The defensive line looks like the strong point of the team judging by today's first practice. When the defensive and offensive lines went head to head, the running backs barely had a chance to take the handoff before they were being run over by an on-rushing lineman.
The biggest monster on the line was easily Chino tackle Sedric Ellis. Ellis is so quick off the ball and physically strong that he was throwing around offensive linemen all day long. He had some huge hits in the backfield where he was taking down the running back almost as soon as he got the ball.
Defensive end Lawrence Jackson out of Inglewood wasn't far behind Ellis. He's an excellent pass rusher but is strong enough to play the run. During the 11 on 11 scrimmage, Jackson either pushed his man all the way to the quarterback or just blew right past him.
The Long Beach Poly trio of Kevin Brown, Junior Lemau'u and Josh Tauanu'u were all very impressive as well. Brown has great strength, Tauanu'u is one of the best players we've seen at getting off blocks and Lemau'u is basically an animal coming off the edge. All three play with fire, particularly Lemau'u who always plays with a contagious emotion that gets the rest of his team fired up.
"Ellis is incredible," Banning head coach and Cali defensive line coach Ed Lalua said. "I wish I had him at Banning, he's un-blockable and just a monster out there.
At linebacker, Drean Rucker showed he's the real deal and was just a notch ahead of everyone else.
"Man was he impressive," St. John Bosco head coach and Cali linebacker coach Kiki Mendoza said. "All the linebackers look very good but Rucker is on another level. Michael Okwo was great as well, he was right there with Rucker but I like all my guys. Jason Jenkins is probably the smartest of the group and was picking up everything real quick and Chris Purtz and John Nichols are both very athletic and looked good."
The secondary was flying around the ball all day. Poly safety Freddie Parish and Banning's A.J Tuitele both had big hits and Damon Jenkins was easily the best cover man of the day. Desmond Reed also looked very good and no one was getting open on Birmingham's Chad Green or Edison-Fresno's Clifton Smith.
The offense did have its moments and after Ellis, the most impressive player on either side of the ball had to be running back Maurice Drew. We've said it before but it's amazing Drew doesn't have 50 offers right now. He's an incredible player and hits the hole as quick as anyone we've seen.
"He's one of the best backs I've ever seen," Westlake head coach and offensive coordinator Jim Benkert said. "I've never seen anyone as quick as him. He was incredible."
Sam Keller looked very good throwing the ball showing off a strong, accurate arm on all his throws. He also showed very good poise standing in the pocket in the face of a big time pass rush.
At receiver, everyone looked good and there really wasn't one player who stood out among the others. Venice's B.J Vickers, Bonita Vista's Alex Ghebreselassie, Serra's Devin Stearns and Fremont's Mark Bradford all had excellent workouts. Vickers has huge legs and looks like a college player right now. Ghebreselassie is incredibly fluid in everything he does and makes catching the ball look almost effortless.
The offensive line struggled early but got much better as the day went on. Leon Drummer, who was playing left tackle, was the one guy who was physically able to stand up to the defense and more than held his own. Matt Reese and Russell Foster also looked good. Both players are huge and are tough to get around.
"Overall, I thought it was a very good first practice," Oaks Christian and Cali head coach Bill Redel said. "I love the kids, they're a great group and worked very hard. The defense was a little ahead of the offense but that will even out. I'm still trying to learn all the players names right now but I really like this group a lot."
To our surprise, several of the defensive linemen talked openly about wanting to go to UCLA together.
"My mom and I both talked to Karl Dorrell and we like him a lot," Ellis said. "When the game is over (Jan. 4), the following Monday (Jan. 6), I'm going to go up there on an unofficial visit and set up an official visit with them.
"Right now, I have USC set up for (Jan. 10) and I've already been to LSU and Oklahoma. I liked LSU better but my mom would like me to stay close to home. I really like UCLA a lot right now, they have the skill players and just need some good lineman to step in and take the team to the next level."
All three Poly players, Brown, Lemau'u and Tauanu'u also talked about possibly going to UCLA as a package and were telling Ellis the four of them could be the teams starting defensive line in a couple of years.
Lemau'u and Tauanu'u visited Cal two weeks ago and both players said they enjoyed the trip a lot. Both will be going to Oregon (Jan. 10) and we fully expect that's where Tauanu'u will end up despite what the other players were saying. Oregon has been his leader for some time and he told us again today he could commit on the visit.
Okwo is looking very strong for Stanford and we would be surprised if he doesn't commit there on his official visit (Jan. 10). Bradford told us USC, Notre Dame and LSU remain his leaders and he'll visit Stanford (Jan. 10) and Notre Dame (Jan. 17). We asked Dennis Keyes how rich he would be if he had a dollar for every time he was asked if he was still committed to UCLA.
"I would be a millionaire easy," Keyes said.
So of course our next question was whether or not he was still committed to UCLA. He said he has a trip to Cal (Jan. 10) and would like to take the visit. He added he will go up to UCLA on an unofficial visit the week following the game and if he's comfortable with the new staff, he could make his commitment a solid one.