And it got a bit better Wednesday when receiver Tab Perry participated in practice for the first time since the spring of 2003.
He can only dress in a helmet, jersey and shorts today and tomorrow, and then shoulder pads for Friday and Saturday before putting on full pads for the first time on Sunday (which almost certainly will keep him out of Saturday's scrimmage). But Perry participated in every non-contact drill he could with the wide receivers and looked exceptional this morning. Perry appearing leaner and very quick. He made some nice cuts and had a couple of nice receptions, including one where he juked a corner for a 20-yard touchdown catch. He worked in with the 3s, but wide receiver coach Dino Babers was personally tutoring Perry, bringing him up to the line and explaining what he needed to do on every down. It was obvious Perry was pretty excited himself about being back.
Wide receiver Junior Taylor dressed but didn't participate in practice, still hampered by the sore hip that he suffered yesterday.
Defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu was fully dressed for the first time in several days and participated in the non-contact line drills. Offensive guard Eyoseph Efseaff, who is returning from a groin injury, did some limited work. Freshman wide receiver Marcus Everett, coming back from a concussion, did non-contact drills with the receivers n a red-non-contact jersey, looking good catching a couple of balls.
Walk-on wide receiver Andrew Baumgartner didn't participate in practice, sporting a walking boot on one foot.
Perhaps the other best news of the fall has been the performance of Drew Olson, but this morning all of the quarterbacks had good performances. It must be something in the water that quarterbacks coach Jim Svoboda is giving them, but there has been a huge jump in performance after just one week of fall camp in the quarterbacks. Olson is very good, but back-up David Koral has made some big leaps forward, as has walk-on Brian Callahan and even freshman Patrick Cowan. All four of them threw excellent balls this morning—tight spirals and very accurate. It could just be the imagination, but it looks like Koral, Callahan and Cowan have all markedly improved their throwing motions in just a week.
After yesterday when the offense had its way with the defense, today the defense had its day. For a period of about a half hour during various situational 11-on-11 drills, the #1 and #2 defenses dominated both the first and second string offenses. With the defensive line particularly depleted, some players have really stepped up, most notably recently converted defensive ends William Snead and Nikola Dragovic. Both made some good plays this morning, both getting sacks and showing their quickness in stopping the run.
Kevin Brown, the sophomore defensive tackle, also had some good moments, particularly in stuffing the run. He also caused a fumble from running back Chris Markey that was picked up and advanced by Justin London.
Charles Thompson, the walk-on, has also switched from OL to DT, and had a couple of tackles this morning.
Marcedes Lewis looks unguardable in the redzone offense, just being too big and too able to use his body for position, catching a couple of touchdown passes. Craig Bragg had a stellar morning, catching a couple of short touchdown passes and then a long, crossing pattern with the ball put perfectly in his hands from Olson. Bragg and Olson are definitely looking synced up so far this fall.
The #1 offensive line did generally well this morning. Once the defense had its moments, the offense rallied later in the practice, with the offensive line opening up good running holes. Tackle Ed Blanton pancaked defensive end Justin Hickman on one down. Running back Derrick Williams benefitted, with a few nice runs, and Markey had a 10 yard gain. Fullback Michael Pitre caught a little dump-off from Olson and leveled London in the flat, which caused a few oohs from the Spaulding Field crowd. London responded with a tackle on the next play and then, a few plays later, a nice sack, sprinting up the middle of the line.
The defensive backs have really shown solid coverage abilities, with Matt Clark, Marcus Cassel and Nnamdi Ohaeri all being glued on their receivers and causing nice break-ups. On one play, Olson threw a perfect out to Joe Cowan, who almost pulled it in but he was covered perfectly by Ohaeri.
Attending practice this morning was committed running back/defensive back Aaron Ware from Westlake Village Oaks Christian and wide receiver Gavin Ketchum from Oak Park.
Karl Dorrell's comments:
On the status of Junior Taylor: "He's still sore. He wanted to practice today but we held him out. He wanted to do more than what he did today, but I want to make sure he's completely ready to go. I don't want him to press too early, and make sure he has a good showing this weekend (at the scrimmage)."
On Tab Perry: "He has some fresh legs, huh? He definitely has fresh legs compared to everybody else. It was refreshing to see him back out here. He definitely looks the part, doesn't he? The players are rallying around him, and they're excited that he's back."
On where Perry will play: "He'll play flanker. That's the position he played, where he played most of his career, so we'll start him back there. He'll play inside for us too, with some nickel things and then with some three wides. We'll move him around."
On the quarterbacks' performances: "They've gotten better. Each day they've progressed. They're getting a better feel of the offense. But they still get the drops here and there that you get frustrated with." On the defense: "It's coming together, too. The young players on the front are making some plays. Will Snead did a nice job today, in some of our live scrimmage situations. It's nice that he made a change, and he's made a nice change, where he sees the benefit of the position he's in right now."
On Michael Pitre: "He did a nice job today. He's a hard runner. He's one of those guys that when he gets moving he's a hard body to bring down. His presence was felt today. He's a good player. He can run the ball and he's a good blocker. He had a good spring. Remember he didn't do anything in the fall, and it's nice to have him back. We know he'll help our football program."
On how he'll use Pitre: "We'll do a lot of different things with a lot of guys. And he's intriguing because he can do a lot of things. That's how our offense is now built. He's an effective blocker and ballcarrier, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. There are a lot of things he can do."
On what he's looking for in free safety Ben Emanuel: "He's going to step up his game, in terms of how he's playing. He's going to also add more leadership in that secondary because of his experience. Is he talented? Yes. He has all the equipment to be a fine, fine player. What we're asking of him is consistency, consistency in what he does on the practice field and will transfer to the game. He's done pretty well so far in camp. We're just asking him for some consistency. We would like him to be in the positions where he's supposed to be, like most of our players, particularly our defensive backs and linebackers. It's making sure that you're handling your responsibility and you're in the spot you're supposed to be, and to play fast. It was a good practice today for our defense. They did well in doing those things today. I think they made some changes in their own mind, saying ‘This is how we have to be.' So it was a good practice for our blue team."
On Nikola Dragovic: "He's done very well. He's made his transition from the offense when he first arrived. He's learned the defensive end position, and he's comfortable now where he's starting to let his ability take over. He made a few plays today, rushing the passer, and plays in the backfield. He's been a pleasant surprise for us."
On whether the younger defensive ends need to improve their run defense rather than their pass rush: "Both. They're not the biggest guys. We have guys that are under-sized in many respects. The way they'll have to play is to maximize their quickness, explosion and playing with a good pad level. That's going to help in the run game when you are under-sized. That's where we are with that position. It's a good position to be since these guys are good athletes. Dragovic and Snead are going to play."
On the situation at right corner: "That situation will continue to rotate daily, like you've been seing, with Cassel and Ohaeri. Both of them have stepped out of the pack, like in the Tour de France. They both have had very effective camps and have separated themselves from the pack. Now it's a two-man race."