There wasn't as much live scrimmaging as simulated drives.
The practice consisted of a "thud" drill, which is a scrimmage where the players don't actually tackle, and then the various strings alternating against each live, starting from their own 40 or so and then at the opposing team's 20 for a redzone drill, along with a good amount of time dedicated to special teams.
The first team offense scrimmaged first against the third team defense and, of course, looked great, but it didn't give you any real indication as to where the offense is. The first team defense then scrimmaged against the third team offense, and it was the same story.
It wasn't until pretty late in the Rose Bowl practice that the first teams either went up against the second team or their first team counterparts. And the series were too short to really draw any conclusions about how good each unit is.
A significant note: Marcus Reese was banged up on a kickoff and sat out the second half of the practice. Head Coach Bob Toledo didn't know Reese's status by the end of practice. Dennis Link subbed in for him with the starting unit.
The defense generally continues to look very good. Ryan Boschetti had a couple of tackles for loss and looked very quick shooting through the offensive line. Brandon Chillar couldn't be contained by the second- or third-team offensive lines. The defense continued to get sacks against the second- and third-team offenses with ease.
On offense, no unit was really out there long enough to get in a rhythm. Jason Harrison had a couple of nice runs, including one for about 25 yards.
For a short time, a unit lined up that looked to be the projected starters – Rusty Williams, Sean Phillips, Rod Leisle, and Dave Ball across the line; Brandon Chillar, Marcus Reese and Spencer Havner at the linebackers; and Ricky Manning, Joe Hunter, Ben Emanuel and Matt Ware in the defensive backfield. The coaches did, though, shuttle in new personnel quite a bit, trying to simulate substitution patterns in a real game.
It would appear that Williams will be the starter at the one defensive end position, but Mat Ball and Asi Faoa will probably see a lot of time at both defensive end positions. Steve Morgan will shuttle in and be considered a co-starter at one defensive tackle position, and Boschetti will round out the DT two-deep. Behind those four will be Matt Kocher.
Spencer Havner looks to be a lock for the weakside linebacker position. Wesley Walker could see some time early in the year while Patrick Pierre-Louis is still out. He could play early and still redshirt. Walker did see time with the second unit. Dennis Link looks like he could hold on to the backup middle linebacker position, but will be pushed by Justin London. London will play and probably not redshirt. Tim Warfield made a couple of nice plays and looks to be a solid backup at strongside linebacker. Kirby Joseph hasn't participated much in practice in the last couple of days, hampered by little injuries and is almost certain to redshirt.
Joe Hunter looks to have held on to the one open starting corner position. Matt Clark will be pressing him for it, though. It looks like true freshman Glenn Ohaeri might round out the two-deep at cornerback, and Marcus Cassel after him. At safety, it'd be an upset if anyone beside Ben Emanuel started at strong safety. Jibril Raymo, who had a nice break-up today, will be right there behind him. Jarrad Page would be behind those two. Ben Emanuel might be listed on the two deep behind Matt Ware at free safety also, with Kevin Brant also there.
On offense, it cleary appears that Mike McCloskey has won the starting center position, since he worked almost exclusively with the first team OL. It will be interesting to see if Paul Mociler is listed at left guard also on the depth chart behind Eyoseph Efseaff, or even behind Bryce Bohlander at left tackle. It looks like the coaches have confidence playing Ed Blanton in relief at one tackle. Robert Cleary would probably be the next guy used if they were pressed.
At running back, it looks like the coaches will use that same type of co-starter concept with Akil Harris and Manuel White. White could see a lot of time at fullback with Norton banged up and probably not 100% for the Colorado State game. J.D. Groves got some time with the #1 team at fullback, but he probably won't get a chance with White there and even with Norton a little banged up. Tyler Ebell got quite a few reps with the #2 team and it looks like he's moved up the depth chart. Jason Harrison, having a good fall, has looked like he's passed Wendell Mathis. Mathis, while bigger, looks like he might have lost some of his explosivness from the spring.
True freshman Drew Olson has clearly won the #2 quarterback position, taking snaps with the #1 and #2 offenses while John Sciarra ran the #3 offense. Matt Moore was hobbling on his bruised knee and didn't participate today. Cory Paus had some good zip on the ball generally for the entire practice. Olson looks impressive running the offense in the Rose Bowl, confident and poised and at home.
On special teams, the surprise of the day was that Jarrad Page field some punts. Coach Bob Toledo said.
Tyler Ebell caught every punt or kickoff that came his way today, and actually returned one punt for about 40 yards on a nifty cutback. It looks, though, like Craig Bragg will start the season as the punt returner, and they could experiment with Ebell in safe situations.
On kickoff returns, there was a steady stream of different bodies. Akil Harris, Tab Perry, Tyler Ebell, Matt Clark and Wendell Mathis all took turns. Chris Griffith missed a couple of field goals fromm 45 yards or so, but then Nake Fikse nailed 45 and 47 yarders. After missing some particularly significant long field goals last year, it will be interesting to see if Fikse is finally utilized for long field goals this season.
The concern is still, in my mind, the offensive line. Their run blocking looks solid, opening up some good holes for running backs, even against the first team defense. But pass protection is a question. Generally when Paus was in with the first team he got good time to throw, but he did have to scramble a couple of times. By the way, you may not want to come to terms with this, but Paus' quickness has improved. He worked on it over the summer and he definitely runs with the ball better than he did last season.
Coach Toledo said that they'll release the depth chart tomorrow and the starting offense and defense will begin practicing as units during tomorrow afternoon's practice.
The Charter Oak High School team attended the practice, including wide receiver Mike Harris.
After practice, when Coach Toledo met the press, many of the questions weren't about the teams' performance but about Ricky Manning's situation. All of Toledo's comments will be coming soon...