Just as the big news Monday was the debut appearance of Michael Craven, the headline event of Tuesday afternoon was the entrance of cornerback Stanley Wilson to the practice field. Like Craven, he had just been waiting on the final word with his summer exams (which concluded Saturday), and minutes after getting the thumbs up Wilson raced onto the field for the last quarter of practice. He has to wear shock pads the first two days, which largely precludes him from taking part in any contact drills with everyone else on the roster in pads. But getting his clock started with the new NCAA acclimatization period is important. Wilson may not have taken much out of Tuesday's practice, but it puts him on schedule to have full pads this coming Saturday.
The redshirt junior cornerback will be welcomed with open arms to a thin secondary that is currently playing true freshman Nick Sanchez as a second string cornerback (behind Leigh Torrence). Wilson will be competing hard with sophomore T.J. Rushing for the other starting CB spot, which will be great fun to watch the remainder of this camp. Whoever wins the battle, Stanford will have the most talent at the position in the program's modern history, and put three outstanding cover men on the field in nickel situations.
Currently, the safety spots are the real trouble positions in the defensive backfield, though, with less experience and sketchy health. SS Timi Wusu has been out with a sore hamstring for a full week, and now FS Oshiomogho Atogwe has sat out the last couple practices as well. The leaves defensive backs coach A.J. Christoff with a very young and inexperienced set of safeties, currently running Marcus McCutcheon and Trevor Hooper and the free and strong spots, respectively. Both are redshirt freshmen who have made some plays this camp, but have high amplitude inconsistencies. And as a DB, it's the big play you give up on one mistake that is forever remembered, despite the nine other solid assignments you kept. As an example in Tuesday's one-minute drill, the first team offense led by Chris Lewis was facing fourth and long from more than 40 yards out. Lewis hit Luke Powell on a slant, and the redshirt senior wideout was gone for an easy score. He had slipped through the safeties and had a good four yards of cushion on the catch.
The thin depth at safety has promoted true freshman Brandon Harrison to the nickel position, and he is putting together a very good start to the week. He is getting a good break on the ball and making nice plays once he gets there. A few eyebrows are being raised right now with his somewhat surprising play.
Shifting focus from the fleet DBs to the punishing linemen, there are some great battles building in the trenches. The young offensive line is starting click, and that means the monsters on the D-line are getting a little better challenges. A few of the one-on-one battles I witnessed Tuesday include: OT David Long pushing DE Taualai Fonoti outside; NT Ian Shelswell blowing up and through OG/C Mikal Brewer; OT Kirk Chambers holding back DE Will Svitek; OT Matt McClernan keeping DE Julian Jenkins at bay; OG Preston Clover standing up DT Chris Horn; and DE Emmanuel Awofadeju moving OT Amir Malayery back into the quarterback.
One drill the defensive tackles ran Monday morning that I forgot in those practice notes is something I'd like to mention. DTs coach Dave Tipton had them run the perimeter of a four or five foot hoop lying on the ground - clockwise and counterclockwise. The goal is to improve quickness out of turns, but he also asked his tackles to keep low. An emphasis on both sides of the line has been pad level throughout this camp, and the first few runs of this drill were poor. Tipton wanted the runs with the inside hand touching the grass, but some of those big bodies were standing up too much. So he threw a towel down and made them pick it up at the start of the run and then place it on the ground at the end. That served the purpose, and from my vantage point it helped give insight to the quickness of these interior defenders. Of the upperclassmen, it was not surprising that Casey Carroll and Amon Gordon were the quickest. Though it is fair to note that Babatunde Oshinowo and Ian Shelswell both showed great knee bending for their girth. The freshmen had more of my attention, and the standouts were Nick Frank and Mike Macellari. Frank is smaller and should be quicker, but he moved very fluidly to my eyes. Macellari is a big guy with probably a good four inches on Frank, but the 6'6" athlete looked good.
