Preseason Camp Day #3

There were two big differences between Wednesday's practice and the prior two days of fall camp: the physical contact was accelerated, and the offense greatly lengthened its aerial range. With upper body pads now fitted on the team, we are moving closer to the full extent of football in this camp...

I told you that Tuesday the aggression of the defensive line was so heightened that Buddy Teevens had to remind the ravenous crew of the rules of engagement in the absence of pads.  Well, Wednesday's practice marked the first of two days where the team is now allowed to wear upper body pads, which approximates game safety and conditions from the waist up.  And watching that third day of this preseason camp, you couldn't tell it was anything less than full-out warfare.  Bodies were flying, and the engagements at the line of scrimmage were heated.

The one body I saw ripping through the most blockers was redshirt junior defensive tackle Amon Gordon.  He was blowing up targets like a bowling ball careening through a stack of defenseless pins.  At one point during a scrimmage session I saw his massive frame literally fly through air in the offensive backfield.  Remember that the quarterbacks wear bright yellow jerseys precisely to prevent them from taking shots from the likes of the monolithic Gordon, and for a split-second I had visions of redshirt freshman QB Trent Edwards being scrapped off the practice field after the impending collision.  But the would-be sacker angled his body away from the tackler, and Edwards instinctively sidestepped the airborne freight train.

He is bigger and badder than ever, and if this day's practice is any harbinger of his play this coming season, Amon Gordon is ready to destroy.

"I think I took in a lot of good learning in the spring," he says of his debut practices in the defensive interior, after being switched mid-April from defensive end.  "That essentially created a foundation for what I'm doing today.  [The coaches] are throwing a lot at us right now on offense, with no huddles and a high speed game.  But that tempo is great for us to experience.  We're playing fast, and doing our best to wreak havoc on the offense.

"I feel I had a good grasp on the position at the end of the spring.  They simplified things for me, and showed me how similar it is to playing defensive end.  Now, the sky's the limit."

While Gordon feels at ease inside, at a position he has found to be surprisingly similar to his old spot at strongside DE, he is learning a new discipline for his role within the defense.  "When I see different offensive sets, I have to think about what I'm allowed to within the framework of the defense," he comments.  "And that's starting to click for me.  It's coming easier.  We have different counters and stuff.  I don't want to totally freelance and compromise the defense."

"When I'm at my best, I'm creating a lot of big plays, and that should have a ripple effect through the whole team.  It's a team game, and I'm just a cog in the machine.  Nobody places themselves greater than the machine, and that's essential to its smooth operation."

Speaking of machines, you can't help but admire the circuitry and design of this behemoth.  At 6'3" he now weighs 295 pounds and says he is "quicker than ever."  The move from DE to DT may prove to be the single most important event of the entire 2003 calendar year for Stanford Football, with how much Gordon can disrupt the offensive interior.  He can fill up running lanes and crash through to quarterbacks out at the three-technique.  Pac-10 offensive guards, beware.

But when Gordon is asked who gave him the toughest time Wednesday in one-on-one battles, as well as lining up in scrimmage situations, he names redshirt freshman offensive guard David Beall.  "Beall is a tough guy," he answers.  "He gave me problems on some plays, but I made sure to get him back double on some others."

Then he flashes that infectious smile, which is as much his trademark has his ferocious playing style.  If you have never seen or talked with Amon Gordon off the field, get to a practice this month and do so.  He's an intelligent and very personable young man, who just happens to be an offensive coordinator's nightmare on gameday.

And make sure you don't miss a single game of Gordon's this fall, as they could be his last in cardinal and white.  With a young daughter to care for, and many of the tools that NFL general managers crave, a breakout season could poise him for a move to the NFL after four years at Stanford.  "That's always a dream, but I'm not just going to go through the motions these next 11 games," he reveals.  "It can't happen if I don't have the best games I can have."

Another player who made a big impact Wednesday was a fellow with far less acclaim, and who has become all but forgotten in the Cardinal secondary.  Redshirt sophomore Calvin Armstrong was injured much of last year and has slipped out of sight and out of mind for many Stanford fans.  But he is running second string at cornerback and could play in the nickel or dime rotation this year, in addition to a big role on special teams.  On this day, he showed that he can be a playmaker in single coverage, leading all DBs in breakups and interceptions.  Kudos to Calvin for showing up bigtime.  He could be a big boost to this secondary's depth if he can mature and show consistency this fall.

