The Team Takes Shape

Friday's practice has some good moments, especially in the Bruin drill and the pass rush drill. After a full week of practice at Cal Lutheran, it's time to assess the potential depth chart...

Two drills really stand out in recent practices: The Bruin drill and the pass rush drill. They're similar in many ways, and they really illustrate who can play in the trenches.

The offensive line fared much better today in both drills than they had the previous day.

Mike Saffer generally does well in the pass rush drill, holding his own against the best defensive lineman on the team. Steve Vieira also did very well, even though he was slightly embarrassed when freshman DL C.J. Niusulu beat him one time. The UCLA staff always says that they need nasty linemen, and Vieira fits the bill. Eyoseph Efseaff waged some battles today, against Asi Faoa in the Bruin drill, and up against Rod Leisle in the pash rush drill, and more or less held his own. The head-to-head against Leisle was a draw, with Efseaff winning one and Leisle bullrushing him and getting the edge in another. Bryce Bohlander had a good day, getting his wins over a few defensive ends head-to-head. Mike McCloskey had a solid performance, which was good especially since he was going up against the veteran defensive tackles. Ed Blanton has a chance to be a good tackle. It's not just his height, but his arms are so long he's able to control the pass rusher. If he's able to keep his feet under him and move quickly, he generally is able to use his long arms to keep the pass rusher off the quarterback. Tyson Clayton, the 6-2, 280-lb. walk-on guard, actually is showing some very good stuff in practice. He's one of the most technically sound and puts in a great effort, which results in some good effectiveness. Clayton has had a good camp at Cal Lu and is making a case for himself on the two-deep. Robert Chai, who's working as a center, also looks fairly good in the drills, with some good aggresiveness, good feet and hands. As he continues to get stronger he should have a chance to be very good.

On the defensive side, Rod Leisle is in a league of his own. He's just too big and strong, and able to bullrush his blocker with brute force. Both Balls, Dave and Mat, looked particularly good; their size combined with good quickness make it very difficult to get leverage on them. Asi Faoa had a few good "rips," but needs to work on the consistency of his technique. When he gets undisciplined, getting high and off-balance, he loses his effectiveness. But he has the best spin move among the DEs. True freshman C.J. Niusulu returned to action today and even though Coach Johnson was riding him, he looked very good in the Bruin drill and pass rush drill. He's such a low load, he's able to get leverage, finds a crack and with his quickness and strength is able to exploit it.

In the Bruin drill, there were others that stood out. Pound for pound, no one is better than Ricky Manning. It's phenomenal how much power that little body can unleash. And even though he's getting bigger (He says he's 209 now), Matt Ware also packs a lot of punch per pound. He never gets beat in the Bruin drill, sheds his blocker and makes the tackle. Justin London had a few good reps. He looks like he's gaining more confidence every day and getting more comfortable. If there's anyone who is the buzz around the camp among the onlookers as well as the players, it's London.

In the 7-on-7s and scrimmages, there were some good moments. The defensive backs continue to look good, with varying players stepping up every day. Matt Clark picked off a Cory Paus throw in the end zone during the red zone drill. Jibril Raymo had a run stop, and if he had been able go all out and hit, he would have leveled the balll carrier. Jarrad Page had a number of good plays and looks very effective in short passing coverage situations.

Among the linebackers, Marcus Reese continues to be the most consistent standout. He's all around the ball and making big hits. Patrick Pierre-Louis also continues to show that his performance isn't a fluke, doing really well defending against the run, especially on pitches and sweeps when he can use his quickness. On the line, David Tautofi is quietly working his way into a bigger profile on the team, it appears. He works at both tackle and defensive end, and has done a pretty solid job. He's shown some good pass rushing ability, in particular. Rusty Williams had a few good moments today, particularly in the scrimmage, looking good in the pass rush and getting one sack and another hurry.

On offense, Paus has put together a few solid days recently. With the team practicing "live" now in practice, that is full speed and tackling, he has shown how his experience makes him so far advanced compared to the other quarterbacks. He has made some mistakes in the last few days, but has also made some very nice plays and throws. He threw a couple of deep balls that demanded touch today, hitting his receiver in stride.

Given the performances so far by the backup quarterbacks, it would be an upset at this point if Drew Olson wasn't named the #2 QB. He is overall the second-most effective quarterback, being able to execute the offense and complete the short passes with precision.

Sciarra has shown some good stuff, but he'll follow up a couple of good throws with a not-so-good throw, which will more than likely keep him behind Olson.

Ryan Smith, the junior wide receiver, is so consistent, making catches and plays every day, and today was no exception. He also is tough, looking strong and aggressive in the Bruin drill.

Depth Chart Speculation

After almost a full week of practice at CLU, some of the question marks in the two deep might be getting clearer. While Head Coach Bob Toledo won't release a depth chart until after the Rose Bowl scrimmage next Wednesday, it seems like we've had enough time at Cal Lu to speculate about it.

On the offensive line, Steve Vieira is clearly the starter at right guard. There is still competition at center between McCloskey and Paul Mociler, but McCloskey might have a slight edge. But after the starters, it gets a little hazier. Shane Lehmann has been hindered by little injuries, but he doesn't look to be stepping up at this point. Tyson Clayton could very well overtake him on the depth chart. Ed Blanton would be the next to play at tackle. Robert Cleary would probably be the next most ready at guard, with Matt Mosebar after him at tackle. So, the starting five look to be Bohlander, Efseaff, McCloskey, Vieira and Saffer. The first backup at center or guard could be Mociler, then possibly Clayton and Lehmann. At tackle, Blanton would be first off the bench. That's probably your top nine OLs for the season. Cleary and Mosebar probably will see playing time in just mop up situations.

