Players on the Rise: the Frosh

Following our popular survey on the most improved veterans during Stanford's fall camp, we now offer seven true and redshirt freshmen who made big leaps in August. Not included are Ekom Udofia or Clinton Snyder - they established themselves in the spring. Not included are famous frosh Toby Gerhart and Richard Sherman. Read on for our comments plus those of Cardinal coaches on the surging septet.

Sione Fua
Freshman - nose tackle

  • The most certain of all the true freshmen to play in the season opener at Oregon.  Fua has the physical maturity, the size and the athletic ability.  He does not yet have all the moves of a Pac-10 defensive lineman - the savvy and tricks of the trade are accumulated over time.  But he is clearly the Cardinal's best backup to starter Ekom Udofia, and that means Fua is primed to play.  Good hands and good balance.  If he stays healthy, he could become not just a backup but soon an impact player as the year progresses.

Defensive line coach Dave Tipton:

"He's such a tremendous athlete.  He seems so special.  Like so many of the Polynesian kids that I have coached - he has terrific balance and quickness along with being strong and 300 pounds.  He's all of that."

"You can tell that wrestling was very important to him.  He's very mature for his age."

"It's just a question of playing the game.  He has to have the recognition, to trust his keys and to trust what he's doing - that's all really important.  It's about having confidence, and he's doing the right thing.  But he really picks things up quickly [snaps fingers].  He's doing a nice job with that.  And his pass rush is incredible."

Levirt Griffin
Freshman - defensive end

  • The second most ready of the frosh D-line class.  Griffin came in at 290 pounds, and the staff quickly asked him to drop to 280.  He did that and just as quickly was taking second team repetitions at both defensive end positions.  With somebody always banged up on the defensive line, he spent much of camp in the two-deep, and by the same rationale as Fua, ought to play.  As Stanford is becoming healthier, however, including the addition in the last week of redshirt freshman Tom McAndrew, he might not be needed yet to backup at defensive end.  Moreover, Griffin missed some time late in camp with some injury of his own.

Defensive line coach Dave Tipton:

"He's lost some weight.  He looks good, and he's getting into shape.  He's had some ankle problems and is getting through that.  But he has done some things awfully well."

"He's very athletic and he's 280 pounds.  And strong.  He really brings his hips well and does all the things that you need to do.  There is a maturity there, and I think he's a little further along there in that regard."

"He has a chance."

James Dray
Redshirt freshman - tight end

  • When I first conceived of this article, I intended to include only Lorig.  But Dray made a big push the last third of camp and was taking the lion's share of repetitions with the first team offense.  If Stanford were opening this season at home, he might be the starter on Saturday.  The experience of fifth-year senior Matt Traverso may keep Dray initially on the sideline.  Dray has been healthy all camp, while Traverso missed time with injury.  In practices, the two looked close to a dead heat this week.  The big surge from Dray has come in rounding himself into a more complete tight end - adding the blocking to go with his hands and downfield routes.

Head coach Walt Harris:

"We think Jim Dray is a good receiver, and he upgraded his blocking.  I think that he just started to become more consistent because he became more knowledgeable of what to do through practice repetition, gaining confidence and good coaching by Coach Sams.  He was able to make progress."

Erik Lorig
Redshirt freshman - tight end

  • While Traverso was out, Lorig was the tight end taking all of the first team work.  His blocking, particularly in the run game, was fantastic.  His receiving game has improved since the spring, as well.  Traverso's return and Dray's surge quickly knocked Lorig to third on the tight end depth chart, which is as much a testament to the other players as it might be an indictment of any shortcomings on his part.  He is improving and so incredibly promising - at times dominant - but lags the starting pair because of his mental mistakes.  He's just a young pup, though.  Plenty of time ahead for this one.

Offensive tackles/Tight ends coach Doug Sams:

"He's making very good progress.  Tight ends are a strong position for us, as far as depth.  Erik has really come along very nicely.  He's a really excellent blocker - he does a great job blocking.  He does an outstanding job there."

"I think that the one area that Erik has really improved in is as a receiver.  He's doing a great job.  There are certain routes that he runs very well, and we're working to improve him in other areas.  But he has had really a very strong fall camp."

Chris Marinelli
Redshirt freshman - offensive tackle

  • Marinelli enjoyed a strong spring and in his first April pushed fifth-year seniors.  He did not start camp in August at that level, but he picked up the pace once Jon Cochran was moved to guard to fill an injury hole.  Marinelli is big and has great physical tools, but his progress and consistency are coming with the confidence and aggression to assert those tools.  We started to see more of that late in camp, which had him push Jeff Edwards for the starting job and at a minimum gave much greater confidence in this team's tackle depth.

Offensive tackles/Tight ends coach Doug Sams:

"He's doing excellent.  In fact, Chris has taken some rep's with the 'one's.  He's coming off a solid spring and come back stronger and faster, and we've put him in there.  We've had to shuffle some guys around, but Chris has been battling Jeff Edwards for the starting right tackle job.  We feel we have four tackles who can play."

"We're trying to get guys in a position to help us at some point in the season and to compete for playing time.  They're competing with each other to get better, and that's just a win-win for our program."

"I think a couple things that have happened.  It took us about a week to get into pads and we can see what people can do and what they can't do.  Chris kept making a steady climb.  With the injury situation one day, we had to move Jon Cochran into guard.  That opened a spot for Chris.  What has happened is that Jon has done very well at guard and Chris has taken the opportunity presented to him at right tackle.  I think he is excited and sees the opportunity there to compete and play for a spot."

"I think the thing that we saw was his improvement as a run blocker, and his pass sets are very firm.  He's playing physically.  He's punching people.  He's coming off the ball well.  I think that we've seen a fundamental improvement in Chris Marinelli."

Will Powers
Redshirt freshman - outside linebacker

  • His talent was highly regarded coming out of high school, and playing outside linebacker in Stanford's 3-4 scheme allows him to become an impact player faster than if he were a defensive end in a four-man front.  That being said, Powers' surge during fall camp surprised us.  He was an exciting playmaker last year in sparks on the scout defense, but he is rounding into a player upon which the Stanford defense can rely.  Like Marinelli, the confidence in himself and what he should do at his position is leveraging his talents.  Powers is less tentative and playing more instinctively in all phases.  He should play Saturday and might at some point this season push Udeme Udofia for the starting job.

Defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff:

"Compared to this spring, he is not even the same football player."

"He will very definitely play.  We need to play a lot of players.  We need to keep everybody fresh so that we can keep that energy going."

"He is playing with much more energy.  He is more physical on the tight end, and his drop skills are better."

Kris Evans
Redshirt freshman - cornerback

  • Another pleasant surprise.  Evans might have been hard to notice this camp in what turned out to be a deep and developing defensive backfield.  Others at his position were improving, while he also made a great leap forward.  Evans showed intermittent flashes in scout work and Thursday "Pup Bowl" scrimmages last fall, but was a long way from being a player.  Now he is starting to understand his athletic abilities and how to use them against Pac-10 receivers.  Evans saw some time in the middle of camp on the first team defense.  He may not play much the early part of the season if Stanford's other cornerbacks stay healthy and make plays, but believe it when we say he is on the rise.

Defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff:

"I think that he's starting to mature.  He's a much more mature individual than he was in the spring.  I think he really didn't know exactly how it was supposed to be done, or what his expectations were for himself.  His expectations were not as great as our expectations for him as a staff."

"He is just a young player working to become more consistent.  Consistency right now is the thing keeping him back."

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