All week Walt Harris has said he cannot tell much about his team until they get into full pads. Friday marked the first full-pads practice of this 2005 fall camp, but Harris said afterward that he needed to watch the film before he could make any concrete conclusions.
Well, where's the fun in that?
Harris only offered up two big picture conclusions after Friday's afternoon workout. "1) I know I sound like a broken record, but it's not hot," he laments, continuing his week-long theme of disappointment that the team is not being tested in adverse conditions in preparation for the heat and humidity expected in Annapolis for their opener. "2) We've got a long, long ways to go."
Harris adds that he likes his defense, which he has described as either "dominant" or "good" at every turn. The offense, his personal responsibility as not just the head coach but also the offensive coordinator, is a greater concern. Harris spent the first five practices this week, running through Friday, installing the entirety of the 2005 Stanford offense. Gadget plays, options and more have been seen - many things we never saw even once during the spring. Harris says that many of those plays will not be used until the latter portion of the season, but he expects that their installation in this first week of camp will ingrain the plays into his players heads. For the next two weeks of camp, the playbook will tighten, and details will once again be king.
"Offensively, we've been trying to put the system in," Harris explains. "We're worried more about assignments and less about technique... Now, starting tomorrow, we're going to be a lot more thorough with our fundamentals and technique. There will be a lot less in the playbook."
With that in mind, it is difficult to assess what we saw through the first five days on offense. The number of new plays, sets, and formations dished out each day was a mental load for the players. If they made mistakes in the execution of some plays, it would be expected.
So we've seen four days without full pads, robbing us and the coaching staff of a chance to evaluate full contact, particularly in action at or near the line of scrimmage. For all five days, we have seen an offense being force-fed volumes of a new playbook. That does not leave much we can yet unravel about this football team. Redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Udeme Udofia, however, has some thoughts he shares.
"It's just great to get back in pads and begin knocking heads," he offers. "The offense continues to make strides, and so does the defense. You can see that we're doing better. It's great to see."
"The offense line is staying on their blocks, all the way past the whistle," Udofia elaborates. "The running backs are running hard; even after the whistle they still run up the field. The wide receivers are running precise routes, and the quarterbacks are putting the ball in the right spots."
Though there are some limitations to what we can interpret, the offense did perform better in this first five practices than we expected. They endured consistent mediocrity through the first three-quarters of spring football before clicking on the final Tuesday of the April practices. The new offense of Walt Harris bears no resemblance to what was previously run at Stanford, particularly with the option routes and reads that all skill players have to execute on each play. With that empirical evidence in hand, plus the rust that should be expected with three-plus months away from coaching staff-led practices, we expected rust and deficit thus far. Instead, we have seen the offense enjoy a surprising amount of success. Take that with a grain of salt, in the absence of full pads. The running game has been impossible to evaluate. But with the arrival of full pads on Friday, we had our first look at full contact navigation for the ground game in the trenches.
Junior David Marrero took the lead Friday with the first team offense at the tailback position and looked solid. Though he is known by fans for his speed and explosiveness, he showed the ability to run through the middle of the line of scrimmage to pick up tough yardage with power.
But the biggest winner Friday in the wide open and much talked-about running back battle was redshirt freshman Anthony Kimble. The 6'1" athlete spent all but one day of his first year at Stanford at wide receiver, before he was moved for the Spring Game to running back. Kimble spent the entire summer working on his new craft, which harkens back to his high school days, with the expectation from the coaching staff that he could be in the thick for the tailback competition in the fall. If there were doubts on the part of Kimble or the coaches as to the wisdom of that move, Friday cast them away.
Kimble on more than one occasion in Friday's practice employed moves to evade tacklers that gripped our attention. The standout play came on a run up the middle, where fifth-year senior linebacker and noted speed demon Michael Craven closed in for a sure tackle, only to have Kimble put on a lightning-quick move that left Craven in the dust and Kimble moving up the field for extra yardage.
"I saw Anthony Kimble do a couple things out there today that I liked," said Harris, with uncharacteristic praise for a single player before watching the day's film. "He made some guys miss. He's doing some things we have asked him to do - moving north-south instead of sideline-to-sideline. He's been feeling his way. He's making nice progress."
