Gardner: We've all gotten stronger and better. We've put in a lot of time. In the offseason, we're all grinding in groups, pushing each other to get better. All of that stuff has really helped us to get bigger, faster, and to improve.
Lombardi: What's the training regimen in the offseason like? Give me a look into a day from hell.
Gardner: The winter is probably the worst time in terms of training. We have 6 a.m. workouts, and we're out here when it's still dark. The fog's down on the field and we're running through stations with the coaches and they're putting us through the grinder. Then we do these lifts from hell, 13 reps of 13-second eccentric [pronounced E-centric] pull-ups - you get to the top and you have to go down slow. It has to take 13 seconds.
Lombardi: And you have to hold that downward motion for 13 seconds, 13 times?
Gardner: That's right. Those are the worst, especially for the big guys. Because we're holding a lot of weight up there.
Lombardi: Moving this to the field, you've been having to push up against some big boys on the offensive line. Do you feel those workouts helping out with that at all?
Gardner: Yeah, but it's still tough, especially when there are two of them on you. But, that's what we do up front. We pride ourselves on being able to win one-on-one situations no matter who the guy across from us is, and we all think that we're all big enough and strong enough guys to dominate the line of scrimmage and knock people back and impose our will on other teams' running games.
Lombardi: Speaking of double teams, Terrence Stephens commands a lot of them in the middle. Does he make your life a lot easier further outside?
Gardner: No question, no question. Terrence and also David Parry have both been getting reps with the first team and doing a great job in the middle. You really can't block either one of those guys one on one, otherwise they're going to really screw up everything that the offense does. So, you'll see one - maybe two - guards helping out the center and that really frees up the outside guys, the ends, and the inside linebackers. Terrence and Dave don't get a lot of love, but we definitely know their worth. Without them, we wouldn't be able to do what we do.
Lombardi: The Pac-12 offers so much offensive variety. Does this complicate your week-to-week preparation as a defense?
Gardner: Absolutely. It puts a lot of pressure on the team and especially on the coaching staff. But they do a great job and it's really fun for us. We get to see a lot of different looks and we get to put out different personnel packages every week. We get to show different looks that we haven't shown before, and it's exciting because it causes confusion for the other teams. We have different stuff depending on who we're playing week in and week out. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you interested and motivated throughout the week. And then when it's game day, it's game day - you're excited no matter what.
Lombardi: You enjoyed a true breakout year last season. We've already talked about your offseason regimen. Do you that work and the confidence you gained last year has set you up to have a huge 2012 campaign?
Gardner: I think so. I think another year of preparation and training and gelling with the guys I'm out there with has set me up. It helps to have 11 [Shayne Skov] and 44 [Chase Thomas] back. All those guys are eating blockers. Sometimes, teams probably forget about me. That allows me to make as many plays as I can, and I'm really looking forward to helping this team a lot this year.
Lombardi: You just mentioned Skov's return. How different are things in the trenches with him back in there?
Gardner: It's huge. Shayne is one of the most instinctive linebackers in the nation. He'll make plays that make you just shake your head. When you're on the field, you'll hear a pop and you'll look over and it's Shayne. And all you can say is, 'wow, where did he come from?' That's just one of those things that not a lot of guys can do and Shayne just does it naturally because he's a born football player. It's great to have him back in the lineup. He brings that fire and that intensity that only he can bring and we're so excited that he's back.
Lombardi: Does the chance to be the best defensive front seven in the nation motivate the linemen and linebackers as a unit?
Gardner: Absolutely. It drives us every day. We want to be the best front seven and the best defensive unit as a whole in the country. But we realize we're only going to be as good as what we put into practice every day. We realize we can be as good as we want to be. We want to make sure that we're running to the ball every rep of practice. We want to make sure we're swarming the football and getting 11 hats on it and maintaining a high level of physicality. If we let up, there are plenty of other defenses around that will be way better than us. We're going to have to bring it every day.
David Lombardi, a TV and radio (95.7 The Game SF) personality in the Bay Area, is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years. You can check out several of his Stanford calls and other writing at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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