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Friday's practice was both exciting and yet incomplete. The good vibes came from the first practice of the fall with full pads, which produced the hardest hitting drills of the week. The cracks of helmets and pads colliding was reverberating throughout the practice field, and the energy was palpable. The disappointment came from the absence of some key players who didn't take part in the practice because of Stanford's summer quarter final exams. Many exams were scheduled Friday, and missing in action were J.R. Lemon, Kenneth Tolon, Nick Sebes, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Michael Craven and Stanley Wilson. Academics is serious business on this campus, and it is fitting that those exams were taken on time with the rest of the summer student body. Nevertheless, the talent level will rise up another notch Saturday and Monday when the full roster is back in action.
A few other players of note were out of drills in yellow jerseys. They include: Mike Macellari, Matt Buchanan, Chris Ryan, Merlin Brittenham, Capp Culver and Timi Wusu. The hard hits of the first full speed practice also yielded a couple injuries, which thankfully are not as bad as they appeared. Kris Bonifas went down in a one-on-one drill against the linebackers, and at first it looked like he may have torn ligaments in his knee. The redshirt sophomore fullback was in a lot of pain, grabbing at his left knee. However he was after a few minutes able to walk to the training table under his own power. He has swelling in the knee that will keep him out of action at least a few days, but he should return soon. Freshman tailback David Marrero went down minutes later in a scrimmage play after being tackled behind the line, grabbing at his right knee, but he bounced back up soon thereafter and was running the ball like nothing had happened. The final knee incident came at the end of practice when redshirt freshman offensive guard Ismail Simpson was hit from the side during a PAT drill, and his right knee buckled. It looked worse than it was.
"The ligaments were stretched a little, but the trainers tell me that my knee brace kept anything from getting torn," Simpson reveals. "I'm pretty thankful for that." He expects to be back in action next week, possibly as soon as Monday.
Before that injury, Simpson and the offensive line were having a great day. Their successes run blocking and pass protecting gave the offense a lot of opportunities, which were repeatedly converted. During the first round of two minute drills, Chris Lewis handed off the ball five times to Gerald Commissiong, who marched down the field and scored an opening touchdown. Big blocks were opened by Simpson, Brian Head, Jeff Edwards and fullback Cooper Blackhurst. The absence of some of the backs gave Commissiong and Blackhurst a lot of reps in the practice, and they made the most of them.
"Cooper was a leader for us last year," Commissiong says about his big blocking fullback. "But he's taken his game to a whole new level this year. He's running with his head down, and he's blasting big holes for us. It's great to be in the same backfield with him."
Commissiong is also enjoying a surge in his running duties, and making the most of his chances. "Right now I'm the #3 guy [at tailback]," he begins. "I know I'm a role player who can help on third down or short yardage situations. But I have to be ready to step in at any time, if something should happen to one of the lead guys. I'm accepting of my role, but at the same time I'm competing to try and push myself up to that #2 or #1 spot."
The Canadian Crush has surprised some fans with his size and quickness, which he talks about. "I weigh about 216 [pounds] right now, which is 13 more than last year, but I actually feel a little quicker. Part of that is speed training, but I'm also getting used to the speed of college football. I'm seeing holes better right now, though I still have to work on reading defenses and picking up what they will give me. I'd like to get fix, six, seven or eight yards out of plays that might normally give you just one or two."
Another young tailback who impressed Friday with his heightened workload was freshman Jason Evans. He may need more meat on his frame to be a durable back at this level, but he shows a lot of glide that keeps him from taking as many hits as you would expect. And that is giving him big chunks of yardage, with the first defender getting a lick on him well past the line of scrimmage.
His classmate and position mate, David Marrero, encountered a little different luck on this day. He did show some great quickness on carries, but the play that stuck in my mind was a stick he took at the line of scrimmage from fellow frosh Michael Okwo. The heralded linebacker got right in Marrero's chest and put him flat on his back. It was a big league play by a young player, and there were a lot of yells of approving excitement from Okwo's teammates. It is noteworthy again that Okwo continues to get more and more repetitions with the second string or first string defense. There is a definite look of his being "fast tracked" to playing time this fall, to my eyes.
But returning to the offense, this was a landmark day for the unit and the offensive line in particular. The offensive coaches couldn't hold back their wide grins with some of the surprising success had both on the ground and in the air. In addition to some of the nifty runs from "the Commish" and Evans, the quarterbacks moved the ball well via the pass. The best looking plays during two minute drills came on slants, first to David Lofton and then later to Greg Camarillo. Both were fantastic timing patterns on the part of the QB and WR.
Evan Moore again had a very good day, though he had one long ball that sailed through his arms just inside the goalline that should have been a catch. He was up in the air on top of T.J. Rushing, and in the same position where he had made excellent grabs throughout this camp. But the ball went right through the wickets.
"I have no idea why I held my arms out like that," he admits. "I never do that, with my hands apart. Coach [David] Kelly teaches us to keep our thumbs together when going for the ball, but I was just stupid."
His temporary disappointment aside, Moore is receiving a lot of attention from Kelly on every drill and pattern, and there is clearly a thought from the coaching staff that this 6'7" wonder could have an impact on the field this fall. Longtime Cardinal Football observers are murmuring the hallowed name of Ed McCaffery as they watch the fluid moves of this tall target, and that is high praise. But will Moore stick to his announced plan to redshirt on the gridiron and give himself a fair start on the hardcourt with Stanford Basketball this freshman year?
"As of right now, I'm still the same," he says of his football redshirt plans. "It's going through my head, though. I know I could play with these guys and help the team this fall. I would hate to miss out on basketball, though, so I'm sticking with my plan at this point. I'm having a lot of fun out there, though. It's all about adjustments for me; what we did in the freshman practices was nothing like what we're doing now. Everybody is bigger, stronger and faster."
This practice also provided the first game conditions for kicking, with PATs attempted after two-minute drill touchdowns. Field goals were also attempted if drives stalled. Redshirt sophomore Michael Sgroi did not attempt any of the kicks, which left the duties to the two freshmen. Each had one attempt at each type of kick, and Derek Belch was the victor. Belch put his extra point through the middle, with height and length, while Jay Ottovegio missed his wide right. Belch also chipped through a short field goal, while Ottovegio had a 43-yard attempt blocked. There will be many more kicks for these young legs, though, in the weeks to come. But Belch appears to have the stronger and more confident leg at this early stage.
A few more plays and players of note:
- Freshman defensive end Udeme Udofia blasted into the offensive backfield and blocked a pass as he pulled back. Would have been a big sack in live conditions
- Jon Alston, Kevin Schimmelmann and Michael Okwo looked like the best linebackers during the one-on-one battles against the running backs. The ball was tossed to the back in an openfield situation, with a good 10-12 yards between him and the linebacker. Then it is a simple matter of who can beat whom, head-on.
- The offensive unveiled its first trick play of the fall, which will not be described in detail, lest my practice privileges get pulled. But the end result was a wide-open touchdown reception by Brandon Royster in the endzone. Just beautiful, and it took the defense completely by surprise.
- Redshirt junior defensive tackle Scott Scharff ran all day as the first string alongside Babatunde Oshinowo, with the second team manned inside by Casey Carroll and Amon Gordon. Pick your poison as to which pair you would rather face on gameday, but it is notable that Scharff and Carroll swapped spots all day on the depth chart.
- Several recruits came to check out practice, with the most notable being bigtime defensive end Greyson Gunheim from Sebastopol (CA), up in Sonoma County. The 6'6" athlete was all smiles and received plenty attention from coaches throughout the afternoon.
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