The offense is starting to come around a bit more and is catching up to the defense. Quarterbacks Sam Keller and Richard Irvin had solid workouts and Venice signal caller Eddie Miller who was added to the team earlier in the week looked solid as well although he suffered an injury that could make him questionable for the game Saturday.
While running an option play, safety A.J Tuitele, who has had some of the biggest hits all week, came up and absolutely leveled Miller. Miller was on the ground for a few minutes and came up holding his left shoulder. He was off to the doctors to have it looked at but things didn't look good.
Cali linebacker Chris Purtz had the next biggest hit of the day as he absolutely blew up Jody Adewale on a run blitz. Even the offensive players were shaking their heads after the collision. Wide receiver B.J Vickers has emerged as the go to receiver and is physically almost impossible to match up with.
At a rock solid 6-3, 215 pounds, Vickers is very physical for his size, runs great routes and has shown great hands all week. His ability to run after the catch has also surprised us and he could even see action returning punts and kickoffs.
Mark Bradford also had a strong day catching the ball and we have yet to see him drop a pass this week. Devin Stearns also had a strong day and looks very good running with the ball. A surprise has been Brian Shields who most of the Cali players had never heard of before the week. Shields has shown great hands and is a very reliable receiver so his routes are so strong.
Maurice Drew was the story at running back and has been the best player for the Cali team all week long. Drew is so stocky that he's almost impossible to get a good hit on. He's always the one delivering the blow at the end of the play and is always falling forward on contact.
On the offensive line, Travis Draper has great feet and has had a strong week of practice. Once he gets bigger and stronger in a couple of years, the Trojans will have a special player on their hands. Hercules Satele has been very good as well and is the most athletic offensive lineman on the team. Matt Reese has been solid in run blocking but has struggled somewhat in pass protection. He's so big that he can be beaten out of stance by a quick rush end, which Florida team has plenty of. Ryan Kalil and Russell Foster also looked solid on Thursday.
The defensive line has played well all week led by the spirited play of defensive end Junior Lemau'u and the dominance of Sedric Ellis. Lemau'u has looked great this week and his fiery attitude has the rest of the defense fired up. He's one of the best practice players we've seen and takes it as a personal insult any time the offense moves the ball against them. Ellis is just a monster and can't be blocked with one man. Even when double teamed, he's quick enough to split the blockers and make the play.
Physically, Lawrence Jackson has looked good and is one of the smartest players on the defense. He understands his assignments perfectly and is the one often explaining to the rest of his teammates what they're supposed to be doing. You can't run wide on Jackson without holding him which has happened quite a bit.
In fact, one of the funnier moments of the day took place in an 11 on 11 scrimmage. It was a sweep to Jackson's side and just when he was ready to make the play, he was practically pulled the ground and the running back went around the corner for positive yards. The coaches got on Jackson who replied, "coach, I was held, didn't you see it." Line coach Ed Lalua said, "Jackson, don't get held then."
The linebackers have all been strong and someone new has stepped up every day. John Nichols had some huge hits and Chris Purtz had his best practice. Drean Rucker and Michael Okwo have been the constants but both commented that it would be easier to make plays if the defensive line wasn't making so many tackles.
In the secondary, Freddie Parish and A.J Tuitele have looked great at safety all week. Both players are big hitters who can run. The team is loaded at corner although it will be a test to see if they can keep up with the speed of the Florida players. Chad Green, Clarence Simpson, Terrell Thomas, Desmond Reed, Drew Pearson, Clifton Smith and the Ting twins have all looked very good. Damon Jenkins has been the best of the group as he combines the best combination of cover skills and run support.
Kicker Jeff Ferrier has shown a very strong leg and been wowing his teammates with his kickoffs. In all-star games, you can return kickoff out of the end zone unlike the high school season but Ferrier has even put a couple out of the back of the end zone.
On the injury front, we mentioned Eddie Miller already. Safety-running back Dennis Keyes tried to go on his injured groin but didn't last long. It tightened up immediately on him and he's doubtful to play Saturday. Also defensive tackle Clifton Stanford, who banged up his shoulder on Monday, practiced for the first time Thursday but struggled. He said he's not able to even do a push up right now and doesn't have much strength to get off blocks.