The three weeks of preseason camp wrapped up with a "thud" this weekend. Saturday was a light practice in shells that worked on skills but also continued the scout work to prepare for San Jose State. This marked the third scout practice in four days, with no-pads walk-through scouting also coming Wednesday morning and Friday morning. Friday afternoon was the last physically demanding practice of camp, and it was a scrimmage held in Stanford Stadium. However, the scrimmage was conducted in shorts with "thud" contact and engagement. Players locked up in the trenches and hit in the open field, but there was no tackling.
While fans would have preferred to see a full-contact scrimmage, Buddy Teevens is sticking to a theme has carried throughout camp: keep players healthy and fresh. The obvious trade-off is that a less physical camp leaves the team with less game-level contact and tackling. It will be interesting to watch this Saturday to see which factor more influences the play we see from the Card.
Back to the scrimmage, while there was no tackling, all the other details that could be simulated for a game were simulated. The team went through a very brief set of warm-up drills on the field and then returned to the locker room. Out came the kickers and captains next. The captains walked the 50-yardline from the home sideline to the center of the field, and conducted a coin toss with the officials. As the team came from the locker room, they trotted on to the field as one mass. There were kickoffs, punts, field goals and PATs. Officials called penalties, though the majority of those were whispered to the head referee by Teevens before the play. There was even a halftime after the first hour, where the players retreated to the locker room and then came out after a break for the "second half."
The first half consisted entirely of play by the first and second team offenses and defenses. The third units came onto the field for the second half, which was a good deal shorter than the first half. Trent Edwards took all the snaps with the first team, and T.C. Ostrander took most of the second unit work. The two notable players who did not wear yellow jerseys on Friday but who were held out of the scrimmage were running back J.R. Lemon and wide receiver David Marrero. More on that later.
The most interesting detail of this scrimmage was how down and distance was controlled. Teevens programmed where the ball was spotted each down, often ignoring the success or failure of the offense's play. A pass could have been completed 15 yards downfield, and the ball may have been spotted only six yards ahead of the last spot... or five yards backward for a fictitious procedure penalty. The twist is that Teevens did not communicate to his coaches what the downs and distances would be, which forced them to react with their playcalling and substitutions on the fly. That was the most useful simulation of the afternoon.
Offensively, it is very difficult to assess the running game with the "thud" no-tackling engagement, but the first team passing game looked quite sharp. Trent Edwards put a lot of balls on the money, and there were fewer drops or missed plays by receivers than we've seen in days. The two targets with which Edwards most often hooked up were Evan Moore and Alex Smith, and the best note on those connections is that they picked up good chunks of yardage. The passes did not find their target for three-yard gains, but instead moved the chains more often than not. The first team offense looked its best when they ran a two-minute drill at the end of the first half. They moved the ball 55 yards for a touchdown in about one minute of clock time.
Over on defense, the play of the day came when the second team offense tried to run the two-minute offense and threw a ball that Leigh Torrence picked off on the left (home) sideline. He raced back the other way and scored six. Overall the first team defense gave the second team offense fits. They provided a good pass rush and consistent pressure on Ostrander. The defensive backfield made very few mistakes that I could identify in their coverage, in both man and zone coverage.
Now for some injury news and depth chart updates:
- As mentioned earlier, David Marrero was out of Friday's scrimmage. That, we expected. But what was a surprise is the word that his hamstring is healthy again. Receivers coach Ken Margerum held him out of Friday as well as Saturday, but I believe that Marrero will be allowed to return to practice this afternoon for the first practice of this first game week. His hamstring will be the most closely watched body part on the roster this week, as it determines whether Stanford gets a useful Marrero in the San Jose State opener. Keep in mind not only the role that the speedster can play in the offense, but also his lead at the punt return position. It is fair to expect that his role in the offense to be somewhat diminished in the season opener, however. Marrero missed a good deal of camp with his two hamstring injury spells.
