Monday's practice was honestly a very fun and thrilling one to attend. Full contact is now in play, including a completely "live" scrimmage to close out the practice... save the quarterbacks, of course. Additionally, in this fourth practice you can now see more and more of the installed offense. Watching that "hatch" before your eyes is pretty exciting.
Out of respect of the team and program, we will not be describing the new offense in any technical manner. No plays, formations or tricks revealed. We also do encourage Booties to give the same respect if and when they post on the BootBoard after catching a practice with their own eyes.
One thing that jumped out at me today about the offensive work today is how much they want to develop and perfect timing. I think "execution" a broader description used often in this game, but Teevens, Sanford and Kelly are putting the emphasis on people being in precisely the right place at precisely the right time in a play. That seems appropriate and maybe obvious for passing plays, but it held for some running plays in today's drills as well. To my eyes, the team was awfully far along in executing that timing, given that the plays are brand new and this is just the fourth practice of BuddyBall.
With more and more plays getting installed, the QBs are getting to show their stuff to the coaches. Chris Lewis is looking fantastic, and is a natural for this system. He is making quick reads and very accurate throws. Chris is brimming with confidence, though we've seen that from him for three years now. Both Kyle Matter and Ryan Eklund are getting a lot of work, and both are making strong throws. The accuracy for both lags that of Lewis: putting the ball on the wrong shoulder or throwing just behind a receiver on a slant rather than just leading him. All three QBs were having the most trouble with the out patterns, getting too much air under the ball and overthrowing their targets.
A lot has been made of the differences between Buddy Teevens and Tryone Willingham, but this offense is also affected by the change from Bill Diedrick to Mike Sanford. The change in style is similar, though. Sanford is very vocal and engaging with his QBs, but also gets in the trenches with the rest of the offense. After a nice touchdown reception to finish off a strong drive for the offense in the end-of-practice scrimmage, Sanford ran down the field to congratulate his boys and then ran back in the middle of the pack.
In fact, there are a lot of 'atta boy's from this staff. Time will tell how effective this will be, but there is much more positive reinforcement this spring. It should be noted, though, that these coaches aren't looking to just blow sunshine all day. When Buddy was unhappy with the level of aggressiveness during the late scrimmage, he was sure to let the players know it. He has a lot of energy and enthusiasm that he shares with his staff, players and fans, but Stanford football isn't intended to be Disneyland come to Palo Alto. The job is to get people better.
Here are some more notes on players and the big plays of the day:
- Rumors of the death of the fullback in this system have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, Casey Moore is being used in a much more variegated capacity than ever before at Stanford, but he still is a critically important blocker in both the running and passing game. Casey, Eran Landry and Pat Jacobs have a lot of responsibilities, but they sure aren't lacking for work and reps. Without describing formations, just know that the fullback hasn't completely morphed into a big tailback at Stanford.
- A couple of standout plays from the LBs today: Michael Craven dropped back into pass coverage and made a great read on the QB, followed by nice grab for the INT. David Bergeron went straight up with Casey Moore, and put him back on his heels. I watched Casey level LBs last year to clear out big holes for big Stanford gains, so this tells me something about Bergeron. Scott Giles and Brian Gaffney are also getting a lot of work with the 1's in the LB mix.
- Starting to see receivers make more and more plays. David Kelly is heavily involved and is working hard to make guys better after every single play. Teyo left his feet for a catch in one of the receiving drills, when he really didn't need to. If Teyo wants to get big yards after the catch, and to utilize his God-given talents in the open field, he needs to be able to break immediately after the catch. Can't do that with your feet off the ground. Sure enough, Kelly was over there talking with him promptly. Teyo is awfully tough to cover, though, and he's coming up with a lot of plays. I saw some good hands from Grant Mason, including a nice grab over his shoulder on a very nicely thrown ball by Chris Lewis - probably the best connection of the day. Gerren Crochet scored a TD in the scrimmage in the back corner of the endzone, with great use of his hands before the ball arrived. Just enough contact to get space, but not enough to draw offensive P-I. Got up and pulled down the ball for a great touchdown. This was the play where Sanford and the boys all rushed to the endzone, as I mentioned above. Also, kudos to Brett Pierce for a brilliant diving one-armed grab in the endzone.
