Tackle Talk with Doug Sams

There has been a good deal of emphasis given to the need to improve Stanford's offensive line, but Walt Harris before the spring highlighted the tackle spots as positions in great need of improvement. Through three-plus weeks of spring ball, we sit down with the man responsible for coaching that group: Doug Sams. He has comments on all six of his tackles, including who is making the biggest strides and where the competition is hottest.

Walt Harris made a point that the tackles needed to be a competitive position where Stanford upgraded this spring.  What's the progress report?

The good news about the tackle position is that they're all back, a year older and a year wiser, hopefully.  This spring, we're looking for improvement.  We're looking for consistency.  We're really very much been pleased with Ben Muth and Chris Marinelli.  They've made some nice strides.  They in fact have gotten work at times with the one's.  Jon Cochran was making nice progress until he hurt his big toe, but we'll have him back.  We have some depth and we have competition.  I think competition brings out the best in a person.  It brings out improvement in a person.  The nice thing from my standpoint is that if somebody has an off day and somebody is having a good day, I'm not hesitant to make a switch.  I thought Jeff Edwards had a very solid scrimmage this past weekend.  Technique-wise, he's pretty sound.  Chris and Ben are younger players, and I talk with them about consistency - doing the little things right.  Allen Smith has been slowed a little bit by a hamstring injury.  At times he shows great potential.  Al was a redshirt freshman playing last year; he's still a redshirt sophomore and a young player.

We need to continue to get better at that position.  We're trying to work on some things that gave us problems last year and try to eliminate those things going into the season.  There are some things that I would like to do better - in a way, reprogramming them.  I think that they have more confidence.  I think that confidence has a lot to do with it.  I think that they're better.  I think that physically and mentally they should be better.  We expect a lot out of them because they have a season under their belt.  We expect a lot out of Al and Jeff and Jon.  Right now, these two younger guys have really added something.  This spring has allowed us to get a great look at those two younger tackles, and they have all the tools to be successful.  They have had some really good moments this spring, and I have not hesitated to put them in with the one's because the more you play the better you're going to get.  Those guys are on the upswing.  They really have a great upside to them.

You talk about reprogramming.  Is there something you saw on film from this past fall with Jeff Edwards which made you say, 'Jeff, we really need to push and change you here'?

During the spring, you take a look at a lot of different things and try to get as much fundamental work as you can with him.  We're just trying to work on some different things with sets and footwork and those type of things.  We've made some adjustments within our schemes to help things out protection-wise.  We're just looking for them to be better players, and that's part of my job - to help assist them to be the best that they can be.

On the left tackle position, you talked about both Allen and Ben there.  What is different about those two guys that they bring to the table?

The other thing about the left side is that I have also swung Jeff Edwards over there.  One great thing about Jeff is that he played both sides last year.  I think Al did, too.  One thing that Al has is experience.  He played in the program last year as a redshirt freshman.  He has some outstanding physical abilities.  He has a great upper body with long arms for pass pro.  Ben is a good young player who is a little bit taller.  He is a big guy.  He's coming on.  He run blocks pretty well.  The biggest challenge for an offensive linemen as a first-year player is pass pro - learning how to use your hands and how to use your pass pro technique.  So we have been trying to teach them that.  But in the last week, I have seen a lot of improvement out of Ben.  He is seeing more time with the one's here in the last week of spring ball.

Also at left tackle, there is a guy we have been intrigued with the last several years just because he is so big: David Long.  When you have a guy like that, what do you try to do to coach something out of him?

The biggest thing about a guy like David who is so tall is that a lot of guys like that have trouble bending their knees and getting pad level.  I thought Dave improved in the scrimmage, and we're constantly on him to get his pad level down and bend his knees.  That's hard for a guy who is as tall as him.  He has long arms.  We would like him to be a more forceful run blocker.  And you know, he did a better job I thought in the scrimmage.

On the right side, Jeff Edwards is a fifth-year guy...

Right, he's a senior.  He's the most experienced guy in the tackle unit.

So you have to be harder on the most experienced guy?

He had a solid day the other day.  He did a good job.  He has gotten a little better this spring.  We expect a lot out of Jeff because he is a senior.  We expect him not to make mistakes.  We expect him to be consistent.

"Solid" can be a word of faint praise for coaches, that "solid" is not necessarily good enough.  What do you push Jeff on?

Here is the thing about football.  You are constantly seeking to improve.  Whether you are successful or not successful, there are always things that you do well and always things that you need to correct.  They are just a lot more fun to correct when you are successful.  Every day, I think we do a good job here.  We watch tape after every practice.  We tape every practice and grade them every day.  Everything is on tape, so we're able to see the things that we're doing good and the things that we need to correct and review.  That is always an ongoing process.  So yes, Jeff has things that we know he did well in the last scrimmage.  I know the things he needs to work on.  This is a big week for us and an opportunity to shore up the little things and really nail down the things that will make us better.  I think the last week of spring ball is a very important week because the players have enough practices under their belt that they know what they've done well and they know what we need to work on.  You have to be persistent.  You have to keep hammering that message home.  That's important.  A guy like Jeff, even though he is a fifth-year senior, has things that he can do better and needs to do better.  That's part of the deal.  We all need to do better every day.  The coach, me, included as well.

Before he got hurt, what had Jon Cochran started to do well?

We were really working on some technique things.  Making sure he took proper steps to get him in the best position to be successful as a run and pass blocker.  Jon was making strides in that area.  The toe [injury] was a little bit of a setback for him.  I had gotten him some rep's with the one's, too.  We have a great battle going.  We have four or five guys where I wouldn't hesitate to play any of them.

How did Chris Marinelli rise to the challenge when you gave him that opportunity with the first team offense on Saturday?

And the Saturday before, we got him with the one's.  This was not the first time.  It thought that the first time we did it, Chris did a really good job and was solid in there for us.  The great thing about Chris and Ben - they are going to get nothing but better.  They have a real good upside to them.

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