The Ware Question: One of the biggest questions of the fall is whether freshman defensive back Matt Ware will be able to come in and handle a great deal of playing time. In the first practice of the spring, in Saturday's morning session, Ware lined up with the starters at one cornerback position. In the seven-on-sevens, they immediately went at him, and later Head Coach Bob Toledo said they "wanted to test him." Ware, playing a little conservatively, broke up a pass, had one completed on him, and then intercepted the third when the receiver slipped. After the interception, there were excited high-fives all-around.
Ware was held out of of many of the drills in the afternoon, along with freshman cornerback Matt Clark. Coach Toledo attributed it to "some pulls, so we're backing off a little bit. Trying to be a little cautious." But Toledo made it clear that the "pulls" weren't serious.
Rusty: The passing game looked "rusty," as Coach Toledo called it. Quarterback Cory Paus threw some balls that floated, but looks like he has very good arm strength. The timing between the QBs and the receivers made it obvious it was the first practice of the year. Ryan McCann, who is returning from shoulder surgery last season, will throw in just the morning session at the beginning of fall practice.
Overall, the initial impression is that the team looks deep, with plenty of bodies to plug in at every position. It's a stark contrast from spring,, when there were just a few defensive backs, and most of them walk-ons, compared to the troop that Phil Snow and R. Todd Littlejon have now.
Playes who look good on the first day: It's premature to make any judgments, but the guys who looked particularly good were DeShaun Foster, looking especially quick; Robert Thomas, looking nimble and quick; Marcus Reese, who was always around the ball, and Ed Iremia-Stansbury.
Dennis Fox, the back-up tight end, leveled Kevin Brant in a scrimmage at the end of the second session.
The first team defense: Kenyon Coleman, SSDE; Rod Leisle, T; Ken Kocher, T; Dave Ball WSDE; Marcus Reese SSLB; Robert Thomas, MLB; Ryan Nece, WSLB; Ricky Manning, C; Jason Stephens, SS; Marques Anderson, FS; Matt Ware, C.
In the afternoon, Keith Short substituted for Matt Ware at the one corner position when Ware sat out.
Other notable depth chart levels:
Among the receivers, Ryan Smith, Craig Bragg and Jerry Owens were getting the most time in the rotation, after starters Brian Poli-Dixon and Tab Perry.
The second team defensive backfield included Joe Hunter and Matt Clark (Keith Short, when he wasn't subbing for Matt Ware on the first team), Ben Emanuel and Kevin Brant. The linebackers were Brandon Chillar, Dennis Link and Audie Attar.
The true freshman OLs are looking very daunting as a unit. Ed Blanton, who is all of 6-9 and towers over the team, is at one tackle. Matt Mosebar, who is 6-8, is at the other tackle. That leaves you with two mammoth guards in Robert Cleary, who is 6-7, and Collin Barker, who is 6-8. "Little" Mike McCloskey, who is probably 6-4, lines up at center.
Conditioning: The team collectively looks to be in excellent shape. Robert Thomas weighed in at 222, after being about 237 last season. Marcus Reese has added some considerable muscle, going from 209 to 227. Ben Emanuel, Saia Makakaufaki, Tim Warfield and Pat Norton all look very svelte. Audie Attar is up to 217 pounds, gaining 12 pounds of muscle in the off-season. The Ball brothers are topping out in the 280 range.
The word being heard around Spaulding Field:
Among the freshmen, Wendell Mathis, Tyler Ebell and Lamar Keeble turned in the fastest 40 times. Matt Ware and Matt Clark didn't run, though.
Earlier last week, the team attended a barbecue where there was a basketball court. Apparently, Matt Ware impressed everyone with his basketball skills and athleticism, throwing down some impressive dunks.
Jacques Lazarus jumped 40-inches in the vertical.
Visiting practice yesterday, in the morning, was Long Beach Poly running back Herschel Dennis. In the afternoon, tight end commit J.J. Hair was in attendance, along with the father of linebacker commit, Xavier Burgess.
On Monday, the plan is that Poly tight end commit, Marcedes Lewis will attend practice, along with teammates OL Winston Justice and QB Brandon Brooks. Also visiting campus will be quarterback Ben Olson of Thousand Oaks. Olson will visit USC on Tuesday, so he'll have two days to compare and contrast back-to-back.