Tight End Talk with Doug Sams

One of the strange positions for Stanford this spring has been tight end. On paper, there is a mix of veterans plus two youngsters that should give great depth in 2006. But a suspension plus some injuries have limited this group at several times to just three players for practice. Tight ends coach Doug Sams feels he has learned a good deal about his tight ends, however, and shares his thoughts with us.

You haven't had all your tight ends all together at the same time, between injuries and Matt Traverso's suspension.  How have you navigated that over the course of the spring?

Spring is always a great opportunity to evaluate personnel and take a good look at everybody to see who has improved.  You can take a look at your younger players because you don't have to prepare for a game.  You can really focus in on personnel evaluation and who we think as a staff gives us the best chance to be successful in the fall.  Tight end is a very competitive situation right now because we have a number of returnees.  Patrick Danahy is back.  Michael Horgan is back.  Then you have some outstanding young players who were freshmen a year ago: Erik Lorig and James Dray.  Then of course Patrick Bowe, the walk-on who has been in the program.  It's give us an opportunity to really take a look at what their strengths and areas for improvement are.  It's been a very competitive situation.  They all have their strong points.  They all have things they need to work on.

Those two redshirt freshman - they have some gifts, but what is the challenge in coaching the very youngest guys?  This is their first time in spring football.

It's always a challenge for a young player.  A lot of guys have been two- or three-sport athletes in high school.  This is really the first opportunity they have had to be in an off-season football program and a program that has spring practice.  I think they the thing we're looking for from them is the ability for us to win in the Pac-10, which means playing consistently.  On a day-in, day-out basis they have to be consistent in their performance and in their learning curve.

For a good stretch you didn't have Erik Lorig.  How did he show for you when he returned and tried to catch up last week?

He had to sit out the first two weeks of spring, but we got a great look at Erik last week in practice.  He got a full week in.  He really distinguished himself well in the scrimmage, I thought, this last Saturday as an outstanding run blocker.  He really brings to the forefront his ability to run block.  When he is in there, he have a tendency to get some bigger run plays off-tackle and outside.  He still has some learning to do in the passing game, but as a run blocker he has outstanding physical abilities.  Good foot quickness.  Good ability to block and to maintain his blocks.

How is James Dray a different player from Lorig, and what do you like from him?

This is his first full spring, but we have a lot of confidence in Jim.  We ask our tight ends to do a lot as a blocker and as a receiver, and Jim has shown the versatility that we are looking for at the tight end position.

Are there things you see in either or both of those guys, the freshman moments you have to coach them through?

I think that a younger player learns the intensity they have to bring to practice every day - the consistency.  You can't have a good day and then a bad day.  You have to show up ready to go to work, ready to improve.  Jim and Erik are good work ethic guys.  They have good ability, and I think that the tight end position is really a strength of our football team.

How have the older guys reacted to and welcomed two younger guys that are talented like that?

Stanford, from what I have been able to tell so far, is really a great family.  The players and the coaches make a great family atmosphere.  Everybody tries to help each other, so that's not a factor.  I think what the players respect is the ability to perform and to contribute to the team.  Everybody on the team has a role, so we're trying to find out what some of those roles might be.

As the most experienced and veteran guy, what do you like out of Patrick Danahy, and what are you challenging him to do right now?

From the film I got to see of last fall, Pat got some great experience.  He has some very good tools as a receiver and as a blocker.  Coming off the scrimmage this past Saturday, I think Pat has improved this spring in his ability and is getting better.  He is a good receiver, and I think he has improved as a blocker.  This past Saturday, he showed improvement as a blocker.  We of course would like all of our players to be as consistent as they can be, and Pat was more consistent than he had been the past couple of weeks in scrimmages.

Without Matt Traverso this spring, that probably has opened the window for more opportunities for Michael Horgan and Patrick Bowe.  What did they show you in this scrimmage and this spring?

I think that every spring, it is an open thing.  It's a new year, so guys have to prove themselves.  Mike and Pat have gotten the chance to get some rep's and to show us what they can do.  That is really what spring is for.  It's tough because we have good depth and good competition at the tight end position.  It's a tough battle right now because everybody is battling for playing time, and realistically you can't please them all.  The guys who have been most consistent - Danahy, Dray and Lorig when he has been healthy - have gotten most of the rep's because they have separated themselves from the other guys.

What is the challenge you have broadcast to Horgan and Bowe for them to rise up to the other guys?

The consistency in both the running and passing games.  Try for improvement.  Try to get better and try to get consistent.  What has happened because of the depth and the competition, everybody has had to upgrade their level of play.

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