Offense Shakes Off Some Rust

Day Two of Stanford Football's preseason camp still did not reveal quite as much as rabid fans want to know, as NCAA regulations kept the boys in cardinal and white out of pads. Full contact is still days away, but we did see a revealing shift in the offensive execution. For more on what changed during Thursday's two hours on the practice field, as well as a discussion by J.R. Lemon of the running game, read on...

Thursday was the second day of football practice for the 2004 preseason camp, but there was a dearth of news to match how much we learned on Wednesday.  There are no new position switches or depth chart shakeups, as the coaching staff still does not have any practice action in pads with which to evaluate their personnel.  We did see a little mixing of personnel between the various teams, as some freshmen who nominally run third string had chances to play with upperclassmen.

The most prominent take-home observations came from the offense.  They conducted two sessions of 11-on-11 against the defense during practice: one before the midpoint break and one afterward.  Trent Edwards looked very uneven in the first session, missing his targets and throwing interceptions.  The defense brought an awful lot of pressure for just the second day of preseason camp, the linebackers and safeties showing no conscience.

Toward the end of practice, the offense and defense again assembled on the field for a second bout, and the results were much different.  On the very first play from scrimmage, with the first team offense squaring off against the first team defense, Trent Edwards hit receiver Greg Camarillo for a 65-yard touchdown reception.  From that point forward, a confident offense was clicking.  A wealth of receivers shared in the playmaking, led by Mark Bradford.  The super sophomore is showing that any slump he experience in the spring was a thing of the past.  He is snagging every ball thrown his way, and getting separation from defenders in tough spots in the middle of the field.  Evan Moore, Marcus McCutcheon and Justin McCullum all also made plays.

A playmaker of special interest to many Cardinalmaniacs™ is David Marrero.  While his receiving skills in deep route situations are still behind the rest of his position mates, the newly converted wide receiver is showing how he can be an explosive addition to the passing attack.  He caught a number of short passes and then burst up the field in a way that no other player on this Stanford roster can achieve.  From the early looks of practice repetitions, it also looks like he could be the man to successfully execute the screen play for the first time in several years for the Cardinal.

Much love goes out to the receivers in these practices, because they are the most readily visible component of the roster you can evaluate - save the quarterback.  But I would be remiss if I left out a spectacular connection between T.C. Ostrander and tight end Matt Traverso.  The redshirt sophomore tight end hauled in a tough catch deep down the field for a long touchdown that surprised a number of the defensive players.  The Sacramento native was sure to give a couple of them some commentary on the play as he trotted back to the huddle.

J.R. Lemon was again the focus of the running game, with Kenneth Tolon still out of sight and awaiting his academic review by the University.  I commented yesterday on Lemon's great promise, albeit in a no-pads practice environment.  He spoke with The Bootleg to explain some positive factors at work for him and the running game that back up the optimism.

"I'm definitely stronger, and I see things a little better," Lemon explains.  "We're continuing what we ran in the spring, and that feels good.  I'm not so much looking where to run now as I am reading the defense - pre-snap reads."

Lemon gives a good deal of credit to new running backs coach Jay Boulware, who has been widely hailed for giving rebirth to the Stanford backs.  As a former offensive lineman, Boulware views the running game as an integration of the ballcarrier and the blockers, and that perspective has been impressed upon his charges.

"Coach Boulware is a great teach and has very high expectations," Lemon offers.  "He has a good relationship with the players.  He's a good guy you can come talk to at any time, but he's not all about being your friend.  He's your coach and a great teacher.  He's very knowledgeable, especially about the offensive line."

"The big thing is pre-snap reads," the Georgia native continues.  "You can play a lot faster if you know where to go before you get the ball."

Lemon also appreciates the way the offensive coaching staff has approached the running game.  A year ago, they spread their efforts across a breadth of running plays, including significant work on the option.  Particularly recognizing the youth on the offensive line in 2003, and even more so in 2004, that looks like a bad idea.  This year's plan has taken a very few core running plays and given them heavy repetitions in the spring."

"We want to do a lot of things from a few sets - keep from making it too complex for the offensive line," notes offensive coordinator Bill Cubit."

"I feel like when you simplify things, you give the offensive line and wide receivers a chance to learn how to play against any defense," Lemon adds.  "You don't have to audible as much because you are comfortable in how to react to the defense.  And I think it helps me and the running backs - without a doubt."

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