The most interesting event of Monday's practice may or may not have been a significant event. Second string left tackle Matt McClernan went down early in practice with an ankle injury and spent the remainder of the workout on the training table. Stanford is still in the early stages of rebuilding adequate depth on the offensive line, and with a loss like this, the roster reveals just one non-redshirt player who can now backup both tackle positions: Jon Cochran. OL coach Steve Morton made an intelligent move soon after the injury to play Cochran at the more unfamiliar left tackle, and in fact did so as a substitution for Kirk Chambers in the first team. The second team line still has Cochran at his normal right tackle position, with true freshman Amir Malayery moved up to second string LT.
Malayery is not as strong as his upperclass counterparts, and he moves a step slower as you can see him thinking about his blocks while going through the motions. After all, he is just four weeks into his college career. But he moves smoothly with very good feet and plays with both fire and intelligence. It was warming to see the support Malayery received from the sidelines Monday as he took his first snaps with the second team; cheers of encouragement were ringing from many of his offensive teammates. And atta-boys rang forth after each successful block.
That injury precipitated the above shifts on the line, but Morton has separately made a concerted effort to mix things up these first two days. He is liberally mixing and matching first and second team linemen, to get them prepared to play next to each other. While the past week had been very rigid in the five bodies used for each unit, the permutations were fully explored Monday and Tuesday. Chambers might play at left tackle, with either Ismail Simpon or David Beall at left guard, Drew Caylor at center, Jeff Edwards at right guard and Mike Sullivan at right tackle. Then Cochran and Josiah Vinson would move up to take over the right spots, and Brian Head would reclaim the center position.
Incidentally, McClernan was hit in the back of the leg by a running back on that play, and it caused his leg to buckle under him. The injury actually includes both his knee and his ankle, and x-rays will be taken Wednesday morning to ascertain if there are any breaks. It is likely that he will get away without any fractures, and actually be back on the field very soon after the ankle sprain recovers. But this is yet another case where braces saved the day. Had McClernan not been wearing his knee and ankle braces, he would have torn up his leg. This is the third such clear case where a brace saved the season for a redshirt freshman offensive lineman. The previous two were Ismail Simpson and Tim Mattran.
Speaking of Mattran, he tossed aside the yellow jersey today for the first time since his knee injury. Though he did not participate in any 11-on-11 full contact action, he did work out in various OL drills and also snapped to the QB in seven-on-seven passing drills. In another sign that the team is quickly improving its health, redshirt sophomore fullback Capp Culver shredded his yellow jersey for the first time this camp. Monday was his return, and though he has a lot of catch-up and learning ahead, the fullback position now runs three deep. Culver hasn't played on offense since his high school days, but he has been studying the Stanford formations and calls the last couple weeks and could provide a great addition to the position that has been the most frightening in its depth this preseason.
And now for a mish-mash of practice observations and press conference notes:
- Monday was the first practice after the announcement of the two-quarterback plan for Saturday's game. So I thought I'd track the snaps taken by Chris Lewis and Trent Edwards. In the second half of practice, there was an extended run of seven-on-seven passing drills. Lewis took six reps; Edwards took five; then Lewis took five more. Moving on to 11-on-11 scrimmage action: Lewis with six snaps; Edwards two; Lewis four; and finally Edwards two.
- The quarterback play was decent Monday and actually pretty good on Tuesday. But the receivers have been abominable. I have seen more dropped balls in these two days of practice than I can remember in the last few years. And they seem to come in spurts. Monday, it was a David Lofton drop, followed immediately by a J.R. Lemon bobble and fumble. Later Patrick Danahy had a simple pass clank off his mits on a beautiful Kyle Matter rollout. The next play, Justin McCullum drops the ball. On Tuesday, the culprits included Nick Sebes, Gerren Crochet, Greg Camarillo, Mark Bradford and Alex Smith. It was enough to wrench your stomach.
- In sharp contrast, Brett Pierce had a few beautiful snags, including one leaping grab in the back of the endzone for a score. He is a rock in this offense, and he seems to get open in the middle of the field anytime he desires.
- The bright light for the offense Monday, in an otherwise dreary day of unending dropped balls, was the running game. I thought both Kenneth Tolon and J.R. Lemon ran like pros, and they did it play after play right up the gut.
