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January 6, 2010MORE: West notes: Defense carries the load | Army All-American Bowl coverage
SAN ANTONIO - The East offense had what head coach George Quarles called "by far its best practice of the week" on Wednesday in the Alamodome.
"Earlier this week we were practicing outside in cold weather and a lot of us were stiff and we weren't clicking like we wanted to, but we came out here in the dry, warm dome and everything started coming along," said wide receiver Ivan McCartney, who caught a touchdown pass.
USC-bound wide receiver Kyle Prater may have had the biggest day, catching three passes, including one long touchdown, during 35 minutes of scrimmage work.
There was some miscommunication on defense early during the scrimmage, which aided the offense. By the end, however, the defense felt it was in good shape.
"Defensively we saw some things that we need to correct," Quarles said. "But the defense didn't sulk and get down; they came back and made some plays late. Their effort was good."
Safety Jaylen Watkins intercepted a Paul Jones pass, helping generate some momentum. Defensive end Jacques Smith followed by recording a sack before safety Keenan Allen picked off a Barry Brunetti pass.
"We were getting the better of the offense earlier this week, but there is so much competition out here," Watkins said. "They got us on two long passes and then they got us on a slant, so we knew we had to step it up."
It was clear early on this week that the wide receivers unit is the strength of the East offense.
The group is being coached by Lee Campbell, who led Hawkinsville High School in Georgia to state championships in 2003 and 2004. He is currently the head coach at Dodge County High School.
"I have coached some talented receivers back home, but nothing like this," Campbell said. "This is the upper-echelon of athletes."
Not that they take it for granted.
"Their work ethic has also impressed me,'' Campbell said. "This is an all-star game, but they are busting their tails."
All six of the East receivers have made plays this week, but Prater and Tennessee commit Markeith Ambles have stood out among the standouts.
"Markeith plays every play like it is the Super Bowl," Campbell said. "He wants the ball. And he is a guy you want to get the ball to.
"He is versatile, too. He wants to return punts, kicks, he can run and he can even throw the ball if we want him to.
"Prater is just as competitive. He got all upset with himself the other day because he finally dropped a ball. He is smooth, he glides down the field. He has great speed and is a big, physical kid. He has great hands. When I first met him and shook his hands, he could have palmed my head. He is the total package."
Campbell said he is eager to follow Ambles and Prater in college.
"And I feel like we will see them playing on Sunday after that," he added.
He played quarterback in high school, but Spencer Ware has shown this week that he'll be able to make the move to running back in the SEC just fine. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder from Cincinnati, Ohio, plans to sign with LSU.
"Coach [Jeff] Herron, our running backs coach, has raved about Spencer in the meetings that we've had," Quarles said. "He is very athletic, can do several things and he is thick. He is a guy that needs to touch the ball for us on Saturday."
Having that experience at quarterback gives Ware an edge over running backs that haven't led an offense before.
"I know how to read the defensive lineman's eyes so I know which way to cut," he said. "I know the coverages over the top and I know which safeties are supposed to fill which hole, so I think that will help me, especially at the next level."
The Tigers like Ware as a running back, but they didn't rule out other opportunities given his versatility.
"[They said] maybe after a while they'll get me in those wildcats (formations)," Ware said. "There are things they can work [you] around since you have a quarterback at running back. I mean it's something I'd like to do.
"What running back doesn't want to throw a touchdown pass?"
Marcus Lattimore did not suit up on Wednesday. The five-star running back prospect from Duncan, S.C., began suffering from a stomach ailment on Tuesday night.
"I was throwing up this morning," he said.
He is expected to be recovered in time for the game.
Wide receiver Shakim Phillips also sat out. He continues to suffer from a shoulder injury and his status for Saturday is questionable.
Chance Carter was in pads and participated in individual drills, but did not take any reps during scrimmage work. The Northwestern-bound defensive end hurt his ankle earlier this week.
"He was feeling better today so hopefully he can go on Saturday," Quarles said of Carter.
After a rough first day of practices, C.J. Fiedorowicz has settled in. The 6-foot-7 tight end had two impressive grabs during Wednesday's scrimmage.
The East offensive line also shined on Wednesday, after getting manhandled by the defensive line on Monday and during much of Tuesday's practices.
According to Quarles, the following players likely will start on Saturday: Prater, Ware, Allen and defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Jeffrey Whitaker.
The East was scheduled to practice twice at C. Marvin Gustafson Stadium on Thursday. "But because it is supposed to be really cold and windy, we are just going to go one practice for about two and a half hours," Quarles explained.