Spring Ball: Day Nine

The sun was shining brightly on a spectacular day for spring football Thursday, but there was a dark cloud hanging over the offense. Injuries, mistakes and underperformances left us with a sour taste. Read on for a rare injury update from <b>Walt Harris</b>, plus a description of the offensive problems Thursday presented. Also a full play-by-play of the "live" scrimmage.

A more stringent policy surrounding the reporting of injuries has left us unable to give you any meaningful update on who is able and who is disabled most of these last two-plus weeks.  Head coach Walt Harris did speak with The Bootleg after Thursday's practice however to give some clearance and comment on a number of injuries.  If you have been out to the practice field and seen the number of yellow jerseys recently, then it is good news that many of them are minor injuries and could still return before the end of spring practices.  If you are one of the many who live away from Stanford or have not been able to make your way to a practice this month, perhaps the number of injuries will surprise and dishearten you.

The definitive "major" injuries which will keep players out the remainder of the spring are to redshirt junior "Mike" inside linebacker Michael Craven and freshman cornerback Carlos McFall.  Craven started the spring out of action when he hurt his hamstring the day before practices began, during the team's morning conditioning workout.  But he did return and for a brief time was helping at linebacker, where other injuries have greatly thinned the positions.  A knee injury now ends Craven's spring, but Harris says he will be fine for the fall.  McFall injured his shoulder last week when he battled sophomore Evan Moore in a passing drill, with Moore leaping for a high ball and coming down on McFall.  The injury to his left shoulder (the same one he hurt last September, requiring surgery and ending his season) does not appear that it will require surgery.  While the frosh cornerback is done for the spring, he is expected to be completely healthy for the fall.  McFall was battling for the #2 cornerback position with redshirt freshman Nick Sanchez, and at a minimum he would have held down the #3 spot and played in the nickel package.

Those are the worst known injuries.  One that might be spring-ending came late Tuesday to sophomore tailback David Marrero, who hurt his knee during the "live" scrimmage at the end of practice.  He had been running very well and was rising as fast as any running back on the roster before he had to be helped off the field.  Harris said he was still waiting for MRI results to confirm the nature of the knee injury - whether it was a sprain or tear.  Preliminary information suggested it may only be a sprain.  Marrero was not at the practice field Thursday.

Marrero was not the only running back out of action, with freshman Ray Jones donning a yellow jersey and out of the rotation.  He hurt his shoulder Saturday in the first half of the team's scrimmage in the Stadium.  The good news is that the injury is believed to be minor, and Jones could be back in action today or tomorrow.  Absent both Marrero and Jones, though, the tailbacks numbered only three on Thursday, which is not what you want competitively in the spring.

The wide receivers have been a little healthier this spring, though redshirt junior Justin McCullum broke that trend with his absence Thursday.  His injury is undisclosed, but Harris said he is "fine" and will be back.

The outside linebacker positions started the spring unusually thin with redshirt juniors Jon Alston and Timi Wusu both out while they recover from off-season surgeries.  Add to that a hamstring injury for Taualai Fonoti.  Inside, the Cardinal are missing Craven and have also been without freshman Pat Maynor much of the spring.  The inside linebacker corps may have suffered at least one more injury Thursday, to boot.

The good news is that two players who had been injured much of the spring returned to better health and were heavily involved in Thursday's practice.  Redshirt junior Kris Bonifas, who by experience and age was the #1 fullback coming into the spring, has a lot of ground to make up this last half of the month, but he took repetitions and was quite physical for his first full day back.  For all the carnage the linebackers have suffered, they enjoyed a spate of good news with the return Thursday of redshirt sophomore Mike Silva, who had been injured since the first weekend of practices.  Silva had a load of work on Thursday.

"I'm happy to have them both back just to have them out there," says Harris on Bonifas and Silva.  "They need to get practice time."

Overall, Harris does not hide his disappointment at the number of injuries his players have sustained this spring.  He ran what was a successful winter of intense strength and conditioning, but the time between that quarter and the start of spring practices may have undone some of the good work.

"I didn't expect this at all.  We have to get in better shape," the first-year Cardinal coach laments.  "Those three weeks got us.  There was dead week, finals week and then spring break.  We didn't do what we need to do to keep in shape, and then guys come back and get hurt when they run."

While the injuries have been disappointing, not only in how they have delayed or derailed individuals' development, but also in how they have slashed competition at a number of positions.  That all being said, I have little doubt that some of Harris' dour mood at the end of Thursday derived from his offense's performance that day.

Players at several positions dropped balls, with the most egregious errors going to redshirt freshman fullback Emeka Nnoli (twice) and redshirt sophomore tight end Matt Traverso.  Quarterbacks missed throws.  The three running backs who were healthy looked uninspiring, and the running game had real difficulty getting into the endzone during the final goalline series in the scrimmage.  Redshirt sophomore tailback Gerald Commissiong, who had been fifth string when all five backs were healthy, ran second string ahead of redshirt freshman Jason Evans.  You can credit that move more to Evans' drop in performance than a rise by Commissiong, though to his credit, Commissiong did run hard for some tough yards in the scrimmage.

