Mattran Returns

The first team offense moved the ball 50 yards with nine straight gains during the scrimmage session at the end of Sunday's practice. Stanford's number one running back, Anthony Kimble, was in full pads and able to engage in real running work for the first time. But the big story Sunday was the return of fifth-year senior center Tim Mattran, whose stress fracture diagnosis has been rewritten.

The big story of Stanford Football in late July was the diagnosed stress fracture in the right tibia of fifth-year senior and starting center Tim Mattran.  It also turns out that was the wrong story.

We, along with Mattran and the Cardinal coaches, have learned in the last few days that original diagnosis was incorrect.  The first reading of Mattran's MRI by was done by the radiologist on call.  Subsequently, orthopedic surgeon and chief of Stanford sports medicine Dr. Gary Fanton read the same MRI and sent it back to radiology for a second look.  Both parties agreed that a stress fracture was not present in this tibia.

"But I was still hurting," Mattran explains.  "The bone scan is supposedly a lot more revealing for that, so Dr. Fanton wanted to see that and sent me for a bone scan.  The doctors there, right after the scan, gave me a pretty pessimistic look.  'Yeah, there doesn't seem to be anything with the tibia, but you have two pretty bright hot spots on your fibula.'  I came back from the scan kind of depressed and went over to see Dr. Fanton afterward."

Fanton told the 6'5" 305-pound frown to smile.  He did not feel the bone scan results were cause for great concern.

"It looks more like some inflammation - a stress reaction - but it shouldn't slow you down too much,".the doctor delivered to Mattran.

"He gave me some anti-inflammatories.  Those have been working like a charm," the Stanford senior says.  "I'm kind of trying it out.  It's feeling pretty good so far, so hopefully I can ramp it up over the next couple of days."

But is it wise to merely dope up the big lineman and send him back onto the football field when he has a stress reaction at the base of a 300-plus pound frame?

"It is in the fibula, and there is not much stress put on that bone," Mattran answers.  "It's not a regular weight-bearing bone when you are playing football.  It didn't worry them so much.  They said, 'It's going to heal, and it's going have to take its time to heal.  It's going to hurt every now and then, but it will heal.  And there is very little chance of it developing past that, even though that is a possibility.  Let the pain be the guide.  If it starts to hurt more, back off.  If it's feeling good, keep going.'"

Sunday marked a big step for Mattran, taking off his yellow jersey and participating in some drills and football competition.  His repetitions during the team period were limited to just three snaps each.  He stayed out of the drills with predictably bigger collisions.  For example, he steered clear of the blitz period ("That's when Michael Okwo is flying in there as fast as he can - he's a little bowling ball") and stood on the sideline during the live scrimmage.  He predicts later this week he could see a return to full and normal action.

"It felt pretty good, so I'm optimistic," he beams.

The Stanford senior is chomping at the bit to return to his duties as the full-time center for the first team offense.  However, it has brought a smile to his face to see the success that his line mates have been enjoying the last few days in his absence.  The Cardinal are running the ball effectively, which he credits to the coaching staff.

"That's the scheme stuff that the coaches have talked about," Mattran maintains.  "They're making it simpler for us.  They're just letting us tee off.  You'll hear Coach [Tom] Freeman say, 'Hit 'em as they lie.'  Just like in golf.  If there is a guy there, take him.  Let the defense run themselves out of the play.  That's part of the scheme right now.  It's working well, and that's exciting."

It is also exciting to see Tim Mattran making his return to the practice field at the end of the first week of training camp, rather than the third week as we previously thought.  After a terrible start to August on the injury front, Mattran on the mend is the kind of positive vibe Cardinalmaniacs™ crave.

Pritchard Report

As we reported yesterday, redshirt junior quarterback T.C. Ostrander is out with a hamstring pull.  The timeline for his return is uncertain.  Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Tavita Pritchard has assumed the controls of the second unit offense.  We did not talk with Pritchard last year during his redshirt season, nor did Stanford head coach Walt Harris often comment on the freshmen.  Now seems to be the right time to talk with Harris, who is also the Cardinal's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, about the young slinger.

"I like him.  I like who he is as a person.  I like what he brings to the table," the coach comments.  "He's enthusiastic.  You can tell that he really loves football.  He's an upbeat and positive-type guy.  He doesn't get down when things don't go well.  He's really a good guy."

