Practice: Getting Sharp

After taking a few days off and having a fairly light practice Monday, the team got geared up Tuesday with a full-speed scrimmage. Both the offense and defense looked sharper, as they prepare for Saturday's show-down scrimmage...

With just two practices until the Spring Game, the Bruins were sharp on both sides of the ball in the mini-scrimmage that capped Tuesday's practice, to the enjoyment of a crowd of about 150 on-lookers, including Maurice Drew and noted quarterback recruits Rocky Hinds (Playa Del Rey St. Bernard's) and Rudy Carpenter (Westlake Village Westlake).


There was a definite buzz at Spaulding Field. Competition for many key positions, most notably QB, is still in full gear, and no one can afford to rest on their laurels. Knowing this, the players put forth a concentrated effort in an attempt to tip the scales in their favor, entertaining the fans in the process.


One major depth-chart development today was Robert Chai, the redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Newport Harbor (#54), sharing 1st team reps with Shane Lehmann at RG. Chai's strengths are his quickness and agility, which meshes well with Karl Dorrell's wishes for athleticism on the offensive line.


The rest of the 1st unit OL are: Ed Blanton (RT), Mike McCloskey (C), Eyoseph Efseaff (LG), and Steve Vieira (LT). The 2nd unit OL consists of Paul Mociler (LT), Tyson Clayton (LG), Robert Chai (C, pulling double duty), Shane Lehmann (RG, also serving double duty), and Bob Cleary (RT). Tight ends, in depth-chart usage, are Blane Kezirian/Marcedes Lewis, JJ Hair, and Will Peddie.


Jibril Raymo, newly moved to wide receiver from strong safety, looked very comfortable and natural in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills; He caught almost everything thrown his way with his hands, and adjusted nicely to a ball or two that was slightly behind him.


Prior to the start of about a 20 play, full-contact scrimmage, one intriguing drill was a full-speed "running game" contest, pitting the OL and RBs vs. the front seven and the SS. Both sides were getting after it and the OL, stinging a bit perhaps from Friday's scrimmage and with new blood in the mix, opened a number of good holes for Tyler Ebell and Wendell Mathis, especially on traps and counters. Both Lehmann and Chai looked good pulling and either kicking out or hooking/sealing their target. The battle between Mat Ball (LDE) and Ed Blanton was full scale, with Ed not hesitating to go low on Mat after standing him up in an effort to get him off his feet.


The 1st unit D looks to have shaken out this way: Mat Ball at LDE and Dave Ball at RDE, regardless of formation. Rodney Leisle and Ryan Boschetti are the starting DTs, with Rod going to the weak side and Ryan taking the strong side of the formation. The LBs are Spencer Havner (Will), Justin London (Mike) and Brandon Chillar (Sam). Dennis Link is also seeing significant time at MLB, but London seems to be getting a few more reps. LC is Matt Clark, FS is Ben Emanuel II, SS is Jarrad Page, and RC is Matt Ware. The nickel back is Glenn Ohaeri when Chillar comes out.


The short scrimmage saw each QB get three or four plays, and then a punt was executed. Each possession started on about the O's 40, presenting a long field for the O.


The first series was Matt Moore's, leading the 1st unit O, and he started strongly. First he hit Blane K on a TE curl to the right side for about 5 to 7 yards. Then on the next play, Matt reached back a little bit and hummed a strike to Junior Taylor for about 15 yards on an in pattern, with Matt Ware and Ben Emanuel closing immediately, drawing an appreciative response from about the crowd. The next play was also a pass, but the deep curl to Bragg was a little high. Chris Kluwe came on to punt, and his high, short punt was fair caught by Craig Bragg after he moved in about 10 yards.


The second series was John Sciarra's, second unit O vs. second unit D. Wasting no time, John and Ryan Smith connected immediately on a slant to the left side for first down yardage; Ryan made a great hands-only catch of a well-paced ball in serious traffic. Sciarra threw again on the next two plays, but Joe Garcia, playing LC, was able to bat down a deep curl pass to the right intended for Brett Mitchell on the first play, and then John overthrew Ryan Smith on a deep post coming from the left. Kluwe again delivered a high, short punt which Bragg fielded the same way as before.


Next it was Drew Olson's turn to lead the first unit O vs. the first unit D, but not for long: Tyler Ebell took a hand-off headed left and broke about a 20-yard run. And then John Sciarra and the 2nd unit O came on, which was puzzling.


On first down, Sciarra handed to Akil Harris, stretching the D to the left for about 2 or 3 yards. From a double tight formation, Harris then tried a blast up the middle, but was stuffed for no gain by the front seven. On the last play of the series, Sciarra again hit Ryan Smith on a slant to the left, who again made a great catch with his hands in traffic.


Drew Olson at QB: Tyler stretching it left went nowhere as Leisle shot the gap and dropped Ebell for a 5-yard loss. Drew then tried a very cleverly set-up screen to Tyler, but Havner sniffed it out, and Spencer dropped Ebell immediately upon the reception. Drew, getting good time from the OL, then tried a deep post to Tab Perry coming from the left, but the pass fluttered/hung somewhat and Jarrad Page made a superior play to close and bat the ball down. Justin London got tremendous depth on his drop to help with coverage, something the MLB must do well for a D that runs a lot of cover 2 to be successful.


