Preseason Camp Day #15

Wednesday was as uneventful as any practice(s) the day before a game, and that held true with the UC Davis scrimmage looming on Thursday. But there was still news that came out of camp, including a shift in quarterback repetitions, a return from injury for a pair of players... and the much anticipated revelation of five freshmen who will play Thursday and this fall.

Apologies to more diseased of you Cardinalmaniacs™, but this day of practice was bereft of much excitement.  Two there were two practices, this final day before the highly anticipated UC Davis scrimmage.  The morning practice was in shorts (and upper body pads), while the afternoon was yawn-inspiring walk-through in the Stadium.  There were scant few collisions, and without tackling you don't have much in football.

Nevertheless, there are a few injury notes to report.  As they both promised after Tuesday's practice, both Julian Jenkins and Jon Alston were in full participation Wednesday.  As he departed the field after the morning practice, Jenkins gave me a grin and barked at me, "I told you so!"  

Though Alston is not a starter at his SAM linebacker position at this time, he is a more vital part of this defense than just the depth chart would indicate.  Sure, he is second at the position behind Jared Newberry, and LBs coach Tom Williams will be freely rotating his 'backers in games all season long.  But a new twist in this year's defense is a four-linebacker set called the "X" or "Extra" lineup.  I don't call it a formation, because it may be used with quite a few different formations and personnel.  That fourth LB can replace a defensive end, setting up a 3-4-4 defense.  Or you can substitute for a cornerback in a 4-4-3.  Alston right now is the "X" backer used frequently, and that will get him on the field - with all of his speed and athleticism that Stanford fans have been craving.

"There isn't that much difference between the various formations," Alston comments.  "It's just putting another guy on the field who can do a lot of things.  I make a lot of the same reads as if I were in my regular position."

The redshirt sophomore from Louisiana excited Stanford fans in his first two years of practices, with his blinding speed and raw talent.  But those same observers were quite disappointed to not see him on the field as much as they expected last fall.  The core concern with the coaching staff was Alston's mental maturity on the field, as he had an up-and-down year getting used to the reads and assignments necessary within the structure of the defense.  The good news, though, is that this Bayou Bad Boy feels he has made great strides heading into Year Three.

"I feel pretty comfortable with my knowledge of the game and the defense," he offers.  "I know I was overwhelmed at times in the past, but it's coming easier for me now.  An important thing is getting over those mistakes when you make them.  You've got to have a short memory to play at this level."

Make no mistake, however; this is a player who still has much to learn.  "Coach Williams and I are focused on my overall consistency right now," Alston describes when asked about this camp.  "And the only way I'll get there is through practice.  That and telling yourself no more mental errors."

Returning to injury news, Cooper Blackhurst did not take any repetitions in the morning, though, as he gave his knees a rest from some arthritic pain that has been nagging him.  Another fifth-year out of action was quarterback Chris Lewis, who (as we reported this morning) was held out of any throwing for both practices with back pain.  He is expected to go Thursday in the scrimmage, but on Wednesday his first team repetitions were assumed by redshirt freshman Trent Edwards.

"It really felt good to have all that time to work with the number one's," Edwards commented after the morning practice.  "We want Chris back and know he will be, but the rest of us made the best of what we got this morning.  And you can feel how fired up everyone is for tomorrow's scrimmage.  I think we've all erased last season pretty well, but getting the chance to play in this will be good for us.  We need the chance to hit guys with other jerseys on their backs."

Edwards and Kyle Matter took the first and second team repetitions, respectively.  And the opportunity was also seized by Ryan Eklund and T.C. Ostrander, who got their work in the passing offense for the first time in several days.  Both Edwards and Matter threw well, but I was most impressed by Edwards' execution on some of the less standard plays.  I have reported previously that I felt he was weakest in running the option, but he had some wonderfully crisp runs and tosses Wednesday.  The redshirt freshman also looked very good on ball fakes and executing screens.

Special teams also received a lot of attention in both practices.  It particularly caught my attention in the morning that David Marrero was taking the second set of rep's at punt returner behind Luke Powell.  That was yet another in the growing list of signs that the Florida freshman is destined to play this fall.  But it was after practice that I received firm word from Buddy Teevens on the frosh who will play Thursday against Davis.  And NCAA rules say that anyone who plays in an intercollegiate setting (be it a game or a scrimmage) burns a year of their eligibility.

