Just 24 hours ago I reported the news that Stanford fans had been waiting for: a position move to bolster the thin safety ranks. Freshman defensive back Carlos McFall had spent the first two weeks of camp at cornerback, and he certainly has the quickness and athleticism that make him an exciting player at that position. But with the thin numbers at safety, McFall took to the middle of the field on Monday. It raised my eyebrows when he started Tuesday's practice back at cornerback... and then my eyes moved to the safety positions and found a new number there.
6'4" redshirt sophomore David Lofton was the new man in the middle, and boy does he look good standing back there. He brings size and athleticism, as well as experience playing the position back in high school. The move comes on the heels of a very tough seven days for Lofton at the quarterback position, where he had the snaps and opportunity to be the #2 slinger, but he performed very poorly and was firmly entrenched within days as the #4 guy. When Kyle Matter returns to throwing action, Lofton would project to slide to #5 at the spot, which would leave him about as far from the playing field as you can get in college football.
Lofton has professed in several interviews with The Bootleg the last couple years just how much he believed he was a quarterback, and how much he wanted the opportunity to prove himself there. In the spring of 2003, he was not getting enough traction at the position and asked to move to wide receiver. He instantly drew rave reviews with his athleticism and natural playmaking ability in the last week of workouts. But when the season rolled around that fall, Lofton was treading water as the sixth or seventh receiver. When he did not make the travel roster for road Pac-10 games, his spirits nose-dived. He was ready to end the wideout experiment if at all possible.
The following spring he continued to take repetitions at wide receiver, but he also performed double duty by throwing with the quarterbacks. It was a valiant effort to try and give himself the shot he wanted at quarterback, while at the same time nurturing his receiving skills should they be needed. But at this level, splitting time between two masters is most likely to mire oneself in mediocrity for both skills. Lofton worked out with his teammates in voluntary summer workouts as a quarterback, and he had spent every snap of the first two weeks of camp as a signal caller.
And though it is only at the beginning of his third year on The Farm that David Lofton appears to have found where he belongs, it probably had to happen this way. Teevens could have forcibly moved the redshirt sophomore to safety in the off-season, or demanded that he stick at wide receiver through last year. After all, Lofton gave up on the position before he really ever had a chance to learn and master it. But Teevens let Lofton determine his own course - until it ran its course. Lofton got his chance to prove himself as a quarterback this camp, and the answer, albeit disappointing, was a clear one.
"Since last week, Coach Teevens has been asking the quarterbacks for consistency," Lofton reports. "I wasn't consistent at all. I would have liked to have had a better showing. But with Kyle [Matter] coming back soon, I wasn't going to get on the field."
Lofton and Teevens talked and agreed to make the move to safety. Fans might have expected to see Lofton return to wideout, where he has at least spent some time during his Stanford career. Fans also cling to bloodlines and expect that the son should be the next coming of James Lofton. Then you think about it, and the wideout positions are stacked much deeper right now than the safety spots. If the goal is to get on the field, safety makes a lot of sense. However, Lofton had an entirely different motivation for the move.
"Receiver wasn't a spot where I felt comfortable," he explains. "I've played safety before and liked it. I feel like with my size and athletic ability, safety is a good fit."
An added benefit of playing the former quarterback at free safety is that his vision and understanding of the passing game should enable him to faster read and react to an offense. "In certain schemes and sets, you know where they'll put the ball," he notes.
It could take weeks, or months, before we can see how well this move pays off. Lofton has a lot to learn after not playing safety since his high school days at Plano West. He also has to make some physical adjustments - lose a little weight and gain some speed. But he was smiling after Tuesday's practice, and defensive backs coach A.J. Christoff gave him a solid vote of confidence on his first day on the job. Offensive teammates were actually rooting for Lofton when he took the field on defense during some live scrimmage repetitions, and that is a rare thing to see. His teammates are rooting for him. Coaches are rooting for him. Fans are most certainly rooting for him.
Tuesday's practice ended with a pretty good "live" scrimmage that gave us almost as much data as what we observed last Saturday. Even better, in this scrimmage, the offense and defense were evenly matched. When the first team offense took the field, they squared off against the first team defense. Same held for the two's and the three's.