At wide receive, it looks like the rotation of five is Tab Perry, Craig Bragg, Smith, Jon Dubravac and Junior Taylor. Next in waiting would be Garrett Lepisto, and then Josh Roenicke as the #7 receiver. Marcedes Lewis will also plug in here.

At running back, all indications are that Akil Harris and Manuel White will divide time at tailback. And as of now, it looks like all three of the freshmen tailbacks – Tyler Ebell, Jason Harrison and Wendell Mathis – will get equal time backing up the two "starters." The depth chart could very well not be set in stone until the games and someone steps up and establishes the depth chart with their performances.

On defense, it's more uncertain at this point. On the line, Leisle is obviously sewn up for one tackle position, and it looks like Sean Phillips might have an edge on the second, but Steve Morgan will be shuttled in quite a bit. At defensive end, Dave Ball has one position sewn up, but Asi Faoa, Mat Ball and Rusty Williams are too close to call at this point. Faoa has an edge in potential, but Williams might be more solid and could earn the starting spot. But then, Ball sometimes looks to have as much potential as Faoa and is as solid as Williams.

At linebacker, the only real competition is at weakside linebacker, where it appears that Spencer Havner might be holding on to a slim lead over Patrick Pierre-Louis. Justin London will almost certainly move ahead of Dennis Link as the backup at middle linebacker. Tim Warfield has done some nice things, and has held on to the backup spot at the strongside backer position behind Brandon Chillar.

In the defensive backfield, it would appear that there are now enough options at cornerback to keep Matt Ware at free safety. Ricky Manning obviously owns one cornerback position. Joe Hunter has looked solid and his experience might win him the other starting CB spot. But Matt Clark is a favorite among the coaches and if Hunter slips in the next two weeks, Clark will overtake him quickly. Marcus Cassel has made a very strong case as the other backup cornerback. Glenn Ohaeri is probably next in line after Cassel. At strong safety, you'd have to give an edge to Ben Emanuel, based on his performance in camp and his experience. But Jibril Raymo is right there. Kevin Brant will more than likely be Ware's backup at free.

Injury update:

Joe Hunter sat out practice due to a pulled hamstring.

Rod Leisle practiced on a limited basis, but will probably not participate in the scrimmage on Saturday. Toledo said he probably wouldn't be 100% by the Colorado State game but almost certainly start.

Craig Bragg sat out practice with his pulled hamstring.

Josh Roenicke was out of the sling but didn't practice.

Sean Phillips had a limited practice, still nursing a sprained ankle.


On the injuries...

"There's nothing serious, we're just being precautious."

On the competiton for the one starting cornerback spot between Joe Hunter and Matt Clark...

"It's going good. We have two guys competing for that position. The best man will win. The one who's out here healthy and playing the best will win. They're both doing well."

On walk-on freshman linebacker James Jessen...

"He's an athletic guy. He's only going to be a redshirt freshman. He came over from volleyball. He put on some weight and strength. He worked hard this summer. He's a ways off yet, but we see some potential there. (Linebacker) coach Dove likes him."

On how good the offensive could be...

"It's a very good college offensive line. It's as good as any we've had. I don't know if it's better, but it's as good. The center is the concern right now. We have tackles that are Pac-10 caliber tackles, and we have two sophomore guards who are really good football players. I like it. But we're trying to develop some depth right now, too. But the center is the big question mark right now."

On Cory Paus's recent performances in practice...

"He kind of started well, and then got a sore shoulder and went down, and now he's come out of it a little bit. He makes some good play, but some bad plays. He just has to eliminate the bad plays. He's doing real well."

On how Paus is throwing the short ball this year compared to last...

"At this point, yes, he's throwing it better. A year ago at this time that thumb was really bothering him."

On the overall experience at Cal Lutheran...

"It's been really good. The kids have worked hard, we haven't had distractions. We have people out here that create some enthusiasm. The meetings have been great. They have big meeting rooms. The food is fantastic. The living quarters are great. It's been a great experience. And the people here have gone out of their way to take care of us. I'm really impressed with the people here. I'd love to come back here next year."

On the inspirational video the team watched Thursday night...

"You remember a guy named Henry Thomas? He was a track athlete at UCLA [in the late ‘80s]. And the moral of the story was he's in jail. He's in there for life. It sent a message. A great message. It was about a 20-minute tape. It showed him as an athlete, showed him talking in jail. Showed how much he regretted what he did and what it's done to his life. It was a message I was trying to send for staying out of trouble.

"And then we watched the first quarter of the Colorado State game. Just to get them to realize: This is why you're out here. They lose sight of it sometimes. They're out here sweating, bleeding and sore, and they lose track of why they're here. We're here because we're going to play Colorado State."

On the scrimmage tomorrow afternoon at UCLA...

"What we've been doing is giving these guys series of four plays, and then six plays, and then we'll go to nine plays, to try to get in some drives. To stress them a little bit more. And we've kept some of the starters out. So, we've tried to build every day. And it will be live, kicks and everything."

On how much the scrimmage impacts the depth chart decisions...

"It does. Not that we'll forget everything that's happened, but that's like, not quite the final exam, but it's right there. It starts separating people. Absolutely."


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