Translation: any freshman who takes part in Thursday's practice will not be taking a redshirt this fall.  They will have been officially thrown into the fray for the first year of college eligible football.  The five who Teevens plans on using Thursday are: Marrero, Mark Bradford, Michael Okwo, Patrick Danahy and Brandon Harrison.  All five are expected to play an important contribution for this Stanford Football team this fall, though Harrison is the shocker of the group.  He came in with far less credentials than any of the other four, with his best competing scholarship offers coming from Northwestern and Memphis.  But Teevens and defensive backs coach A.J. Christoff have fallen in love with the frosh strong safety, with his great closing speed and toughness.  This is the clearest sign yet that he is seriously pushing the two upperclassmen "ahead" of him to play or start at SS.

Danahy is someone Teevens planned on playing all along, and he has shown enough physical toughness through the first three weeks of camp to confirm those feelings.  Tight end is the core position for the offense this fall, and with just three upperclassmen on the roster, Danahy is a vital fourth to help in the rotation.  Futhermore, with the scary numbers at fullback, Danahy can help out in that position, which has a very blurred distinction from the tight end in many formations in this offense.

Speaking of tight end, another true frosh that Teevens is seriously considering playing this fall is Michael Horgan.  His consistency has been an issue thus far, but he does a lot of things well and brings size to the position that Danahy does not.  Once again, the fullback situation is a driving force here that is pushing Teevens to give Horgan a hard look.  It is possible the decision could come by Thursday to go ahead and use this second frosh TE.  But more than likely this will play out the next few weeks.

A seventh true freshman who could be playing this fall, and who the football coaches would very much like to join the first five, is wide receiver Evan Moore.  They have been up front and told him and his family their pleasant surprise at how much further along he is right now, versus their expectations.  They are still willing to hold to their predetermined plan to let him redshirt and thus have a good start to his Stanford Basketball career come October.  But they at the same time are letting him know that if he wants to play this year on the gridiron, they will be happy to have him.  The basketball coaches are understandably concerned, and perhaps a little defensive, about this situation.  They recruited Moore and in doing so laid down the football redshirt plans so that he could have a meaningful role on Mike Montgomery's team.  Frankly speaking, that role would be in great jeopardy should he play through the fall for football.  He would be way behind in his freshman year, and never gain the foundation he would need to get in games this winter.  The next year would be scarcely improved.

The Orange County two-sport athlete has a very difficult decision to make right now, and both his father and grandfather are currently in town to help counsel and support him.  One creative idea floated by the coaching staff was that he could play football for 4-6 games this fall, but then pull back his football load to hit the floor running in Maples Pavilion.  In all likelihood, however, that plan will not be accepted by Moore.  He would be turning his four years of football eligibility into three and a half.

Don't expect to see him participating Thursday.  I believe that this decision will take several more days of introspection.  But the ball is in Moore's court now.  He has his choice, and it certainly is a tough one.

Two other notes on issues important to your Stanford Stadium experience...

  • The new scoreboard (dubbed, the "BootTron" by its donor) will not be lit up at any time for tomorrow's joint practice with UC Davis, but it was turned on today during the afternoon walk-through for some tests.  There were no graphics or programs being run, so it is difficult to discern the resolution of any scripts.  Or for that matter, the quality of the software that will go with this big, bad new hardware.  But the colors were bright and crisp, and this in the face of a beaming afternoon sun that would have produced a glare on the old scoreboard.  The season opener against Sannizay will be the real evidence, but this first look was exciting.
  • Also in attendance this afternoon were the new quintet of Dollies, who are always paramount to a quality game day experience.  We've written all the headlines about this 2003 Stanford Football preseason camp, but right under our noses the Dollies have reported and been hard at work with their own two-a-days!  I've seen many crops of Dollies in my time, and too many of them come in raw and clumsy in the opening game.  These girls are athletic and have some "shake" in them, though.  Now that I think about it... that description is difficult to distinguish from some of my early camp reports about the freshman tailbacks.  Scary!!!

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