All week Cardinalmaniacs™ have been convulsing with withdrawal in the absence of Stanford Football. After a long off-season of growing anticipation and interest, the Cardinal kicked off the 2003 season a week ago with their opener, but now we all sit and wait during the unbearable two-week void of game-less action until the Proving Grounds at Provo (Sept. 20). While fans are stammering for more action and bemoan such an early bye wee, the players and coaches have held a different view.
You see, the new NCAA rules governing preseason were intended to protect players by spacing out double-day practices, but the result was an extension of the length of camp. Stanford endured a full four weeks of camp (more for the freshmen) before the San Jose State game, and the players were pretty beat down when they started the next week of practice. To make matters worse, a heat wave swept through the Bay Area this week, peaking with 95º temperatures during Wednesday afternoon's workout. The good news is that Buddy Teevens gave his boys yesterday and today off, which many players greeted with great relief.
Even though the season is just a game old, the team has been able to make good use of this bye week to heal up some banged up players. We knew coming out of Saturday night's opener that three players were significantly injured. DT Casey Carroll strained his shoulder on a fantastic defensive play behind the line of scrimmage, but he has been held out of just about all action this week. RB Kenneth Tolon had teeth chipped when he took an kick to the jaw after a 13-yard run, and he was held out of the first couple days of work this week. Finally SS Timi Wusu stood on the sidelines all of this week with a brace on his right knee after a sprain Saturday night.
But a few more injuries have transpired early this week that could have put Stanford in a tenuous position on the offensive line, had the Cardinal needed to play today for their second game of the year. Fifth-year senior starting right tackle Mike Sullivan sprained his foot Tuesday and has been out of action since. He is wearing a boot currently to immobilize the foot for rest and repair, and he would have been very doubtful if needed today. Second string right tackle Jon Cochran also suffered some bad luck when he rolled his ankle early this week as well. Cochran is in better shape than Sullivan, though, and did take some sparing repetitions later in the week. The official word from Teevens is that he expects both players to be ready to play next week against BYU.
This rapid downturn in depth at RT forced offensive line coach Steve Morton to take some creative measures. Rather than simply promoting players up the depth chart, which would mean playing one of two true freshman tackles he would very much like to redshirt, Morton is finding answers elsewhere on the line. Redshirt freshman right guard Jeff Edwards took several snaps out at right tackle, which is not a stretch for the 6'7" lineman with good feet. Edwards at tackle is something Morton had already contemplated doing at some point this year, though the early camp injury absences of guards Josiah Vinson and Ismail Simpson necessitated that Edwards stick at RG. Indeed, he started at the position in his first college game last week.
The other experiment shifted fifth-year Drew Caylor out to RT for some work, which is quite a change of scenery from the center position he has manned all year. However, remember that Caylor played some offensive tackle in 2001. Many experts inside and outside the Stanford program dearly wished he could have stayed there, and he likely would be a starting right tackle for Stanford today. But the good news now is that the adjustment is not a new one for the versatile senior, who many teammates say is one of the best athletes on the team.
The coaches are smartly getting ready for the BYU game by getting both of these players solid work out at tackle. Sullivan and/or Cochran might be ready to go, but if they cannot play through the whole game, their replacements will not be walking into the right tackle position completely green.
A few more notes on this team...
- Newly converted fullback Capp Culver tore his bicep (ouch!) Tuesday and is lost for the season. Culver had already missed much of the start of the season as his shoulder was recovering from off-season surgery, but lightning has struck twice for the redshirt sophomore from Canadian, Texas. Best wishes to Capp as he recovers and looks to return to action in the spring. The fullback position will be one in great need of aid, with the top two players on the depth chart both in their final fall of eligibility.
- More bad news on the fullback front has come with a medical update on Emeka Nnoli. He has had a series of meetings with doctors, to review his blood work and response to various medicines. Turns out his condition is more complicated than simple "high blood pressure," and the latest determination by specialists is that he will not be ready to play this year. Nnoli is out at least this fall, and it still remains to be determined how treatable his condition is. I will gather more specifics the next time I speak with the prep All-American and bring you all the details.
- After Thursday's practice, freshman quarterback T.C. Ostrander stayed for a good half hour to throw extra balls to several receivers. As has often been the case, fellow frosh Mikal Brewer stayed with him for extra repetitions snapping the ball at his new center position. But more than just the goal of tossing a few extra balls, Ostrander was being closely watched and filmed during this post-practice session. His mechanics out of high school were very solid and made for his elite ratings as a prep last year, but every college coach will have a few things to tweak with even the most refined of frosh QBs. Ostrander is somewhat unusual among quarterbacks his age in how high he releases the ball, and that distinction makes him throw more like a 6'8" slinger than his 6'3" stature would suggest. But quarterbacks coach Bill Cubit is refining the release and follow-through for his young protégé. Ostrander is bringing the ball forward a little bit too much like a pitcher, which is a remnant from his high school baseball days, rather than a quarterback. They are also working on how he stands on his front foot, which again is a hold-over from his pitching motion. The great news is that the speed of his release is not even remotely a problem. Whereas Kyle Matter and Chris Lewis have slower wind-ups, Ostrander and Trent Edwards have very quick motions from the time the their free hand leaves the football. In fact, slow-motion film analysis shows that both of the Northern California products have just 330 milliseconds of motion in their throws.
- At the end of Tuesday's practice this week, I noticed an incredible celebration from the entire team during their post-practice huddle around head coach Buddy Teevens. Guys were leaping up and down, slapping each other on the helmets. I could not imagine what good news that could have received from the head man to bring this level of excitement, other than being told they would have an extra day off this week. Instead I was told that Teevens has challenged his team on their intensity level during this two-week gap between games; he has told them that at any moment during any practice, he would signal for them to turn up their energy. To push them at the end of a hot and tiring two-hour practice was a good test, and they answered the bell. That responsiveness and trigger-sensitive emotional release could be a powerful aid when Stanford faces their first gut-check on the road during next week's BYU game.
- Another benefit of the Friday/Saturday off-days for this team is that the Stanford assistant coaches were able to go on the road to watch a number of recruits Friday night. NCAA rules only allow eight coaches on the road at any one time, and the rules also limit the number of times any school can evaluate a particular player - through camps, games or practices. So there are some careful decisions made as to who to see this weekend. We'll try to learn more about those trips and report in the next few days, but we do know that this particular weekend was used to primarily scout West Coast players. Take a look at Stanford's recruits in this senior class and you can probably guess several of the targets that garnered Cardinal coaches in the stands.
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