Practice Gets More Physical

The team has been chomping at the bit to hit, and got a little more taste of it on Tuesday. More players are starting to step up...

The team did a little more hitting, but still didn't go full out in its tackling. There were two mini-scrimmages that gave us probably the best look at the team so far during spring practice, even though it was still just a small glimpse.

In just that glimpse, perhaps the player that made an impression the most was redshirt freshman tailback Wendell Mathis. Mathis carried the ball just a few times, but showed great quickness and explosion. On one run, he went around end, was in traffic, then made a lightning-quick cut to the outside and was gone up the sideline. While UCLA is still trying to be reserved in its judgement of Mathis, and all of the redshirt freshmen tailbacks, especially since Mathis is still pretty raw and could gain some muscle, it's apparent that Mathis might be emerging as a serious long-term option at tailback. Jason Harrison got some reps but didn't do anything remarkable. Tyler Ebell caught a pass working from the slot receiver position, but was thrown to the ground by Audie Attar pretty convincingly. Manuel White is working as a tailback and in the "lion" offense, which puts him in the fullback position. He caught a pass out of the lion and looked strong and lion-esque running the ball. When White lines up at tailback with Pat Norton in front of him at fullback, that's five hundred pounds slamming through the line. Akil Harris looked solid but not spectacular.

A day after the wide receivers look pretty good, the receivers generally had a pretty lousy day Tuesday, dropping balls all over the field. Just about every one of the receivers had the dropsies. Craig Bragg sat out practice with a cold, so in the min-scrimmage, Junior Taylor stepped in alongside Tab Perry on the starters. Taylor did catch a 40-yard bomb from Cory Paus, which was a nice throw, with Paus having to roll, step up and throw it on the run. Even Mike Seidman bobbled a ball, which ended up in the hands of safety Jibril Raymo.

The defensive line, generally, looks to still be dominating, putting quite a bit of pressure on Paus in the scrimmage. Rod Leisle was in Paus's face a few times. The line also clogged the running lanes pretty well also. A few of the younger offensive linemen were getting beat pretty soundly.

In the scrimmage, Sciarra's inexperience came out. When rushed and having to make decisions, his fundamentals broke down a few times, having to resort to throwing desperation balls sidearm and off-balance. Paus had a pretty good day, showing confidence in running the team, and hitting receivers on both long and short throws. He was under pressure quite a bit. Matt Ware ran the option a few times in the scrimmage and looked very quick hitting holes.

Matt Clark twisted his knee in a drill, sat out for a portion of practice and was limping when he re-joined the scrimmage. Coach Bob Toledo said he didn't think Clark's injury was serious. Ricky Manning got a headache when he ran into Mike Seidman on passing drill and sat out the rest of practice.

John Ream, the slated starting center, re-injured a toe injury he had surgery on during the off-season. It's uncertain how much of spring practice he'll miss.

There will be a more full-scale scrimmage during practice on Thusday.

Comments from Coach Toledo:

On the goal of "team unity":

"We have two goals for this year. I picked the goals this year. They picked them last year, I picked them this year. The number one thing is team unity. It's important that you stick together. Some of the problems last year was when we started losing, we splintered a little bit. The second goal will be to win the upcoming game. Not the third game, fourth game, tenth game, just the next game, and don't worry about the past. So, basically we have two goals for the season."

On whether the team improved Tuesday from it's poor showing on Monday in practice:

"No question. When you get three days off, you have a tendency to do that. I don't want to accept that and I've told them next Monday better be better. What happens is we change up the days. Some days we hit more, some days we hit less. Sometimes the tempo makes them practice that way, too. You can't hit and scrimmage all the time. So, today was more of a physical day and I think they got into it a little more."

On Ryan Smith's status:

"He had his ankle operated on. He was in the meetings today and he feels very good, and he thinks he'll be fine in the fall. He won't practice obviously."

On Wendell Mathis:

"Mathis has some ability. I like those young tailbacks. They all have something going. Yeah, but he has some quickness and speed."

With Manuel White emerging last spring, on Mathis maybe emerging this spring:

"Yeah, I think so. As they learn more, he's doing good. I think Tyler Ebell is doing fine. There are some guys that are starting to step up. Keith Carter is starting to step up. Mociler at center is starting to do some nice things. Defensively, Matt Clark has really improved from a year ago. So, has Jibril Raymo. I like Boschetti, the JC defensive lineman. He has a lot of energy. But we go and practice and more guys will show up and we'll continue to get better."

On the cornerback situation:

"We're feeling pretty good about it right now. Obviously Ricky Manning is the guy. Joe Hunter is showing some nice things and Matt Clark has improved tremendously. I think Marcus Cassel is making progress. So, if they continue to do that we can leave Ware at safety. And of course we're bringing in freshmen, too, that can play corner and safety.

On weakside linebacker:

"Havner was sick today. He has a lot of talent, so we're excited about him. Audie has a little bit of a bruised shoulder, hurt it last Thursday. Patrick Pierre-Louis is very athletic and has a nice motor, he just quite know everything that is going on. But, yeah, we like what we see there."

On center:

"Ream will miss a lot of practice. He's re-injured the toe he had surgery on in the off-season. He strained it last Thursday, but I don't think it's serious. So, right now Mociler and McCloskey are the two guys."

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