Defense Still Looks Tough

The running game gets on track a bit with Jason Harrison, but generally the defense still looked ahead of the offense in Thursday's scrimmage, as it should be in spring...

The scrimmage was again dominated by the defense, as it naturally is in spring. The offense wasn't very effective, particularly throwing the ball, with the passing game generally being out of rhythm and harassed by a defensive line that was constantly in the backfield. If the defensive line were allowed to actually hit and tackle the quarterbacks, Cory Paus and John Sciarra would have been on their backs for most of the scrimmage.

First, there were a number of players who sat out the scrimmage for mostly minor nicks.

Defensively, Marcus Reese didn't see too much time; Patrick Pierre-Louis has a sprained ankle; Brandon Chillar has minor injuries; Rusty Williams sprained an ankle during practice; and Matt Ware – minor injury (a bruised forearm I believe). That's in addition to the Ben Emanuel, who is out for all of spring practice.

So, even though that left the defensive ranks a little thin,, the defense, particularly the defensive line, looks outstanding at this point in spring. Not only do you have Rod Leisle, but the Ball brothers, Ryan Boschetti and Asi Faoa, who all looked good in Thursday's scrimmage. Both Mat and Dave Ball made some nice plays, catching runners behind the line. Boschetti was responsible for at least two pseudo sacks, and Faoa a sack, a tackle for a loss, and basic havoc.

At linebacker, Tim Warfield made some nice plays, a couple of nice tackles and a tackle for loss.

The defensive backs generally had a good day. Not to take anything away from them, but it's easier to cover receivers when quarterbacks are for the most part running for their lives. Ricky Manning looked great, showing experience in breaking for the ball. Joe Hunter had a few nice break-ups and covered well, particularly on a couple of plays when he was up against Tab Perry. Matt Clark had a pick and also covered well. Keith Short had a couple of nice knock-downs also. Out of necessity, Short played some safety. Defensive back coach R. Todd Littlejohn generally had a smile on his face for most of the day.

On offense, Craig Bragg sat out the scrimmage due to a minor injury. Tyler Ebell sat because of a concussion. Bryce Bohlander bruised a knee in the scrimmage. This is all in addition to the guys who haven't participated in practice for a while: center John Ream (toe), guard Shane Lehmann (concussion), and receiver Jon Dubravac (unknown).

The quarterbacks weren't fantastic overall, but again, you have to give them some slack. Not only is it spring, and they're kicking off the rust and getting their timing down, in yesterday's scrimmage they were again under constant attack from the defensive line.

Cory Paus is improving steadily, looks more comfortable and is throwing a better, more consistent ball. Many of his passes weren't completed for various reason, mostly because of generally being out of sync in timing with the receivers and the pass rush.

John Sciarra, while he still looks very inexperienced and raw in the scrimmages, showed some more encouraging signs Thursday. He's still not ready to play big-time college football, but in the scrimmage he showed more poise and threw better balls. He hit Mike Seidman deep for a 45-yard gain.

The offensive line, while not near full strength, is still a worry. They're pass protection is a concern at this point. The first-team line generally didn't open up too many holes for the running backs against the first-team defense.

The running backs had a better collective showing in this scrimmage than last. Perhaps the most noteworthy was freshman Jason Harrison, who must have run for 100 yards on the day. He had two nice bursts through the defense, one for 55 yards and another for 25. Take into consideration, though, Harrison generally isn't running against the first-team defense while Akil Harris and Manuel White are. Harrison isn't blazingly fast, but he's very shifty, and finds running room with moves and burst.

Wendell Mathis also had some good moments, showing his ability to explode through a hole.

Akil Harris and Manuel White had solid performances. Harris ran for probably 40 yards on the day, while White probably pounded out 30. Both looked like the were running with energy.

The wide receivers are growing into a concern, especially when the go-to guy, Craig Bragg, sits out the scrimmage. Tab Perry looks like an NFL player size-wise, but right now he's not in a good rhythm. Perry did make one good catch on a hook, and gained some yards out of it with a nice move. He also returned kicks and, surprisingly, punts. Perry doesn't seem to really have the burst to be able to be effective as a punt returner, but perhaps they coaches are looking for more options there who can be more sure-handed.

