Spring Practice: Day Nine

Wednesday's practice brought several surprising changes, particularly on the defense. Positions that had remained solid through half the spring were suddenly juggled for this ninth practice. To get answers, I made sure to talk to the parties involved afterward. Also a few notable 2003 and 2004 recruits took in the practice, which may form the core of Stanford's future offense...

The big news of the day was unquestionably the move of Amon Gordon inside on the defensive line to tackle.  Many fans have been clamoring to move him out of the deep defensive end pool and into the rather shallow defensive tackle rotation, which was originally bolstered at the start of the spring by the parallel move of Drew Caylor.  But Caylor has since been called to duty on the offensive line.  Gordon has the size and quickness to make a big impact in the middle, where Stanford is attempting to replace three fifth-year seniors.

He told me afterward that he was approached the day prior by defensive tackles coach Dave Tipton.  "He just approached me and said, 'Amon, we want you.  We're thin inside and you're a helluva player.  We'd like to see what you can do in there.'  I was all for it," Gordon revealed.  That first practice was pretty successful, with good pushes up the middle and some great attacks around the outside on stunts.  "It was awesome," he beamed after his first day at DT.  "It puts me right in the middle of the action.  The play there is faster, too, and that will help me.  I believe that my speed is one of my best attributes, so this is a natural fit.  No doubt about it."

I also asked if he will work out at both interior positions, and he replied that he will only be playing the three technique, not at the nose tackle.  I commented that he would be competing then with Casey Carroll and Scott Scharff for time.  He quickly rebutted, "It's not about competition.  Everybody is going to play.  No matter how good you are, nobody is going to stay on the field the whole game."

So what will be his greatest challenge adjusting to his new defensive tackle role?  "I think working against the double teams will be a big change.  And of course, learning the new position thoroughly like I had at defensive end."

It is a little surprising that Amon Gordon would be moved at this point, rather than four or five practices ago when Caylor was removed from the DT group.  But it still gives him half the spring to get adjusted.  For his part, he believes that there is not too much mechanically different from his strongside defensive end (five technique).  We'll see.

But there were more surprises in store on the defense, as Oshiomogho Atogwe lined up at free safety Wednesday.  He was a force at strong safety last season as a redshirt sophomore and looked to be the leading talent on the entire defense there again in 2003.  I noticed that Timi Wusu was absent for the practice (I believe at a decathlon), and hypothesized that Atogwe was being shifted to free safety as a one-day experiment with Wusu gone.  So I talked with defensive backs coach A.J. Christoff after practice for answers.

"O.J. Atogwe is working at free safety to try and hone his pass covering skills," the coach began.  "We want the best two guys on the field at these safety positions.  And we hate to got locked in with anybody at a particular position.  I really want to find these guys' strengths and weaknesses.  Atogwe has shown me great one-on-one coverage skills, and I think that gives him a great chance at free safety.  Timi Wusu is a big, physical kid who is a great tackler.  I could see him playing up against the run as a strong safety.  Even Marcus McCutcheon has several roles he can play.  I can honestly see him at free safety, strong safety or cornerback right now.  He is physically developed and free safety was where we needed help at the beginning of the spring, so I moved him there.  But if he shows that he can be one of our best two or three cornerbacks, he could get on the field there."

Suddenly, the depth chart at the safety positions has become incredibly cloudy.  The cornerbacks looked like the position with the great uncertainties, and Christoff confirmed that he has several talents there to sort out.

Grant Mason: "I'm very excited about him.  He showed great ability right away, and definitely has a future at cornerback."
Leigh Torrence: "He is improving every day.  I want him to be more physical, but he has gotten better every day that I've had him this spring."
T.J. Rushing: "He is inexperienced technique-wise, and he has a lot of work to do there.  But his tackling is improving a lot, and he is working hard on his technique."

And Christoff has yet to get a hard look at returning starter Stanley Wilson, who the coach says will not participate at any time during the spring in any contact or scrimmage action.

I broached the subject of nickel and dime backs, given that the defense had lined up exclusively in its base formation through the first half of this spring.  But Christoff grinned and replied, "We're not there yet.  We have to learn the assignments and techniques in the regular defense before we introduce the nickel and dime packages."  So make a mental note: if/when you see the nickel defense this spring, it may be a sign that Christoff and the coaches are happy with the progress of these DBs in the base defense.

My mind was largely occupied with the defense in this scrimmage, but a few notes on the offense: Chris Lewis had perhaps his best practice of the last few weeks.  He completed several long passes, with two that stood out to Luke Powell and Nick Sebes.  Powell told me after practice that his faith is certainly firm with his classmate.  "Chris is our guy for this year," he commented.  And through nine practices, I would agree... The quarterback rotation was again very tight, with Lewis and Trent Edwards taking the lion's share of snaps in 11-on-11 work.  Kyle Matter saw only fleeting action, while neither Ryan Eklund nor David Lofton took any reps outside of position passing drills...  In the continuing thread of the incredibly versatile tight ends, I saw some brand new looks for Brett Pierce and compan


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