With spring ball now a third of the way complete, I am able to better gauge who looks like starters or the frontrunners for those positions. Please take this with a grain of salt, as they are my observations and not anything official from the coaches. Take it at that.
The defense is frankly where the most openings vacated from last year's seniors need to be filled. If you count Colin Branch as a returning starter, that still leaves 8 spots to be filled: 2 defensive ends, 3 LBs and 3 DBs. The defensive backfield right now is slightly muddied by the fact that Garry Cobb is donning a yellow jersey, and he might well be a starting corner. In his absence, Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson are very clearly the two leading corners on the field. Wilson may have started the spring behind Cobb on the depth chart, but I continue to be very impressed with what he does on the field. He is good at jamming the receiver at the line of scrimmage, a skill you don't see often at the college level - particularly with a young and unexperienced kid. In the nickel package, I am seeing Kevin Schimmelman consistently used with the 1st string defense. Again, I wouldn't be surprised if Cobb were the nickel back when healthy if Wilson and Torrence hold down the starting corners, but Kevin is getting quite a bit of work right now. He had a nice break-up giving safety help on a play where the cover-corner lost his receiver today.
Calvin Armstrong is the guy consistently getting on the field in dime packages, and he's making a lot of plays. He reads the quarterback well, and gets in position to make a play on the ball. He also has good timing to the ball in pass coverage, and has made break-ups several times. Calvin barely got on the field in practice this last fall as a freshman, since he was injured. Heck, he doesn't even have a profile in the spring media guide. But he's making plays and making a splash. Colin Branch and OJ Atogwe continue to have a hold on the safety positions, though Colin took some breaks today to stay back and watch the action. Timi Wusu was the beneficiary of those snaps.
The linebacker corps is the only position unit without any returning starters, and frankly a disturbing lack of experience. This is the one group on defense where I still think guys are rotating and getting chances to prove themselves to Tom Williams. The starters here are less settled than anywhere else on the defense. Nevertheless, I see a starting trio of Michael Craven (Will), Brian Gaffney (Mike) and David Bergeron (Sam) today. Scott Giles gets a lot of work on the strong side as well, and Jared Newberry looks like the guy right behind Gaffney in the middle. I can't tell with certainty if Jon Alston or Brian Brant would be #2 behind Craven, but my money would be on Alston. Craven looks to me to easily be the fastest guy in this LB corps, and he's a flash of lightning when he blitzes. He's going to single-handedly make some plays this fall. On a related note, Craven burned his way into the offensive backfield on one such blitz, which forced Chris Lewis out of the pocket. As fast as Craven is, "Hollywood" outran MC to the sideline and then took off downfield. I've said it several times over the last few years, but Chris Lewis has some serious wheels that go largely unnoticed. Jared Newberry had a nice INT today on a good read in the middle of the field, going up to grab the ball out of the air.
Up front, it's still tough to say who the real frontrunners are, when three key guys are sporting the yellow jerseys: Craig Albrecht, Louis Hobson and Mark Anderson. Matt Leonard is clearly the starting defensive tackle, and probably the best player on the entire defense. The nose tackle spot beside him is ostensibly between Trey Freeman and Craig Albrecht, though OJ Oshinowo is getting a lot of work with Albrecht out right now. I'm not seeing enough from Trey right now, and have to imagine the door is quite open for Craig when he can take off that yellow jersey. OJ is still learning a lot, but getting some 'atta boy's from position coach Dave Tipton. I would believe that Hobson would start if healthy today at the weak side DE, with Will Svitek next in line behind him, and Michael Lovelady in the mix. But given that Hobson has had more than his share of injury time at Stanford, Svitek has to play like he's the guy... and Lovelady has to be ready to play. Both are aggressive playmakers, but I think Hobson has a greater chance to get into the offensive backfield and get to the QB right now. One final note: my early suspicion is that Tom Williams is calling the defensive plays. I'm not totally confident in that assertion yet, but that was my observation watching 11-on-11 Wednesday.
On the strong side, Drew Caylor looks to be ahead of Amon Gordon right now, and you have to count on these two guys at this position right now. Mark Anderson is a truly special player, but the uncertainty of his timeline to return from injury says that Drew and Amon are what you count on today. I thought Amon had a good practice, particularly with the 11-on-11 work at the end of practice. He had one play where he absolutely stuck Justin Faust in the backfield for a loss, and another where I saw him get a great push on "Captain" Kirk Chambers. Amon really moved him back, getting on Kirk's right shoulder. I take note when I see one of Stanford's better talents get pushed or beaten. Drew Caylor made a tremendous play himself, when he came around the line and sniffed out a gadget play, making a solo tackle in the backfield.
