Spring Practice - Day Two

On the downside, this was another day of practice with no pads. It is difficult to gauge the competitive performance levels of many players when contact is limited and tackling is absent. We have to be patient for the full-pad practices to come. In the meantime, we can observe some early changes in scheme and personnel, plus a few glimpses of playmaking ability from various positions...

The most obvious cosmetic changes seen as we moved from Day One to Day Two of spring ball came on defense. Trevor Hooper is indeed out with a hamstring injury, as surmised on Wednesday, but in his stead was not Timi Wusu. Brandon Harrison has the lead at the strong safety position while Wusu has found a new position on defense.

"I made the big switch today," the Palo Alto athlete commented after practice with his trademark wide grin.

As had been discussed since last December, Wusu now joins the outside linebacker corps to continue to improve the team speed on defense. At 6'3" he has the size, and we know full well he has the athleticism. Now it is just a matter of getting used to playing closer to the line of scrimmage while putting on some weight.

"I was thinking I was at a good weight," the 210-pound redshirt sophomore laughs. "I was a pretty big safety yesterday; today I'm an undersized linebacker."

While you might guess that this lightweight would play at the "Will" backer on the weak side, Wusu instead has joined the "Sam" backer group with Jared Newberry and Jon Alston. That is a tough depth chart to crack, though Wusu saw quite a few repetitions in his first practice as a strong side linebacker. Playing up on the line of scrimmage and locking up with tight ends, the rangy athlete is making two big adjustments. Remember that he spent almost the entire fall on the sidelines with a knee injury, which means that he is engaging in physical activity at a level he has not seen since August. At the same time he is now thrust into a very new position with its unique set of demands and responsibilities.

"I'm just trying to keep my mind open to everything I need to do," the smiling former safety explains. "Right now I'm just happy to do anything I can to help this football team, and it doesn't matter what position that means I play."

Another note of more global interest is that Wusu, Alston and Newberry are reporting as a group to defensive ends coach Tom Quinn. The "rush" personnel is being unified across two position groups, with these strongside linebackers and the weakside defensive ends sharing coaching and responsibilities. This is consistent with what we have seen these first two practices of 2004 Stanford football. The rush ends have often played out wide (on the edge) in a two-point stance much like a linebacker. It is tough to distinguish Michael Lovelady from Jon Alston in formation and assignments. This looks like a deliberate blurring of the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. More to come...

With Wusu gone from the safety corps, the newest face in that position is Calvin Armstrong. The third-year defensive back has previously been a reserve cornerback for the Card, but this past fall he developed a reputation as a hard-hitter in the back end to be feared. His coverage skills have not allowed him to get on the field at corner, but his skill set looks like a genuinely promising match at safety.

There were no other position switches to be seen on Day Two, but we did keep a close eye on the offense once again. The shotgun is still missing in action (though Cardinalmaniacs™ have yet to form any semblance of a search party), and the receiving routes are using much more of the middle of the field than we saw at any time in the 11 games last fall. One big body you can't miss dragging across the middle is 6'7" freshman wide receiver Evan Moore, who spoke with The Bootleg after today's practice about the new offense and his new receivers coach.

"The difference is that it's just very positive out here," the exciting Orange County athlete begins. "The greatest example is Chris Ryan. He has lots of confidence in himself all of a sudden, and it's showing in how he moves and how he carries himself. Coach [Ken] Margerum doesn't really beat down on anybody. He can get on you and gives constructive criticism, but he does it in a way that makes him very easy to work with. He's just very positive. 90% of athletes respond better to that, and I think this entire receiver group is responding better."

More than just a difference in interpersonal approach, Margerum also is bringing a different approach to running routes that has Moore already excited.

"The way he is teaching us - he wants are cuts to be more fluid," the freshman wideout explains. Moore then stomps his foot down for emphasis to continue his point. "We used to plant our foot really hard to try and make hard cuts, but not any more. I guess that worked for Coach Margerum, because he was a two-time All-American. For me, it feels a lot better - especially as a big guy."

Moore may be just a freshman, but he already has opinions about what routes he likes in an offense, and his preference leans toward the patterns he has run these first two practices.

"We're emphasizing using the whole field now," the jumbo freshman receiver elaborates. "Everything last year was outside. Now we're crossing the field and using everything. That works great for the tight better, too, which is key. We have to get Alex Smith the ball a lot this year. He's too good not to be a featured weapon."

"Those crossing routes can be deadly if run right," Moore exclaims. "It really confuses the defense, whether they are in man or zone. I was wide open a lot of times today."

  • Alex Smith indeed is seeing heavy use in this offense, thus far. Not only is he coming across the middle, but he is attacking the middle of the defense and making big plays. Wednesday saw the veteran tight end drop an uncharacteristic number of balls, but today he delivered. At least three times that I saw, Smith made catches 20+ yards down the field in heavy traffic.
  • Moore admits that he and Mark Bradford are both still trying to find their football feet after the last four months of basketball. "It felt strange on the field. I didn't have my balance," the taller of the two-sporters comments. It shows at times, as neither player is yet displaying their natural aggression to go up and get the ball. One play in particular that unfolded in front of me saw Bradford snag a ball between three defenders at the goalline for a touchdown, but he let the ball come to him. The Bradford I saw in high school and last fall would instinctively leap to attack the ball to insure he could not be beaten. Don't get me wrong, though; Bradford had some nice grabs today. I just believe it will be a few more days before we have the real deal back on display for these two frosh.
  • Redshirt junior defensive tackle Scott Scharff will be out of drills all spring, as reported on Wednesday, but he today tells The Bootleg that he is close to getting medical clearance to start jogging again. The veteran DT will see team doctor Gary Fanton on Tuesday and should be given the green light to work with a trainer in cone drills by next week. "The knee feels great," Scharff says of the ACL repair done in December. "I'll probably be 100% by June."
  • Jon Cochran has a lot to be gained in consistency, but he caught my eye today with how quickly he moved off the snap. Though Cochran gives the appearance of a brick wall with his build, he doesn't move like a stiff. He has a chance to be good at left tackle, even though most of us pegged him as a right tackle. Of course, exploding into defenders in run-blocking situations is not the most critical necessity on the left side. Pass-blocking technique and smooth lateral movements are needed to protect the quarterback. But I like how Cochran is moving. He just needs to ascend the learning curve in a hurry.
  • An early staple for the offensive backfield has both J.R. Lemon and Kenneth Tolon lined up together, in offset formations. It will be interesting to see how much this holds as Emeka Nnoli and Kris Bonifas gain experience and confidence this spring.

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