Spring Ball: Day Eight

On a warm afternoon, under a bright sunny sky, Stanford practiced Tuesday to begin their third week of 2006 spring football. On the first practice to follow Easter Sunday, it was only appropriate that the Cardinal witnessed a return of five players who had been previously injured. Two of the new faces on the practice field McMade for a pretty McBig surprise with their McDebuts...

Stanford thus far this month has done a good job dodging the major injuries, with the exception of redshirt sophomore wide receiver Nate Wilcox-Fogel, who is done for the spring.  Other injuries have been relatively minor, including hamstring pulls, that might allow those players to return to action.  Day Eight was that day for a trio of Cardinal players who started the spring but were injured at some point during the first two weeks.  The tight end position was the hardest hit, losing two of its members in addition to the pre-spring suspension of a third.  Stanford scrimmaged for 121 plays on Saturday with just three tight ends, one of whom is a walk-on.

The tight end group is now back to better strength, with the return of redshirt freshman Erik Lorig and redshirt junior Michael Horgan on Tuesday.  Lorig did not make it through the first practice two weeks ago, pulling his hamstring during the conditioning runs near the end of the afternoon.  He has much to learn, blessed with exceptional athletic gifts but still greatly lagging in his mental grasp of plays and assignments.  Lorig needs to stay healthy the final two weeks of the spring to get up to speed and put himself in a position where he can compete for playing time in the fall.  Otherwise, he could be resigned to a position as the team's most athletic scout team offensive player.  Horgan is not the athlete that Lorig is, but the fourth-year tight end is a veteran who knows his routes and responsibilities and adds good depth as a pass-catching tight end for the Cardinal.

The other player who started the spring but has been missing in action recently and returned Tuesday is redshirt sophomore defensive end Gustav Rydstedt.  His absence on Saturday forced seven defensive linemen to man nine positions across the first, second and third units in the extended scrimmage.  Rydstedt has battled a series of injuries and ailments already this spring, and we can be sure that his return means only that he is physically able to take the field - not that he is "healthy" again.  He is one of the hardest luck injury cases on the team, but fortunately for his teammates and coaches, Rydstedt is also perhaps the team's toughest competitor who plays very quietly and selflessly through injury.  After missing a handful of practices, Rydstedt did take a second-team position at left defensive end behind redshirt freshman Matt Kopa on Tuesday.  It will be interesting to see the competition between those two through the remainder of the spring.

A more surprising face on the defensive line this week is redshirt freshman nose tackle James McGillicuddy, who broke his pubic bone during the winter and has missed a load of strength & conditioning work.  He was also not cleared by the start of spring practices to take the field.  While the 315-pound wide-body did almost everything with the defensive line Tuesday short of the live full-tackle scrimmage session, he did keep the yellow jersey on.  For his first day this spring, McGillicuddy sure did a lot.  He clearly still has conditioning work to do, but he ran surprisingly well.  The big nose tackle also looks much better today than he did a couple months ago with much less muscle and quite a few pounds more of fat.  His return, coupled with Rydstedt's, puts the Stanford defensive line almost at full strength.  Only redshirt sophomore defensive end Pannel Egboh is still out, following his badly broken leg last fall, and his status is "week to week" with little hope of return this month.

On the day when Stanford had nine defensive linemen available for practice, the Cardinal also ran a new four-man front I had not previously seen this spring.  In its first day on the field, with a mixture of personnel filling it out, this formation will take more time to decipher.  One example had Gustav Rydstedt, James McGillicuddy, Mike Macellari and Tom McAndrew together up front.  That is a pretty good-sized group.  I also saw an example with the first team defense where redshirt freshman outside linebacker Clinton Snyder put his hand on the ground.  Interesting stuff.  The big question I wondered was whether this defensive front was installed Tuesday because it was the first day of the third week of practices - a logical time for new installations following Saturday's big scrimmage.  Or, perhaps it was no coincidence that a fuller complement of healthy defensive linemen allowed the coaches to play with more stacked fronts.

