Walter Thurmond showed why he earned freshman All-America and Pac-10 honorable mention honors today when he made a few great plays for the first team defense. Thurmond stuck to his man throughout drills and nearly intercepted a Dennis Dixon pass that sailed way over the head of its intended target. Thurmond played the ball instead of the receiver (who either cut off his route or ran the wrong pattern) and put himself in a position to make the interception. Perhaps his recent time away from live action with an injury made his hands a little rusty because he dropped the easy turnover and saved the offense from a few up-downs.
The normally subdued Simi Toeaina was fired up as the team started its first live scrimmage situation. Toeaina roared and flailed his arms as he demanded intensity from his defensive brethren. His passion was also evident on the field as he helped his second team unit hold the Brady Leaf led offense to minimal success. Leaf started out by throwing a great pass to Drew Davis that picked up nice yardage, but an unproductive running play and a dropped pass by Davis stopped the next series before any momentum could build. The third team offense had similarly marginal success and left the field on a sour note as Andiel Brown fumbled at the end of a 7-yard run.
Malachi Lewis and Aaron Pflugrad represented the freshmen well by hauling in the two best catches of the day. Lewis made a leaping grab over tight coverage from the defense to catch a slightly under-thrown Leaf pass, while Pflugrad snagged another Leaf pass in the middle of a blanket of defensive players.
Dennis Dixon continued to improve as he appeared more accurate and showed off his trademark elusiveness. On multiple occasions Dixon took advantage of seams in the defensive line to post large gains on the ground. Dixon and Jonathan Stewart have both improved their ability to find tiny holes in the defensive line to exploit. Stewart even weaved up the field for at least seven or eight yards before getting touched on a couple of occasions today.
The special teams (BE SPECIAL!!!) looked better on all accounts today. Josh Syria and Tim Taylor booted high-arching punts for decent yardage while Andiel Brown and Aaron Pflugrad continued to cement their positions as the leading punt return candidates. Derek Jones continues to see reps as a punt returner, but after the debacle at that position last year it seems the coaches might value the more secure hands of Brown and Pflugrad.
Finally, Matt Harper and Ryan DePalo both saw significant time in live action tonight. Although Coach Bellotti was not available for comment on their status after practice, it appeared that both players are ahead of schedule in their recoveries.
PLEASE NOTE: Friday's scrimmage is NOT open to the public. Some years it is, some years it is not. Take solace in the fact that we are only 9 days, 13 hours, and 5 minutes and counting until kickoff against Houston.
Wednesday Night Practice Report
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