Those may sound like platitudes, but they are legitimate praise from a head coach who often comments on the importance of attitude and work ethic in his players.  Every day of practice is filled with critiques and criticism, and the ability of a player to "take the medicine" from his coach is paramount to his ultimate success.  That bodes well for Pritchard's road ahead, and it is not a short one for the quarterback still beginning his tutelage under Harris.

"He has to improve, like they all do," Harris offers.  "He needs to know what we're doing a lot better, make better decisions and throw the ball more accurately in order for him to be the quarterback that I know he wants to be and that we want him to be."

While a long road lies ahead, Pritchard is clearly a different and better quarterback than when we saw him in training camp last fall.  He threw nice balls in the opening days during freshman drills, but once the offensive fire hose was turned on, he began to struggle.  Today he still greatly lags behind Ostrander and Trent Edwards, and rightfully so, but Pritchard is beginning to look like a college quarterback with his comfort level.

"He's improved a lot because he has a better grasp of the offense, which will really help him throw the ball better," Harris opines.  "When you're confused about what to do, it's the old saying: a confused football player is not an aggressive football player.  The same goes for the quarterback.  If they are confused on a play, they are not going to throw the ball very well.  He's gotten the volume of information.  I asked him in this last little drill, 'How much information do you know better now than you did last year?'  He just shook his head because he can't believe how much more he knows and how much more comfortable he feels.  And it's good because he can relate to the two young freshmen that are having their minds blown right now."

Scrimmage Play-by-Play

1st team offense vs. 1st team defense

1st & 10 @ 50:  Anthony Kimble run for six yards (tackle by Udeme Udofia and Trevor Hooper)
2nd & 4 @ opp. 44:  Ray Jones run for 11 yards
1st & 10 @ 33:  Toby Gerhart run for five yards
2nd & 5 @ 28:  Trent Edwards play-action pass complete to Mike Miller for 11 yards (tackle by Bo McNally)
1st & 10 @ 17:  Jones run for two yards (tackle by Hooper, hit behind line of scrimmage and carried)
2nd & 8 @ 15:  Edwards play-action pass complete to Jones for two yards (tackle by Michael Okwo)
3rd & 6 @ 13:  Edwards play-action pass complete to Gerhart for nine yards (tackle by Mike Silva)
1st & Goal @ 4:  Gerhart run for three yards
2nd & Goal @ 1:  Gerhart run for one-yard touchdown (standing up)

2nd team offense vs. 2nd team defense

1st & 10 @ opp. 45:  Xxavier Carter run for five yards
2nd & 5 @ 40:  Carter run for no gain (tackle by Okwo)
3rd & 5 @ 40:  Tavita Pritchard screen pass to Carter for seven yards (tackle by Kris Evans)
1st & 10 @ 33:  Pritchard pass intended for Jones dropped, ruled backward and a live ball (recovered by Udeme Udofia @ 44)