On the other side of the ball, the offense had its best depth at tight end since the first hour of the first practice this spring.  They installed some "heavy" formations with multiple tight ends on Tuesday, which begged the parallel question I asked myself of the defensive line.  Coincidence?  Who knows.  But the new looks by the offense and defense provide a new flavor of competition between the two for the last half of spring ball.

More surprising than McGillicuddy's appearance at Tuesday's practice was the first team free safety manned by... redshirt freshman Bo McNally.  We were advised in advance of spring ball that McNally and Egboh were both out, in all likelihood, for the duration of the 15 practices.  McNally broke his leg late in the fall, but Tuesday he made not only his spring practice debut at Stanford, but did so without a yellow jersey and without being held out of any part of practice - including the live full-tackle session (where he made a big play).  McNally is just the third scholarship safety to take part in spring practices for Stanford, but he was one of only two on Tuesday.  Fifth-year senior David Lofton was not anywhere on the field, saddled with a bad flu.  Lofton is the second "starter" for the Cardinal lost to illness in less than a week, following redshirt junior wide receiver Evan Moore's all-night stomach flu battle before missing Thursday's practice.

With Lofton out and McNally back, it might make sense to see McNally run first team at free safety beside fifth-year senior strong safety Trevor Hooper.  I would have predicted, actually, that redshirt redshirt sophomore Aaron Smith ascend to the first string spot while McNally is eased into practices with the second string.  But McNally showed us a great deal of promise during fall practices, both in camp and on the scout defense.  His development is critical to the depth for this razor thin safety corps in 2006.  Moreover, defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach A.J. Christoff has never worked on the same field with McNally before, so there is some urgency to get repetitions and experience with just two weeks of spring practices remaining.  I noticed a great deal of vocal attention and coaching from Christoff toward McNally, trying to get the youngster up to speed after all that he has missed.

And now, for some notes on 11-on-11 non-tackle work between the various units of the offense and defense.  Not a lot for the offense to sing about at all... until the final few plays.  Senior wide receiver Mark Bradford made another one of his great after-the-catch moves this spring, this time schooling redshirt freshman cornerback Kris Evans.  The two were on the left sideline, and Bradford made a move to his right after a catch is if he were going to cut back to the middle of the field.  Evans bit, and Bradford beat him back to the left up the sideline for a play that may have gone the distance.  (To be fair to Evans, we should note that he had a fantastic play during seven-on-seven where he made a break on the ball and intercepted it for a "touchdown.")  Bradford did go the distance on a reception the very next play, with fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards hitting him on a deep pattern that went 42 yards for a touchdown.  Then it was the running game making headway, with redshirt sophomore Anthony Kimble flashing through the line of scrimmage and then making moves in the second level to rack up more yardage.  After a number of very sleepy plays by the offense, those last few plays were a good sight to see.

  • Trent Edwards pass incomplete, intended for Mark Bradford 15 yards downfield
  • Edwards pass complete to Patrick Danahy on the right side for five yards
  • T.C. Ostrander pass complete to Michael Horgan for seven yards
  • Ostrander pass incomplete, intended for Marcus McCutcheon seven yards downfield
  • Tavita Pritchard quarterback scramble for four yards
  • Pritchard pass complete to McCutcheon for two yards, "tackle" by Landon Johnson and Kris Evans
  • Edwards pass incomplete, batted down at the line of scrimmage
  • Edwards pass incomplete, intended for Bradford six yards downfield (dropped)
  • Ostrander pass incomplete, batted down by Tom McAndrew at the line of scrimmage
  • Ostrander play-action pass complete to Ray Jones for no gain, "tackle" by Thaddeus Chase
  • Anthony Kimble run up the middle for seven yards
  • Edwards play-action screen pass to Kimble for six yards, "tackle" by Pat Maynor
  • Jones run for a loss of two yards, "tackle" by Maynor
  • Pritchard pass incomplete, thrown away after blitz pressure by Maynor
  • Edwards pass complete to Bradford for 10-plus yards, beat Kris Evans in open field (A.J. Christoff to Evans: "What did you do in the scrimmage?  Squeeze him outside."  Evans sent off field; Chris Hobbs on in relief)
  • Edwards pass complete to Bradford for 42-yard touchdown (Carlos McFall coverage)
  • Kimble run for 16 yards, nice slashing move and cutback
  • Ostrander pass complete to Lynn for six yards, "tackle" by Peter Griffin

