It was with much celebration and hoopla last spring that we announced the position switch of first year quarterback David Lofton to the wide receiver position. In his limited practices, the first of his life, he showed tremendous promise. Though he was raw, needing at least a year of instruction to learn the tools of the trade at the college level, the potential for greatness was clear. Coaches, teammates and fans alike were enthused at the possibilities.
Fast forward to the present, where Lofton has yet to record a reception in his redshirt freshman season. He has scarcely appeared in games, as well. The transition from high school superstar to college reserve is a difficult one for many like Lofton, and several circumstances have conspired to make his climb even more difficult this fall. For one, he has battled a few minor injuries, including a stinger he suffered two weeks ago in practice. He has also been caught in a year where the Cardinal have played two true freshmen with significant roles.
The Plano, Texas product reached a breaking point and approached head coach Buddy Teevens last week to ask for a switch back to the quarterback position. In the middle of a week of game preparation, Teevens understood the frustration and asked that the two revisit the move after the Oregon game. They met again Sunday, and the head coach granted the request. Tuesday was the first practice this week, and Lofton was under the center taking snaps for the scout team as a QB again.
"I wasn't enjoying the position as much as I had hoped," Lofton explains. "I wanted to come back to the position I love. It's something about not being in control of the offense. I just want to have the ball in my hands."
It was a move Teevens had not anticipated having to make at this time. "He was surprised," the QB/WR says of his coach's reaction. "But he had seen me down about injuries and playing time the last couple weeks."
Lofton had not taken any snaps at quarterback in more than six months, and a change mid-season is not an optimal time to make such a drastic change. But with his heart simply not into a receiving role, this was something Lofton felt he had to do right away. "I think this is for the rest of my Stanford career," the redshirt freshman opines of his signal calling duties. "I have to knock off a little dust, but I felt like I hadn't missed a beat. It's too early to tell how I am different physically, but I can say that all this time at receiver has put me in better shape."
Ironically, Lofton enters a very crowded quarterback mix just as Trent Edwards is getting healthy. The redshirt frosh classmate was not throwing last week but surprised the coaching staff Tuesday when he went through a full practice of throws. His bruised shoulder appears to have made great progress. Teevens had already named Chris Lewis the starter for the coming UCLA game, and that still holds. What the Stanford head coach did not know is if he would have a healthy Edwards available at all. The workout Tuesday was impressive enough that Teevens afterward concluded that Edwards will also play this Saturday.
"Chris will start and have a fixed number of series, and then Trent will come in," the Teevens describes. "Both quarterbacks will know exactly how things will play out so there won't be any surprises. We'll see who has the hot hand and go from there."
Neither quarterback has clearly demonstrated that they should be the unquestioned signal caller for this team, so the open quarterback competition is a fair one. But there is also another element at work. The one truly exceptional performance Edwards has turned in this year came when he entered the game off the bench. In all other starting performances, he has had some difficulties. That does not mean that Edwards will come through with numbers like the San Jose State game. Indeed, UCLA is a defense on a completely different plane, if not universe. But something needs to be shaken up with these QBs to engender some success...
- Freshman wide receiver Matt Buchanan has been donned a yellow jersey for almost his entire time thus far at Stanford, but Monday he returned to action for the first time in two months. It's good to get him back, and the scout team will benefit from his return.
- Buchanan did more in his first practice back than just help out at WR on the scout team. He and Lofton both took some snaps at tailback. That has nothing to do with future positions for either player, so fans please don't read anything into that. But with Jason Evans dinged up and Gerald Commissiong as well, these two guys were the best immediate options to keep from pulling the top three tailbacks to the scout team.
- The buzz this time last week in my notes was about the troubling injury woes at the defensive tackle positions. As it turned out, a gimpy Babatunde Oshinowo played a gutty game in Oregon at much less than full health. Casey Carroll had a bad ankle and was severely limited. Scott Scharff was found to have a torn ACL, thought to be out for the season and did not travel. But you can put down the razor blades, Cardinalmaniacs™. Carroll and Oshinowo both fully participated right off the bat Tuesday in practice. Even more encouraging, Scharff was off on the sidelines jogging, lunging and even doing a few sprints. The man does not look like he is lacking an ACL. All signs point toward his return to the field... and it could be as soon as this Saturday against UCLA. Incredible.
- Redshirt junior tight end Alex Smith hurt his ankle in the Oregon game and wore a yellow jersey to start practices this week, but he did run around for plays and drills that did not involve 11-on-11 contact. He should be fine for the UCLA game, provided he does not reinjure the ankle.
- It shouldn't surprise you that a team who suffered embarrassment on the goalline last Saturday went to work this week with a focus on the offense inside the three-yardline. Without detailing too much of formations or the precise details of the plays, I'll say that I saw a healthy variety of calls being made. I saw play-action, tight end release, bootleg and toss sweep plays. Many of the plays resulted in scores. Maybe it will carry over in coming Saturdays; only time will tell.
- The two themes of injuries and goalline toughness actually converge in one issue. When you are faced with the kind carnage the Card had in the defensive interior last week, you are inclined not to go with any "live" snaps or series in practice. The health is only mildly improved this week, with several players still on the mend at best. However, you are hard pressed to not go for any live work in a week after those goalline failures. What to do if you are the Stanford coaches? They have rolled the dice and gone for some full-hitting hard-nosed live snaps. We will see if they can do so and get to Saturday with decent health. And we will see if the team is better prepared as a result.
- The offensive line has received much grief in recent weeks, and the goalline fiasco brought many critics out into the open. But both coaches and players have said that they made very real progress in the Oregon game. "We felt we protected the quarterback better than we had in weeks," says senior OT Kirk Chambers. "At least the first three quarters. We fell apart in the fourth quarter."
- Chambers also isn't shy about the importance he sees in this weekend's UCLA game. "Momentum has a lot to do with confidence," the left tackle comments. "That's what is so important about this game this week. We need to get momentum back."
- UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell said Tuesday that defensive tackle Rodney Leisle, who has a high ankle sprain, is "not likely gonna happen" for Saturday's game at Stanford... Dorrell also gave the optimistic outlook on star cornerback Matt Ware, who is also recovering from a high ankle sprain. "He's 50/50... we will try to see what he can do today." The result in that Tuesday practice was not one that gives Ware much of a chance of playing Saturday.
- At the running back position, Maurice Drew opened the eyes of a lot of college football observers with his breakout 176 yards against Arizona State. The casual fan might assume that the freshman would grab the starting reins for this game from Tyler Ebell, who has started the past two games and two of the last four. Dorrell says that he will continue to platoon his tailbacks in the Stanford game. "We're going to continue to do what we've been doing," the head Bruin proclaims. "I don't think we have enough experience to use one guy. Whoever is productive will get featured in the game."
- And what does Dorrell think of the Stanford team he will face Saturday? "They are a big play potential team," he opines. "They have a lot of young talent on offense, and it's just a matter of time before they explode. We just hope it isn't against us."
- Buddy Teevens more often than note avoids specifics in his comments on the offense scheme and playcalling. But he did open up with some of his more concrete discussion this week. "We're more aware of things down the field and these things tie into each other," the Stanford head coach says of the progression he sees on offense. "We aren't doing simple three steps and get the ball out. Now, we're doing more things that are forcing people to defend. We're running the ball, doing play action, short routes. We'd like to involve the tight ends more, get more intermediate passes, and hit receivers further down field. In terms of progression, that's the perspective I take."
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