More News & Notes

  • Speaking of the center position, the Cardinal coaches were recently discussing who would be their next player to move over the football should another injury hit.  Ironically, the player they had tabbed "next" joined the ranks of Mattran and redshirt junior Preston Clover on the injured list within 24 hours.  Fifth-year senior Josiah Vinson was atop Stanford's short list for converted center depth but is now out with a concussion.  If you already believed in some sort of Stanford center curse, given what happened last year to Brian Head and given the failed fortunes of both Mattran and Clover this fall, then injury striking a player merely discussed to play center will firm your convictions.
  • Who is taking some repetitions at center behind Alex Fletcher and Mikal Brewer in practices currently?  True freshman Bert McBride.
  • Yesterday we gave you offensive line coach Tom Freeman's thoughts on fifth-year senior Jon Cochran moving from right tackle to right guard.  Today we bring you the perspective of head coach Walt Harris, who coached with the New York Jets for three years.  "It's nice to have a senior who doesn't have as much to learn as a redshirt freshman or a true freshman," the coach comments.  "We're going to try and utilize all of our guys.  In the NFL, they have eight or nine linemen.  That's all the head coach gives them.  Those guys play different positions and back up different positions because you never know where they might start.  This will give us a little more depth that Jon can not only play tackle but also can possibly play some guard for us."
  • If you look at the scrimmage play-by-play, you see the name of Anthony Kimble for the first time this camp.  The redshirt sophomore running back was on Sunday allowed to wear full pads for the first time, given that it was his fifth day of practice.  On that play, and in several runs we saw prior to the scrimmage in Sunday's practice, Kimble sure did look fast.  The 6'1" tailback is assuredly a faster athlete than at this time a year ago, but he also undoubtedly is able to play faster now that he has one year at the position under his belt.  When he was in camp last fall, those were the first practices in college for Kimble as a tailback (converted from wide receiver).  The running back competition has been flat with some players out, but we should have a very nice three-way war as Kimble comes back up to speed and joins redshirt sophomore Ray Jones and freshman Toby Gerhart in the backfield battle.
  • Speaking of Gerhart, those five- and three-yard runs in the scrimmage should have both been losses.  Each time, he was met in the backfield by redshirt freshman phenom nose tackle Ekom Udofia.  Each time, Gerhart slipped out of the grasp of the 305-pound tackler and darted ahead to not only reach the line of scrimmage but push through for positive yardage.  The freshman may have looked even more impressive on his nine-yard reception, catching the ball facing back at the line of scrimmage and quickly turning upfield to find green and pick up the first down.  It is not a complicated play, but freshmen seldom look so comfortable with it during the first week of training camp.
  • Two of Stanford's wide receivers currently ailing and wearing yellow jerseys at practice took a step forward on Sunday.  Both redshirt junior Evan Moore and freshman Austin Yancy took part in some 11-on-11 team drills at wide receiver, albeit in their yellow jerseys.  Both also ran the conditioning sprints late in practice, which is an even more promising sign of their imminent returns to full action.
  • The other day we reported of redshirt sophomore left defensive end Gustav Rydstedt being out for a practice (he returned the next day), and that second team spot was filled by freshman Levirt Griffin.  There are distinct depth charts for the left and right defensive ends, so it was at least a mild surprise on Sunday to see Griffin man the second team on the right side.  Starting right defensive end Pannel Egboh was out Sunday, following a mild injury he appeared to suffer during the scrimmage at the end of Saturday's practice.  Promoted to Egboh's spot was redshirt junior Chris Horn, who is probably the most unsung of the contributing defensive linemen on the Stanford roster.  Horn was solid last year in his first season of real action on defense, and he looked a little quicker and a little craftier in his moves while he paid attention to him during some linemen battles on Sunday.  He will not likely be a household name in Pac-10 football, but Horn ought to contribute significantly the next couple seasons much like Scott Scharff did in recent years.
  • We have a position switch.  Redshirt sophomore Thaddeus Chase has moved from strong safety to outside linebacker, specifically the "rush" position.  This could be a better fit for Chase, who has speed and athleticism but is not that big, given that the "rush" outside linebacker plays in space on the weak side of the field.  "We like Thaddeus," says Walt Harris.  "He has a great work ethic.  He has good speed and athletic ability for us.  We're trying to get a spot for him where he can get into the two-deep."
  • We noted yesterday that the absence of Mike Silva at the "Ted" inside linebacker position elevated players below him on the depth chart, with freshman Sam Weinberger garnering opportunities on the second team defense.  Sunday it was "Mike" inside linebacker Pat Maynor who was missing in action, which opened up the hole at his linebacker position on the second unit.  Freshman Nick Macaluso was the beneficiary with second string repetitions throughout the afternoon.  Last Wednesday, defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff told several of us assembled at a media luncheon that these two frosh were battling for the fifth inside linebacker position.  Not that the fifth man would play and necessarily have his redshirt burned, but Christoff wants to be able to play two deep at both of the inside 'backers, and the fifth guy quickly becomes part of that quartet should injury befall someone.  Given the injury histories of the first four players, including time missed already this camp, it is worth keeping a close eye on the play of these two true frosh.
  • A revealing sight on Sunday was Tom McAndrew dressed in full pads and jogging around the field.  It seems inconceivable that his big toe was nearly severed just two months ago.  It was such an unexpected vision that we had to ask Walt Harris afterward about McAndrew's remarkable progress.  "I think there's a chance he could come back sometime.  I don't know when," Harris allows.  "When we were first told that it could be a career-ending injury, wow, that was scary.  But it looks like he has a better shot at it right now."  Just when, pray tell, could McAndrew return to the field?  "I don't know.  It depends," the coach responds.  "I have never had one who has had a torn tendon on his big toe."
  • That is three straight scrimmages where fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards has completed 100% of his passes.  3-of-3 for 22 yards is a yawner, but it is still remarkable that at the start of training camp, the Cardinal quarterback has yet to throw a scrimmage attempt for an incompletion.

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