With the way the practices are situation at CLU, the press was finally able to witness a Bruin drill up close, and it was everything I had thought it was from across Spaulding Field.
The Bruin drill is when you pit a blocker and against a tackler, while a ball carrier goes by them, and the tackler tries to shed his block and tackle the ball carrier. It is very good at showing who is good at the very basics of football, being able to block defenders or shed blockers. It matches up smaller guys – say wide receivers against defensive backs – as well as offensive lineman and defensive lineman head to head.
On Wednesday, in the Bruin drill, there were a few standouts (This is by no means comprehensive, since there are four lines of this drill going on simultaneously). Sean Phillips and Steve Morgan were very impressive, throwing off their blockers aggressively and tackling the ball carrier. Both were particularly physical, and had a couple of reps where they manhandled their blocker and ball carrier. Ryan Boschetti was also exceptional, on one rep picking up his blocker and throwing him aside and then hitting the ball carrier in the chest and riding him onto his back. Thomas Patton, the freshman defensive tackle, also had a couple of good reps where he easily handled his blocker physically and contained the ball carrier. On the offensive side, guard Eyoseph Efseaff blocked his tackler into the ground and wouldn't let him off the turf.
Among the non-lineman Brandon Chillar and Marcus Reese looked quick, solid and physical. Matt Ware was able to overcome his blocker with his quickness and power. But also a few younger players had some good reps, including Justin London, Jarrad Page, James Jessen, Jibril Raymo, and Marcus Cassel. Page was pretty impressive, physically able to manhandle his blocker and ball carrier. Again, one of the surprises of the camp continues to be Cassel. In practice so far, he not only had improved his coverage skills, but had looked increasingly phyiscal and aggressive. He again showed it in the Bruin drill Wednesday, displaying some good power for being a cornerback in shedding blocks.
Even though the team was in pads for the first time, there still was no tacking. Head Coach Bob Toledo said, "Yeah, they're still just pillow-fighting out there." He said today, Thursday, there would be a controlled scrimmage, but didn't specify if it'd be in the morning or afternoon, that would consist of some actual tackling for the first time.
In the scrimmage Wednesday, the defense continues to had an edge on the offense, which is expected. Marcus Reese had a good afternoon, being around the ball and continually stuffing running plays coming down the middle. Pierre Patrick-Louis continues to be a pleasant surprise. While he's getting some "constructive criticism" at times for being out of position, he has consistently made some good plays. On Tuesday, on a couple of running plays he was very quick and effective at plugging holes and getting to the running back.
On the line, the Balls had a good afternoon in the scrimmage, showing great strength and ability to be physical with their blockers.
In the defensive backfield, Joe Hunter made more advances in the afternoon, turning in a a few nice covers that shut down his receivers.
On offense, there were some performances to be optimistic about. Cory Paus relatively returned to form and had a good practice in the afternoon throwing the ball. He threw a beautiful deep out to Tab Perry, that Perry had on the tips of his fingers but dropped (which has been fairly unusual for Perry this fall so far). Paus threw a very pretty strike in the redzone drill for a touchdown to Ryan Smith, with Smith making a nice catch in the back of the end zone on a slant.
John Sciarra had a solid afternoon, throwing well on the short ball. It might have been the practice that Drew Olson struggled the most, with his ball tending to fade and not being as tight as it had. Matt Moore didn't get a chance to show much, but threw a couple of nice short outs.
The story offensively Wednesday afternoon was probably the running backs. Every running back turned in a nice run. Tyler Ebell probably had the best. He made a good cut at the line and then shot through a hole and got behind the defensive backs. The homer Ventura County crowd erupted in cheers. Wendell Mathis had a couple of nice ones, one in particular where he hesitated, got the defenders committed, and then shot through a hole for a big gain. Jason Harrison looked good on a few runs, but also looked very good catching the ball out of the backfield.
The offensive line supplied a few very nice holes in the limited scrimmage, but also allowed some defenders to penetrate on other plays and make stops behind the line. Today, once real tackling is allowed, will be the first real indication of how the offensive line is doing, particularly in pass blocking.
Comments from Coach Toledo:
On the first day in pads...
"It was the first day in pads and we had good intensity and great effort today. We haven't had a bad practice yet. They've worked extremely hard."
Marcedes Lewis possibly has a mild concussion and could sit out a few days. Rod Leisle is day to day, but Coach Toledo said, "I don't think he's going to be doing anything for a while."
On who has impressed him on defense...
"Ricky Manning has done a real nice job. Chillar is doing a real nice job. Spencer Havner has done some things. He's very athletic. I think the Balls and Faoa have done a nice job. If you look at some rookie guys, Page has done some nice things. Justin London is very impressive."
On the defense being ahead of the offense...
"It's expected. The offense is more timing. And it takes a while. And we're not game-planning yet. I'm not that concerned about execution as much as the physical aspect of it at this point."
On a timetable to naming a backup quarterback...
"We're seeing them more and more and we don't want to be too impatient about it. We're definitely not going to do anything before Saturday. We'll wait until the scrimmage Saturday and then look, and then maybe wait until Wednesday. After the Rose Bowl scrimmage, we'll definitely make a decision then. After Wednesday, we'll be able to put together (a depth chart) for Colorado State."
On the possibility of Asi Faoa starting and at what position, left or right defensive end...
"Well, they're all playing right and left end right now. They're moving around. The tackles are also playing left and right. We're doing that to create depth. We'll play the best two ends and then the best two tackles."