Practice Report: Bruins Don the Gear

The Bruins put on the full pads for the first time in the heat of Orange County. Here's a blow-by-blow account of Sunday's practice and the extended 11-on-11 scrimmage, that saw the first teams go against each other quite a bit...

On a warm, muggy morning reminiscent of daybreak in a tropical jungle, the Bruins stormed the field at Cal State Fullerton fully equipped to wage battle with themselves and the elements.

And thanks to the summer conditioning program of Doc Kreis, the Bruins won.

With the amount of time available for practice strictly limited, the coaching staff made every precious minute of instruction count.

After a warm-up, the team broke into their respective O and D units.

The D immediately started practicing proper tackling form, an art form under siege in football at large.

The tackling drill consisted of a defender hitting and shedding an in-his-face blocker, scraping to the outside to beat a lead blocker, and then tackle the ball-carrier, making sure to get his head in front of the ball-carrier and to "bring his legs" along, i.e, uncoil into the runner but don't stop driving the feet.

The ground where the drill was being held was very soft and muddy, which led to some players losing their feet when they made contact and sliding down the runner. But most Bruins showed good form and pop.

The best thing, and I mean the best thing, about CSF is that the DL and OL units are right therefor the fans to observe.

With the O probably doing really important things that could wait, I wandered over to watch defensive line coach Don Johnson and his charges. The first drill emphasized staying low and fast off the ball. Four DL lined up in front of a rectangular frame of bars, the closer bar being about four feet high, and the bar farther away from the DL being about 4.5 or 5 feet tall. Which isn't very much when you're 6-6…

When DJ moved the ball, the DL would fire out low, and have to stay low to get through the 2 or 3 yard space before emerging on the other side, where a coach would signal which way to break (right or left). The purpose of this action is to challenge the DL to stay low, but also to keep enough upward vision to see the QB/RB and scrape down the line in proper pursuit angle. Right angles, no bananas….

Inevitably, one DL would be slow to read the signal or turn the wrong way, and the resulting 3 DL pile-up was quickly untangled with a bark of "Recall!" from DJ. What is it with California these days?

The next DL drill involved the two-man sled, which was positioned about two feet in front of the DL. The DL would fire out, hit the sled with face(mask) and inside arm, then fire an open-handed hook with the outside arm, and finish with an uppercut from the inside arm designed to travel up the OL's ribcage and lift the OL's arm over the DL's head. Effective for either pass rushing or run stuffing, the first blow rocks the OL back, the hook unbalances him, and then the rip move gains the DL the leverage he needs to own the OL and make him his…new best friend.

If, for some reason, you ever decide to roll up on a DL with malice intent in your heart, you might want to remember this little combo…you'll probably see it. Assuming you can track all that movement in the half second it takes to execute.

Bruins that stood out during this drill were Rodney Leisle, Dave Ball and Mat Ball, and CJ Niusulu. Asi Faoa had timing troubles the first couple of reps he had, but then got on track. Among the young bucks, Bruce Davis had a very powerful rep as the drill wrapped up. It is clear that the DL take performance in this drill as a personal point of pride. The farther back and higher up he drives the sled in the shortest time possible measures the player's strength, power and quickness. The sled does have a spring mechanism, so the players aren't jamming their heads and necks into the equivalent of a brick wall…

The next drill I'll call "push-pull." You'll probably see it used when pass rushing. The DL fires a two-hand shot to the chest of the OL, pushing the OL back on his heels and unbalancing him. With the OL rocked backward, the DL then grabs the outside of the shoulder pad's breastplate, and violently pulls the OL to one side of him, slingshotting the DL forward…to the prize possession: ripe, young QB. Ummmm…Que Bee!

This move works if the DL's arms are longer than the OL's, or if the DL times it such that his extended arms get into the OL's chest before the OL can get his arms extended. When you read about "wingspan," and its importance for OL and DL, this is one of the reasons why…

At this point in practice, the O and D were brought together for a modified version of the "nutcracker" drill. The Bruins broke into three groups: 1) LTs, some TEs, RDEs and some LBs; 2) Cs, OGs, DTs, and MLBs; 3) RTs, some TEs, LDEs and some LBs. QBs, FBs and RBs joined each group.

Once the OL assumed their proper alignment, and the D got into position, the ball was given to a RB. Violent collisions ensued as both sides tried to gain control of the point of attack. Not only would the defenders have to shed the OL blocks, but also that of the lead FB. The most imperative thing for the LB was not to tackle the ball-carrier, but to control his running lane, especially in a simulation like this. Discipline in run D is everything when it comes to preventing long runs.

At this point, Karl Dorrell & Crew decided it was time for some team scrimmaging, the first full-gear, full-contact match-up.

