Wednesday Practice

The players are shaking off the rust and the jitters and getting ready for pads tomorrow. Head Coach Bob Toledo and some other coaches talk about their goals and issues for spring...

Perhaps the player who has stood out in the first two days of practice is sophomore cornerback, Matt Clark. Physically, Clark has transformed, adding pounds of muscle to his 5-9 frame, looking more buffed out than his bookend, 5-9 cornerback teammate, Ricky Manning. Clark is thicker, with thicker legs and shoulders, but he hasn't lost a step. In fact, he's been probably the #1 cover corner in the first two days of drills, not only being quick enough to stay within any of the receivers, but physical enough.

"Matthew looks good," cornerback coach Todd Littlejohn said. "We've been joking that he and Ricky are twins."

Joe Hunter has also looked good, and the fact that he's out for spring practice rather than running track shows his dedication to football next season.

While it appears UCLA might have some solid depth at corner, even though it's early, it's looking more and more likely that Matt Ware will stay at free safety. Ware was all for it. "Free safety, I love it," Ware said yesterday, with a big, I'm-going-to-hit-somebody grin. It also enables Ware to be essentially the quarterback of the defense at free safety, able to all the plays and lead the defense. The depth at safety, too, is a concern. Yesterday, Kevin Brant worked with the starting unit at strong safety while Jibril Raymo worked with the second unit. Beyond that, there is only walkon transfer, Chad Rogers, who is hard-nosed player and has a chance to contribute, but it still is an indication of how thin UCLA is at safety. It looks like incoming true freshmen Eric McNeal and Mike Nixon will definitely have a chance at some immediate playing time, if not a clear chance at the starting position of strong safety, unless Raymo or Brant really step up this spring.

"There really is a difference between this spring and last spring," Littlejohn said. "Last spring, we didn't have many defensive backs. It's great to have so many bodies to work with this year."

Speaking of having many bodies, offensive line coach Mark Weber is almost giddy with the amount of big bodies he has to work with. "We have some guys now, some depth, hopefully nothing will jinx it and nothing will happen." Weber is referring to how UCLA, in recent years, builds up depth at the OL, but has then been hit by freak occurrences that has hurt that depth, such as injuries, transfers, etc. As long as none of the linemen's last names begin with "W", it seems that Weber should be okay. In recent years, just about every lineman whose last name begins with a "W" has been cursed and left the program. Currently, no "Ws" in the program. "Except for me," Weber said.

Both Weber and Head Coach Bob Toledo said that the #1 priority for the offense is to establish the starter at center. "We have some pretty talented guys there," Toledo said. "John Ream will get the first opportunity. Mike MCloskey, though, the redshirt freshman, is very athletic and he's up to about 280 now. He was 245 pounds when he came into the program last year. Paul Mociler also is taking some snaps. He's talented and sees it as an opportunity to play. We also would have someone like Efseaff or Lehmann play center in a pinch. And (incoming freshman) Robert Chai might get a look at center."

Having a good showing at a new position was senior walk-on wide receiver Russell Thomas, a former defensive back. In the passing drills, against the DBs, Thomas had some nice moves that separated him from his defender and caught everything thrown at him. He's still pretty inexperienced and raw at the position, but his size (6-3, 187) and quickness make him someone to watch as a possible contributor next year.

The linebackers look particularly quick. Spencer Havner, while he doesn't look anywhere near the 240 that he's now listed (more like 220) is probably the fastest among the linebackers, but Brandon Chillar and Patrick Pierre-Louis have some quicks also. Pierre-Louis was reportedly nervous his first day of practice on Tuesday, but settled his nerves Wednesday and had a good practice.

It's now uncertain whether start defensive lineman, junior Rod Leisle, will miss any of spring practice. He has spoken with the doctors, according to Toledo, and has tentatively decided he'll put off his wrist surgery until after spring practice so he can participate fully.

More comments from Toledo on the first two days of practice:

"The first two days we've only been in helmets. We'll go full pads on Thursday. Right now we're trying to teach some basic things, how to get in and out of the huddle, cadence, calls. Some of these guys need to learn it, like the redshirt freshmen. They'll learn, that's how you do it. Take it slow, put in a little every day, and by the end of spring, we'll have a lot of the offense in."

"Right now, some of them are a little nervous. It's new for them. They're excited."

"With the quarterbacks, we have two and the walk-on. Cory has to get back into it, obviously. His thumb is 90%. John Sciarra will learn a lot. He'll be given a lot of opportunities this spring. We basically have two guys that will get a bunch of work. I want to see Cory improve and gain some confidence, and show some leadership. I just want him to be his old self again. He needs to get some stuff behind him. That's why we had the press conference for him yesterday. We want to end it with that and move on. And that's what he wants to do with his life. Move on. He needs to learn from it, he's been punished, now it's time to move on. All of the off-the-field issues are factors, though. And that's why I decided not to name the starter until the first game. I want him to learn from his mistakes and improve. Probably the biggest thing is I don't want him getting in trouble and to improve on the field and off the field."

"I've spent some time with the committed guys that are out here watching practice, Idris Moss, Wesley Walker, Glenn Ohaeri, Matt Moore and Drew Olson. They're just kind of spending time, following the drills around, watching what's going on."

Wednesday, Matt Moore, Drew Olson, Glenn Ohaeri and Kevin Harbour were in attendance.

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