Defense Dances on Day Two

What we expect to see early in preseason camp is for the defense to be ahead of the offense, particularly as the quarterbacks and receivers shake off their rust after going more than three months without an official practice. Monday teased us that the "O" might be too sharp for that this year, but the "D" took Tuesday over with a procession of touchdown dances.

As Stanford Football moved Tuesday through their second day of training camp and the last day without any pads as part of the NCAA-mandated five-day acclimatization period, there were still many more questions left lingering than were answered.  However, it was obvious that the success shifted relative to what we saw on the field in the camp opener on Monday.  Whereas the first day saw a sharp offense that threw the ball with surprising precision, Tuesday saw ballcarriers romping the other direction.

Touchdown dances by defenders were the name of the game on Day Two of this camp, as balls were picked off left and right by hungry and opportunistic linebackers and defensive backs.  Wopamo Osaisai made a quick break and darted in front of a receiver to snare one pass and take it to the house.  Fellow cornerback Nick Sanchez took one out of the air in stride and had an easy "pick six."  Outside linebacker Udeme Udofia made a rare interception in coverage and was so excited after the endzone celebration that he had to be called back onto the field to continue the first unit defense's series.

"It's wonderful," says head coach and offensive coordinator Walt Harris, putting on his defensive cap for a moment.  "We had an exceptional day getting the ball turned over by the defense, and a stinking day turning the ball over on offense.  All the quarterbacks were chasing the ball."

"I don't think it was all the quarterbacks," Harris continues.  "Some of that was new plays.  Some of that was the volume of plays.  Some of it was that we didn't catch it very cleanly.  The passing game usually takes a while to get going.  That's why when we practice when we are off, like a bye week, after we come back we throw before anything.  That can go south fast."

Two of the errant throws came off the arm of fifth-year senior Trent Edwards, who went through all three full scrimmages of spring football without an interception and last fall had his best ever season with a better than 2:1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.  His down day this early in camp is a reminder that the rust after being out of official practices for several months can be considerable, even for the best signal callers.

"Trent, I think that he is relatively sharp," Harris offers.  "I think that we are doing some new and different things at times, and he's learning it.  I think that the defense does some things that makes it really difficult.  And I think he made some bad decisions."

Harris points out that one of the proudest accomplishments of the Stanford team last year, his first on The Farm, was their proficiency in protecting the ball on offense and forcing turnovers on defense.  Going into eighth game of the 2005 season, Stanford ranked #5 in the nation in turnover ratio.

"It's hard to believe.  In the nation," Harris emphasizes.  "But it wasn't by accident.  We stress it."

"We had enough for the season today," the Cardinal coach declares.

One component of the passing game's imperfection early in camp is certainly due to the stable of green wide receivers.  Stanford has six wideouts in this freshman class, five of whom were signed in February and are on scholarship.  Not all five, and maybe not even three or four will stay on offense by the end of this year.  But for now, there is a steep learning curve for an unnervingly disproportionate part of the Cardinal receiving corps.  As exciting as the prospect of welcoming so many different receivers to the offense may be for fans, it is not what the coaches would have preferred.

"We have never been in that bad of shape receiver-wise any place that I have been, where we have had to recruit that many to try and balance our classes out,"  Harris says.  "But we're excited to have all of them.  We need everybody to help us at this point."

The evaluation and sorting of these freshman wide receivers ought to be one of the big stories of this 2006 fall camp.  Watching five (or six) brand new wideouts for the first time on your practice field is an awesome task for Walt Harris and receivers coach Tucker Waugh.  As luck would have it, however, there are fewer places to put their eyes.  Both Marcus Rance and Mark Mueller started camp injured, off away from the action in yellow jerseys.  Among the scholarship receivers, that leaves just Richard Sherman, Stephen Carr and Austin Yancy to watch - a manageable number for sure.

But after two days, Harris has little to say yet on the healthy trio.  The conditions of practicing sans pads leaves him unconvinced of anything to this point.

"You can learn a little bit, but until they get out of the shorts, into the pads and people start banging and knocking the you-know-what out of them, I don't think you can really know," the coach comments.  "There are a lot of what people refer to as 'Sweatsuit All-Americans' who you can't find them as soon as the pads come on.  It's a little early yet."

More News & Notes

  • We first heard that fifth-year senior center Tim Mattran would have the bone scan and potentially a new diagnosis on Tuesday.  That was miscommunicated, and in fact the test and evaluation will come Thursday for the injured starting center.
  • Curious about who is running second team at center, now that redshirt junior Preston Clover has moved up to the first unit?  Classmate Mikal Brewer is the man in the middle through the first two days on the second string offensive line.
  • Speaking of interior line depth charts, it may interest Cardinalmaniacs™ that highly touted freshman Sione Fua is working at nose tackle thus far in camp.  If he sticks at that position, rather than playing defensive end, he could quickly join redshirt freshman James McGillicuddy in battling redshirt junior Mike Macellari for the #2 spot in the middle of Stanford's defensive line, behind redshirt freshman and starter Ekom Udofia.  Fua looks physically ready, and though battles are not yet in pads, he looks like he also knows how to use his hands.
  • Redshirt sophomore Austin Gunder was moved on the eve of training camp back to his old position of tight end, where he spent his first two years before being switched this past winter to outside linebacker.
  • Redshirt freshman Tom McAndrew, who nearly severed his toe in an off-field accident at the beginning of the summer, has been on the sideline both days of camp, wearing a normal shoe and not any kind of special boot.  It is a positive sign that he looks surprisingly normal when walking.  Though he is out of action for potentially an extended time, McAndrew is taking a vocal role on the sideline to help make calls and to encourage his defensive teammates.
  • Frosh linebackers Nick Macaluso and Sam Weinberger are both playing inside linebacker.  We were not completely sure where within the linebacking corps they would be situated at Stanford.  With the move of redshirt junior Peter Griffin to outside linebacker, these two could be one injury away from the two-deep in the middle of the Cardinal defense.
  • When the first string Stanford offense went to a three-wide formation on Tuesday during some 11-on-11 work, it was redshirt junior Mike Miller who joined starters Evan Moore and Mark Bradford.

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