1st team O vs 1st team D
1st & 10 @ own 20: Kenneth Tolon run for one yard
2nd & 9 @ own 21: False start penalty on Evan Moore
2nd & 14 @ own 16: Tolon run for loss of one yard
3rd & 15 @ own 15: Trent Edwards pass incomplete
1st team O vs 1st team D
1st & 10 @ own 20: Tolon run for one yard
2nd & 9 @ own 21: Edwards pass incomplete
3rd & 9 @ own 21: Edwards pass incomplete
2nd team O vs 2nd team D
1st & 10 @ own 25: Ray Jones run for loss of one yard
2nd & 9 @ own 24: Jones run for no gain
3rd & 9 @ own 24: T.C. Ostrander pass complete to Justin McCullum for 16 yards
1st & 10 @ own 40: Quarterback sack for loss of six yards
2nd & 16 @ own 34: Ostrander pass incomplete after bad snap was recovered
3rd & 16 @ own 34: Ostrander screen pass complete to Gerren Crochet for nine yards
1st team O vs 1st team D
1st & 10 @ own 30: J.R. Lemon run for 10 yards (great run outside to the right)
Ball moved ahead on the field to give space to an injured player and trainers
1st & 10 @ opp. 45: Edwards pass complete to Alex Smith for seven yards
2nd & 3 @ opp. 38: Lemon run for three yards (dubious spot is just short of marker)
3rd & inches @ opp 35: Lemon run for 18 yards (broke through second level and only Oshiomogho Atogwe saved a touchdown)
1st & 10 @ opp 17: Lemon run for two yards
2nd & 8 @ opp 15: Lemon run for four yards
3rd & 4 @ opp 11: Edwards pass complete to Smith for 11-yard touchdown
2nd team O vs 2nd team D
1st & 10 @ own 35: Ostrander pass complete to McCullum for 11 yards (fantastic scramble and throw when most QBs would have given up)
1st & 10 @ own 46: Jones run for one yard
2nd & 9 @ own 47: Ostrander pass incomplete (intended for Emeka Nnoli but too high)
3rd & 9 @ own 47: Jones run (backwards pass) for loss of five yards
2nd team O vs 2nd team D
1st & 10 @ own 35: Jones run for two yards
2nd & 8 @ own 37: Ostrander pass complete to Matt Traverso for six yards (nice rollout and great effort by Traverso to break a Trevor Hooper tackle and lunge for more yardage)
3rd & 2 @ own 43: Ostrander pass incomplete
3rd team O vs 3rd team D
1st & 10 @ own 25: Nnoli run for two yards
2nd & 8 @ own 27: Nnoli run for five yards
3rd & 3 @ won 32: Fumbled center exchange (Eklund and Preston Clover)
- Redshirt freshman Mikal Brewer was out of action again Tuesday, and that yielded the opportunity for freshman Alex Fletcher to take all the snaps with the second team and most of the third team repetitions. Fletcher had just on Monday seen his first work of this camp with the #2 offense. Physically, he performs well but he undermines his case with one bad snap roughly every one to two practices. The bad snap that concluded the scrimmage, though, came when Preston Clover took the final three snaps with the third team to give Fletcher a breather after all his work that afternoon. Fletcher has a lot to learn, and mentally he is light years behind Brian Head at the position. He has no chance of passing Head into the starting job anytime this year, but physically he performs such that it begs to put him on the field and burn his redshirt. I think the decision may be predicated upon the health/injury status of Head and Brewer during the season.
- Justin McCullum is continuing to have a very nice camp. I've had my doubts with some of his shortcomings the last couple years, but he's clearly putting together his best and most consistent work in this preseason. His classmate, who has also had a checkered time on The Farm, in Gerren Crochet is more quietly performing better than expected. The number one factor in Crochet's success, without a doubt, has been his staying healthy. It's hard to remember many times the last two years when Crochet has put together two-plus solid weeks like this and not had to miss a practice. The key here, and subsequent credit, goes to new receivers coach Ken Margerum. A former Stanford track man himself, he better understands the delicate nature of a hamstring like Crochet's, and Margerum as a result has deliberately held Crochet's repetitions and stresses in check. To the naked eye, his basement-dwelling work with the third team for the first week-plus of camp may have looked like an evaluative decision - Crochet in the staff's doghouse. But Margerum has slowly brought the redshirt junior speedster along. Now Crochet is in a position to contribute as part of the wideout rotation in September. To counter this good story, there is the disappointing tale of David Marrero. He too is a track athlete with a troubling hamstring, and the sophomore sprinter just Monday returned to action after missing a full week of camp with a sore hamstring. Marrero could have taken part in Saturday's scrimmage, but Margerum held him back. The coach strongly advised Marrero against pushing himself by running in the 11-on-11 scrimmage Tuesday afternoon, but the hungry and determined sophomore bulled ahead onto the field. Sadly, he quickly reinjured his hamstring and is out of action once again, for an undetermined length of time. The moral of the story is that you can get ahead by slowly holding back, when your body needs it. Crochet is in a good situation by following that plan, while Marrero is on the shelf and now doubtful for what he will be able to do come the season opener against San Jose State.
- Fullback Kris Bonifas is back in the injured camp, and Patrick Danahy was a little banged up Tuesday afternoon. As a result, we saw Emeka Nnoli take more snaps at fullback than we have seen since the spring. The tight ends also helped out at fullback, including Matt Traverso and Patrick Bowe.
- Offensive guard David Beall returned to action after missing just one day of practice and resumed his role as the top backup guard for the left and right side, running second team.
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