Efseaff was slated to be the starting weakside tackle. But since he's been out since Sunday, Robert Cleary has stepped in and is making a run for the starting job. The 6-7, 305-pound junior was originally a tackle but converted to guard last spring.
No matter who wins the starting spot, it's a great sign that Cleary, who was a highly-regarded recruit out of high school but had yet to deliver on that promise, is now playing well. UCLA was thin at offensive line and needed some more players to step up this fall and prove they could play.
It also bodes better for the future. Next season UCLA will lose seniors Efseaff, strongside guard Steven Vieira and strongside tackle Paul Mociler. Starting center Mike McCloskey and weakside tackle Ed Blanton will be seniors, and you would think that back-up center Robert Chai, who is considered among the top five or six linemen on the team right now, would probably be utilized at one open guard position. If Cleary proves this year that he's worthy, and can step in easily to a starting guard position, it would make the transition to next season that much smoother. UCLA would only have to find a totally new replacement for Mociler at strongside tackle for their 2005 offensive line.
Along with Efseaff, the other familiar faces that sat out practice Wednesday afternoon were Manuel White (concussive symptoms), Jebiaus Brown (bruised neck), Junior Taylor (bruised hip), Andrew Baumgartner (ankle) and Tab Perry. Perry sat out not because of an injury but due to NCAA rules that dictate he can only practice once a day for his first five days of practice.
Noah Sutherland got some reps at defensive end with the makeshift starters, replacing Bruce Davis for a period. It appears that the coaches like Davis primarily as a pass rusher and, in fact, he zipped right around starting tackle Ed Blanton for a sack in an 11-on-11 scrimmage Wednesday.
Linebacker Spencer Havner looked particularly good all day Wednesday. He has that great knack for the ball, being able to jump routes well. And he's also been racking up tackles defending against the run.
Back-up strong safety Dennis Keyes had a nice interception in the afternoon.
The three back-up safeties – Keyes, Eric McNeal (strong) and Chris Horton (free) -- have all had very impressive fall camps so far. They will not only provide very good back-up minutes this year but push the starters, Jarrad Page (strong) and Ben Emanuel (free).
With Maurice Drew absent Wednesday afternoon while attending the funeral of Concord De La Salle teammate Terrance Kelly, and with White out due to injury, the other tailbacks took advantage of their increased reps. The true freshman, Chris Markey, did in particular, busting a couple of nice runs, showing good explosion to the line and some shiftiness in avoiding tacklers. Redshirt freshman fullback Michael Pitre, who has taken up right where he left on in spring, took some snaps as the lone running back.
Former UCLA great Wendell Tyler attended the afternoon practice with his son Marc Tyler, who is a standout sophomore running back prospect at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian.
Karl Dorrell's comments:
"Another good practice. I'm very pleased with what the team is doing. The defense did some great things, particular with the morning practice and then following it up in the afternoon. Offensively we're doing some growing, and not only having some growing pains, but doing some great things with some young players who are getting used to our system and getting better and better. I'm very pleased with today. We had a good morning and a good afternoon practice. We have three young offensive linemen – Shannon Tevaga, Brian Abraham, and Chris Joseph -- on our second team that have done some really good things and we're happy. Each day they're getting better and better. They're not getting overwhelmed with all the information that's been put in. Those are good signs of things to come. Drew Olson looks sharp. The passing game looks sharp. Tab Perry only practiced this morning because he has to go through a five-day period of just one practice a day. But we'll have him going tomorrow (Thursday). The receivers are starting to come around and do some things. Craig Bragg has been consistent. Some of those younger players – Joe Cowan, and a couple of those freshmen – have come in an done some good things. So, good backs, good receivers, good quarterbacks, the line is coming around – I'm very happy with the offense and the progress we're making there. Defensively there are some good young players up front that are starting to feel comfortable with what they're doing. I'm very pleased with the effort and where we are in camp."
On the three young OLs exceeding expectation: "They have. I wasn't anticipating more than one or two helping us, but there are a few guys that have a chance to do great things for us and provide that depth at offensive line."
On some of the injuries: "Efseaff's groin is still a little sore. He came out and did some individual work with the line, hitting the sled, and then it felt like it was starting to get sore again. So we backed him off and that's why he wasn't out here this afternoon. Junior Taylor has that sore hip. We think it's just a contusion and he'll be ready to go by Saturday. He might even be able to go by tomorrow (Thursday). We'll see how he feels tomorrow morning. Jebiaus Brown feels great. His eyes are a little light sensitive, so that's really the only issue right now. The soreness in his neck has calmed down. So I would expect he'd be back in the next couple of days. We probably won't risk scrimmaging him. He might practice tomorrow or Friday."