With just one week to go before Stanford's intercollegiate "joint practice" (read: scrimmage) against UC Davis, it's time to find improvement in this football team. Yesterday's practice showed us that the young offensive line can pass protect, at least for a couple series of downs, but this year's offense is to be predicated on ball control. That means getting serious about running the ball, and today's practice was serious about the ground game indeed.
In 11-on-11 scrimmage sessions, the offense ran the football play after play. The defense knew the ball was coming on the ground, but the O-line blew open holes to pave the way for the running backs. J.R. Lemon continued his successful camp, hitting holes with speed and power and rambling deep into the defensive backfield. But the practice was also a reemergence of Kenneth Tolon. The redshirt junior had put together a previously sporadic camp, but on this day he broke play after play. Tolon still has that quick lateral bounce to evade tacklers, but he is running more powerfully than before. His best play came running to the left side and giving a very physical stiff-arm to a would-be tackler. That was the first good stiff-arm from any player I have seen all camp, and it was a highlight run for Tolon. Great stuff. If these two can continue the next two weeks like this practice, the Stanford offense will have a very lethal pair of very complementary runners.
Both freshman tailbacks also showed great runs. David Marrero is running with more confidence, finding gaps and running lanes with a quick burst. He is also catching quite a few balls out of the backfield, which helps to put him in open space and utilize his blinding speed. Jason Evans hits the hole quickly and darts in and out of traffic. I still see Evans as more of a glider, while Marrero has more shiftiness.
But give a lot of credit to the offensive line for paving the way for all these runners. Even more impressive, they did it without Drew Caylor, who is recovering from illness and played sporadically with the second team line. The interior trio for the first team was (left to right) David Beall, Brian Head and Jeff Edwards, and the youngsters were firing off the ball with purpose and precision.
Other players and plays of note:
- WR David Lofton has been up and down, still learning the receiver position, but he hauled in a lot of balls today. The redshirt freshman showed some of that athletic greatness in the spring already, but now Lofton is figuring out what to do after the catch.
- CB Calvin Armstrong is the Rodney Dangerfield of the secondary, never getting any respect from the so-called experts. And sure, he may miss a few plays, but he is putting together a lot of breakups that look like a Pac-10 starting cornerback. He did it again Thursday, but he also laid the wood on the biggest hit of the practice. Marrero was out in the flat, looking to break upfield toward the right sideline, with just Armstrong in front of him. That's a play you'd expect an inexperienced cornerback to whiff, but instead Armstrong knocked his target flat on his back with a thundering crash of pads and helmets.
- More good stuff today from OLB Michael Okwo, who is holding down a very firm hold on the second string WILL position. But what will happen when Michael Craven gets back into the thick of things? Craven is running well (no apparent hamstring issues) and finding the ball like someone who has been in the entire camp. I don't know what you do with this pair plus Kevin Schimmelmann, all at one position. That's a lot of speed, athleticism and instincts that you hate to keep off the field...
- We sing the praises of Luke Powell all the time, but he showed a little something new today. After catching a comeback about five yards past the line of scrimmage, he had LB Mike Silva about to crush him from behind. The ball was to the outside, but Powell turned back toward the center of the field with his free arm balancing him on the ground. He turned a quick 270° and whipped his body up the field untouched. That move drew oohs and aahs from everyone in attendance. That's playmaking!
- Best block of the day goes to WR Justin McCullum, who took out Schimmelmann and Leigh Torrence with one block and put them both down on the ground. It has been a lack of physical play by McCullum that has kept him from making enough plays (both receiving and blocking) in this camp, and this is hopefully a sign of a maturation. He has a world of potential, for sure.
- Both punters had strong days today, with their worst boots traveling 34 or 35 yards. Eric Johnson wasn't putting the ball 60 yards deep like we've seen a few times before, but he put a lot between 45 and 50 yards. Jay Ottovegio put together his best day of punting, hitting many of his balls 40 yards or deeper. Ottovegio again showed that he has a very quick two steps that gets the ball off quickly once he fields the snap. But Johnson has a very marked advantage in hang time, which is clearly the best we've seen in his career. It isn't even close to what we saw last year.
The injury report had a few shuffles Thursday. Back in action is fifth-year senior Cooper Blackhurst, though he took off his jersey and pads toward the end of practice. We'll see if his back health holds up for Friday's double day of practices. Oshiomogho Atogwe is working his way back into the safety position, with some participation in coverage drills but no 11-on-11 work yet. Those are upticks, though there are some down arrows as well. OL Tim Mattran and DE Udeme Udofia both were hurt Wednesday and sat out of Thursday's practice with yellow jerseys. We'll get you a prognosis for their injuries and the timelines for their return tomorrow.
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