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December 30, 2005SANTA ANA, Calif. - For the California defense in Saturday's Air 7 CaliFlorida Bowl the beginning might start with the end.
The California roster is loaded several big-time defensive players, but defensive ends Derek Simmons and Jeff Miller have been flat out dominating all week in practices.
Simmons, who is heading to USC, has had a monster week. He's owned a talented group of California offensive linemen with an array of pass rushing techniques. He is strong enough to use the bull rush and power rush to get past a blocker, and his quick first step off the edge is much faster than the 5.12-second time he recorded at the NIKE Training Camp.
"I've had a good week," Simmons, who is 6-foot-4 and 268 pound, said. "I came into this game wanting to show people that I have the ability to be one of the best defensive ends in the nation. I want to come out and do the same thing (Saturday) against Florida."
That might be a tough task as the Florida offensive line is considered to be the strength of the team. But Simmons is ready and up for the challenge.
"They've been talking a little smack this week," Simmons said. "I think we'll just see what happens in the game. We'll let that talk for itself."
Miller has also had a masterful week.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder played only five games as a senior because of a broken foot. The injury was a major setback at the time, but now Miller says he's healthy, gaining weight and is almost at 100 percent.
"It is great to get back out there, because I only got five games this year," Miller, a UCLA commitment, said. "This is the sixth one for me. I love it, because I get another chance to play and show people what I can do.
"I feel like my foot is 100 percent, but I lost some leg strength and I'm not where I used to be. I think I'm getting back, but I don't think I'm back at full strength quite yet."
Miller was at 250 pounds before the injury and the injury caused him to drop around 15 pounds. Yet, Miller said the injury has allowed him to become a leaner, meaner and faster defensive end.
"I'm a step faster with the weight off me," Miller said. "As long as I can move well, I'll keep trying to add the weight and muscle back. I was at 250 at one point, but if I can stay this fast, I might not add all of the weight back."
Like many all-star games, the California and Florida teams have decorated their helmets with decals from their teammates' high schools. Some players prefer to add just one or two logos along with their school's decal so people know where they're from.
But others like UGA commitment NaDerris Ward have taken the opposite approach.
Along with the orange tomahawk that Ward has from his Oakland McClymonds days, Ward has littered his helmet with logos of almost every other player on the California roster.
"You can't even tell if the helmet is black anymore," Colton, Calif., linebacker Allen Bradford said about Ward's helmet. "He has like 50 of them on there. That's just too many man."
"You have to represent your entire team," he said.
So who has the best logo? Almost everybody on the California roster agreed that Bradford's team stands out as one of the best. The Colton logo is a big C with an angry yellow jacket in the middle of it. Compton Dominguez's logo is also popular with the players. The logo is simple yellow cursive writing with the word Dons spelled out.
In the team hotel today, Bradford was seen wearing a maroon T-shirt with a big yellow Trojan on the front of it. And then at practice today, Sylmar, Calif., blue-chip running back C.J. Gable was wearing USC shorts.
Talk amongst the California players is that Bradford will commit to the Trojans at the U.S. Army All-American Game next week and most also agree that Gable is USC's to lose.
With the addition of five-star receiver Vidal Hazelton on Friday, and Gable and Bradford also likely heading to USC, you can expect the Trojans to shoot up the Rivals.com team rankings.
-After a week's worth of hard drilling, practice for California on Friday was rather light as the team went through final walkthroughs for Saturday's game. Florida's practices had not been too intense throughout the week, but the coaching staff made the team suit up in full gear and go through a solid practice with full contact.
-The California offensive and defensive line did go through some one-on-one drills on Friday. Most of the players on both sides of the ball took turns at winning head-to-head battles, but it was the final battle between Simmons and Sonny Tevaga of Dominguez that got the coaches most fired up.
"It's USC vs. UCLA," the coaches kept yelling. "Show them what you're going to do at UCLA Sonny. Derek, go get them like a USC defensive end. Show people what they'll be seeing the next four years."
For the record, Simmons and Tevaga took turns winning the head-to-head battle. Simmons blew up Tevaga on the first play and then the big offensive lineman stalemated Simmons on the next round.
-California offensive lineman Sean Sheller went down late in practice on Friday with an apparent knee injury. He eventually walked off the field and had ice applied to the knee. It didn't appear the injury was serious.
-Expect California to use defensive tackle and UCLA commitment Darius Savage in goal-line situations at the fullback spot. And what a fullback he makes. Savage is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds.