Spring Practice - Day Nine

The highlight of this day was a 38-play scrimmage that finished off Wednesday's practice, and the theme to take home was "The Offense Strikes Back." After looking disastrous on Monday, the offense executed well enough to inspire some verifiable optimism. Trent Edwards threw for a percentage we haven't seen since his Los Gatos HS days, while the ground game was in a groove. Read on for the entire play-by-play and more.

There were some substitutions that may have made a case for a unit being third team rather than second team, but with a small spring roster and a number of injuries, there are not enough bodies to claim a true third team for either side of the ball right now. I will just simplify and refer to "first team" and "second team" - at least for this scrimmage report. All series started on the opponent's 25-yardline, giving a short field and a quick reset between the units.

1st Team O vs 1st Team D
(Trent Edwards at quarterback)

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: Pass complete to Greg Camarillo for 12 yards on a nice roll-out by Edwards
1st & 10 @ 13-yardline: 12-yard run by Kenneth Tolon up the middle (tackle by Jon Alston)
1st & Goal @ 1-yardline: One-yard run by Tolon for touchdown, following Kris Bonifas
PAT good by Michael Sgroi (Greg Camarillo holding, Jon Cochran snapping)

2nd Team O vs 2nd Team D
(Ryan Eklund at quarterback)

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: False start - five-yard penalty (Mikal Brewer)
1st & 15 @ 30-yardline: One-yard carry by Jason Evans (tackle by Chris Horn)
2nd & 14 @ 29-yardline: No gain by Jason Evans on draw (tackle by Julian Jenkins and Udeme Udofia)
3rd & 14 @ 29-yardline: Swing pass complete to Marcus McCutcheon for three yards (tackle by Tim Sims)
4th & 11 @ 26-yardline: Field goal attempt by Derek Belch (T.C. Ostrander hold) from 42 yards out blocked by Sims

1st Team O vs 1st Team D

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: Pass complete to Mark Bradford (sent in motion) on right side for two yards (tackle by T.J. Rushing)
2nd & 8 @ 23-yardline: Pass incomplete - batted down by David Bergeron across line of scrimmage
3rd & 8 @ 23-yardline: Pass complete to Bradford on a comeback for nine yards (tackle by Leigh Torrence)
1st & 10 @ 14-yardline: Pass complete to Evan Moore on the left side for five yards (physical tackle by Rushing)
2nd & 5 @ 9-yardline: Three-yard run by Tolon on a draw (tackle by Bergeron)
3rd & short 2 @ 6-yardline: One-yard run by Edwards on naked bootleg (four-wide, Bonifas as halfback)
4th & 1 @ 5-yardline: Pass complete to Matt Traverso in back of endzone for five-yard touchdown (beautiful one-handed grab; I-formation with Emeka Nnoli and J.R. Lemon but tight end released; defense stacked a 4-4-3)
PAT good by Sgroi

2nd Team O vs 2nd Team D
(Ostrander at quarterback)

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: One-yard run by Ostrander on scramble after busted play
2nd & 9 @ 24-yardline: Three-yard run by Evans behind Nnoli on left side (tackle by Jenkins)
3rd & 6 @ 21-yardline: Pass incomplete - errant, missing Justin McCullum (nearly INT'd by Landon Johnson)
4th & 6 @ 21-yardline: Quarterback sack by Jenkins

1st Team O vs 1st Team D

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: Six-yard run by Tolon (tackle by Alston)
2nd & 4 @ 19-yardline: Pass incomplete (dropped by Lemon in the flat)
3rd & 4 @ 19-yardline: Four-yard run by Tolon - Lemon whiffed on block but Tolon still dodges linebacker in open field @ LOS (tackle by Will Svitek and Stanley Wilson)
1st & 10 @ 15-yardline: Pass complete to Bradford on a comeback for two yards (tackle by Alston)
2nd & 8 @ 13-yardline: Seven-yard run by Tolon, bouncing outside to right and beating defenders to the corner (tackle by Wilson)
3rd & 1 @ 6-yardline: Three-yard loss by Tolon (Svitek blows up play in backfield)
4th & 4 @ 9-yardline: Field goal good by Sgroi (Nnoli late onto field for protection unit - could have been procedure penalty)

2nd Team O vs 2nd Team D
(David Lofton at quarterback)

