Monday, July 13, 2009

Google surveys the signees: Emory Blake

Because someone needs to do the work of plugging in a given Auburn signee's name into Google and synthesizing the tidbits of information that trickle out. Previous entries in this series here.

One of the fun things--maybe the most fun thing--about coming down the recruiting home stretch last spring with the new Auburn staff was going from having pretty well zero prospects outside of the traditional Alabama/Georgia/Florida panhandle recruiting grounds to suddenly drawing the interest of a half-dozen solid prospects from Louisiana, Oklahoma, and of course Texas. And as awesome as it was reeling in the likes of Nosa Eguae and even Tyrik Rollison, Auburn's desperate need for wideouts, the general assumption that Rollison's chickens shouldn't be counted until they hatched their way onto campus (or something), and Emory Blake's Signing Day decision meant that of the new Lone Star State crew, none were welcomed more enthusiastically by Auburn fans than Blake. He'll begin fall practice with fans not just hoping he'll contribute as a freshman but expecting.

This is, frankly, all very heady stuff for a kid Auburn fans had never even heard of until a few short weeks before Signing Day and who Chizik and Co. stole away from uh, Texas Tech, but when we're talking about the Auburn receiving corps, I think we can be collectively forgiven, right?

Basics: For the final time (yes, this is the last entry for the 2009 class), let's go to the Auburn Signing Day information sheet:
Emory Blake
WR, 6-1, 194
Austin, TX (Stephen F. Austin HS)
High School Coach: Rodney Vincent

: As a senior, caught 64 passes for 936 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 643 yards and four scores on 74 carries ... Named the 2008 District 25-5A Offensive MVP ... Had 22 grabs for 412 yards and five scores in just six games as a junior, while also carrying 38 times for 289 yards and two TDs ... Caught 28 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore ... The No. 30-ranked prospect from Texas by SuperPrep ... Named to the Orlando Sentinel's 2008 All-Southern football team ... Selected to the All-Midlands Region team by PrepStar.
PERSONAL: Born July 18, 1991 ... Son of Jeff and Lewanna Blake ... Father was an NFL quarterback for 14 years.
Yes, if you're an Auburn fan who's been living in a moon cave, that's Jeff Blake of former Bengals and Saints fame*, making Blake not just the son of an NFL player but the son of a one-time Pro Bowl-quality quarterback. (I don't know if that's really all that different from just "son of an NFL player, but it sounds awesome, right? And hey, Papa Blake at the very least probably had some lessons to teach about work ethic and such, correct?)

Also worth noting in this space: that's a lot of carries on the ground, and for 8.7 yards a pop. There's some consensus that Blake's not a burner, but with numbers and experience like that, it seems clear he can do some good things with the ball in his hands.

Recruitnik hoo-ha: Like so many members of Auburn's 2009 class, Blake gets an enthusiastic review from one of the three services ... and a shrug from the other two. In Blake's case the cheerleaders are at Rivals, who give him a fourth star and a grade of 5.8 while ranking him the No. 42 wide receiver in the class. Perhaps even more impressively, he cracked Rivals' top 40 prospects in Texas for 2009, just ahead of Texas and Oklahoma commitments.

But ESPN and Scout are each much less enthused. At Scout, Blake barely makes their top 100 receivers and might be closer to losing his third star than gaining a fourth. ESPN's a little more forgiving, offering Blake their prototypical three-star grade of 77 and ranking him the No. 72 wideout in the class, but they're not overly impressed. From the scouting report:
There is a lot to like in Blake, a very polished football player. He doesn't run very well, but he has qualities that aren't seen in many faster players. Has good size and leaping ability. Can challenge for the ball while it's in the air and win some jump balls. Has the body control to adjust to the ball, shows good sideline awareness and can make some acrobatic catches. He's a sharp route runner who is aware that he must outwork his opponent to gain separation. Has phenomenal, quick hands. Plucks with ease and can catch in a crowd ... His best fit at the next level may be in the slot, where he can work underneath zones, exploit his size and avoid press coverage at the line. Could have significant trouble separating and getting vertical against college competition. His speed always will be a limitation.
You'll notice that amongst the compliments, that the words "upside" or "potential" never appear. The reviewer likes what Blake is, but doesn't think much of what Blake will become ... or I'm guessing the grade and ranking would be higher.

Blake's offer sheet isn't eye-popping, but it's not the mid-major buffet of some other Auburn prospects, either. Blake committed and then decommitted from Texas Tech and definitely had offers from Colorado and Tulsa. Rivals reported offers from Oregon, Nebraska, and Boston College as well. With the possible exception of Nebraska, Auburn wound up still the "biggest" offer on Blake's table, but that's still a lot of legitimate programs to have come calling if Blake can't play.

