Spring Ball: Day One

With a brand new regime and some brand new positions for players, there was a lot to digest Friday on the practice field for the first day of spring football. Our eyes were primarily set on the positions and rotation, to paint for you an initial depth chart. Read on to see where players are starting the spring, plus some comments by inside linebacker <b>Kevin Schimmelmann</b>.

Starting on offense, here is what I saw of the first day depth chart:

Offensive Line:  The first team was left tackle Jon Cochran, left guard Josiah Vinson, center Alex Fletcher, right guard Mikal Brewer and right tackle Jeff Edwards.  Cochran and Edwards are right where they finished 2004, but the other three positions have changed.  Fletcher is of course the only true freshman, which is a big responsibility thrown onto his shoulders.  In an offensive line with 15 healthy bodies, it is a testament to his athleticism and talent that he takes the lead at center on the first practice of the Walt Harris Era, and Fletcher indeed was the only true freshman on the first team at any position, on either side of the ball.  He showed a good command on the offense with his playcalls, and maybe more notably, his snaps were on target.  If he had one weakness last fall, it was his snapping at times.  Vinson had played right guard previously on The Farm but has apparently been moved to the left side - that was a surprise for us.  On the right side, Brewer has made a big jump and leapfrogged last year's other starting guard...

The second team was manned by left tackle Mike Macellari, left guard Bobby Dockter, center Tim Mattran, right guard Ismail Simpson and right tackle David Long.  The third team showed left tackle Ben Muth, left guard Preston Clover, center Mikal Brewer, right guard Amir Malayery and right tackle Allen Smith.  Several interesting notes here.  Mattran as the next center behind Fletcher was a little surprising, given his history of playing in the interior and ultimately being moved last year outside to tackle.  Simpson is the player who was passed by Brewer, and that should get your attention given that "Ish" has started 22 games coming into this season.  Dockter ahead of both Clover and Malayery is noteworthy, with a true freshman initially set ahead of two second-year guards.  I also think that expectations are high for both Muth and Smith, with their athleticism.  Though they are just frosh in their first spring ball, they will challenge and push older players.  Finally, Brewer appears twice on this depth chart, and it took its toll.  Late in practice, he was gassed from taking the repetitions of both the first and third teams, such that walk-on Merlin Brittenham had to take some of his snaps with the first team at guard toward the end of practice.  Based on that result, I would be surprised if the coaching staff does not modify Brewer's snap count and role.  On the one hand, they would like him to have some work at center to help the depth at that position, but they also don't want to sabotage his play at guard, where he is currently running first string.

Running backs:  There are a host of bodies in the offensive backfield who somewhat fluidly are taking snaps with the various offensive units.  It does appear that at least initially, Kris Bonifas and J.R. Lemon have the lead at the fullback and tailback positions, where they both are the most seasoned and experienced veterans.  The "second team" backfield was Emeka Nnoli at fullback and Ray Jones at tailback.  But there was plenty of work as well for Nick Frank at fullback, and Jason Evans, David Marrero and Gerald Commissiong at tailback.  I'll save comments on the backfield for another day, other than initial observations of Frank.  He is brand new to offense after spending the last two years playing in the defensive line rotation.  I expected him to be a big and powerful blocker, and a somewhat menacing "bowling ball" threat carrying the ball - neither disappointed.  But my surprise was watching him in the receiving game.  He looked surprisingly fluid catching the ball out of the backfield, including a couple receptions on the run.  I honestly would have expected him to be a little more stiff.  Granted, he does not excel in routes deeper down the field, but that is not at all what you want out of your fullback.

Tight ends:  Though I ran a feature story yesterday on Matt Traverso as an emerging player to watch this spring at the tight end position, it was Patrick Danahy who was the lone offensive player given one of four awards by the coaching staff during winter workouts.  Thus it was not a big surprise that Danahy has the early nod at tight end, running with the first team.  Traverso is right behind with the second unit.  Of the remaining tight ends, Michael Horgan had the standout play of the day with an athletic and smooth reception deep down the middle of the field late in practice.

Wide receivers:  Mark Bradford was in attendance but spent the day on the exercise bike rather than with the wideouts, which probably distorts the repetitions and depth chart to start the spring.  Receivers are much like the backs in that they can be loosely employed with different offensive units, but it looked to me like the two first teamers were Evan Moore and Justin McCullum.  Next were Marcus McCutcheon and Gerren Crochet, with converted quarterback Kyle Matter seeing a good amount of time.

Quarterbacks:  No surprise to see Trent Edwards take the lead, followed by T.C. Ostrander and finally Garrett Moore.  There is a heated competition between Edwards and Ostrander, with a big drop-off to Moore.  The quarterbacks were heavily coached by Walt Harris, who is their position coach.  This is a time not only to install a new offense, which is being implemented in phases, but also a time to coach the techniques and minutiae of the position - all the way down to how to hand off the ball and how to execute play-action fakes.  In the latter parts of practice when seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 competition was held against the defense, the better balls were being thrown on Friday by Ostrander.  All of the quarterbacks looked upbeat and excited, as you could expect with their opportunity under Harris.

Over on defense, we have more "open" jobs from graduated seniors.  Here is how that depth chart shook out on Friday:

Defensive backs:  Lots to replace here, with three seniors graduated.  T.J. Rushing has a lock on one cornerback position, and the opposite spot was held on Friday by another veteran - Calvin Armstrong.  Rushing hinted to me in the off-season that Armstrong was hungry and one to watch in the spring.  The competition is heated, however.  Nick Sanchez and Carlos McFall are manning the second team, with Sanchez on Rushing's side and McFall behind Armstrong.  The third unit had Wopamo Osaisai behind Sanchez/Rushing and Tim Sims behind Armstrong/McFall.  The safety positions are led by the two players with the most experience: Trevor Hooper at free safety and Brandon Harrison at strong safety.  David Lofton is in his first spring at safety and will push hard behind Hooper, while Bryan Bentrott is second team behind Harrison.  On the third team is Aaron Smith at free and Peter Griffin at strong.

