If you were hoping for a triumphant return of Monday's massive walking wounded contingent, then I am sorry to disappoint. Wednesday's practice had all the same players in yellow jerseys, with just two changes. Offensive guard David Beall returned to action, while tight end Alex Smith was relegated to the sideline. The total injuries left just two healthy tailbacks, two healthy tight ends and four healthy wide receivers. Running a two-hour practice with that scant offensive personnel is exceedingly difficult. As a result, I have very few observations to take away from this practice:
- The strong safeties are in flux, with Brandon Harrison moving to the training table during Wednesday's practice with an unknown injury. Calvin Armstrong was absent as well, which put Bryan Bentrott on the field with the first team defense, alongside Oshiomogho Atogwe. Trevor Hooper is still working his way back, but he is taking sporadic repetitions as he protects his hamstring.
- David Marrero did partake in some 11-on-11 work late in practice, and he was primarily split out wide taking snaps as a receiver. I reported on his drops at the position last Friday, but for this day I have to report on a beautiful crossing pattern where he connected with Trent Edwards. The short passes across the middle are some of the toughest patterns in football because of the timing required between quarterback and receiver. With a target moving at a direction orthogonal to the flight of the ball, the smallest sliver of a second can be the difference between a big pass play and an interception. Honestly, I have not seen a lot of that exquisite timing this spring, but this particular play was picture perfect. Edwards hit Marrero in stride as he crossed right to left, and that allowed the burner to turn up the field for more yardage after the catch.
- Limited receiver numbers meant that once again quarterbacks Ryan Eklund and David Lofton had to take a good number of snaps split out wide.
- The limited tailback health meant that fullback Emeka Nnoli saw the most action he has seen in any practice in his young Cardinal career. He might get my vote for most improved player on the entire roster, from Day One through today. He has so much to learn, but he is starting to get the footwork and balance to start plays off right. He has so many exciting dimensions to him - you just know he's going to be special.
I spent a little more time watching the offensive line vs defensive line individual battles. These guys have stayed mostly healthy the last couple weeks, so the battles are interesting. As a whole, I have to say the offensive line is holding a marked advantage in the trenches right now. I saw Brian Head do a very respectable job against Babatunde Oshinowo several times. I think "neutralize" is too strong of a word, but big Baba did not get past Head. Another great interior battle was between Matt McClernan and Mikal Brewer. They each took wins and losses. Julian Jenkins continues to come on, beating Mike Macellari and Merlin Brittenham in duals that I saw. Casey Carroll had a tough time as he was put down on the ground by both David Beall and Tim Mattran. The surprise development on the defensive line might be Chris Horn. I'm not predicting that he's going to play ahead of the veterans at the end position, but he is coming on. He moved Amir Malayery back on a nice bull rush, and later beat David Long on the inside.
After practice concluded, I grabbed the current day version of "Slash" on this Cardinal roster: David Lofton. He has worked in overdrive this spring with repetitions at both quarterback and receiver, which a tough row to hoe. He spoke openly about the difficulties and the progress he is experiencing this spring.
"I think I'm doing pretty well," the redshirt freshman from Plano West High School in Texas begins. "It's hard to improve on some things at quarterback when you don't get the [repetitions]. I have to take mental reps when I can't hold the ball and get as much as I can out of those."
Lofton is refering to the number of snaps he has seen under center. As the #4 quarterback on the roster right now, he gets rotated in drills regularly, but his chances are few in scrimmage situations. Trent Edwards gets half the snaps as the #1 slinger, while the other three QBs evenly split the remainder. That roughly means he gets just 17% of the total work.
But the spring is a time for him to at least work with the Stanford offense, as opposed to the scout duty he saw late in the fall after he moved himself back from receiver. Lofton and quarterbacks coach Bill Cubit have made significant strides in the redshirt freshman's mechanics, which have produced improved results on the field.
"I'm doing a better job now keeping my shoulders open, my elbow up and my feet set for a throw," the double-duty student explains. "It used to be that when I'd throw to my left, my elbow was dropping and my throws would miss. Those are a lot better now."
The 6'4" athlete has also benefited from his work with new receivers coach Ken Margerum. Lofton admittedly suffered in his confidence under the previous man at that position, and the coaching change suits him just fine.
"I'm not getting as much time as the other wide receivers, but the work has reinforced what I need to do. A lot was thrown at me in the fall," Lofton laments. "Coach Margerum has been great. He really emphasizes getting a feel for the game. He makes you much more relaxed and that works with me. I am getting a feel out there instead of getting pounded on every little thing. It really helps."
The $25,000 question fans want to know, of course, is what Lofton plans on doing this summer and next fall. Should he hold at #4 come the end of the spring, and then will see Kyle Matter added to the mix by July, will he continue at quarterback if that buried at the position?
"I'll keep working at quarterback - right now I'm just focused on improving myself at the quarterback position," he proclaims. "But I'll also work at wide receiver if it's needed. Right now they are really low on numbers and need my help. I'll keep doing that as long as they need me there."
Some notes on visitors to practice:
- I was remiss in Monday's (Day 12) notes in leaving out mention of yet another member of the 2004 Stanford freshman class who was in attendance. Baton Rouge (LA) wide receiver Anthony Kimble was on the sidelines and will be on campus all week. If nothing else, he had to take away from that day as well as Wednesday just how thing the numbers are at the wideout position. Granted, some of these bodies will get healthy and bolster the ranks by September, but a glance at the depth chart still shows far less than what you want at WR. If Kimble had any questions about his opportunity to play this fall, he should return to Louisiana at the end of the week with the highest motivation to work his tail off between now and August's report date.
- Two more of Kimble's future teammates arrived on campus Wednesday, both fellow offensive skill players. Tailback Ray Jones and fullback Jerod Arlich were hanging with the running backs throughout the afternoon, and both are very impressive physical specimens. Jones has always been a beast in the weight room, but he's taken it up another notch this off-season. The Ohio standout looks absolutely jacked at his current 210 pounds. If every Stanford tailback reported as freshmen with this kind of physical development, the RBs would be on another plateau in competitiveness. Arlich was the polar opposite in high school, lifting about as many weights as Jabba the Hutt, but that was largely the fault of his high school (no strength program). He has picked up the pace with Ron Forbes' workout, though, and is starting to take shape. His body is still very raw, but he looks absolutely massive. 6'4" and 260 pounds. It's hard to imagine defenders running through that block in the backfield.
- Look for several more 2004 signees this weekend. Stanford is holding its "Admit Weekend" which makes the draw twice as nice for incoming freshmen to make the trek out to The Farm.
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