While on the subject of linemen, I watched one-on-one battles between the DL and the OL in a drill. A few notables included OJ Oshinowo getting a great push and beating both Brian Head and Tom Kolich. Will Svitek was more than Alex Smith could handle. Kwame Harris was the most impressive on either side of the ball, and showed a great consistency in keeping his defender square to and between his shoulders... and seemingly without much effort. The surprise of the day: Dustin Stimson beat Matt Leonard when he got him off balance and took him to the ground. There were also two-on-two battles to see how the OL could handle twists from the DL. I saw mixed results, frankly. The best job I saw from the OL handling that came from the left side of the line, with Paul Weinacht and Kirk Chambers.
On to the offense, where Stanford currently has just nine guys up front. I have yet to see Andy Clavin this spring, which means Stanford can't even sport a two-deep depth chart on the line. Those frosh can't get here soon enough. The starting five are easy enough to figure out, going from left to right: Kirk Chambers (LT), Paul Weinacht (LG), Tom Kolich (C), Greg Schindler (RG) and Kwame Harris (RT). The #2 O-line looks like Edmund O'Neal (LT), Paul Weinacht (LG), Brian Head (C), Dustin Stimson (RG) and Mike Sullivan (RT). Note that Head is probably the best candidate to back up the front 5, and could be used at either center or guard. The first five are very, very good... but the depth for Stanford is finally getting hit by Tyrone's recruiting gaps.
At tight end, Brett Pierce is still the clear #1. He's easily the best blocker of the group, and gets open awfully often in passing situations. Darin Naatjes is still sporting the yellow jersey, and I have to wonder if he's going that way for the duration of the spring with his baseball/pitching commitment. He can't partake in any live action or contact, but he can run some receiving drills. If he is still around this fall, he should play a big part in the receiving game, as he shows very fluid and effortless catches - not at all like a tight end.
The running backs were the unit I probably saw the least of today. A lot of my focus was on the line play and the defense. But during the 11-on-11, I saw two good runs by Casey Moore and Justin Faust. Nobody could get anything going behind the #2 O-line, though. Nice blocking from Casey, as well.
The receivers continue to get a lot of work, and a few stood out today. Grant Mason and Nick Sebes ran some really, really nice routes. One from Mason put two moves on a pair of DBs and got him separation along the sideline. Ryan Eklund hit him perfectly over the shoulder with a great toss. I again saw good things from Greg Camarillo, who makes catches and even showed a couple of moves in the open-field. I hadn't seen that from him before.
With the QBs, I paid the most attention to Ryan Eklund and Kyle Matter. Matter unquestionably is showing more arm strength this spring, the reward from his work this winter in the weight room. His accuracy, which was his strong suit this past fall, hasn't caught up to his length yet, but he can definitely get the ball downfield where he couldn't before. I still see him pushing the ball on his longer throws, which I saw Buddy talk to him about during practice. Ryan Eklund had one of the better practices I've seen from him at Stanford. He really threw it deep with great touch, and hit the receivers on timing routes very well. I'd like to see just how far he can bring the ball downfield, given that he looks like he's tossing a wad of paper into the trash can when he goes 40 yards deep with the ball. The big concern with Ryan has been his reaction to pressure, and I see some improvement. The D brought on all-out blitz on one play, and he didn't freeze up. He instead found Camarillo 6 yards past the line and got it to him with ease.
On punt returns, several guys are getting looks while Luke Powell sits out. The three I've seen this spring have been Leigh Torrence, Grant Mason and Nick Sebes. My money is on Leigh right now.
Before practice today, a host of students were out on the field responding to the Daily article asking for walk-ons. The most notable candidate had to be Stanford baseball pitching ace Jeremy Guthrie. He was booming some very high and long punts with serious hangtime, with the whole baseball team there cheering him on. Too bad he'll be earning 7 figures and playing in a summer rookie league this coming September.
Overall, this was a fair-to-good practice, with the coaches wanting to see something better. My guess at the biggest frustrations: the #2 DL very solidly beat up the #2 OL. Given that half of the 11-on-11 work was with the 2's, the offense couldn't hardly get a thing going. Frankly, this was the top concern I had walking away from this practice. Take it as a good sign about the depth on this D-line, but a serious issue on the other side. Additionally, I know that David Kelly still sees too many mistakes with his receivers. There is talent and depth out there for sure, but he is a perfectionist who doesn't settle for mistakes in technique or route running. Additionally, coaches on both sides of the ball are really getting on the players to get back into the huddle faster after plays. That again was something that was lacking in the prior regime, and isn't turning on like a light switch this spring.
One final note to Booties hoping to catch a practice this spring: all practices that were listed officially with 4:30 pm starts are actually starting at 4:00 pm.