On the very next play, the role of MLB in coverage became readily apparent, as Marcedes Lewis busted up the right seam and hauled in a well-thrown pass from the DO for substantial yardage. This brought on Justin Medlock to attempt a 30 to 35 yarder from the right hash, but Jarrad Page burst off the right edge and laid out perfectly to block the kick with a resounding thud.


Sciarra came back for another series of 2s vs. 2s. First play was a bootleg right to a wide-open J.J. Hair, who got sandwiched by Joe Garcia and Xavier Burgess, but not before gaining 9. Wendell Mathis then ran a blast play to the left to get a first down. Justin Medlock again came on to kick a field goal, but his kick hooked right and he was wide with it. Dorrell ended the scrimmage at that point.


Collectively, the QBs completed 7 of 11 passes. The four incompletions consisted of one pass well-defended and three passes being off-target/late. There were no INTs or sacks. Two completions were to the TE, one to a RB, and four to the WRs, the slant play being the bread and butter.


Best plays of the scrimmage were Ryan Smith's two catches over the middle, Moore's mini-rocket to Taylor, Tyler's long run left, Page's batting away of a post and blocking of a kick, Leisle's tackle for loss of Tyler, and Havner's defusing of a screen. As anticipated, the O did a better job moving the ball vs. the D once the playbook was opened a little bit. Justin Medlock still hasn't gotten on track as the new placekicker.


Reflecting upon the first Karl Dorrell spring, it is easy to be positive: The Bruins again look like a fully-featured football team, not one that is playing with one arm tied down. The running game has only installed a few plays, but the passing game has demonstrated a significantly expanded repertoire of routes; tellingly, safety valves are available on every pass play…and are being used. The D seems very organized whether in the base 40 or playing a nickel package; they've even blitzed at times this spring, unheard of previously. Most importantly, an enthusiastic and intense atmosphere has been present throughout Spring Ball as the coaches have provided strong leadership.


There have been many standout Bruins this spring. Starting with special teams for once, Chris Kluwe has dazzled the crowd with some boomers. If he can do it when it counts, he could seriously help the Bruins win the battle of field position in hard-fought games.


Defenders that have exceeded expectations this spring are Rodney Leisle, slimmed down but rocked up at DT and nearly immovable inside. Ryan Boschetti is noticeably bigger and stronger, and is playing with great confidence, as is Mat Ball. Justin London is playing up to his potential, as many have hoped to see this spring. Among the DBs, Keith Short has probably had the most dominating spring, jumping slants and yet not getting beat deep. Glenn Ohaeri has established himself as a player, both at nickel and at SS. And Eric McNeal brings a big, strong, fast, physical presence to the secondary.


On offense, it is an injustice not to mention Craig Bragg first. He is easily the most entertaining Bruin, not surprising because he was voted "Most-Likely-to-Embarrass-a-DB" by his high school peers. And we know how cherished that honor is. Tyler Ebell is a close second: no other Bruin RB combines the speed, vision, toughness and instincts that Tyler has, although Manuel White is close. Both should be very productive this year. Akil Harris has been renewed under the new one-cut running game Dorrell has brought from Denver. Marc Lewis has been unworldly at times in the green zone…there should be little fear that the staff won't make full utilization of Lewis' talents. Idris Moss has busted out fa shizzle and has the hands and quicks to make a major contribution if others don't step up. And Big Ed Blanton has nailed down a job and looks like he could be special.


Some may be disappointed that one QB hasn't run away with the job. If it was because all three scholarship QBs had performed poorly all spring, then disappointment would definitely be in order. However, all three have performed pretty well. They've all taken to the passing O like bears to honey. Or salmon. Mmmmmm, grilled salmon…d'oh! They've showed they have the brains and the arm for the role, which many didn't expect of John Sciarra, but he has produced more (often spectacular) completions on bombs than any other QB, and he has a great feel for the TE in the green zone. As Karl Dorrell said, UCLA is ahead of schedule in installing the passing game, implicit acknowledgement that the QBs have exceeded the coaching staff's expectations. While one of the best secondaries vs. the pass in the Pac-10 last year have challenged the QBs at times this Spring, the QBs have won more than their share of battles, certainly more than the QBs did last year or the year before. And with everything that happened last year, we know they have resiliency and mental toughness. Hopefully, we'll see poise and composure in Saturday's scrimmage, they'll take what the D gives them, and UCLA's playmakers will get to show us their stuff.


The BRO Contingent: The big news on the BRO front was the attendance of the legendary HITITLONG.


Visitors:  Committed recruits included Maurice Drew and Jimmy Stephens. Matt Slater, a senior who has still to make a decision (between UCLA and Dartmouth) was in attendance, with his famous father, former Ram great, Jackie Slater.  As mentioned above, among current recruits were Hinds and Carpenter, as well as defensive lineman Brigham Harwell, wide receiver Michael Bumpus (making his third trip to practice), and offensive lineman Brian Abraham.

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