It doesn't much matter to you, but the weather was not agreeable for the first day of 2003 Stanford's spring football. After several days of incredibly gorgeous sunny weather, with the temperature breaking into the 80's, Wednesday was a polar opposite. Clouds kept the sun away for almost the entire practice, with cold and windy weather biting into a nice crowd of Cardinalmaniacs. And then, the rain came. At first a drizzle, the rain came down harder and harder for a good half of the practice. I looked up to the sky and wondered aloud, is this dark cloud that which symbolically hangs over Stanford football today? But then when the rain quickly cleared away late in the practice, a rainbow was spotted to the south. Is this rainbow that which symbolically is now breaking brightly over the Cardinal's future? For answers, let's look at what we learned from the first day of Spring Ball...
- Something we will see several times this spring, Stanford opened without the services of receivers Nick Sebes and Gerren Crochet, as well as cornerback T.J. Rushing. All three were otherwise occupied with track obligations. As a football fan, you can't help but be disappointed to not have two of Stanford's top receivers at a time when the passing game needs serious improvement. But the promises made at Stanford to two-sport athletes are sincere, and were they not to be honored Stanford would not have some of them on campus. T.J. Rushing came to Stanford in large part because the Cardinal promised him he could run track, and incoming speedster David Marrero was similarly attracted. It's a tradeoff you have to live with.
- On a more encouraging note in the wide receiver department, Luke Powell looked the best I have seen in more than a year. He was running hard, never gingerly. Justin McCullum looked 100% and reminded me why I and so many railbirds fell in love with him in his first year. He has speed, size, good hands and runs smooth routes. Brandon Royster also caught my eye. He looked better in this first spring practice than I have seen in a long time from him. Ironically, his off-season work in the weightroom with strength coach Ron Forbes also makes him look like he has the body of a running back more than at any other time at Stanford. I think there is a real desire among the coaches to give him a look at running back, but the receiving corps is so thin this spring that he is needed at WR.
- The early look at the offensive line probably didn't tell us much we didn't already know. It'll take at least a week for Steve Morton to assess each of the five positions. But for the record, Day One had (from right tackle to left) Mike Sullivan, Josiah Vinson, Brian Head, Ismail Simpson and Kirk Chambers running as the first unit. Chambers is a lock at left tackle, it goes without saying, and there is no surprise that Sullivan and Head are in the first five given their age/experience. Vinson was arguably the top of the freshmen linemen in terms of readiness this past fall, so no surprise to see him at left guard. But few would have predicted that Ismail Simpson as one of the early top five OL. The second five, again right to left, were Jon Cochran, Jeff Edwards, Tim Mattran, David Beall and Matt McClernan. Almost across the board, the difference in size between what we see in these freshmen linemen today versus what we saw in November is striking. The exception to that rule is Simpson, who has made a concerted effort to slim down after coming to campus at a weight last August that marginalized the speed he loved in high school. A trimmer and quicker Simpson surely has made a splash with his placement this first practice.
- We had our first skirmish, when Sullivan mixed it up with Will Svitek as they clashed on an early jump before a snap. It was a feisty fight, short-lived though it may have been. A helmet was ripped off, and tempers flared. But I loved it, and I think the coaches quietly loved it. It didn't go far enough to get out of hand, but it got the juices really flowing on both sides of the ball. Players on the offense and the defense both started hooting and hollering, and you could see the energy of the practice elevate immediately. Good stuff.
- The position switches all laid out as I had written earlier this week, though with a little more shuffling. Drew Caylor worked out with the defensive tackles; Grant Mason played at cornerback; David Bergeron was inside at middle linebacker; and Taualai Fonoti played up on the D-line. Some of the further shuffles in the linebacking corps included . What I didn't expect was some of the movements in the defensive backfield. Some late switches by new DBs coach A.J. Christoff have Marcus McCutcheon at free safety and Trevor Hooper at strong safety. With Stanley Wilson out of action (though he did don a yellow jersey for one series of play) and Rushing at track today, that left Calvin Armstrong running first at the left cornerback, with Leigh Torrence holding down his spot on the right. And despite the hint that