To my recollection, Junior Taylor didn't have a ball thrown his way. Freshman walk on Josh Roenicke caught a couple of balls. But without Ryan Smith, Craig Bragg and even Jon Dubravac on the squad, the receivers are extremely thin and limited from a play-making standpoint.

Mike Seidman is looking more like he will emerge as a bona fide star of this team. He has very good hands, runs great routes, and needs a couple of DBs to bring him down. He had another very good scrimmage.

In attendance was Tom Grady, the 6-6 quarterback prospect from Huntington Beach Edison. He was the very attentive companion of quarterback coach John Pearce for most of the day. While most observers were commenting on how thin Grady looks, he weighed 213 pounds at the Nike Camp, which leads you to believe that he could come into college at 225+ and get to a playing weight over 230. It's encouraging that someone with his height wouldn't be 180 pounds and already be heavier than he appears.

Some Comments from Head Coach Bob Toledo…

On some of the injuries…

"Chillar has a hamstring pull. There are several guys that are nicked up that we were keeping out. No one too serious. Nothing serious right now. Pierre-Louise came late from a class and forgot to get taped and he sprained his ankle in a drill. He'll learn. Ebell has a concussion. That happened Monday I think. Lehmann has the concussion and he's been out for over a week. That concerns you, obviously. With all the other guys, nothing serious has happened so far, and that's the thing you worry about in spring practice."

On Jason Harrison in the scrimmage…

"Jason Harrison did some nice things. He's getting more aggressive with the ball, understanding what to do more. He's got some talent and ability. I was pleased to see it. Mathis has some ability, too."

On other standouts in the scrimmage…

"Ball looked like he did some nice things. Rod Leisle. Manning did some good things. They're throwing a little too much to his side I think. Clark did some nice things. Boschetti is playing real hard. I like him. He made some nice plays. McCloskey did a nice job at center. He was with the ‘ones' today. We're rotating him and Mociler. He did a nice job. He's very athletic. He reminds me of Flanagan when we had him. Seidman is playing really well. I thought Paus did a nice job on that first series.

"Faoa is up against the second O-line. That's the thing. For many, it's a mismatch and it's not fair. We have younger guys against older guys. Asi's a starter when you look at him. We have three or four guys at defensive end who could start for us, so he's going against freshmen and sophomores. But the younger guys will get better going against such good competition. Like Efseaff is going against Leisle all the time. And Saffer had to go against Kenyon Coleman all the time. That's what makes you frustrated in the scrimmage as a coach. People see this and evaluate you in spring and think that's how you're going to be in fall and you'd never win a game. But we beat Alabama, beat Michigan, and we couldn't get a snap out here at spring practice two years ago if you recall. I don't get overly concerned as much as the people in stands, if you know what I'm talking about. We'll be fine."

On the punt and kick-off returners…

"Ebell did a nice job when he was healthy. Bragg can do it. Perry did it a little bit today. Kick-off returns, we had some nice kick-off returns. We're doing it live in the spring, which I've never done. So, some individuals are showing some things."

On the long-snapping situation…

"With Rusty Williams hurt, it's a little concern, because we don't have a lot of people there. We have to develop some people there. Hopefully some freshmen will come in who can do it as well. Today we had a couple of high snaps. Rusty can snap it really well. And actually David Tautofi has some ability. He just needs some coaching and we hope he gets better."

On weakside linebacker…

"Audie is there. I think Spencer Havner has a lot of ability. If he can continue to get better he'll push in the fall. Pierre-Louis was doing some nice things before he sprained his ankle. And we have some freshmen, too. So we'll wait and see. It's a spot I expect to be open for a while. It's up for grabs. We had Warfield playing inside a little today. So we want to look at him inside, too. We're just evaluating a lot of people and that's what spring is all about."

On Mike Seidman getting the ball more this year than last…

"It's the same offense, we're just throwing him the ball. That's what was frustrating last year. He was open, we just weren't throwing him the ball."

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