Two themes about this camp are worth mentioning, as they could affect Stanford in the coming season. The first is the reduced strain that players have to bear compared to years past. The NCAA has taken steps to limit the physical taxation that traditional two-a-day practices have taken on student-athletes. While double-days used to be the staple of preseason camp, there are now just six allowed - none of which can fall on consecutive days. Stanford has gone a step further. Through four completed days of double practices at The Farm this month, I have consistently seen both practices cut 30 minutes short. Buddy Teevens has also avoided putting his players into full pads for full contact workouts in those afternoon practices after they donned full pads in the morning. Yesterday afternoon, the practice was conducted entirely in "shells" which allow for negligible contact; linemen put on upper-body pads for just one segment of practice when they conducted one-on-one battles.
"Our goal is to have players game-ready, which means we need them healthy and productive," offers Teevens in defense of his practice schedule.
The stated goal is to keep players "fresh" through camp so they will be able to physically peak on game Saturdays. Moreover, Teevens is wary of injuries to his players, and tired players have a better chance of getting hurt. Camps of yesteryear were grueling experiences that no player looked forward to, but the environment has changed this year. As a result, morale is up and I don't see the players dragging off the practice field like I used to see.
The flip side of the coin says that you don't want to go too soft on your players, lest you shock them when they have to go through three hours of full contact blows in the season opener. We will have to wait until September 4 against San Jose State to see how this all shakes out.
Another theme is the "play fast" mantra I have heard repeatedly throughout camp. Offensive coordinator yells out the command countless times during an afternoon, as he prods his offensive personnel to more efficiently break the huddle and start the play at the line of scrimmage. On the defensive side of the ball, line coach Dave Tipton can be heard barking the same command to his troops as they read the offense and setup on the line of scrimmage. While fans may first think of this push as an aid to the hurry-up offense, it has far greater scope.
Breaking the huddle and setting at the line of scrimmage gives the quarterback more time to read the defense and make necessary adjustments or audibles. It allows the center (the "second quarterback) to read the defense and alert his line mates of how to prepare their blocks. Receivers can mentally prepare for how they will have to break of the line of scrimmage on their routes as they observe the depth their defenders are setting in coverage. Most of all, an efficient and urgent offense keeps the players sharp and attentive for all manners of readiness.
A number of players on this offense are sophomores who last year were freshmen on the field - lost and bewildered at times. They are not yet where they need to be, but the coaching staff has the ability to push them in ways they could not last year. Cardinalmaniacs™ may not find this as sexy as talk about scheme, 40 times or strength, but it should show up on the field this fall in improved play.
The most notable lessons from Monday's practices came on the injury front and in some position shifts - both to be expected after the first lengthy scrimmage (Saturday) of this camp. As Teevens promised afterward, a number of offensive players returned to action in full pads on Monday morning. Wideout David Marrero took the field for the first time in a week, and fullback Kris Bonifas returned to action. Both J.R. Lemon and Kenneth Tolon were in full force for the running game. On the offensive line, Josiah Vinson resumed action at right guard after a few days off with a mild concussion, and the timing could not have been better. David Beall had been manning that spot in Vinson's absence, but Beall sat out much of the morning and all the of afternoon with an ailing back. On defense, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe also returned after sitting out Saturday's scrimmage. For the most part, this is a pretty healthy team right now. A few new injuries put defensive end David Jackson, tailback Gerald Commissiong, cornerback Calvin Armstrong and cornerback Wopamo Osaisai on the sidelines with yellow jerseys. To the best of my knowledge, none of the new ailments are serious.
The film review of Saturday's scrimmage also yielded discussions among the coaching staff, which in turn translated into some position shifts. The most notable comes on offense, where the second team OL is still searching for some answers to provide Stanford with the best possible backups to the starters. Amir Malayery had been working at left tackle throughout his young Cardinal career, but he spent time Monday afternoon inside at guard. The move comes as Steve Morton searches for sound tackle depth behind starters Jeff Edwards and Jon Cochran. Today, Tim Mattran has successfully established himself as the third tackle on the team - likely to substitute for either Edwards or Cochran when needed. The fourth tackle would have hopefully been Malayery, but Morton is giving freshman transfer Jeff Zuttah a look instead. Zuttah was originally thought as a tackle in July, but he was moved to guard while long-armed freshman Allen Smith played tackle. Given Malayery's performances in camp and the knee injury to Smith, Zuttah is back outside and will be watched closely in this last week of camp.
Also of note on the second team offensive line, freshman Alex Fletcher took his first elevated repetitions with the unit Monday afternoon at center. Indications are that he will see more time there today. Fletcher graded out very highly in Saturday's scrimmage, albeit in a third team capacity.
At the quarterback position, the depth chart is starting to firm up a little. The perpetual motion machine that has been the second string QB looks to be slowing down now that T.C. Ostrander has stepped up. He delivered in Saturday's scrimmage and was the clear #2 in both of Monday's practices behind Trent Edwards. The vote of confidence from Bill Cubit has given Ostrander a boost, and now he needs to push further forward in this last week of camp. On the other end of the emotional spectrum is David Lofton. He performed poorly last week, and during the drills Saturday that preceded the scrimmage, his throws were very disappointing. As a result, he saw the least time of the top four signal callers in the scrimmage, and he is deep in the basement of that rotation in practices. Time is running out for him to make a case that he can be one of Stanford's top quarterbacks, and his trajectory is not promising.
Over on defense, some nervous fans have questioned the move of Calvin Armstrong to cornerback when that leaves the safety depth so thin. Well, the numbers evened out a little Monday as freshman Carlos McFall saw time at safety after spending the first two weeks at cornerback.
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