Preseason Camp Day #9

The offensive line put together perhaps their best practice of the camp Wednesday morning, and that keyed a good day of offense. The wide receivers had too many drops, but one freshman target made a tremendous grab. Also find out what linebacker Michael Okwo thinks of his first couple weeks of Stanford Football...

Right off the bat, here is the latest and most detailed report on injuries:

  • Oshiomogho Atogwe pulled himself out of practice the other day, actually, when he felt a disturbing tightness in his hamstring.  He did not pull it, but in his experiences as a track athlete, he has a good handle on how far he can push that muscle.  Atogwe felt he could be close to pulling it if he kept practicing, and the training staff and coaches are inclined to trust him.  The good news is that he is preventing an injury, which should have a quicker recovery time to return him to the field - as opposed to coming back after a hammy pull.
  • But coming back from a pull is precisely what Timi Wusu is facing, and it is unknown when he will be clear to return.  Hamstrings are notoriously difficult to predict.
  • Fullback Kris Bonifas is close to coming back from tweaking his knee last week, though he didn't look that good when he did a little running today.  The staff might have him take an extra day or two to get that well.
  • Fullback Cooper Blackhurst did not do anything structural to his back, but the spasms from Monday have left some tightness still in his back.  Blackhurst has gone through back problems before in his career, so the training staff is waiting until his back is nice and loose before bringing him back.
  • Newly converted fullback Capp Culver was expected to join the offense early this week, but he is still experiencing pain in his shoulder.  He had off-season surgery and doesn't feel like he should at this point.  This one smells like it might not be "right" too soon.
  • Offensive guard Ismail Simpson is still expected to return to active duty very soon.  Nothing was damaged in his knee, and his recovery should be straight-forward.
  • Offensive guard Josiah Vinson is on or ahead of schedule, this morning actually taking part in one-on-one battles against defensive linemen.  That is a big step for him, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is in scrimmage form in the next couple of weeks.
  • Center Drew Caylor sat out almost all of this morning's practice, and though that sight might have conjured up horrible thoughts in Stanford fans' minds, fear not.  Nothing is injured; Caylor simply came down with a nasty virus last night.  Like the warrior he is, the fifth-year senior tried to go through practice, but he couldn't keep himself up and retreated to the training table after the opening minutes.

Those three absences in the interior of the offensive line Wednesday forced another shuffle.  Now Brian Head has returned temporarily to his center position, with David Beall moving up to the first team at left guard.  Now two true freshmen are working the second team offensive line: Mikal Brewer at right guard and Preston Clover at left guard.  But it's the gains made by the redshirt freshman tackles who are grabbing the coaches' attention.  Matt McClernan had his best round of one-on-one battles in his young Cardinal career, and Jon Cochran has had the light turn on upstairs with his consistency and technique.  Fifth-year senior tackle Mike Sullivan is not as young, though he is almost as inexperienced, but his play the last several days has jumped up as well.

I also was able to catch a bunch of OL vs DL battles today.  The results: Sullivan over Louis Hobson, Jeff Edwards over Scott Scharff, Babatunde Oshinowo over Head, Cochran over Michael Lovelady, Amon Gordon over Vinson, Tim Mattran over Casey Carroll, Taualai Fonoti over David Long, Mike Macellari over Brewer, Kirk Chambers over Will Svitek, Carroll over Beall, Ian Shelswell over Head, McClernan over Julian Jenkins, Mattran over Gordon, Clover over Chris Horn, Head over Carroll, Sullivan over Hobson and Edwards over Macellari.  Fun stuff to watch.

But the improvements on the offensive line are more than just entertainment; the results are palpable.  Today's pass protection under scrimmage circumstances was the best I've seen since last Friday.  That set the stage for quite a few nice pass plays.  Two that come to mind are a 40-yard bomb from Kyle Matter to Luke Powell, beating T.J. Rushing down the right sideline... and the play that surprised everyone: a diving catch by freshman tight end Patrick Danahy along the same sideline, some 30 yards downfield.  Players and coaches alike were talking about the Danahy catch after practice, his most athletic play in this camp.

On the defensive side of the ball, Brian Gaffney made a pair of standout plays.  He recorded a great solo tackle of Gerald Commissiong behind the line of scrimmage, and then on the very next play intercepted a pass from T.C. Ostrander.  A few plays later, Julian Jenkins recorded his own stuff, this time hog-tying J.R. Lemon behind the line.

In the latest sign that freshman linebacker Michael Okwo could be playing this fall, he is working out with the regular special teams crew rather than the scout special teams that is being manned by most of the freshman class.  Okwo also took some time to talk with us about how his camp and adjustments have been faring.

"The speed of everything is the most overwhelming adjustment for me to make," the Manhattan Beach linebacker says.  "The plays, the players - even the tempo of the practices is so much faster than anything I've seen.  There isn't much rest compared to high school, which was pretty laid back.  The conditioning hasn't been too bad, though, because of the two weeks I spent here during the summer.  It hasn't been a total shock for me."

The question on everybody's mind is whether Okwo will crack the playing rotation this fall, but he has a humble approach to the situation.  "It's not up to me," he plainly answers.  "It's up to the coaches.  The know a little more than I do about college football, and I'll trust they know what to do with me.  It's up for grabs right now - if I continue to play well, I could have a chance."

He is indeed playing well, particularly making an impact on blitzes.  Okwo has tremendous speed and timing, regardless of what he tells you about the adjustments to the college speed of play.  "I've been able to get in the open a few times, but my pass coverage is a like sketchy.  That's the big thing for me to work on," he allows.  "There are a lot of formations for me to learn, and I don't know that the coaches want to trust a freshman who doesn't have a clue what he's doing." 

Okwo adds a grin to that one, but he is quietly confident in where he is and how he is performing.  "Everyone has been really encouraging.  I'm surprised at how much people want to see you succeed, even though you're a freshman," he describes.  "In fact, when the other guys see freshman make plays, they get even more excited than when they make their own."

And for this 2003 recruit who was at one time rather luke warm on the prospect of being a Cardinal, he is all smiles about Stanford.  "I had a great time right away during the summer," he beams.  "The guys were great to me, and I knew then that I'd be happy here - even before I got to meet all the other freshman and get in the dorm."

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