This time a year ago, the Stanford football team was plodding along in an effort to conduct the all-important summer voluntary workouts, which have become a de facto involuntary part of any successful college football program. At best, half the team was on campus at any given time, and the scant numbers made it surprisingly difficult to hold even the most modest of workouts. Says one returning offensive player, "Last year we could barely piece people together for 7-on-7. This year, we already have all but maybe two guys on the field."
Indeed, the momentum created by the May unofficial workouts, which had greater participation and organization than any off-season event all of 2002, is continuing and flourishing after last week's first practices of the summer. Many players remained on campus through the end of June, but the week of July 7 was to be the time when the entire roster convened for workouts which are scheduled to take this Cardinal squad up until they officially report on August 11.
As a reminder, NCAA rulse restrict college coaches from organizing, running or even attending practices during the summer off-season. So all that I describe is transpiring as a testament to the motivation and execution of this very hungry Stanford team. It is the players who are recognizing which plays and patterns need the most work, and then scripting them for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 workouts. It is the players who are sounding off air horns at very precise intervals to move between drills in an orderly and planned fashion. It is the players who communicate with each other on a simple dry-erase message board in the locker room for when to meet and what to do.
Last week's schedule may be tweaked going forward, but it is believed to be the blueprint for the next several weeks of workouts. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, lifting sessions are held at 3:00, 4:00 and 5:00 pm. Individuals have the flexibility to attend whichever session fits their work, class or personal schedules. Stanford strength coach is permitted to oversee these workouts as a safety stop-gap, and the players are giving up kudos for strength coach Ron Forbes and the greater flexibility he is giving of himself this year. Many players felt last year that the crack-of-dawn runs and afternoon lift schedule was too oppressive as they tried to work real jobs and put something beyond cereal and ramen on their dinner tables. Runs are held this year four days a week at 6:15 pm, which allows them to start the day fresh and early at their jobs. On-field drills and workouts immediately follow the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday runs.
This past Thursday, the team was prepared for a very exciting bout of 7-on-7 battles with a local community college team, from the College of Marin. But somebody raised a red flag at the last minute and called it off. Even in a completely unofficial capacity, organized by players and not involving coaches, there were concerns that the competition would not be kosher with the NCAA.
But the team carried out its very own spirited 11-on-11 competitions. There are no pads, which makes some plays more meaningful than others. But here are some notes:
- The receiving corps is receiving a very welcome infusion now that Nick Sebes and Gerren Crochet are back in full football mode. They missed much of April and May while they were running track, and that left the WRs thin for workouts. The early returns are very positive on both - no apparent rust. Crochet made one great highlight play that saw him catch a pass on a hook, then making a brilliant spin move right in front of the linebacker. Crochet darted down the field for a touchdown, though the defense called it back, claiming he was down tackled. The "O" and the "D" will never agree on those types of calls, but all in attendance agreed it was a big league demonstration of playmaking ability from Crochet.
- Also in the receiving vein, redshirt freshman David Lofton was back in action. He was healty through April spring football but was relegated to the sidelines much of the May unofficial workouts with a sore hamstring. That hammy is better now, and Lofton looked fully mobile - running around making all kinds of plays.
- One receiver who is not quite at 100% is Greg Camarillo. He is on the road to recovery from his broken leg in April, but he is being cautious about not coming back too far, too fast. In a fortunate bit of symmetry, cornerback Stanley Wilson is also working his way back from his off-season shoulder surgery, so Camarillo and Wilson are being matched up against each other in 1-on-1 drills. That way they can both get their feet and feel back in the game, but do so with an absolutely minimum of contact. Nobody wants either of those guys knocking knees or getting locked up in a battle for the ball.
- The competition concluded with two sessions of the two-minute drill. Chris Lewis ran the first group, while Kyle Matter ran the second. I believe the rotation planned during this summer will have Lewis run one two-minute drill each day, and Matter primarily rotate with Trent Edwards every other day for the. Ryan Eklund may find his way in there from time to time, but he has adopted a very selfless team ethic in his role as the #4 QB. The goal for the drill on this day was to get in field goal range, and Lewis very impressively marched the first string offense (against the first string defense) down the field to the 10-yardline. The best note there is that the fifth-year senior is making better decisions - rather than throwing low percentage passes into tight coverage downfield, he was dumping the ball to the tight ends for key pickups. Matter had less success, though the offense grumbled that the defensive front seven may have blitzed a little more than they should in this arena. The quarterbacks overall are keeping the INTs at a minimum, which has the entire offense confident.
- Freshmen are already making their mark. Running back Jason Evans had two receiving opportunities and made both catches very fluidly. As seen from his high school film, Evans is a natural receiving back and has hit the ground running. Tight end Patrick Danahy surprised teammates on both sides of the ball by making several good plays. One in particular had him grab a pass in heavy traffic - a very unfreshman play. I'll try to get other reports on other frosh, and a couple surprise attendees of note this summer are Texas linebacker Landon Johnson and Indiana defensive tackle Mike Macellari. Though both are not on campus for the duration, but rather for short stints to help get acclimated with teammates and workouts.
- On defense, Oshiomogho Atogwe is the standout defensive back. He's reading the offense better and better, and sniffing out where the receiver is headed. Atogwe is also breaking quickly on balls and making plays like a cornerback. The guy is getting better and better and really should lead this 2003 pass defense. Leigh Torrence is the next best of the DBs, maturing in all facets of this game. His is a quiet success story. Notable that Torrence is making plays whether he starts in press coverage or back off the line of scrimmage.
- The lead linebacker is unquestionably Jared Newberry. Though this is a great group of tight ends Stanford is putting on the field, they all bemoan that Newberry is "making things really difficult" for them. The LB surprise of the summer, though - Michael Craven. He has been battling a sore hamstring for months and was unable to show more than just a few flashes during the spring. Stanford fans will have to continue to cross their fingers that he can stay healthy, but the great news is that he looked good last week. Craven was running around making plays at every turn. At one time, the offense ran a play very similar to the winning play Stanford used to stun Cal in the 2000 Big Game in overtime. Craven sniffed it out and made a lightning quick break on the ball, not only defending it but also nearly coming up with the interception.
One player who missed last week's workouts but is already back in action this week is senior offensive tackle Kirk Chambers. His wife gave birth last week to their first child, a beautiful baby girl, Marianne. The three are healthy and very happy.
Also of note, the players are trying to organize a number of non-football off-campus activities to help with bonding and morale, much like they enjoyed during the wildly successful 2001 summer but which were lacking in 2002. Newberry and David Bergeron put together a fun-filled trip to a nearby water park, Raging Waters, last weekend. Eklund, Sebes and Scott Scharff were also set to host a barbeque for the team, until meddlesome neighbors put a kibosh on the plans. The spirit to have the team together for both work and play remains undeterred, however. Just a matter of finding the time and place...
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