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December 30, 2008SAN ANTONIO - No player on the West squad has created more of a buzz early on this week than D.J. Fluker.
The five-star offensive tackle from Foley, Ala., caused jaws to drop when he showed off his size 22 shoes at the team hotel on Sunday. And since then, Fluker has been dominating on the practice fields at the Blossom Athletic Center, where he is preparing for this Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
"That man is so strong," said defensive tackle Calvin Howell, who injured his right knee on Monday after Fluker blocked him into a portable water dispenser during a pass rush drill. "I have never seen anything like 'Big Fluker' before."
Fluker currently stands 6-foot-7.5, 350-pounds. He feels he can gain at least another 20 pounds without losing any quickness or agility. During Tuesday afternoon's practice, Fluker beat defensive tackle Chris Davenport in a foot race in front of the team (Watch the race).
"I say this half-jokingly, but Fluker's family needs to petition [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell to allow him to be drafted," Rivals.com analyst Barry Every said. "I believe he would be drafted right now in the first day."
Shockingly, Fluker has only been playing offensive tackle since this past spring. He was previously a defensive lineman.
"It took me about two weeks to learn my high school's plays, but after that, I kind of just relaxed and everything started clicking for me," Fluker said. "It became kind of easy."
On the recruiting front, Fluker has been verbally committed to Alabama since November of 2007. But he plans to take official visits to Texas Tech, Florida and LSU in January.
"Alabama was the only school I saw my sophomore and junior years so I want to take some other visits to other schools so I can see what the environment is like," Fluker explained.
Howell said he harbors no hard feelings toward Fluker. Both players agreed the water dispenser should not have been placed so close to the drill.
"Last night [Fluker] brought some food up to my room and apologized," said Howell, who was a full participant during Tuesday's practices. "We were laughing and having a good time. I was just relieved it was nothing serious. When I first got to the doctor, they thought I broke my knee cap. But after I got an x-ray done, they said everything is good.
"I have had surgery on that right knee before. They scoped my meniscus. I think that is why I got really scared about the whole situation yesterday. Knee surgeries, man, they are no joke."
Howell was back to being his jovial self on Tuesday. While a number of the west players looked like they were just going through the motions, Howell gave 100 percent on every rep.
"I am a sore loser so I am working hard to win," Howell said. "I am also out here having a good time. You have one life and it is short, so you have to live it up while you can."
Howell is the only player from San Antonio. He has watched every single U.S. Army All-American Bowl since he was 13 years old.
"I never thought I'd be playing in this game," Howell said. "But I grew to be 6-foot-4, 285-pounds and here I am."
The defense continues to outperform the offense. Cornerbacks Gabe Lynn, Cliff Harris and Marcus Davis dominated the receivers all day during one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive lineman Nick Kasa also impressed on Tuesday.
"Kasa is so fast. His first step is like Allen Iverson's," commented Howell. "He is so smooth with his game. And Burfict, he just brings the hurt. I'm glad I'm not on offense, I'm glad he's on my side."
The offense faces a steeper learning curve than the defense, one of the reasons why few touchdowns have been scored during practice so far.
"We are trying to put in a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. We're running a spread, no huddle," said West offensive coordinator Matt Logan, who coaches at Centennial High School in California. "It's nice when you have the amount of talent to work with that we do. Our goal is to put those guys in a position to make plays."
COMPARING WEST WITH THE EAST
The talk around San Antonio is that the West should have the edge in this Saturday's game. Rivals.com analyst Barton Simmons has had the opportunity to watch both squads practice. Would he co-sign with that?
"Up front the West has got the advantage, starting with Fluker, just because he is so dominant at left tackle," Simmons said. "I think the West is a little bit more consistent across the board on their offensive line. Also, the West has a lot of really good options on their defensive line. They have a lot of really athletic, big bodies there. I have also been really impressed with the West's defensive backs. They have a lot of big cornerbacks and safeties that can cover.
"The East has been a little more consistent offensively. Aaron Murray has really looked sharp at quarterback and the wide receivers over there have been a pleasant surprise starting with Jeremy Gallon. And I think the East's practices have been crisper; sharper. So at this point both teams have a lot of plusses going for them. It could either way as far as who I think has the edge. I think it is clear that the West has more talent, but that is not always indicative of what is going to happen in an All-Star game like this."
MORE: U.S. Army AA Bowl coverage | Practice Galleries: East | West | More all-star coverage