The first team DTs incidentally continue to be Oshinowo and Scott Scharff. That might surprise people that this combination could project as starters, but head coach Buddy Teevens explains that there is another goal in the combinations. "We're shuffling the deck right now and using different pairings throughout the camp," he describes. "We want anyone to be able to play any spot. We may be forced to play different guys at different times, and this gives us a chance to see what they can do together."
Though I spent less time watching the defensive ends, Emmanuel Awofadeju shows a lot of quickness off the snap... more so than some of the upperclassmen at the position...
Over on the offensive line, another day without Ismail Simpson meant another day for Drew Caylor at first team center and Brian Head out at left guard. Head has already played three positions in this camp, and I had a chance to catch up with him to talk about the challenges of playing both center and guard. He feels his move from center to guard is far easier than the reverse shift. "It's not that difficult to move from center to guard," he begins. "It would be so much harder if I was a guard and had to learn to play center. Then you have to learn a bunch of new calls. It's also a little easier to play guard because you have more space between you and the defense, which gives you a split second longer to react. But while I'm playing guard now, I feel like I know what I'm doing because I'm used to making reads. It's also a little easier at guard because you work with the tackle; at center, you're on your own."
Head had a baptism-by-fire experience last fall as a redshirt freshman, almost literally being eaten alive by a pair of incredible defensive linemen in his first college game at Boston College. Frankly, he didn't look too good much of the year, but he gained experience and is a much better player now because of it. "The biggest stride I've made is that I'm much more confident," he explains. "I feel my strength and speed have improved, and my weight is up. I know my assignments better now, though I still need to work on my pad level. We have a lot of young guys, but with that comes a lot of enthusiasm. I was in their shoes last year, and the only thing they lack is repetitions. But they're going against the #1's [on defense] and getting better."
More players and plays of note from Tuesday's practice:
- Nick Sebes made a great play on an underthrown ball from Chris Lewis. T.J. Rushing had tight coverage, but Sebes saw that the ball would be short and fought back to get inside Rushing. He leapt to make the catch and then made a quick turn up the field for more yardage. Very nicely done.
- Another standout play from a receiver came after the catch, this one from freshman Evan Moore. He caught a ball out in the flat and had classmate Michael Okwo ahead of him in the open field. Moore made a quick two-step laterally and then blew by Okwo. With what I've seen from Okwo's quickness this camp, that was an impressive move. No, it was a very impressive move.
- Kevin Schimmelmann keeps making plays in the open field and had really come on at the WILL linebacker spot. Says linebacker teammate David Bergeron, "He's impressed a lot of us. He is so fast, but you know the best thing he brings from being a safety? His reads of the offense. He knows where they will go based on formations and what he sees other players doing on offense, which gives him a jump on a lot of plays."
- In a set of punting drills, the two long snappers were Jon Cochran and Matt Traverso. They are the backups behind Drew Caylor, and Cochran looks the more consistent of the two right now. Both are still learning the ropes.
- Several players stayed after practice for extra work. Craven and Wilson did some conditioning runs to help them pick up some of the slack from their missed time in camp, but they were voluntarily joined by one of the great leaders of the defense - Jared Newberry. Mikal Brewer also stayed late to practice snaps to Trent Edwards in the shotgun. Brewer could play anywhere on the interior of the OL, but he is vastly inexperienced at center. Good to see him seeking out the extra repetitions. Edwards was throwing after the snaps to tight ends Matt Traverso and Patrick Danahy. Elsewhere on the field, T.C. Ostrander was getting in extra throws with Mark Bradford, Tim Sims and Mike Miller. Those four frosh along with Brewer are showing the fire and desire that bespeak strong futures. Said Ostrander after practice of his extra work (with a grin), "I need it."
- Saturday's practice time had been scheduled for 3:35 in the afternoon, but it is being moved to the morning to allow the coaches to scout a certain South Bay opponent. We will update our practice schedule as soon as we have a firm new time.
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