Other standout plays and players of note:

  • Alex Smith was a verifiable money man Wednesday.  Trent Edwards in particular went to Smith time and time again in the two-minute drill, and the redshirt junior tight end consistently delivered.  His play of the day, though, came earlier in seven-on-seven work when he caught a ball on the right sideline and then had a direct collision with a would-be tackler.  Strong safety Trevor Hooper was looking to make the stop, but Smith literally ran Hooper over like a locomotive.  It was one of the most awesome demolitions I have ever seen in a practice setting by a receiver after the catch.
  • Twice in the practice, freshman wide receiver Evan Moore jumped up and over to snag balls against T.J. Rushing.  The sophomore cornerback is small indeed, but he is a great leaper and makes a lot of plays up in the air.  This is more of a testament to what a 6'7" receiver can do with his own impressive vertical abilities.  The second of these two receptions came in the two-minute drill from 39 yards out from fifth-year senior Chris Lewis.  It was a great play from both QB and WR, and concluded the practice.
  • Rushing still made plenty of plays on the day, though, as did redshirt junior CB Leigh Torrence.  Secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff had a lot of praise during the workouts for Torrence, who is stopping or containing almost every pass play his way.  The big mistakes are largely gone from his game, as his mental discipline is much more acute this year.  One play Torrence couldn't stop, though, was a leaping grab on the sideline by walk-on freshman receiver Mike Miller.  Miller is probably the least known of any of the 30 freshmen by fans, but he had big praise from his offensive teammates on that play.  A disgusted Torrence was left kicking the turf afterward.
  • Freshman tailback David Marrero is picking up a good number of reps in the offense, both running and receiving.  He is very fluid and smooth catching the ball when open in the flat, and he has a very effortless jump in stride to catch the ball in his basket.  Then he returns to the ground, and kicks it into fifth gear.
  • Although on one play out in the open, Marrero had redshirt sophomore OLB Kevin Schimmelmann impeding his path to the endzone.  The quick freshman put his best hip swivel to get by Schimmelman, but the savvy linebacker completely wrapped him up.  The converted safety is making good use of his time as the first string weakside linebacker this week in Michael Craven's absence.
  • Fifth-year senior nose tackle Ian Shelswell did something you probably didn't think possible for a 310 pounder in one-on-one drills.  He put a quick move that juked right and then left to blow by freshman guard Preston Clover.  His teammates had been telling me that Shelswell was quicker, but I didn't believe it until I saw it with my eyes.  Intriguing...
  • Fifth-year right tackle Mike Sullivan may be more solid than we've believed.  He is doing a pretty good job picking up blitzes, and keeping ends in front of him.  He won't be a Kirk Chambers this fall, but he's holding his own out there.
  • David Lofton is another receiver who made a great leaping grab, this one coming off the arm of Edwards from 30 yards out.  Lofton went up and came down with the ball against double coverage in the endzone.  Very nice.
  • Both Lewis and Kyle Matter made good decisions to throw balls away during scrimmage work when they didn't have anything downfield.  Those decisions will save interceptions and could be a big difference for this offense versus the 2002 edition.

When 11-on-11 work took place, here was the order the QBs took snaps.  Chris Lewis and Kyle Matter rotated every play for the first seven snaps.  Then Trent Edwards and T.C. Ostrander alternated for four plays.  Ryan Eklund came in for one play, followed by Edwards.  Then Matter and Lewis alternated the next six.  Ostrander and Lewis rotated the final few snaps.  Chris Lewis had the best production out of the five in that portion of practice.

When two-minute drills came, though, the order was Lewis, Edwards and then Lewis again.  The fifth-year senior finished the first series with a reception to Justin McCullum that was stripped by Marcus McCutcheon.  Call it a fumble or an INT, depending on your vantage.  His last series ended with the Moore leaping TD grab.  Edwards completed four passes in his drill, including the 30-yarder to Lofton.

On the injury front, both OG Merlin Brittenham and WR Chris Ryan were out of drills and spent much of the practice riding exercise bikes.  Redshirt freshman OG Josiah Vinson made another step forward participating in some drills and running, though he is not yet cleared for contact.

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