Harris is smiling right now with his second big position switch since he arrived at Stanford. The first, moving Nick Frank from the defensive line to fullback, has been an obvious success, with Frank looking like a future award-winner and already the starter his new offensive position. The Kimble move was, much like that with Frank, a head-scratcher initially for fans. Why take a playmaker away from a position in need of help? Well, today, the receiving corps looks strong with a playing depth of four or five talents, while the running backs are deeper than any other position group in Walt Harris' doghouse. Kimble has quickly moved up the depth chart, and has Harris smiling already.
"Those moves are some things that we hoped he could do," the coach comments on Kimble. "Hopefully the other guys will learn it. It's obvious."
Kimble additionally is strong in the receiving aspect of the position, given his experience last year as a wideout in addition to his catches in high school.
We expected and hoped to see a strong competition at the "Sam" outside linebacker position during camp. Udeme Udofia took ahold of the first team slot throughout spring practices, but fifth-year senior Timi Wusu sat out April while he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. The hope was that Wusu would compete with Udofia in August and push the position forward, as Stanford looks to replace NFL draft selection and current Washington Redskins linebacker Jared Newberry.
Wusu, however, is still not able to participate in practices. Udofia meanwhile is strengthening his command of the position.
"I've gotten a lot better in the coverage aspects," he offers. "I can cover the tight end one-on-one, or drop into a zone and get in front of the route."
Udofia is a good athlete with good size who can cause trouble for tight ends when he tangles with them, but his improvements in pass coverage are a welcome and encouraging sign. Also encouraging for the Cardinal is the depth that may be emerging behind him, even though Wusu remains on the sideline. Stanford has a trio of true freshman outside linebackers we are seeing in a practice uniform for the first time, and all have seen snaps through the first five days of camp. Will Powers has been on the field the least, as he works his way back from some injury difficulty. His absence has opened the door for someone like Clinton Snyder to see time at the "Sam" outside linebacker position, though he more naturally projects on the opposite side of the field as a "rush" outside linebacker.
"The outside linebackers are supposed to be able to play either position," Udofia explains. That's what Coach [Tom] Quinn has us working toward."
"Clinton has done a great job, regardless of his size," the third-year OLB adds. "He's being physical and sticking his nose in there."
While the slender Snyder, who has excellent speed and looks to be a big player in Stanford's pass rushing future, has seen unexpected work on the strong side of the field, it is classmate Tom McAndrew who has most consistently taken repetitions in the second team "Sam" position. Udofia tilts his head backward and laughs out loud when asked about McAndrew.
"Tom is an absolute specimen," Udofia exclaims. "He came in a bigger outside linebacker than all of us. He's big and impressive."
At 251 pounds and 6'5", McAndrew looks like a beast on the field, and has earned whispers of surprise and excitement from both teammates and fans alike. But Udofia says that the freshman is more than just a big body.
"He looks the part, but he plays the part as well," Udofia adds.
- Given that Walt Harris is so outwardly concerned about the lack of difficult weather in which his team is practicing, just what does he plan on doing to help his team compensate when they arrive in the heat and humidity for their September 10 opener at Navy? "We're going to have to play a lot of players. Maybe some we wouldn't normally play," the head coach answers. "Hopefully they all get themselves ready for all that they have to do: execute."
- When asked about the offensive line, Harris singled out three players he liked so far. Redshirt freshman Alex Fletcher, though younger than any other starter in the front five by two years, was the first lineman off the tongue of the Cardinal head coach. "Alex is a young man who really wants to be a player." Next mention went to fifth-year senior Brian Head, who has pleased Harris thus far in camp, which is also the first time the new coach has seen his eldest OL in a practice environment. Head missed all of spring ball while recovering from off-season knee surgery. The final kudos went out to redshirt junior Jeff Edwards, who only practiced at the beginning of the week before straining his calf muscle. Edwards has been out the last few practices, and Harris said that he does not know when to expect his left tackle to return to action.
- Harris said that fifth-year seniors Timi Wusu (outside linebacker), Michael Sgroi (placekicker) and Nick Silvas (cornerback) will miss Saturday's action while they take the day-long MCAT examination, which is necessary for medical school applicants. All three seniors are pre-med students.
- Saturday will mark the first two-a-day practices of this camp. The first practice starts at 7:55 AM and runs three hours, though there will be an extended break in the middle of approximately 40 minutes. The second practice will run a little less than two hours in the afternoon. This format will be repeated, more or less, every other day through the remainder of Stanford's fall camp. The NCAA a couple years ago changed their rules, precluding any school from holding two-a-day practices in consecutive days, changing a staple of college football preseason camps in an effort to protect the players.
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