Football's Summer Sizzle: Part II

In Part I of our review of the first week of Stanford Football's summer practices, we gave you an explanation of the workouts and an early look at the freshmen in attendance. In this second half of our report, we dig into the returning players on the roster. Several have noticeably changed their bodies. We also are seeing some depth chart shifts...

In Part I, we introduced you to the who, what, when and why of the oft-misunderstood summer voluntary football workouts.  We also gave you an early look at the freshmen, with their strong attendance and early impressions.  Now, for Part II...

Bold Body Changes

Beyond the freshmen physiques, we have taken notice of several other Stanford players who have made noticeable body changes.  At the top of the list is fifth-year senior Babatunde Oshinowo.  He finished spring practices at 325 pounds but has trimmed down to 309.  Oshinowo understands that with the scant depth behind the senior starters, the defensive line cannot afford as regular a rotation as we have seen in the past few years.  Oshinowo is expected to play more snaps in a game in 2005, for longer stretches.  He has hopefully found a weight and level of conditioning to get him there.  It won't hurt his stock for the 2006 NFL Draft to play more in games, either.

Redshirt freshman running back Anthony Kimble registered at 190 pounds during the spring as a wide receiver, but with his new permanent home in the backfield, the 6'1" tailback has packed on 15 pounds to a current weight of 205.  We barely had a chance to see him operate as a ballcarrier in the spring, running with the rock only in the Spring Game in a few series, but we saw his quickness and athleticism right away.  He looks like he has not lost a step despite his body change.  Kimble can run the ball, and he is as good as any running back on the roster catching it out of the backfield.  His knowledge of the playbook and ability to execute blocking responsibilities are the major challenges.

Redshirt freshmen defensive linemen Pannel Egboh and Gustav Rydstedt have boosted their bulk, beyond the gains they had already posted in the winter.  Egboh has transformed from an outside linebacker in an imposing defensive lineman, currently tipping the scales at 265 pounds.  Most exciting is how lean he looks.  Much of that weight carries in his chest and not around his belt.  During conditioning sprints, Egboh is consistently dominating all the linemen on the roster.  We do not know how soon he will put together the mental understanding of the defensive end position, but his physical future is undeniably enticing.  Rydstedt has yet to play a down of college football but now outweighs every returning defensive lineman on the team, save Oshinowo.  The super Swede currently weighs 297 pounds and plays with a high motor.  This untested pair look like important parts of the D-line rotation this fall at the end positions.

Yet another redshirt freshman who grabs our attention is tight end Austin Gunder.  He arrived at Stanford (a couple of days late, in fact, due to an international model airplane competition) physically immature, but today he looks the part of a college athlete.  Gunder now weighs 245 pounds, cut and lean.  One Stanford Football observer last week asked me who he was, unable to recognize Gunder with the changes he has made.  Yet another intriguing piece in the tight end position battle.

Fifth-year senior inside linebacker Kevin Schimmelmann came to campus four years ago as a 203-pound free safety.  He since moved to strong safety, outside linebacker and "Will" inside linebacker.  He has now added still more chiseled muscle to his frame and at 231 pounds is ready for fifth position in five years - the "Mike" inside linebacker.  Schimmelmann is not only the starter at the position but also one of the team leaders this year.  He looks the part, knows the defense and has his teammates' respect.

Two other eyebrow-raising physical changes we see leave us with questions.  Fifth-year senior inside linebacker Michael Craven has been under the microscope since he signed with Stanford four years ago, recognized as the #1 linebacker recruit in the nation.  His travails since have included personal, academic and injury difficulties.  After injuring his knee in the spring, Craven is still not 100%.  He is not a good bet to get to 100% by the time camp starts.  Currently his lateral movements are significantly limited.  We also cannot ignore his larger body, which tips the scales today at 240 pounds.  The weight gain is not large on paper, but the change is visibly noticeable.

Another obvious weight gain is found with redshirt sophomore offensive guard Mikal Brewer, who has now pushed north of 300 pounds.  The greatest asset for the Arizona lineman coming out of high school was his quickness and athleticism.  Some say he risks mitigating his strengths at this high weight; others contend that Brewer still moves quick enough and now has a chance to become a more powerful drive blocker.  It might be smart to bet on the latter camp, given Brewer's intelligence and his understanding of playing guard at the college level.  He started three games last year and played extensively in others.