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: 13-yard run by Evans up the middle - nifty stuff (tackle by Brandon Harrison)
1st & 10 @ 12-yardline: Five-yard run by Evans, breaking Udofia tackle (tackle by Michael Okwo)
2nd @ 5 @ 7-yardline: Pass complete to Mike Miller on left sideline for five yards (tackle by Nick Sanchez)
1st & Goal @ 2-yardline: Two-yard run by Evans for touchdown (Mike Macellari clears out left side; Nnoli crushing block on Sanchez)
PAT good by Belch

2nd Team O vs 2nd Team D

1st & 10 @ 25-yardline: Two-yard loss by Evans (tackle by Kevin Schimmelmann)
2nd & 12 @ 27-yardline: Pass complete to Nnoli for 11 yards - nice hands and smooth run after catch
3rd & 1 @ 16-yardline: Four-yard run by Evans to right side
1st & 10 @ 12-yardline: 11-yard run by Nnoli on quick hand-off in I-formation - jaw-dropping acceleration
1st & Goal @ 1-yardline: One-yard run by Nnoli for touchdown up the middle - again from I-formation
PAT good by Belch

Several comments on personnel from the scrimmage and practice:

  • Steve Morton made a few extra substitutions to keep his 13 linemen all on the field between the two teams. That meant giving Amir Malayery some time at the first team left tackle. David Beall shared the work with Josiah Vinson at right guard. We have seen the right guard split before, but it was interesting to see Malayery get a non-trivial number of snaps with the first string.
  • Quarterbacking is a tough business at this level, and the repetitions are not equally split when the coaches feel one guy is a deserved number one. The Stanford coaches feel that way about Trent Edwards, and they want to get him a bunch of the work to get him ready for the fall. The redshirt freshman took three of the seven series, followed by two sets for number two Ryan Eklund. T.C. Ostrander and David Lofton each had one series. The number of plays for those four quarterbacks went 16: 8: 4: 4. Edwards led the quarterbacks with 6-of-8 passing for 35 yards and one touchdown. No interceptions were thrown by the QBs, which I think is a first this spring.
  • Late in the scrimmage, Tom Williams played both Kevin Schimmelmann and Michael Okwo at the same time at the two linebacker spots for the second team. That's a new one.
  • Tight ends Alex Smith (left ankle) and Patrick Danahy (left knee) both spent the scrimmage and part of the practice on the training table with ice packs taped to ailing body parts. We'll watch to see the seriousness of either injury, but both walked off the field afterward under their own power. That of course left just Matt Traverso and Michael Horgan as the sole healthy tight ends for the scrimmage, giving both of them very heavy workloads.
  • David Marrero did not partake in the scrimmage or any meaningful part of practice, as he donned a yellow jersey after his shoulder injury on Monday. I doubt the injury to be too serious, though, as he did field some punts at one point this afternoon.
  • Michael Lovelady did not have a yellow jersey today, and he took part in special teams drills, but he did not get on the field for any part of the scrimmage.
  • Kenneth Tolon and J.R. Lemon exclusively took the field with the first team offense, leaving Jason Evans as the lone tailback for the four series with the second team offense. With Marrero and Gerald Commissiong both out, the 6'1" freshman running back is getting a load of repetitions. Tolon had several nice runs (7 carries for 30 net yards - 33 gain, 3 loss), but the best may have come on a third down in the fifth series. He went left and waited for Lemon to lay a block on a linebacker at the line of scrimmage, but Lemon missed when he dove low. That left Tolon facing certain doom, with a wall of defenders in front of him. It was amazing to see him navigate that crowd sans blockers, and then drive tacklers forward to just pick up the first down. The play he bounced out to the right side was vintage Tolon from 2001 - showing that great burst. Evans picked up 22 yards on seven carries, but it was his third series (sixth overall) that saw him break out. His combination of speed and quickness on that 13-yard run left him untouched until he reached Harrison in the third level. Finally, Nnoli was a revelation. We have had to wait a long time to see it, but his pair of 11-yard plays in the final series are precisely why he was rated the top fullback in America in high school. A very smooth athlete, in the open field on that reception - not stiff at all like 95% of fullbacks are in the passing game. The acceleration he showed as soon as he touched the ball on that run was like nothing we have ever seen from a Stanford fullback. That play alone will argue for Nnoli to be used as a halfback in single-back sets down the road, though he has a lot of mental and physical progress to make after his medical layoff. I also think that just a couple of plays like that on film will cause defenses to seriously respect the quick handoff when he takes the field at fullback. Just the threat of him could help loosen defenses.
  • Finally, the offensive line deserves a load of credit. Brian Head came back today and took every snap with the first team after hobbling so badly on Monday - he's a warrior who you root for simply because of his selfless work ethic. Far too many players these days will sit themselves out at the first sign of a minor pain, but Head wants to play through anything he can. The unit as a whole gelled the best we have seen this spring. They opened up holes on run plays and gave some pretty good protection in passing situations - and that goes for the OL reserves as well as the starters. When I asked Trent Edwards quickly after the practice how the "O" turned this around, he answered that the offense decided to go out and attack the defense instead of waiting to get hit. He was talking about the line, who really fired off the ball.
  • One important caveat to all this is that Babatunde Oshinowo spent almost the entire scrimmage on the sideline (I think he was in for the first series but could not continue) - wobbled and wounded. If you are a pessimist, you could wave off most of the offense's achievements given that Big Baba was not in the middle of the 3-4 for the first team defense. That's a significant subtraction. No offense to Matt McClernan, who played the nose in Oshinowo's absence, but he is still brand new to this position. I also think the defense blitzed less than they did on Monday, which may have been a factor. In the offense's favor, though, you have to consider how big a loss it was to not have Alex Smith, who is the best weapon in that entire unit.
  • On the defensive side of the ball, Jon Alston on the first team and Julian Jenkins on the second team were the biggest playmakers. Jenkins was the biggest force for either defensive squad on the defensive line, which is a good sign for his closely watched development. If he could break out, it could really help the this defense.