On D, Spencer Havner was out today, so Wesley Walker moved up to 1st team WSLB. Rodney Leisle and Ryan Boschetti ("The Boss") were held out, although Boss participated in almost all drills and did well. Asi Faoa stepped in at DT and CJ manned the NG spot.

On O, Shane Lehmann got the first reps with the 1s, and Matt Moore began at QB. On the first play, Ryan Smith ran a post from the right side, but Moore's pass was just a little off (high and slightly behind) for an incompletion. Then Akil Harris blasted over the right side for a 3 or 4 yard gain. From a spread formation (four wide), Moore tried a slant to Marcedes Lewis, but Ben Emanuel in man coverage jumped the route and batted the pass down.

Drew Olson's turn: On a straight drop, Craig Bragg ran a fly route up the right side. The DO made a very intelligent throw, dropping it a little short and behind the perfect "over the shoulder" placement. Even though he was looking directly back into the sun, Bragg made an EXCELLENT adjustment on the ball, braking and turning to the outside, to make the big catch, Matt Clark in coverage.

On the next play, double tight formation, the D rose up and stuffed Maurice Drew on a lead up the middle, which commenced the dawgs to woofing and barking, and it continued on the next play as Manuel White at TB tried the middle to no avail. Faoa and Robert Garcia piled up the push, and Brandon Chillar knifed in to bring the Manster down.

John Sciarra then took over. His first play was a delayed hand-off to Tyler Ebell, a great call for #2, who found the good hole opened for him (naturally) and busted it up the gut for good yardage. On the next play, off play-action, Sciarra tried a deep out to the left, but the pass was incomplete, with good coverage by Jarrad Page.

Matt Moore in at QB zipped a slant to Ryan Smith on the right side. Ryan tried to trap the ball to his chest, it squirted away, but he was able to make a juggling catch as he was dragged to earth. From a three wide set, Matt then fired a slant to Junior Taylor with Matt Ware in coverage, but Junior made the catch for about 8 yards. On Moore's last play, Tyler Ebell took the hand-off up the middle. CJ Niusulu broke free, but Tyler's reputation for shiftiness had CJ on his heels, and #2 was able to juke and stutter-step forward for a couple of yards.

With the DO in at QB, and a spread formation, Drew dropped straight back. Noah Sutherland delivered a great rush from the LDE spot (maybe a hold on Ed Blanton?), but Olson checked down to Maurice Drew on a swing pass to the right. Drew made the first tackler miss…badly…with an inside move, then jetted up the sideline for about 15 yards before a violent collision with Kevin Brant (who was expecting Mr. Drew this time, unlike Wednesday).

Olson dropped back on the next play, didn't like his options downfield, and threw an out to Ryan Smith. But the pass was released late, didn't have much on it and didn't come out of Drew's hand well, going out of bounds for an incompletion. On Drew's last play, 3 wide set, the Bruins executed a nice screen to Wendell Mathis, who weaved and knifed for 20+ yards. However, it seemed that the DL pulled up well before Drew unloaded the screen, so it may have been a sack in a real setting.

On the last play of this team segment, Matt Moore fired a curl pass to Junior Taylor for a completion, but Matt double-clutched and may not have been able to get the ball off in a real setting.

At this point, the Bruins broke into their respective units for individual skill development while the field goal unit brought Justin Medlock center stage. Justin had a good day, nailing four of five from 40+ it seemed.

Meanwhile, the QBs worked on accuracy of their deep passes, trying to drop the pass into the catch net set up 40 yards downfield. Shortly thereafter, they worked on fades after a pump fake. At one point, Moore had three netters in a row before the drill ended…

While the OL practiced pass blocking technique, the DL practiced pass rushing. First drill was slaloming between the upright weeble bags using right and left hooks to pinion their bodies around, and the next was slapping the OL's extending hand away and then executing a swim move to get past the OL. Throughout the day, you could hear Don Johnson exhorting his DL to "Get violent! Get physical!" during drills and team scrimmages.

The Bruins wrapped up the content of the day with a 20-play team scrimmage. Matt Moore started at QB, and on his first play, Ebell scooted up the middle for about 10 yards. Then out of a double tight, Matt "waggled" right, found Blane Kezirian, and the big TE rumbled for about 20 yards. Moore again faked a hand-off and rolled right, pulled up to avoid Mat Ball's rush, and fired a completion to Josh Roenicke for a 15 yard gain. On Moore's last play, the SO faked a blast up the middle, which totally froze the D, and threw a perfect deep out to Ryan Smith, but unfortunately #25 couldn't pull the head-high pass in for the catch. The play was textbook, however…

With Olson under center, Drew had his own chance to waggle to the right, found Roenicke on the drag, but Josh was unable to make a leaping, one-handed catch. On the next waggle play to the right, Drew was a little low with a pass to JJ Hair on a delayed release that was incomplete. Drew's hard effort was rewarded on the next play, however, as Junior Taylor caught a deep crossing route for about 17 yards. Again, play action froze the D. Finally, Olson gave Akil the ball on a draw, and Akil made a great run for about 10+ yards.