Depth Chart News & Notes

As we reported last week in our Hot News segments, the question surrounding the interior offensive line first unit has been answered.  Fifth-year senior Brian Head is taking the lead at the center position for the first team offense.  My early observation is that the veteran lineman, despite his missing all of spring ball while he rehabbed his knee, has a solid understanding of the playbook.  The starting right guard is redshirt freshman Alex Fletcher, who manned that first string center spot all spring.  Fletcher is still taking snaps at center, preparing him to slide over and take that position should anything happen to Head.  When Fletcher mans the center for the first team offense, redshirt sophomore Mikal Brewer moves up at the starting right guard spot.

Redshirt junior Ismail Simpson has more starts than any player at any position on the Stanford offensive line, but he had a difficult spring and was demoted below first string duties at his new right guard spot.  With Fletcher and Brewer currently controlling the right guard depth, Simpson has few snaps available.  Thus, Simpson is returning part-time to the left guard position where started 22 games the last two years, to provide depth behind starting redshirt junior Josiah Vinson.

Perhaps the most solid position on the offensive line is redshirt junior Jeff Edwards at left tackle, but the right tackle spot was shaky in the spring.  Redshirt junior Jon Cochran performed poorly in April and found himself splitting snaps with young Ben Muth, now a redshirt freshman.  That position remains a battle to watch during preseason camp, but Cochran is showing signs that he is creating some separation between himself and Muth.  Cochran looks stronger and more focused than what we saw in the spring.  His is still the weakest position on the offensive line, but the liability is in the early stages of receding.

The other position of Cardinal controversy in the spring was the tailback spot, where fifth-year senior J.R. Lemon held down first team repetitions, but the entire running back crew completely underwhelmed the coaching staff.  Nobody jumped forward to take ahold of the position, though the most promising performer was the off-and-on injured junior David Marrero.  Marrero was declared the #1 tailback coming out of the spring, with Lemon left humbled outside the starting lineup.  Tied with Lemon was redshirt freshman Anthony Kimble.  Consider that for a moment.  A veteran with 1,000 yards rushing, 240 carries, 10 starts and 13 touchdowns in his career... is tied on the depth chart with a youngster who has never seen action in a college game and played the position one day in four weeks of spring practices.  If you think that would light a fire under Lemon, you are correct.  The savvy senior has been hailed by teammates since the end of April for unmatched dedication in all aspects of training.  The running back depth chart is quite fluid right now, but Lemon and Marrero are currently sharing the lead in first team repetitions.

A position on defense of quiet competition to watch this fall is the "Sam" linebacker position.  Redshirt sophomore Udeme Udofia held down that starting spot throughout the spring, and he has made tremendous strides in recent months.  But fifth-year senior Timi Wusu has made the move from last year's "rush" OLB to the "Sam" and will compete intensely with Udofia.  Wusu is an underrated athlete, only because he has been plagued with unending injuries in his Cardinal career.  He currently is out with a hamstring problem, but at a strong but quick 230 pounds, Wusu will be reckoned with soon.

The other outside linebacker spot, known as the "rush" OLB in this 3-4 defense, was manned in the spring by redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Awofadeju while fifth-year senior Jon Alston sat out.  Alston, who has started 16 games and last year recorded 10 sacks, had arthroscopic surgery in the winter and had to sit out April practices while he rehabbed his right knee.  There was some concern that Alston might not return in 2005 quite the same player we saw in 2004, but quite the opposite may play out.  The lightning pass rusher suffered with an increasingly injured knee through most of last fall, quietly, and was largely immobile the latter part of the season.  He is currently at 90% strength and took full part in last week's practices.  Alston is a ripped 223 pounds and feels better than he has in a long time.  He could be at full speed by the start of camp and have a monster year.  Alston is already a monster in the leadership ranks, as you can plainly see an inescapably hear during these practices.

There is no depth chart debate here, but I cannot leave without a note on junior fullback Nick Frank.  Depleting the defensive line to move him to offense was a move last winter that rightfully raised some eyebrows, but Frank is making this position switch look like a stroke of pure genius.  The 255-pound athlete was strong in the spring, locking down a brand new position, but he is doing some things in the subsequent off-season that ratchets the excitement level up several notches.  Frank is an exceptionally smooth receiver out of the backfield, which is expected to be a strength Walt Harris seizes in the fall.  On Wednesday, I watched Frank in one-on-one passing drills abuse linebackers.  It was awe-inspiring, not just to these eyes but also to the loud celebration of his offensive teammates.  His feet are quick; his balance is steady; and his instincts are percolating.

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