The offensive line should be the greatest incubator for competition on this entire football team, with 15 healthy bodies and the entire complement returned from the 2004 season.  But the third string is showing almost no upward mobility in pushing the second team, and the unit is not pushing the first team.  Instead, we are seeing downward mobility.  We reported previously that redshirt sophomore Ismail Simpson, who had been second string at right guard all spring despite starting the last 22 games for Stanford, moved to the first team for some snaps on Tuesday.  Redshirt freshman Mikal Brewer had been holding the lead at right guard, but his false starts and miscues in the playbook have moved him down this week.  Simpson took every snap with the first team during Thursday's scrimmage, but I do not see strong evidence that he has surged forward as much as Brewer falling behind.  Simpson had his errors as well.  Unquestionably, right guard is the weak spot on this offensive line today.  If neither Simpson nor Brewer rally the remainder of the spring, you might start thinking about Alex Fletcher or Brian Head at right guard in the fall.

On an unrelated note, I saw something new on Thursday for the first time this spring.  The second team defense at two different times brought a fourth defensive lineman onto the field for a 4-2 formation on third downs, in what looks to be a nickel (five defensive backs) package.  Also interesting was watching the goalline scrimmage series at the very end of practice.  You would expect the defense to go to a four-man front there, but we did not know who would be that fourth lineman.  It was freshman Gustav Rydstedt who joined Julian Jenkins, Babatunde Oshinowo and Casey Carroll.  Rydstedt had just recently moved from the third team to the second team defensive line, and this is further confirmation of his surge this spring.

Scrimmage Play-by-Play

#1 offense vs. #1 defense
(QB: Trent Edwards; RB: J.R. Lemon)

1st & 10:  Pass incomplete, intended 20 yards downfield for Mark Bradford (T.J. Rushing coverage; Bradford one-handed attempt falling backward)
2nd & 10:  Lemon run for a loss of three yards (tackle by Casey Carroll)
3rd & 13:  Pass interference against Tim Sims in coverage of Bradford (came over the back)
1st & 10:  Lemon run six yards (tripped up by Nick Sanchez)
2nd & 4:  Quarterback sack by Babatunde Oshinowo for a loss of eight yards (did not bite on Edwards play-action)
3rd & 12:  Pass complete to Matt Traverso for 11 yards (tackle by Brandon Harrison)

#2 offense vs. #2 defense
(QB: T.C. Ostrander; RB: Gerald Commissiong)

1st & 10:  Commissiong run for no gain (tackle by Pannel Egboh)
2nd & 10:  Commissiong run for eight yards on a cutback (tackle by Bryan Bentrott)
3rd & 2:  Pass deflected incomplete at the line of scrimmage (Matt McClernan?)
1st & 10:  Commissiong run for one yard (tackle by Peter Griffin)
2nd & 9:  Ostrander run for seven yards ("tackle" by John Solder)
3rd & 2:  Commissiong run for loss of two yards (tackle by Solder, while being blocked by Austin Gunder)

#1 offense vs. #1 defense
(QB: Edwards; RB: Jason Evans)

1st & 10:  Evans run for four yards (tackle by Julian Jenkins)
2nd & 6:  Evans run for five yards (tackle by Oshinowo)
3rd & 1:  Evans run for loss of three yards (tackle by Oshinowo and Michael Okwo)
1st & 10:  Pass incomplete, intended deep for Bradford (Rushing coverage; thrown to wrong shoulder)
2nd & 10:  Pass complete on a play-action screen to Patrick Danahy for six yards (tackle by Okwo)
3rd & 4:  Pass complete to Bradford for 15 yards (tackle by Rushing - looked like Okwo sack before throw)
1st & 10:  Pass complete to Evans after play-action for six yards (tackle by Okwo and Mike Silva)

#2 offense vs. #2 defense
(QB: Ostrander; RB: Commissiong)

1st & 10:  Pass complete to Marcus McCutcheon for 21 yards (tackle by Bentrott)
1st & 10:  Commissiong run for four yards (tackle by Udeme Udofia)
2nd & 6:  Pass incomplete, intended for Kyle Matter (thrown behind)
3rd & 6:  Ostrander run for 13 yards ("tackle" by David Lofton)
1st & 10:  Commissiong run for four yards (tackle by Okwo)
2nd & 6:  Commissiong run for three yards (gang tackled)

#3 offense vs. #3 defense
(QB: Garrett Morre; RB: Evans)

1st & 10:  Pass complete to Patrick Bowe for eight yards (tackle by Solder and Wopamo Osaisai)
2nd & 2:  False start on the offensive line (Allen Smith)
2nd & 7:  Pass incomplete to Emeka Nnoli (dropped)
3rd & 7:  Pass incomplete, intended for Anthony Kimble
1st & 10:  Evans run for two yards (tackle by Chris Horn and Alfred Johnson)
2nd & 8:  Evans run for four yards (tripped up)

#1 offense vs. #1 defense - Goalline drill (ball @ four-yardline)
(QB: Edwards: RB: Lemon)

1st & Goal:  Lemon run for no gain on pitch to outside
2nd & Goal:  Lemon run for no gain into the middle
3rd & Goal:  Lemon run for four-yard touchdown to outside untouched

#2 offense vs. #2 defense - Goalline drill
(QB: Ostrander; RB: Commissiong)

1st & Goal:  Commissiong run for one yard up the middle
2nd & Goal:  Commissiong run for one yard (tackle by Griffin)
3rd & Goal:  Commissiong run for no gain (tackle by Egboh and Sanchez)
Jason Evans in for Gerald Commissiong
4th & Goal:  Evans run for no gain (Okwo solo tackle)

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