Sit-Down with Walt Harris: Part I

As we move past the midpoint of spring practices, it is time to take the temperature of the Cardinal. To help us, head coach Walt Harris sat down with The Bootleg today for a status report on his team this spring. In the first half of our two-part interview, Harris provides color on the coaching and progress of his top two quarterbacks, plus the status of the run blocking and pass protection from the offensive line.

Now that you've digested the film, what did you see in Saturday's scrimmage?

I saw an inexperienced defense.  I saw some improved blocking in the run game.  And a lot of areas where we are not there yet.

It looked like you had production from multiple running backs.  How much of that do you credit to the backs doing things you all have wanted them to do?  How much of that is a credit to the blockers?

I think the blockers did better.  Of course, we have some rules that cloud the run game success.  The rules are that we don't cut the backside, so every time on the backside, we are grabbing the backside nose guard and holding him.  That helps him stay healthy, but it may not allow a legitimate evaluation of our run game.  The nose guard can't be as active.  He can't flow, so every block is a perfect block on the backside.  He can't flow, but he also has a better chance of staying healthy.  It's the same point in not hitting the quarterback.

I remember by this time last spring, you pulled the yellow jerseys off your quarterbacks.  Is that something you want to do this spring?

I'm not leaning that way, no.  A) Trent [Edwards] had a hard season.  B) I have a better feel for both of those guys now.  We might want to do it possibly with the other guys, but we haven't talked too much about it yet.

The way you approach Trent Edwards and T.C. Ostrander is probably a lot different this spring than last spring.  Last spring you were starting from scratch.  What is your approach and objective?  What goals have they met and failed to meet so far this spring?

My objective is to get them better at the things I ask them to improve in the off-season.  I see some progress on both guys.  My goal is to get them to be Stanford high-percentage decision-making quarterbacks.  When we have to throw or we want to throw, they can be very high percentage and move the team.

Is it fair to say that you are fine-tuning those two guys in a way this second year that is different from the way you were coaching them last spring and last fall camp?

Well, it's a lot different, yeah.  I would say I'm more fine tuning Trent than T.C. because T.C. didn't play as much as Trent did.  He ended up playing quite a bit later in the year because of what happened to Trent, but Trent got a lot more practice reps and a lot more game reps.  With T.C., it has been positive to see him becoming a better Stanford quarterback.  I always thought he was a good football player, but I couldn't tell where I had coached him.  The things I coached him on, I never saw on any kind of consistent basis.  But I have started to see a lot more discipline in his play, which will help us.

Can you give us any color or examples of the kinds of things you are trying to work on with Trent this spring?

His major area, beside trying to become more familiar with our entire offense and its idiosyncrasies - he is trying to become much better in his understanding of protection.  How to utilize the protection to help himself stay up.  We have also worked hard on trying to get him to not climb the pocket anywhere near as much as he does.  Stay more in the same spot.  Once he hitches it up, after his drop, stay in that area more than moving up into the pocket - unless he is forced.  He has made progress in that area.  He still has some progress to make, but he has made progress.  And he's trying.  You can see that.

When you talk about the protection, is that a pre-snap read and making calls at the line?  Or is that a post-snap understanding?

Both.  Both.  Both.  Pre-snap, understanding of what is the best way to block this defense.  Then post-snap reaction of, 'Oh we did block this good,' or 'Oh we didn't, now do something with the ball.'

When Trent climbed the pocket last year, maybe he took himself out of some throws and risked getting hurt, but he also was effective often when he did run with the ball.  How do you coach that fine line of knowing when to run, but also when to keep your feet in one spot?

A lot of the times that he ran, it was because he was forced to climb the pocket and move toward the line of scrimmage and nobody was open.  Or the play meant that the guy he was looking at didn't get open, then he was asked to run.  That was part of the play.

You talked about the improved run blocking, do you also see...

Improving.  I don't know that we can yet say that it has improved.  It is improving - a work in progress.

Okay.  Do you also see improving pass protection as well?

We have done a lot of study on how to improve our pass protection.  I am seeing a little more of what I would refer to as solid, not-so-soft protection.  That's what we have to have.  We have to have the offensive line where it is quite a ways away from the quarterback, instead of back in his lap or in his face as much.  He has to help by not climbing as much, but they have to be much more stout at the line of scrimmage.  And we are starting to show some progress in that area.  Not everyone in the front and not every position.  But in a couple positions, we are starting to be more firm at the line of scrimmage.

I know you don't want to hand out strong atta-boy's when guys have yet to make huge leaps forward, but can you talk about who are the glimmers of early improvement you have been seeing up front?

No.  I think it's still too early.  We have had only one scrimmage.  All of them have shown improvement in understanding what we are trying to get done, but we are still a long ways away from getting it.

Pre-spring you talked about competition being the mother of better football.  Do you see the younger guys - the guys behind the first string - that are doing a better job of pushing those first string guys?

Yeah, I think some younger guys have made progress.  I think that Preston Clover has improved.  He's gained about 20 pounds and he's improved.  He has a chance to be pushing somebody, whether that may be at center or at guard.  It might be at guard because we feel solid at center with Tim [Mattran].  It's always good to have a solid backup center, but it's also good to have the five best linemen in there.

The youngest guy and the one guy who is in his first spring is Chris Marinelli.  I know that you want to get help at the tackle spots.  Is he making progress?

He is making progress, yeah.  Now that you've brought his name up, he has some qualities that we look for.  He likes contact.  He likes to be physical.  He is a rough, tough guy.  But he is a freshman - a true freshman.  So he has loads of things to learn.  But he does have intensity and physicalness in his mindset.

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