Afterward, I had a chance to talk with the fab frosh backfield duo who performed so well for the second team offense. Fullback Emeka Nnoli and tailback Jason Evans both performed marvelously and were good enough to speak with me about their scrimmage performances...

Emeka, how does it feel to be out there making plays like that? You were pretty awesome in that last series.
EN: It felt good. I haven't had a chance to get a lot of work this year, for obvious reasons, so it's nice to get some plays. I just want to work and get better.

What was different out there today that made the running game so excellent? On Monday, the offense was pretty awful..
JE: Coach Boulware made sure our steps were correct. Monday we had bad technique, but he straightened us out and said we did it right today. I also think our offensive line was really on point today.
EN: We got a lot of our blocking schemes right today. I think the holes were a lot bigger.
JE: We were moving the defensive line back, which we haven't done before.

Both you guys have had the benefit of the winter strength program, to get bigger and stronger. Jason - how much is that making a difference for you now versus how you were able to run in the fall?
JE: I feel a whole lot more confident. I have my pads down and am running harder. Strength has something to do with it, but I also think I matured. We watched a lot of film with the coaches in the off-season, and they were able to show me what I was doing wrong in the fall.

As an entire offense, you guys just came together and clicked today. How does that happen all of a sudden like this?
EN: We were just clicking today - everyone on the same page. I attribute it to Coach Boulware.

You guys were just getting into your freshman year, and all of a sudden you had a new running backs coach. How tough is that to go through two guys in your first year?
JE: It was a real change. We didn't expect a new coach to happen to us in our first year, but we talked with the older guys and they told us about going through changes, too. It's just something that happens in college football and you deal with it.

What is the biggest difference you see in Coach Boulware?
JE: He works a lot more on blocking, for sure! He's a former O-line coach, so you know he knows what he's talking about, though. What he's talking about is legit.
EN: Coach Boulware says if you don't block, you don't play.

But don't running backs just care about carrying the ball? How is it for you to have a coach that is so emphatic about blocking?
JE: You have to make it so it's not a core - not drudgery. If you make it a habit and get good at it, then you start to enjoy it.

After today's success you guys had, what did the offensive coaches have to tell you in the big huddle?
JE: Coach Cubit never has a lot to say, and he's not a big rah-rah guy. He just said, "Good job." That was about it.
EN: Coach Boulware told the running backs that he really liked what we did with the ball after we were hit. He emphasizes the yards after the collision.

  • A long run of special teams work today again focused on the punting game, and once again the long snapping was atrocious. That made it hard to assess the punting, but the best boots came from Michael Sgroi. Greg Camarillo had the single best rocket of the day, though, with incredible hangtime and good distance.
  • Chino Hills High School junior Dane O'Neill was a recruit in attendance for this practice.

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