Playing quarterback, wide receiver and safety during his first four years at Stanford, David Lofton had trouble not only finding a home but also finding comfort and success in college football. The final chapter for the fifth-year senior not long ago looked like it would be more of the same, as he ran second team at free safety behind redshirt freshman Bo McNally at the end of the spring and the first week of fall training camp.
The light has come on the past two weeks for Lofton, however, moving up the depth chart as he has improved his playmaking, tackling and consistency. Today the fifth-year senior was rewarded by defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff as he was named Stanford's starting free safety.
"At this point, David Lofton has finished camp as a starter," Christoff declares. "We're very excited about the improvement he has made, particularly in his tackling. He has to continue along those lines to maintain his position."
The Cardinal coach calls Lofton's current progress "leaps and bounds" ahead of the wide-eyed player he coached two years ago as a converted quarterback. Then a redshirt sophomore, Lofton moved from offense to defense on August 24, 2004 after he was buried on the quarterback depth chart. A move that late in training camp, after spending the previous spring and the entire off-season as a quarterback, left little chance of any safety success for Lofton in the 2004 season. He mostly saw the field on special teams and only played in seven games.
2005 was Lofton's first full year on defense, and he played all 11 games, including five as a starter when classmate Trevor Hooper injured his shoulder in the season opener at Navy. Lofton now will start alongside Hooper, who is the Cardinal's top strong safety, in the 2006 season opener at Oregon.
"I believe that he is getting better on his angles, and he is getting better on his awareness," Christoff comments. "He is still not to where I would like him to be, but the improvement has been drastic."
Only two and a half weeks ago, the Stanford defensive coordinator and secondary coach had much more measured words to describe Lofton during the first week of training camp. Christoff called him a "prospect" for the Cardinal which is not a promising descriptor for a fifth-year senior.
"He has not played a lot of defense, so his transition as far as angles to the football and tackling - he is developing those skills," the coach remarked. "But it isn't like he has been playing since he was in little league football on the defensive side of the ball."
Though still in some ways a work in progress, Lofton has Christoff smiling as a positive turnaround story. The defensive coordinator could take all the praise for that progress but instead hands it all to his player.
"I'm proud of David and what he has accomplished," Christoff proclaims. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. What he has done is prove that it is really important to him. I think as it becomes important to him, he will become even more proficient at what he is doing."
"I think there were things coming into camp that I definitely needed to work on, and Coach Christoff definitely challenged me from the end of last spring. That Spring Game, I had a rough time. I missed a lot of tackles," Lofton allows. "That was probably the biggest thing I needed to work on. He came out here and was on me all camp. We've been working on it, and I feel like I'm improved greatly."
Now making plays and rising in his confidence as a defensive player, the athlete that we have all admired is finally becoming a college football player.
"I feel great," Lofton beams.
With Stanford's two starting safeties now set, the murky picture for the defensive backfield is coming into focus. Lofton starting at free safety means that senior Brandon Harrison can focus on cornerback, where he moved during the off-season and has spent much of this preseason camp. When safety was more uncertain, we saw Harrison juggling time there. Christoff and Walt Harris have been said throughout this month that the Cardinal are looking for their "best four players" to fill the starting spots in the secondary, and they were willing to play Harrison at either safety or cornerback, depending upon where they had the biggest hole. If Lofton has plugged the gap at safety, we can presumably pencil Harrison at corner.
Christoff however says that the two cornerback starters are still to be named.
"We're still working on it," the coordinator maintains. "We'll see as the week goes through who has the ability to adjust to all of their different formations and their different sets.... I think Tim Sims, Nick Sanchez and Brandon Harrison would be the three in the mix for what we are trying to do."
Oregon threw for 463 yards last year at Stanford, and that Cardinal defense included a cornerback (T.J. Rushing) and pass rushers in the front seven (Jon Alston, Babatunde Oshinowo, Julian Jenkins) who were all taken in the NFL Draft. It is a weighty decision for Stanford to determine its coverage personnel ahead of next Saturday's season opener in Eugene.
"We just can't leave somebody uncovered and let them run down the field," Christoff quips. "A lot of what we have to adjust to in Oregon, and how well the secondary adjusts to that, will be huge in the game. Whatever players show the proficiency in making the adjustments to the formations are the ones we want."
More Defensive News & Notes
- There has been little discussion of Stanford's starters on the defensive line, with redshirt freshman Matt Kopa, redshirt freshman Ekom Udofia and redshirt sophomore Pannel Egboh manning the first team spots (when healthy) for the duration of this three-week camp. Christoff says today that the ailing Kopa is not assured to start at Oregon: "We haven't made that decision yet. The problem we want to wait and see is that Kopa has a hyperextended elbow right now and arthritis in his knee. We want to see how that plays out before the end of the week." Stanford's next two defensive ends are redshirt junior Chris Horn and redshirt sophomore Gustav Rydstedt, who started two and eight games for the Cardinal last year, respectively.
- The other open position of note is the weakside "Mike" inside linebacker, where senior Michael Okwo was expected to be the best Stanford defensive player but will miss at least the Oregon game with a broken thumb. Christoff says that redshirt sophomore Pat Maynor will man that spot in Okwo's stead, playing alongside fifth-year senior "Ted" inside linebacker Mike Silva. Maynor was a special teams player last year who totaled three tackles. Depth at the inside linebacker spots is dicey. Behind Silva is redshirt freshman Fred Campbell, who missed all of last year recovering from a spiral fracture in his ankle. Even more green are a pair of true freshman backing up Maynor, according to Christoff: Nick Macaluso and Brian Bulcke.
- Bulcke was just one week ago a defensive lineman, and his move on Monday to the second level of Stanford's defense at inside linebacker raised a lot of eyebrows. A 260-plus pound linebacker is an unusual sight, to be sure, but Bulcke runs extraordinarily well for his size. It is difficult to imagine that dramatic of a position move to allow the Canadian to play this year as a true freshman, but the Cardinal's current depth concerns mean that all bets are off. Christoff at a minimum is enthused about the move. "We are really excited about him," the coach comments on Bulcke. "We would like to have a big, physical linebacker." Christoff also has some experience coaching such a supersized linebacker. During his four-year tenure as the defensive coordinator at Colorado, he worked with 255-pound Matt Russell, who in 1996 won the Butkus Award.
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