As shown by the video fanshotted below Bruins had their first practice in pads this Spring yesterday. The LA Times described the action as "fierce" which included a skirmish between tackle Brett Downey and defensive end Keenan Graham. Obviously the day was marred by the extremely unfortunate injury Brandon Sermons (which I will get to below) but on the whole you get a sense of fierce energy and competition at key positions all over Spaulding.
Let's start with the tough news of the day which was an unfortunate injury to Sermons. I will let Rick Neuheisel brief us on what went down with Brandon as well as his impression from the practice:
All of us will be rooting for Brandon, who put in a lot of work this off-season upping his weight 10lbs to 5-11/193. It accounts like one of those freak-injuries during non-contact passing drills. As CRN mentioned he was scheduled to have surgery (to insert a metal rod) last night. The reference to Freddie Mitchell was interesting who came back within the same season. Freddie got hurt against Houston in the second game of 1998-99 season and made it back for the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin (I think he threw a TD pass in that game).
I think given the quality depth in terms of athletes we now have at DB, there is no need to rush Brandon back. Here is how we projected the DB depth chart little more that couple of weeks ago. With Sermons out of action, Bruins still have youngsters such as Andrew Abbott and Marlon Pollard competing this spring. There is also sophomore Courtney Viney, who compared to these guys is an elder statesman among this crew. All of these guys have been working hard this off season. As accounted before Marlon Pollard is now at 6-0/174 (plus 16) and Sheldon Price is up 8 at 6-2/171. Jon Gold from the Daily News top lined this crew in his report in the Daily News:
"It's going to be hard to ever replace Alterraun Verner; he was a special guy," defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. "But they have to.
"The good thing is they got a chance to see how he studied the game, see how he prepared, see how he approached the game. They're young, but they have to grow up."
In three days of spring ball, they've been thrown into the fire. With Viney and sophomore Andrew Abbott pushing the pair for playing time, and a trio of cornerback recruits coming, Hester and Price know this spring could make or break them.
"They're throwing a lot at me in practice, and that's what I need, to be battle-tested going into that first game," Hester said. "Our receivers are good; they're just as good as anyone we're going to play against next year. If I do OK against them, then I'll be solid."
In additions to those guys don't forget (as reminded by CRN) we have a number of talented freshmen such as Anthony Jefferson, Tevin McDonald and Shaquille Richardson coming in this spring. So we are going to be all right. Brandon should feel no rush and hopefully he will come back tougher and stronger when the time is right. More notes after the jump.
While the completion in our defensive backfield is going to be intense coaches are also keeping a close eye at the LB position, where the Bruins will be looking to replace Reggie Carter at Mike LB position. Chris Foster in the LA Times looks at the competition between Steve Sloan and Patrick Larimore:
Sloan has a firm handle on the defensive system and offers experience, having started nine games in 2008 when Carter moved outside after Kyle Bosworth was injured. But Sloan finished 11th on the team in tackles that season, well below what is expected of a middle linebacker.
But Sloan, now 6 feet 4 and 232 pounds, has reshaped his body during the offseason.
"He cut weight and added muscle," linebacker coach Clark Lea said. "His body is in the condition he needs to be to move. He has always been a real heady player."
Sloan said that his strength remains "knowing the defense. I know where the safety should be on the field, where the cornerbacks should be."
Larimore has improved in that area. He has a made-for-collision body at 6-3, 250 pounds.
"Football is a violent sport, and when you get out there you just want to kill everybody, especially as a middle linebacker," Larimore said. "But I also have to make the calls and checks. You got play violent and aggressive, but at the same time, you have to be able to tone it down a little."
That is a part of the game where Larimore has improved, judging by the first few days of spring practice. He remains a fierce hitter, but has also shown a lighter touch. He had an interception in Saturday's practice.
"Body control was his biggest issue," Lea said. "As a linebacker, you have to be able to drop back into coverage and stick the run. If you can't control your body, it's hard to make plays. He really has taken a bigger role as a leader this spring. He's more assertive."
Good to hear about both of those guys coming along. I would have actually liked to also hear about the development of redshirt freshman Todd Golper who is now up to 6-0, 231 according to the updated roster. Golper had a reputation of being a solid hitter with high football IQ coming out of high school. I had heard he had a great freshman season with the scout team (recovering well from an injury he suffered in his senior year in high school). It would be interesting to hear feedback on him if any of you had an opportunity to see him this spring.
The fact that a talented kid like Golper didn't get on the LAT's radar during discussion of MLB position, gives you a sense the kind of depth CRN is building in our program. While Golper is fighting to get attention, don't forget Bruins will be welcome freshmen such as Jordan Zumwalt who is projected to be a prototype MLB and Aramide Olaniyan who might also end up competing for that position (although I think Aramide has the athleticism to play Will).
Lastly, here is another note on UCLA's latest graduate assistant coach Durante Jones. Gold caught up with Jones a bit after practice:
"I'm living the dream," Jones said. "I'm coaching at the highest level with a great staff, learning as much as I can. Another veteran coach in the secondary with coach [Tim] Hundley. Eighteen years as a coordinator. It's a wealth of knowledge. I love it."
CRN mentioned that he was referred to the program by a former colleague from the Baltimore Ravens. From what I have heard he has been making a great impression around the program. Should be exciting to see how his career unfolds in Westwood. I am assuming he is playing a role in the fierce intensity we have seen so far this Spring.
Bruins are off today and tomorrow. You can catch more of the football heat when they get back out at Spaulding on Tuesday afternoon (4 pm PST).