Links of potential interest: There's a ton of film to watch on Blake. ESPN included video with their scouting report, there's film of Blake ANNIHILATING CAMP DRILLS here, another good highlight package here, and your requisite "wow, that's awesome, but you'll probably want to turn the sound off" clip is here:

What that clip and the first couple of plays on the ESPN clip make clear is this: Blake appears to have some top-notch vision and ability to move in traffic. OK, so he's not blazingly fast ... does he have to be if can move like that?

Given those qualities and his experience taking snaps, it's no wonder Blake says in this Signing Day interview that Malzahn's promised him a look in the Wildcat:

Blake comes across as refreshingly well-spoken and gracious here; his handling of the Barkley/racism question was fairly deft and it's nice to hear some genuine regret about Tech even after he'd decided to go in a different direction. (Jeff B. offers a couple of statements at the video's tail end, too.)

Speaking of Tech, here's a hell of an endorsement ...
Coach Mike Leach saw the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Blake as a natural addition to his offense and had even promised him that he could play Michael Crabtree's "Z position" in the Red Raiders' offense.
Of course that promise could just be recruiting hot air, but still ... Leach wanted him, and you have to think Leach knows a thing or two by now about finding quality receivers.

Blake's not planning on redshirting or otherwise waiting around:
"I can't wait to get there and make an instant impact at Auburn," said Blake, who stands 6-1 and weighs 194 pounds. "We're going to get it turned around fast."
If it's instant impact you want, 2009 wide receiving recruit, Auburn's receiving depth chart delivers!

Beaver's already featured Blake in his "Know a Signee" series; that's here. He's rooming with Lutzenkirchen.

Still not sure what, exactly, "Offense-Defense Football" is, but they think Blake is the 9th-best receiver and 49th-best player overall in the class of '09. So more power to them.

The "Texas Testosterone Festival" noted that Blake made an Austin-area top 5 seniors list and advised him to go to Auburn for "the hot chicks." There are worse reasons, certainly.

This doesn't really have anything worthwhile to say bout Blake, but it is funny.

Awesome black-and-white photo of Blake reeeeeaching for what would be a touchdown grab here. Also, a community photojournalist says that he prepares for his Austin high school games the same way he prepared to shoot the Denver Broncos. So good for him. Except for the part where he's not shooting the Broncos any more.

Peculiarly, Blake is apparently an example of how tall wide receivers are changing passing games in Texas.

Lastly, for those of you who would find it reassuring for an Austin product to have received some attention from the college football powerhouse located there in Austin, there's multiple references out there to Texas having offered Blake as a greyshirt.

What conclusions we can draw, if any: I write stupid things on this blog all the time, of course, but that bit of worry over the slot position from the other day, after LaVoyd James had decommitted? Even stupider than usual.

Because, most likely, Blake's going to be in the slot. And he's going to be good. No, he's not tall. No, he may not be track-fast. But Blake's hands and body skills are by all accounts too sharp for him not to shine on those curl and crossing routes the Spread Eagle's slot receivers are going to have to run to pick up first downs on 3rd-and-5 or a quick five yards on 1st-and-10, etc. Blake might not be a shake-and-shimmy jitterbug like Frenchy or a straight-line home-run threat like Travante Stallworth should be, but he's also shown too much ability with the ball in his hands not to make some serious hay on the quick swings and screens that Malzahn's also going to make a major part of this offense.

It's easy to see why the gurus and even college coaches might not be all that high on Blake: they're looking for home runs, and "little" things like Blake's hands, ability to tightrope a sideline, and cutback ability are more "stand-up double." But of course, those "little things" are also the things that make for, you know, good football players. No, Blake may not wind up an NFL stud like his Dad, but for the past two seasons Auburn's best receiver has been a guy who was never going to get a sniff from the NFL but who turned those similar "little things" into an outstanding career. Blake is polished enough that he'll have a chance to do the same thing, but from Day 1, and maybe even do it better. And if that's the case, no one at Auburn is going to complain about how fast he is.

*Jeff's Wikipedia page also includes the following mysterious nugget of information: "Jeff can be seen in the background of the blockbuster flop, Totally Anal, wearing a Chargers jersey." Which is weird, because I would say I keep myself pretty informed about the goings-on in the entertainment industry, and I'm still completely unfamiliar with this particular "blockbuster flop."

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