- As the action goes live, I can get a better read for how the DBs handle game situations. Calvin Armstrong, who we couldn't see much last fall while he was out of commission, got a lot of work in the nickel and dime situations. He made a great play on the ball against Greg Camarillo, knocking it right out of his arms with a tomahawk swing. Though Camarillo gets zero press on this team, he quietly earned playing time last year and has some of the most consistent hands on the team. That was a tough play for Armstrong. Leigh Torrence got beaten by Teyo off the line of scrimmage, which is a credit to a great move Teyo put on him, but Leigh recovered well and closed on Teyo in time to make the play at the last fraction of a second. I will say that Chris Lewis would have had the TD if he had hit Teyo faster when he broke open. I watched Stanley Wilson and was very impressed with his bump-and-run coverage. He's not just a speedster, but also showed some strength in jamming the receiver and killing the timing of a route.
- Until the reinforcements arrive in August, the O-line isn't all that deep. Now that Brian Head is healthy again, he is looming large in the interior. He is getting work with the 1's and the 2's, and getting snaps at both center and guard. Looks like he's the next do-it-all utility man stepping into Zack Quaccia's shoes.
- Matt Leonard is an absolute beast. His size, speed and power are single-handedly pushing back some very good offensive linemen on this team. His push up the middle creates a lot of havoc, and is going to terrorize Pac-10 QBs this year. No signs of wavering health, either. Matt is in there for every snap with the 1's.
- In watching 9-on-9 running drills, I'd like to see more explosiveness from our DEs. Though it certainly hurts when you don't have Louis Hobson and Mark Anderson able to take part. I do want to give kudos to Will Svitek on a couple of big plays. To my eyes, he looks best when he gets space to work with. Saw Will and Michael Lovelady on the weak side, while Amon Gordon and Drew Caylor on the strong side. By the by, I talked with Amon after practice for a bit, and can't imagine how he could have gone to any other place. Come on - where else do you hear a guy use "rigmarole" in casual conversation? Seriously.
- The yellow jerseys remain roughly the same. Craig Albrecht has joined the group, and Even Combs miraculously removed his yellow jersey in the middle of practice. I know Stanford has the best doctors around, but maybe the training staff needs a little more acclaim. Talk about fast healing!
- Punting needs work. One interesting note on special teams, is how involved all of the staff is. That's a change from the last staff; now, guys on both sides of the ball are working with individuals on every detail of technique and the plays.
- Trent Edwards was there again today, soaking up a lot of teaching from Mike Sanford and the new offense. He can't grab a ball or take any reps, but being right there is going to put him farther along than just about any freshman QB we've had at Stanford in a long time.
I was fortunate to have the chance to chat for a minute with freshman defensive tackle OJ Oshinowo after practice. Here's what he had to say.
On his first spring football at Stanford: "You know, it's going good. It's helpful having three fifth-year seniors ahead - whenever I have a question, they can help me out pretty well. But I'm doing well, making improvements every day. The winter conditioning really helped me a lot, and that's something I've never really done before."
More on winter conditioning and the changes it has made for him: "It's something I need a lot of when I came in here, better conditioning. Just working out over the winter, I've lost a lot of weight. At the end of last football season, I weighed about 325. Now I'm about 307. That helps. Just working out and getting into better shape. It's not over with that, either. Every day, I'm getting in a little better conditioning so I can play when the games get down the line, on those 10-play drives... those 15-play drives. I'm making lots of improvements."
On the new defense for him and his interior teammates: "Last year, it was a lot more cautious. Didn't want to take chances. Control the run, control the heck out of the run, and sometimes get beaten by the pass. Now we have certain plays where the goal is to pass rush, period. Where if it's pass, read pass first. Then if it's run, read run. So we're working on that: reading pass first, then run; and run first, then pass. And we have different formations..."
On picking up the new defense: "Yeah, you know, today was a little rocky, especially at the beginning. But then it picked up at the end. I think DT's, we're getting it. Coach Tip works really hard to maintain terminology from last year. I know the offense has been hit pretty hard with a lot of new signals and stuff. But we're pretty much the same, so we're picking it up pretty well. We should be ready to go."