial, St. John's of Shrewsbury, and Brockton come to mind first, and there are others who have speed out wide with good running backs and quarterback play.
That said, in terms of sheer numbers of players in that respect of that caliber, very few teams approach what Everett will be rolling out there. It's just like an assembly line. Players like Mike Sainristil, Isaac Seide, Robbie Riobe and others graduate, and more kids come up and fill the void to step up and replace them.
That's not to say that losing those players, especially Sainrstil, who's now at Michigan, doesn't make a dent. You don't get more talented when players like that leave the program. Still, the youngsters keep coming.
What Everett's season will ultimately come down to is its offensive line. On one hand, that will be a senior group that won't have to two-platoon. Coach Theluxon Pierre likes the unit's cohesion.
However, that line graduated three scholarship players in Wilson Frederic (UMass), Gilbert Kabamba (Merrimack), and Jalen Iles Smith (Assumption). Even though there is some experience back for the Crimson Tide up front, it may take a little time for that unit to get up to where it needs to be, especially given the teams it will face early on (Everett faces Springfield Central, Xaverian, St. John's of Shrewsbury, and Brockton to open the season).
As for Brockton, the Boxers have a lot in common with Everett. Both teams have great skill, young talent all over the roster, and offenses that will spread the field and hit you from all angles.
But, also like Everett, the Boxers have the same concern. Brockton graduated all five offensive linemen from last year's team. Senior Colvin Alexandre did see some spot duty, but everyone else is very green. The bright side is that there is plenty of size to work with. It appears that the two starting tackles could be Noah Moore (6-6, 225) and Naz Armor (6-2, 255). There is a possibility, too, that Jose Depina (6-1, 260) will start somewhere, and Depina saw some action on defense last year.
Both Depina and Armor are likely to start on defense, as well, where the Boxers have some nice experience and talent at all three levels.
Although we did not stop by in person, one coach we did speak to over the weekend is Southeastern's Dominique Williams, who is entering his second season as the head man for the Hawks.
There are a few players who he told us to keep an eye on. We saw plenty of running back Kevin Opoku this summer, including the University of Rhode Island satellite camp, where his speed stood out. He is small, but his running style is effective, and he "is learning how to run around people now," according to Williams. Certainly a player to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Williams reports that colleges have shown interest in junior quarterback James Cordon, a lefty, has a strong arm and is a straight-A student. He also competes well in track in the high jump.
Another player Williams mentioned was cornerback/running back Miguel Martinez, a senior captain who his coach said runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at 6-0, 195. He projects as a linebacker at the next level once he grows into his body more, Williams said.
Junior Jamari Ellerbe-Cundiff is coming off a knee injury, but will be back this fall as a shifty slot receiver like his older brother, Jaylynn, is now for Southern Connecticut. The younger Ellerbe-Cundiff still needs to progress to get to that level, but Williams sees that type of potential in him.
As for linemen, Williams had high praise for Drake Settlers. He's only about 5-10, 215, so his place in college is likely at the Division 3 level, but Williams notes that Settlers runs well, plays aggressive, and "is as strong as an ox."
A quick note, too, on our preseason all-state and lists of that nature. We will be releasing our list for NEPSAC players in September because the season starts so much later with those programs.
A NEPSAC player who attends a school in Rhode Island but hails from the Bay State is St. George's junior Makai Murray. Although he played quarterback last year, he can also make a difference at wide receiver and running back. We keep hearing his name pop up from people who have watched him play, and they all say positive things.
Staying in the small school realm, we spoke with Mashpee coach Matt Triveri about a few of his players. He said the Falcons, unlike last year, will be experienced up front with a little better size.
Triveri said he has five guys back up front, including Nolan Lyons and Daneil Stewart.
As for the skill positions, returning starting quarterback Ian Miller is recovering from a shoulder injury. Kendall Rose should be the guy at running back, with Jack Vinitsky ahead of him at fullback.
One more thing . . .
We certainly enjoy putting together the preseason all-state lists, even though they are difficult to do, are entirely subjective, and open us up to a lot of dissatisfied tweets and direct messages from parents, teammates, and players themselves who felt they deserved mention.
All of that is fine. We welcome all feedback, positive and negative, and have worked in this industry long enough to know when you put lists like that together, someone will always be upset.
That said, we have an inherent flaw with the format that we will be addressing for the postseason list. With just two running backs and two receivers listed per team, it creates an imbalance positionally where everything gets slanted against those positions and even ones on defense where the players go both ways.
The domino effect results in too many omissions on our part of players who are truly deserving.
And even though with that change, good players will still be left off, we feel this switch will make for a more equitable ratio.