Fall Practice Week Two: Derek Mason

One of the somewhat overshadowed components to Stanford's 2010 Orange Bowl team was the dramatically improved play of the Card's secondary. The man who oversaw that improvement, Derek Mason, earned a promotion from defensive backs coach to co-defensive coordinator in the offseason. On Monday, he spoke to the media about his coaching transition, the progress of the true freshmen DB's, and more.

Derek Mason spoke to the media for a few moments after practice on Monday, and shared the latest on the defense, the position switch of Usua Amanam, and the progress of a few true freshmen.

Well, how would assess the defense at this point in camp?
Derek Mason: Work in progress. Guys are playing hard, every day we've come out and we're purposeful in terms of the work we're trying to get done. They've got goals, they understand what the expectation is. We're chasing 1-0 right now and trying our best to try and go at that San Jose State football team that's pretty good. But before we do that, we have to make sure we build our depth, continue to play hard, continue to build on the foundation that we've set here, and just continue to move forward. Those guys are doing a great job.

How's that transition been for you from just coaching the DB's to being involved with the whole defense?
DM: The blueprint was laid, really, I've got my own take with Coach Tarver being here, because he's come in and talked to me about some things, but we do a great job of just sitting down with one another and figuring out exactly what we want to do, how we want to do it, and it's been good, because I understand what's here, Coach Tarver understands what's here, and there are no egos. So for me personally, in taking on the role of co-defensive coordinator, it's been outstanding. It's the same thing, different day.

Usua [Amanam] moving over to defense, how's he doing?
DM: Outstanding. He's a guy who's got great tools, great quickness, he's got great ability to key and diagnose, and he does a great job, as a nickel right now. He's playing some corner, he's learning the position, but we feel like he's a versatile player, based on his physical-ness, his ability to match in the slot and fit the run, because he'll do it. He fits what we're doing and we're definitely glad to have him.

Was that a pretty easy decision to switch him over?
DM: It is. I think what you do, whether it's a Mike Thomas moving from corner to free safety, whether it's Usua, I think what happens is you take guys who have the right mentality and you put them where they fit in your defense and hen you just try to make sure they grow within the scheme. As coaches, whether it's myself or Coach Tarver, it's our job to make we put guys in positions to make plays. And that's what we try to do. Just try to make sure we have our guys in the right position at all times to be able to execute their responsibilities.

And at some point the kid has to go out and make a play…
DM: Every defense works. As a coach, what you want to be able to do is to call a defense, let your guys go out there and play. If they make a mistake, let's clean it up, let's understand the issues, let's go back, let's reformat it, let's reboot it, let's go back and do it again. I think we are definitely a work in progress, just trying to work towards getting better.

We've heard a lot of really good things about the freshmen defensive backs, maybe more than any other position, if you could talk about those freshmen in general, and if any of them have stood out to you back there.
DM: They all have. I tell you what, Wayne Lyons, highly touted coming out of high school, but he works. He's vicious, he's mean, he's got a work ethic about him and he really loves football. His skill set is really good, and I'm just eager to see the young man play.

Ronnie Harris, a young man who people thought had a varying skill set, some people thought he was small, but the one thing about Ronnie, he's so competitive. He comes out every day, he plays extremely fast, extremely hard, and he's physical. And for us, that's what you need. You can't measure the heart of a player, and that's what he is.

Then you look at a guy like Jordan Richards, Jordan Richards has been a young man who's won at every level that he's been at, but he comes here and he makes the move to another position, and he's in the same mold as a [Devon] Carrington or a Delano [Howell] or a Mike T[homas] because he's physical, he's fast, he's smart, he understands the scheme, and he's growing every day he touches the field. I'm excited about the group, but by the same token, I realize they're freshmen. So what you have to do with freshmen is bring freshmen along, let them play, and knowing that they're going to make mistakes and then from their, retool it, reboot it, go back out and do it again.

Back to Ronnie, he might have been the least heavily recruited of those guys, but we've heard some really good things about him. Would you say he might be one of the camp surprises so far?
DM: He may be to somebody else, but I recruited him. I saw things, just in terms of his ability, his physical-ness, his desire to play the game. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. Everybody wants to call him small or little. But the one thing about him, he's got the heart of a lion. He plays extremely hard, and when you get those types of guys, those guys don't do anything but challenge themselves every day. He doesn't worry about everybody else's expectations, he plays to his own.

Then Ra'Chard Pippens, has he been solid?
DM: Oh man, Ra'Chard's been solid. He's coming along. It's a little different form in terms of making the change from high school to college, but the one thing he's been able to do is fit into the room. He's learning, he may not be as far along as some of the other guys, but pleased with his ability level and his skill set.

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