Spring Ball: Day Three

The Cougars were in full pads for the first time of the spring Friday afternoon, giving the coaches a chance to see who the true players were. It also gave onlookers their first chance to watch JC transfers <b>Jermaine Green</b> and <b>Kevin Sperry</b> do some hitting.

Neither player disappointed. Sperry, currently at middle linebacker for the second string defense, showed an eagerness to knock heads whenever possible. He even got in a little skirmish with offensive lineman Calvin Armstrong during 9-on-7 drills, serving notice that even if he is the new guy, he won't be pushed around. Friday's practice was Sperry's first of the spring, as he took the first two days off to concentrate on his studies. Although he looked uncomfortable in the defense several times, that is something that will go away with more time in the system.

At running back, the difference between having pads on and wearing only a helmet can often be the difference in a great player and a good player. Anyone can hit the hole when there's no chance of being hit; great ones are never afraid to mix it up. Green appears to be one of those players. He showed no fear in any team drills, and although he did take some hard shots, he looks to be well on his way to being the team's No. 1 running back coming out of spring ball. With every practice that Allen Thompson misses to heal his ankle, Green gains a little more on him.

The team did a lot of work with running backs coming out of the backfield to catch passes Friday, and Green already looks to be a natural. He has great speed out of the backfield, has good hands, and put some great moves on defensive backs to get open.

Although the defensive secondary remains one of the team's big question marks, the current group appears to be in good shape, especially considering this is their first week together. Marcus Trufant and Erik Coleman are already proven commodities, while Virgil Williams and Karl Paymah look like they're ready to step up to the challenge. Paymah will not be starting in the fall (he is running with the No. 1 defense while Jason David sits out the spring to concentrate on school), but the reps he gets during April will be extremely valuable when the season rolls around and he's the team's No. 3 cornerback. Williams, meanwhile, looks very comfortable in the strong safety position. His talent has never been the issue; he's been good enough to play since he was a freshman. What will determine his success is his health, which has been spotty at best throughout his career. If he can stay healthy, the starting SS spot is his.

With Derrick Roche sitting out the spring after ankle surgery and Josh Parrish out for extra study time, Phil Locker and Sam Lightbody are currently working out with the starting offensive line (rounded out by Tyler Hunt, Billy Knotts and Armstrong). Among the other backups competing for playing time are Riley Fitt-Chappell, Mike Shelford and Steve Nelson.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is shaping up to be the strength of the defense in 2002. The starting four of Rien Long, Tai Tupai, Fred Shavies and D.D. Acholonu (or Isaac Brown) has the ability to clog the line of scrimmage or rush the quarterback, which will be a very big advantage for a defense with several unproven players at linebacker and defensive back. The tackle tandem of Long and Tupai may well be the best in the Pac-10 when all is said and done. Their playing styles complement each other, and with both ready to have breakout seasons, it will be extremely difficult to double-team either one of them.

Long made four "big plays" during Friday's practice, according to coach Mike Price. Each big play made throughout practice by any player means one less 40 to run at the end of practice.

In addition to the starters, the line has some very talented backups. With Jeremey Williams, Steve Cook and Brown (or Acholonu), coming off the bench, coaches Mike Walker and Robb Akey have a number of proven players they can plug in throughout the game to keep the line fresh. Josh Shavies may be a wild card at the position. Despite his troubles with the program, Shavies is a tremendous athlete who can adapt quickly and excel at defensive tackle – if the desire is there. He has shown an eagerness to learn, and has a good relationship with Walker.

The team will practice at 9 a.m. Saturday in Martin Stadium, with a scrimmage that will start somewhere between 9:30 and 10 a.m. That will give Cougar fans a chance to see some of the new additions to the team, as well as take a look at new punter Kyle Basler.


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