After a few rounds of 11-on-11 without live tackling, plus seven-on-seven work, there was a brief session of scrimmage action near the close of practice.  The first teams scrimmaged five plays, followed by five plays for the second units.  For such a short session, there were some pretty interesting plays, largely by the defense.  Bo McNally, who we discussed above in his spring debut, made a spectacular play for a tackle for loss in just his second ever play in a live scrimmage play in spring football.  A couple plays later, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Pat Maynor made a great strip of the ball from redshirt freshman tight end James Dray on a pass reception.  It was difficult to call without the benefit of replay whether the play was a break-up, or a completion and forced fumble.  It was certainly a great job by Maynor, who is showing himself to be quite the playmaker this spring while he takes advantage of his first-team defense opportunities.  Another young defensive player making a great play was redshirt freshman defensive end Tom McAndrew.  In one of the most impressive defensive line pays this spring, McAndrew fought his blocker into the backfield, shed the blocker and in the same motion tackled Kimble from behind.  That was a big-time play for McAndrew.

1st team offense vs. 1st team defense

1st & 10:  Trent Edwards pass incomplete, intended for Evan Moore 11 yards downfield
2nd & 10:  Anthony Kimble run for one yard loss, tackle by Bo McNally
3rd & 11:  Edwards pass complete to Kimble for 16 yards, tackle by Aaron Smith
1st & 10:  Edwards pass incomplete, intended for Dray, broken up by Pat Maynor
2nd & 10:  Ray Jones run for two yards, tackle by Maynor

2nd team offense vs. 2nd team defense

1st & 10:  Jason Evans run for one yard, tackle by Mike Macellari
2nd & 9:  T.C. Ostrander pass incomplete, intended for Mike Miller (dropped)
3rd & 9:  Ostrander pass complete to Miller for 15 yards in middle of field
1st & 10:  Ostrander pass incomplete, intended for Miller 30 yards downfield, coverage by Carlos McFall
2nd & 10:  Kimble run for loss of four yards, tackle by Tom McAndrew

To finish the practice, we saw the return of our favorite drill this spring: the three-on-three close-quarters battle.  Different position groups compete as a three-man interior offensive line versus a three-man defensive line in a very narrow field a few yards wide and 10 yards long.  Three different running backs are split behind the offensive blockers, just one yard deep, and without the defense having knowledge of which back will receive and run with the ball.  While some of these battles do pit offensive linemen versus defensive linemen, it has also extended to tight ends versus linebackers and wide receivers versus defensive backs.  The competition has the entire offense and defense of the team crowded around, shouting and cheering.  It is a focused and hotly contested form of competition, which is good for the team on several fronts.

In five iterations on this day, the offense scored every time.  The defense did make stops on some plays however...

Bobby Dockter, Tim Mattran, Mikal Brewer
Matt Kopa, Ekom Udofia, Chris Horn

Josh Catron run for a couple yards
Ben Ladner run for few yards to the left, out of bounds
Emeka Nnoli run up the middle to the house

Allen Smith, Chris Marinelli, Jeff Edwards
Gustav Rydstedt, Mike Macellari, Tom McAndrew

Jason Evans run stuffed at the line of scrimmage
Anthony Kimble run to the right side to the house

Erik Lorig, Patrick Danahy, James Dray
Emmanuel Awofadeju, Will Powers, Clinton Snyder

Lorig false start, replaced by Michael Horgan; loss of five yards
Catron run for a couple yards
Lorig returns for Horgan after five up-downs
Matt McClernan to Lorig: "You're a beast.  Be a beast.  Dominate 'em."
Jones runs left, bounces back to the right and takes it to the house

Erik Lorig, Patrick Danahy, James Dray
Emmanuel Awofadeju, Will Powers, Clinton Snyder
Nnoli run up the middle, spin move, takes it to the house

Mark Bradford, Marcus McCutcheon, Evan Moore
Trevor Hooper, Nick Sanchez, Tim Sims

Evans run to the right for a few yards
Catron run takes it to the house over a pancaked Sims

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