Linebackers:  As we wrote in the "Eve of Spring" article, Emmanuel Awofadeju moved across the field to the weakside "rush" outside linebacker position, where he is running first team.  Classmate Udeme Udofia has grown into the "Sam" outside linebacker position and leads there.  The depth is supplied on the second team by Taualai Fonoti at "Sam" and John Solder at the "rush" position.  The inside positions have Kevin Schimmelmann moved now to the "Mike" position, which is his fourth position in his four years at Stanford.  It has been quite a progression from safety to outside linebacker to "Will" inside linebacker to now the "Mike" inside position.  Behind him is Landon Johnson.  The "Will" linebacker where Schimmelmann played last year is now manned by Michael Okwo on the first team and Mike Silva on the second team.   Though you look for speed in the outside 'backers, this inside group has fantastic speed, and it was on display Friday.  Okwo remains an explosive ball hawk and had a fantastic interception returned for a touchdown on one of the first plays of 11-on-11 competition.

Defensive line:  There is no mystery with the starting group here, given three seniors with loads of playing experience and then a group of completely untested underclassmen behind them.  Your starting trio is strongside end Casey Carroll, nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo and weakside end Julian Jenkins.  All three looked in great shape, though Jenkins probably caught my eye the most as a playmaker on Friday.  The real intrigue is in the second unit, which will be a battle to supply the rotating backups for the starters.  Running second team on Friday was Chris Horn, Matt McClernan and Pannel Egboh.  Egboh was somebody I highlighted for you to watch, and he indeed was a load for the offensive tackles to handle in his defensive line debut.

After practice, I had a chance to chat with rising fifth-year senior Kevin Schimmelmann, who has made yet another position switch, moving from the "Will" inside linebacker to the "Mike" inside linebacker that David Bergeron manned the last three seasons.  Schimmelmann is a different player with different strengths, and there is no question that speed is an area he can upgrade at the position...

What are the primary differences for you in learning this new "Mike" position?

"We're still learning the system right now, but the two inside 'backers really need to be interchangeable.  Right now we're learning both.  Nothing is really set.  They're just working us at a position right now to see how we do.  The Mike is actually doing more coverage on a lot of things right now, where last year the Will was doing more coverage.  This year's Mike has more coverage responsibilities than last year's Mike.  The two positions are pretty interchangeable right now."

What is different in how you see they are handling you as a "Mike" backer?

"I think they recognize that we are a fast bunch of linebackers, and we have a lot of speed.  They're going to use us actually in a lot of nickel and dime situations - keep us in the nickel and dime packages to cover.  They might not bring in a DB this year.  They understand we're pretty fast guys."

How about your role as a senior?

"Obviously I have more of a leadership role this year, and I'm taking that on.  Trying to get everybody on the same page.  Everyone has a real good attitude.  Practice is really fast-paced.  It's real up-tempo, and everybody has handled it well."

Where are you focused individually this spring?

"I'm just focusing on finishing every drill - during sprints, chasing the ball.  Just making sure I'm working harder than everybody else."

Any technique that you would like to improve to help you be a better play this fall?

"Footwork is a big deal.  Coach [Darrell] Patterson has us working on not crossing over and being more lateral - use lateral movements to change direction faster.  I think that will really help us with the cutback play we got beat on a lot last year.  Having better footwork laterally will help us out a lot."

What are your first impressions of your new position coach, Darrell Patterson?

"He's a straight shooter.  He's a real smart guy.  He talks fast in meetings, and he knows what he's talking about.  Obviously, he played in the pros for a long time.  He has a lot of experience of a lot of different coaching to bring to the table.  He's a real straight shooter and will tell you like it is.  He likes competition.  I think he's going to bring some different techniques to the table that will really help us."

Et cetera notes

  • Former Rose Bowl Cardinal quarterback Todd Husak is back on The Farm, as a graduate assistant.  He is taking the first steps toward a coaching career after finishing his pro playing days, as we initially reported last year.  As is a parallel barrier familiar to so many hopeful high schoolers, Husak needed to gain admission - this time to a Stanford graduate program - to become a graduate assistant.  "I fooled 'em twice," Husak says in commenting on his admission to The Farm, this time with the School of Education.  Husak replaces Danny Ragsdale, who has moved onto an assistant coaching position in the Midwest.  Husak brings a lot of experience and knowledge to the offense, and one area he can help in practices in particular is with the tight ends.  Tackles/tight ends coach John McDonell ostensibly has that group, but with Husak helping coach the passing game, McDonell can focus more on the blocking aspects of the position.
  • A host of recruits were in attendance, from all corners of the country.  Two of the most distant travelers were East Coast offensive linemen, both with noteworthy scholarship offers to their name already.  6'7" tackle Sam Young came from Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas High School and has offers from elite programs in every BCS conference.  6'4" guard Andrew Phillips trekked to The Farm from Seneca (Md.) Georgetown Prep and has reported offers from Maryland, Syracuse, Duke and Louisville.  We will get in touch with both soon to get a download on their trips out West.
  • Several players were not participating in drills on Friday and instead spent the bulk of their time conditioning with strength coach Ron Forbes.  Jon Alston, Timi Wusu, Michael Craven, Mark Bradford and Brian Head.  As we previously reported, Head is coming off repair surgery on his knee and is not cleared for contact in spring practices, but he did get himself involved by snapping balls to the quarterbacks in a number of passing drills.

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