John Sciarra's turn: off of play action, John went for the home run to Bragg up the left sideline, but the pass was short. Then Sciarra rolled right off play action, and hit JJ Hair, another 10 yard gain, and Eric McNeal had a resounding meeting with JJ at play's end. Then Manster started left, hesitated, and cut it strongly upfield for about a 10 yard gain.

On Matt Moore's next series, Moore waggled left, had Marcedes Lewis WIDE OPEN, but overthrew him. On the next play, Moore waggled right, beat Mat Ball's outside contain to the corner, and took off, but the whistle stopped the action. On play action, Moore fired a bullet to Kezirian, but it was low and incomplete.

Marc Lewis then caught a boot left pass from Drew Olson. Although Matt Clark applied a hit right after the catch, Marc mostly shrugged it off. The thought of Marc Lewis alone in the flat with a CB is one that should warm Bruin football fans' hearts…

Tyler Ebell then went up the middle for a couple. Drew Olson again tried to waggle left, but Bruce Davis was there for the ‘sack.' Then Drew again hit Marc Lewis on waggle left. This time Brandon Chillar was on Lewis, and I don't think a tackle hitting #19 up high is going to get him down come game time….what a match-up for UCLA.

Brian Callahan then got the final two reps of team: the first was hopefully a sight UCLA will see a lot of this year.

On a hand-off up the middle, Maurice Drew burst into the secondary going full-speed from his second step, it seemed. As Eric McNeal converged on him from his right, Drew planted his left foot, vectored left and left McNeal and the rest of the D far behind on way to an untouched TD run. It will take a great, highly aggressive tackler to nail Maurice if he gets into the secondary this year; the same can and should be said of Ebell.

On the next play, Callahan waggled left, found Hair on a drag over the middle, and delivered a perfectly thrown pass that Hair caught in stride and rumbled for about 17 yards.

Some comments from Coach Jon Embree after practice included these basic ideas:

- The practice was great except for the dropsies the team experienced (there was trouble catching the ball in some of the prior drills and 7-on-7 action)
- The kids are doing everything we are asking of them. They are stepping up. We are asking them to do some mental work with their playbook outside of practice, and they are responding.
- They've absorbed our new systems well. They're smart kids.
- We're asking the WRs to do some new things regarding pass catching technique, it's different than what has been ingrained in them in previous years, and they've responded.
- Re: the freshmen: I love'em. They are mentally tough kids. They can take some hard coaching.

Matt Slater was out today with a toe problem. Joe Cowan strained a hamstring and did not practice. Derrick Williams was in shorts, shoulder pads and helmet with a slight concussion incurred yesterday.

I overhead some encouraging comments from Kevin Brown to a BRO to the effect of:
- I'm happy with how I'm doing
- It feels great to be a Bruin and to be out here
- I love the competition from the other DL

Kevin Brown and Junior Lemau'u were getting some adjusting instruction from DJ about their stance.

At one point during team, the Bruin DL was Kevin Harbour at LDE, Lemau'u at DT, Brown at NG and Bruce Davis at RDE. They looked pretty good! Junior as a warrior inside is an appealing idea. Alex Potasi got some reps at LT and moved well faced up with Davis.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the practice was that no Bruin seemed gassed. No one was in visible agony. Water was widely available, and the guys were sweating freely all day from their arms and legs, a sign of good physical condition.

Which begs the question: how did the Bruins get in such good collective shape? I had the chance to ask someone in the know about Doc Kreis' summer conditioning, and here with a BRO exclusive (CLANNGGGGGG, dateline Fullerton) is what your intrepid correspondent learned:

At 6:30 am, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the Bruins gathered for summer conditioning.

First the players would run 10 100 yd dashes (at 85% speed) and 8 80 yd dashes to warm up.

Then there would be agility drills: set up the cones in the shape of an L, run forward, cut right/left, shuffle to the end, shuffle back, back pedal to the starting point.

Then set up the cones in a T, trace the letter…

Then run 8 "suicides" from 50 yards down to 10 (ie, run 50 and back, 40 and back, etc.) This was done in three groups (big guys, medium guys and little guys).

Then 8 "suicides" of 40 yards, then 20 yards (ie, run 40 and back, run 20 and back, stop).

Then there would be individual work: one player would get into a harness that offered resistance and run 30 yards.

Resistance running was also done with bungee cords.

Then the players would lift weights...

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