Spring Practice: Day Eight

Monday marked the halfway point in this 15-practice spring, and it brought no shortage of revelations. A few members of the team earned an unexpected honor, and some of those standouts will surprise you. The offense also may have turned a corner, as the QB race tightened up. Read on for all the notes and news.

I went into Monday's practice half-expecting a sea of changes on the field.  After all, Saturday's scrimmage was to be a proving ground for every player on the roster, with a wide range of potential shake-ups on the depth chart.  Instead I found the depth chart rather intact from Saturday, with almost nothing noticeably different.  The surprise I did find was that a handful of players had the Stanford "S" decal and vertical stripe back on their helmets.  The helmets through the first two weeks of the spring had been barren, but Monday marked the first practice with any sign of the signature S.  Those players who earned the Stanford symbol are Babatunde Oshinowo, Casey Carroll, Scott Scharff, David Bergeron, Brian Gaffney, Capp Culver, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Leigh Torrence, Timi Wusu, Kirk Chambers and Luke Powell.

I had previously thought that the "S" would return to the helmets as a team, when the collective unit had made such strides as to earn the symbol.  But instead the staff this past weekend had reviewed the performances of Saturday's scrimmage and singled out the players who had the greatest showing, on top of their two weeks of practice.  It is then no surprise that the defense outnumbered the offense with this honor, by a count of nine to two.  After all, there was a dominating effort by the defense Saturday that smothered just about every offensive attempt.  But it is perhaps notable that three members of the defensive interior, including lightly regarded (by fans) second string Scott Scharff, earned the decals while no member of an acclaimed defensive end group did so.  That certainly is motivational fuel for the DEs this week in practice, and it is also sure that the entire roster who continues with a blank white helmet is burning to earn back the famous block S.

As practice unfolded, there were a few depth chart notes I observed, though.  While Mike Silva started all drills and scrimmages Monday as the weakside OLB, Michael Craven was back in full-contact participation for the first time in several practices.  And Craven was rotating in alongside the starting duo of Bergeron and Jared Newberry by the final 11-on-11 scrimmage of the afternoon.  There is a clear sign of momentum that Craven is reclaiming his spot, unsurprising though that may be.  I did note that Craven played herky-jerky Monday, though.  He almost looked overzealous in his return, a couple times overpursuing the ballcarrier in the open field.  His speed is a tremendous weapon, but only if he learns how to wield it.

In all, there were two batches of scrimmage action Monday, which gave a lot upon which to feast our eyes.  At the quarterback position, it gave insight as to performances and the depth chart.  During the first scrimmage, the repetitions were given in order to Chris Lewis, Trent Edwards, Kyle Matter and then back to Lewis.  This was the first clear demonstration that there may be a tightening of the rep's within the quarterback quintet, as opposed to cycling through the entire group.  Granted, this was just one practice of observation, but I wonder how much more scrimmage action David Lofton and Ryan Eklund may receive if this instance becomes the trend (or rule).  Tightened even further, the second scrimmage saw Lewis again lead off, followed by Edwards and then finished by Lewis.  This is the strongest evidence yet that Trent Edwards is making a successful run at the #2 quarterback position.

Edwards also led the best offensive drive of the spring during the second scrimmage, which saw the ball move through the air and on the ground.  Truth be told, the drive was predicated more on the run than the pass, but Edwards scored the culminating touchdown on play action.  He dumped the ball to an open Pat Jacobs at the goalline, who was immediately swarmed by the entire offense.  Not only were they celebrating the score for Jacobs, who has languished deep on the depth chart through his Stanford career, but also the symbolic victory for the offense that had not previously strung together first downs to move the ball like that drive.  To Matter's credit, he strung together several completions as he used the tight ends.  He hit Matt Traverso on back-to-back plays, then Alex Smith.

The "big targets" were a theme in the passing game, with Smith scoring a touchdown later on a 15-yard route followed by a run through a tackle.  Justin McCullum also showed that he can pull down some tough catches in the middle of the field, completely unafraid to take hits from multiple angles.  One Bootie on the rail half-jested the comment that McCullum might be better than Teyo Johnson, and honestly, I think he could be better in this redshirt sophomore season than Teyo was in his 2002 redshirt sophomore season.  McCullum will not give you that go-to option in the redzone like Teyo did, but for the other 80 yards of the field, he has a serious chance to give you more diversity, more speed and more reliability.

That all being said, I saw Nick Sebes climbing up the depth chart and grabbing most of the starting rep's with Luke Powell on the first string offense.  Gerren Crochet is the other player you might expect to challenge, but he was not on the field for the scrimmage.  His shoulder is likely still bothering him a little.

It's time to give a little credit to the running game, which has been a disappointment through the first two weeks.  But all three tailbacks put together good performances Monday.  Kenneth Tolon showed me for the first time that he can run inside, break some tackles, and carry some tacklers with him.  That without question is the big mark against him thus far in his career, and where the coaches need to see him succeed.  J.R. Lemon showed a lot of versatility, running from several different sets.  He is several times being used as an offset fullback, with Tolon at tailback.  Lemon also showed good toughness up the middle.  Gerald Commissiong was used on options and pitch-outs that moved him out into open space, with some success.  He is carrying a bigger frame this spring but moving around very well.

One wrinkle to note on the offensive line: during nine-on-nine running drills between the scrimmages, OL coach Steve Morton moved Brian Head out to guard and Drew Caylor up to the first string center spot.  However, that formation was never employed during the scrimmage.

Even though the O-line is improving, they still are having all they can handle in Babatunde Oshinowo.  And the highest compliment I can imagine for the jumbo nose tackle is what I hear from the offensive coaches, who are heaping as much praise on him as you would expect with one of their own boys.

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