- J.R. Lemon has been participating in practice drills, but he has been held out of 11-on-11 competition for the last several days. This is the mark of a player with a nagging injury that allows him to play, but the coaching staff would prefer to hold back a fourth-year veteran to keep him healthy. We will see how far and when the coaches push Lemon in practices this week, as they get him geared up for the season opener. Lemon still projects as the starting tailback. His absence from the 11-on-11 work elevated fifth-year senior Kenneth Tolon to the first team, and he has showed well. Though running plays were hard to assess in Friday's scrimmage, Tolon did find enough daylight to move the ball clearly on some plays and indeed scored the one rushing touchdown of the afternoon.
- The best news to come out of Friday's scrimmage and Saturday's final practice was the health of the football team. Two offensive players were dinged up in the scrimmage, and they donned the yellow jersey on Saturday. But I believe that both Brian Head and Matt Traverso have minor nicks and will be in good health for the SJSU game. Marrero is on the mend, and starting tight end Alex Smith ran very well on Friday and Saturday after having a little ankle problem during the week. The only concern I can see across the entire two-deep of this football team right now is fullback Kris Bonifas. I don't know how soon he will rejoin the team in full contact drills or if he will be available this coming Saturday. Patrick Danahy has taken the wealth of the first team offensive snaps this camp and solidly projects as the starter today. Depth at that position, absent Bonifas, will likely come from sophomore Emeka Nnoli and the tight ends. Matt Traverso and Alex Smith both can line up in the backfield and have done so during this camp and last spring. Nnoli is a player who the coaching staff deliberately moved to tailback for use as a ballcarrier and receiver in single-back and dual-back sets, but he has taken a good amount of work in the last week at his old fullback position. Also keep in mind freshman Patrick Bowe. He had a very nice camp and was moved to fullback last week to help the thin position.
- There were some subtle but revealing shifts in the practice units and depth chart in the defensive backfield last week. At the safety positions, I have noticed repetitions where Trevor Hooper has moved up to the first team to play alongside Brandon Harrison, giving fifth-year senior Oshiomogho Atogwe a breather. While on its face this may appear to put Hooper at the free safety position, given his substitution for Atogwe, careful observation shows that Hooper still lines up at the strong safety position where he started 11 games a year ago. Harrison in fact slides over to free safety for those plays. This is the two-position, three-man depth that we should expect to see this fall for the safety spots. Harrison has the ability to play either position and would start the season as the primary backup to Atogwe, with Hooper filling the vacated strong position. Should Harrison be injured or need a spell, Hooper would also come into the game and play alongside Atogwe. While it is sensible that the coaching staff would give repetitions to Hooper on the first team during parts of camp, there was another factor at work that engendered this rotation late last week. The David Lofton position switch from quarterback to safety provides another body (a very athletic one with size, at that) to the safety depth. Lofton may be rusty at the safety position, after not playing there since high school, but the coaching staff has shown the confidence to immediately put the redshirt sophomore into the second team, where he can play free safety alongside Hooper or strong safety alongside Bryan Bentrott. Lofton's addition has directly freed Hooper to take more first team snaps.
- The other news in the defensive backfield is more surprising. True freshman Carlos McFall has ascended to the second team at the cornerback position and made a big move. Remember that the "first team" at the two CB positions are actually manned by three players: Leigh Torrence, Stanley Wilson and T.J. Rushing. The second team at the inception of camp was the redshirt freshman duo of Nick Sanchez and Tim Sims, who were joined at times by one of the first team trio. Then Calvin Armstrong was moved from safety to cornerback, which bolstered the second team competition. The third team was logically populated by the two true frosh corners, McFall and Wopamo Osaisai. Osaisai was injured and has been out of practices for a week, so you would expect on of the three second-teamers to join McFall in the scout team duty that is wrapping up. Instead, we saw both Tim Sims and Calvin Armstrong drop to the third/scout team while McFall joined Nick Sanchez on the second team. McFall played quarterback in high school, so nobody could be sure how well he would play as a DB when he showed up for camp, but the coaches are impressed and have moved him along quickly. While the injured Osaisai was more heralded because of his sprint speed on the track, a healthy McFall is now battling for the fourth CB position and possible playing time this fall.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!