The Buddy Teevens era of Stanford football finally took the field today, with the much anticipated first practice of the spring. This first practice didn't use pads, and was free of contact. A primary focus is for the new coaching staff to get familiar with the players, and for the players to get accustomed to their new position coaches. So without the pads, and with people just getting to know each other, there was no expectation of garnering information about moves on the depth chart, or the real flavor of the new schemes. One benefit from the non-contact practice, though, was the opportunity for many of the team's banged up players to participate in drills.
You may be familiar with yellow jerseys at Stanford practices, if you've ever spent time on the rail, traditionally to protect the quarterbacks and kickers from contact. On this first day of spring practice, the yellow jerseys marked a greater host of players for protection against contact. Some (Mark Anderson, JR Lemon and Kerry Carter) are still recovering from off-season surgery. Darin Naatjes is concurrently participating in baseball, and has the extra taxing of pitching on his arm, as well as the more acute need to stay healthy and injury free. Coach Buddy Teevens told me that they want to be careful with Darin, while still trying to get him as involved and integrated as possible with the new offense. That yellow jersey might stay on all of spring, but we'll have to wait and see.
Other players with yellow jerseys on this first day included Luke Powell, Stanley Wilson, Garry Cobb, Jason White, Chijioke Asomugha and Louis Hobson. The extent to which these players can participate in the next three-plus weeks of spring football is up in the air, with several on a day-by-day basis.
Missing Mark Anderson and Louis Hobson means that we enter spring football without the two defensive ends who are leading candidates for the starting lineup. That thrust Will Svitek and Drew Caylor into the first string roles today. There was some question whether Caylor would be used on the offensive line or over on defense, and perhaps the health of Stanford's defensive ends helped to make that decision easier. One Card who was up on the line at defensive end has moved back to his original role as a linebacker, as Cooper Blackhurst has entered the race for the new LB starting spots. Jared Newberry is also a new, yet old, face in the linebacking corps; he has returned to the defense after spending last year as a fullback. Newberry is an underrated athlete on this team, and I've watched his quick feet in drills at both positions.
With Stanley Wilson on the sidelines during much of the DB drills, Garry Cobb grabbed the 1st string corner alongside Leigh Torrence. Cobb played some very aggressive coverage, bump and run without any discernable cushion. Very different, and an early indication of what Mark Banker has in store. Colin Branch and OJ Atogwe are the starting safeties at this moment, but you can't help noticing the play of Timi Wusu and Kevin Schimmelmann behind them. Schimmelmann in particular showed some real playmaking potential. He has the frame and power that befits his strong safety run-stuffing position, but he showed his wares well in pass coverage.
The position where Stanford looked decimated for this spring was running back. The fear was that JR Lemon, Kerry Carter and Kenny Tolon would all miss spring ball, leaving the running duties all in the lap of one Justin Faust. At least on this first day, without much contact, the full compliment of backs were running drills. When the practice finished off with 11-on-11 scrimmage work, the crew was reduced to Faust and Tolon, though. The role of the fullback is already blending in with the tailback, which also means that Casey Moore, Eran Landry and Pat Jacobs (switched from ILB) joined in. Without contact, it's too early to see who will be the leading contributors, but we are getting a glimpse at the role of the running back. The backs ran receiving drills with the wideouts, and caught an awful lot of balls today. Though not unexpected, the backs of Mike Sanford's and Buddy Teeven's offense will exemplify the creativity of the entire scheme: lining up in a variety of running and passing formations. And they sure look like they're having fun with it. More on this later in the spring.
Looking at the backs and the receivers, I did pay close attention to the footwork drills. JR Lemon and Nick Sebes looked like the players with the quickest feet and most explosive footwork. Kerry Carter is carrying a big frame still, but looks a step faster to my eyes. Justin Faust still looks to have the fastest straight-line speed of the backs, and he showed that off with a couple long runs in the brief scrimmage at the end of practice.
The receivers are a deep group, with no less than eleven bodies in the mix. The group overall looked pretty sharp for the first day, though expectedly with their share of drops. Some of the highlight catches of the day were had by Gerren Crochet, Brandon Royster and Justin McCullum. Caleb Bowman ran some nice routes, one of which drew particular acclaim from coach David Kelly. All eyes were on his hands, which came threw today. I love the work Coach Kelly is doing, including some new drills for the receivers. He has an acute eye to detail and has a lot to say to his men.
But considering the new scheme and the new playbook, the passing offense fared quite well on day one. "I was actually surprised at how well it came together," said veteran receiver Luke Powell. "We had a pretty good understanding of the offense for the first day. I think our timing was a lot better than I expected. I think we looked pretty good overall."
"Cool Hand" Luke was one of the yellow jerseyed folk today, though, and it's clear he's anxious to get fully integrated this spring. "I want to prove to these new coaches that I can play. I hope it doesn't hurt me, but I don't want to rush into anything and have an injury linger on throughout the year like last year."
The yellow jerseys we come to expect were donned by three QBs chomping at the bit for the new offense. Chris Lewis threw a lot of sharp balls for his first day, and looked like a returning starter rather than a rising one. He's off to a fast start for sure. Ryan Eklund and Kyle Matter both looked confident, and both improved over last fall. Matter looks to have changed his throwing motion, and added some real distance to his long ball. I'm not sure whether to be excited or a little concerned when he overthrew three straight receivers on long routes 40 yards downfield. Ryan Eklund still amazes me with how effortlessly he can toss the ball those distances, but his test will come when the pressure of a pass rush comes. Both Ryan and Kyle had wavering accuracy on shorter timing routes, mostly throwing behind receivers. But you have to expect some rust on the very first day of spring, and these QBs are going to put on a good battle for the #2 spot behind "Hollywood" Lewis.
A few new faces showed up at practice, as I counted three walk-ons added to the roster. I don't have enough info yet to report on them, but one is reportedly a soccer player looking to help out with the kicking game. That leg is much appreciated right now, as Greg Davis is no longer with the team. That leaves redshirt freshman Michael Sgroi as the lone placekicker on scholarship. The good news is that Sgroi looked absolutely fantastic today, in all manner of kicking