- The official release of two depth charts in the last week has created questions about the defensive tackle positions. Stanford fans are clamoring for explanations as to why Amon Gordon is not starting at the three-technique alongside Babatunde Oshinowo. The question came up from reporters again today in Buddy Teevens' press conference. The answer that came from Teevens was identical to what I have been saying throughout camp: all four of the top DTs will rotate freely, and there is almost no distinction between the so-called first and second string. "Because you guys ask for a one and a two, we put a one and a two," Teevens noted with a grin. "It really should say 'or' between them. "Amon has made a tremendous transition sliding inside. He's a tough guy to block with lots of speed, power and explosiveness. We will see a lot from number 18 on Saturday." After the press conference, I anecdotally relayed the same questions to defensive tackles coach Dave Tipton, and he gave the same response. "It should say 'or' for all four of those guys," the coach noted. But those answers are the same that I have been giving the past few weeks, and Booties who clench pitchforks in their hands continually demand that Gordon be a starter. Well, I have also predicted that Oshinowo and Gordon will be the starting pair come the season opener, and indeed the first team for the defensive interior Tuesday was manned by that very duo.
- Another cry of incredulity has come at the weakside linebacker position, where Michael Craven is currently running third and manning the scout team. I spoke with linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Tom Williams for some answers. "He's just not quite ready yet," the coach offered on his prized pupil. "He got a late start for us, and his conditioning is a little bit of an issue. He'll play a lot of football for us this year, though." That situation contrasts with Stanley Wilson, who also joined the team late but has run first or second team for a good week now. "We are two or two and a half deep at the linebacker positions right now," Williams replied. "Depth is definitely a different factor in these two situations. Those guys at the linebacker spots feel the heat and have raised their games. Kevin Schimmelmann has done a great job for us, and both he and Michael Okwo are picking up the position very well."
- The LB on the opposite side of the field Stanford fans keep asking to get in games is Jon Alston. He is running second team on the strongside behind Jared Newberry, but remember there are linebacker formations on this team that get both in the game at the same time. We saw a good deal of that Tuesday in practice, and Alston answered the ball with some fantastic plays. On one, he made a quick leap into the air to snag a high pass for an interception that would have sailed over most LBs' heads. Later, he came on a lightning quick blitz from the outside and deflected a pass as he leapt at the quarterback.
- Trevor Hooper is another player who has been in a position battle, as the strong safety spot has been openly contested between three players. But at the end of last week, through these first two practices this week, Hooper has very steadily held down that starting position. Where he was receiving a lot of "feedback" after plays from secondary coach A.J. Christoff a week ago, Hooper is playing with more confidence and consistency this week. Fellow safety Oshiomogho Atogwe offers some insight. "When you saw a lot of that the other week, Trevor was uncertain whether he would lose his starting job or not," the veteran free safety notes. "Coach Christoff is a great coach. The thing I love most about him is that he's very competitive. He instills that in you and makes you compete on every play. That translates to games, and that is the difference between making a play and missing a play. He's intense, but he has both sides. Coach can one play crack a joke, and the next yell at you for something. But he does it all with a lot of love for us. Players realize where he's coming from. Nobody takes it personally. And Trevor is doing fine right now.
- I wrote on the premium message board the other week that quarterbacks coach Bill Cubit would be calling the offensive plays for Stanford this year, and that took a number of fans by surprise. Some might have even questioned that information. So for fun, I threw a playcalling question at Teevens in the press conference, and sure enough, he praised Cubit with his playcalling experience and what he would bring to the offense. Also of note, Teevens described shared responsibilities between Christoff and Williams for the defensive calls.
- The hottest topic for reporters Tuesday was of course the two-headed quarterback beast for this coming Saturday. No doubt, those same reporters were conspicuously absent at Saturday's practice when Teevens first unveiled the news... But on this day, Teevens was almost in a defensive position trying to justify his use of both Chris Lewis and Trent Edwards in the San Jose State opener. "As you look at other positions, there is competition everywhere," the head man rationalized. "You don't see those guys looking over their shoulders. A lot of teams are playing two quarterbacks. You look at the NFL, where a lot of teams play two to avoid erratic play when you are forced to shift from one to the other. At Florida, it was the norm for us. The best guy will play, but in any football program you have to be ready for the injury factor and have some awareness. With the physical and aggressive nature of this game, you need to have two guys ready."
- When SJSU head coach Fitz Hill took questions, he too was bombarded with queries of the dual-quarterback system. If reporters were looking for any difference of opinion, they didn't find it. "We of course played two quarterbacks last year," Hill offered. "It's a luxury to have two. It's not a bad thing. If I have two quarterbacks who can play, I'll use both."
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