Running Right Along

The talk of the offense this week has been fourth-year tailback J.R. Lemon, who moved the first team offense impressively Tuesday to the endzone. For more on Lemon's progress and the status of the tailback depth chart, we check in with running backs coach Jay Boulware. Who he says is holding down the #3 spot at the position may surprise you... as well as what the Stanford team did in their Wednesday morning practice.

If you read yesterday's practice report on Tuesday's scrimmage, you saw damage that running back J.R. Lemon did with the first team offense against the first team defense.  In just one series, he moved the ball single-handedly for 37 yards on five carries.  And he looked good doing it.  Last night I broke the news that Buddy Teevens has declared Lemon the #1 tailback, at a position where there is a tight battle between the redshirt junior and fifth-year senior Kenneth Tolon.  Today we talk with running backs coach Jay Boulware about his charges, including what Lemon and the offense did so successfully on that touchdown drive.  True to form, the former offensive lineman makes sure first to heap praise on the big nasties who opened the holes.  Indeed, guards Ismail Simpson and Josiah Vinson made great blocks in that scrimmage that laid the 

"The guys up front are doing a good job getting a head on the hat,"  Boulware begins.  "Big kudos to Ish [Simpson] - he blocked two guys on one play and held them off just long enough for J.R. [Lemon] to turn the corner."

"J.R. is getting in those seams and turning a two- or three-yard run into a long run," the coach continues.  "He's a strong, physical runner who can run through tacklers, especially in single-man situations."

That physical nature is what Lemon best has working for him right now.  He's tough to bring down with an arm tackle, and that is one reason why you don't see him hit for losses very often.  The ability to break tackles and shake off contact makes him a productive runner.  He is not likely to race through the defense and break many runs of 40+ yards, but his strength and quickness are letting him get outside better than we have seen in the past.  Still, Boulware does not want Lemon to try and develop into an outside runner with the "shake" and burst of a Brian Allen or Kenny Tolon.

"I saw J.R. change in the spring and he's continuing the progress," the former Texas offensive tackle offers.  "He's a physical runner who sets up the play with his power.  He's not going to juke his way to a run.  He's developing his style and his identity - a big guy with vision."

Tolon is more than what you would call a capable backup.  Remember that he has three 100-yard games in his Cardinal career and started eight games a year ago.  He provides a different type of back that Lemon, and that versatility for Boulware and the offensive staff is enticing.  But the question asked the last week has been who on this roster will hold the #3 spot.  The answer that may surprise you: freshman Ray Jones.

"I've been really pleased with Ray Jones," Boulware explains.  "He's obviously a freshman who makes some mistakes, but he has a knack for making a play with his running ability.  He also has a high ability to learn and is picking up quickly what we are teaching him.  He just stepped on campus but is playing like a veteran.  That's a big plus."

Jones also is one of the very strongest members of the freshman class - a class who tested stronger than any other incoming group during Teevens' tenure on The Farm.  The physical development he already possesses gives him an ability to make plays like Lemon far better than most freshman tailbacks.  Boulware is also pleased with how Jones is handling his blocking thus far.

"It's important to know how to pick up and he's pretty polished in that for a freshman," the coach comments.

You might have expected redshirt freshman Emeka Nnoli to hold down the third slot on the tailback depth chart, but coaches note that he is still very much in the learning phase of his college career.  Nnoli has also had to spend some time this week at fullback due to injuries at that position, which has put more still on his plate.

"Mek-mek has tremendous ability and will be a special player for us one day," Boulware charges.

  • Wednesday morning was a walk-through practice, which has about as must excitement for an observer as a 3 AM replay of Costa Rica vs Brazil synchronized diving on Telemundo.  However, this practice held something I have never seen before in Stanford preseason football camp - scout work before the season opening game week.  NCAA rules provide time for three weeks of camp workouts before the first week of the regular season, and coaches typically use every possible minute of that time to instruct and tune their personnel.  Then the NCAA rules change the week of your first game to allow for a finite amount of game preparation.  Stanford starts a regular schedule of game-week practices next Monday, as they take the field for roughly two hours each day until their Saturday opener.  But for an hour Wednesday morning, the team split into regular and scout squads for offense and defense, working against simulated San Jose State plays and schemes.  I expect that Stanford will conduct another scout practice this last week of camp, probably on Friday.  It is an interesting decision by Buddy Teevens and his coaching staff to get an early start on their scout work.  In theory, it speaks to some level of confidence in the progress they have made in camp - that they can afford some time to start scout work.  It also indicates that the Card are not taking San Jose State as lightly as fans might when looking up and down the 2004 schedule.
  • In the afternoon, the biggest takeaway note was the missing personnel in the full-pads 11-on-11 component of practice.  On offense, wide receiver Evan Moore and tailback J.R. Lemon were held out.  On defense, outside linebackers Jared Newberry and Jon Alston stood on the sideline.  All four players are projected starters for September, and their absence may alarm you.  The good news is that though a little banged up, all four appear to be healthy enough to play.  Holding them back was a precautionary move to avoid risk of more serious injury.  Some of those players participated in drill work early in practice, and they are expected to likely return today or tomorrow to full contact action.  Newberry is the one where more caution may be exercised, possibly holding him out until Monday.  He was the only one of the four who actually wore a yellow jersey on Wednesday.  Also on the subject of injury news, fullback Patrick Danahy tore off his yellow jersey and took full part in Wednesday's workouts.
  • In the absence of the starting outside linebackers, some younger and more inexperience players had a chance to get a lot of work  Emmanuel Awofadeju worked all day with the first team at the "Sam" OLB position.  Over on the "rush" side, time on the first team was split between Udeme Udofia and Timi Wusu.
  • Newly converted safety David Lofton is sucking on the proverbial fire hose right now, with no dawdling in his introduction to his new position on defense.  Defense backs coach and defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff has inserted Lofton in spots with both the first and second team defensive units.  As a third-year player, it looks like the coaching staff is not bashful about throwing him to the fire.  It is also worth noting that Lofton is taking repetitions at both free safety and strong safety. In fact, when asked about which position he played, the 6'4" redshirt sophomore was unable to give an answer.  "We really have to be able to play both," he responded.
  • Freshman fullback Jerod Arlich had his ankle taped up and took part in the morning walk-through practice.  While that is a far cry from the kind of mobility he needs to fully engage in practices, it is an encouraging data point that he can walk through plays without any crutches, boot or brace.

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