Early August Practice Notes

Though the full roster is now just in their fourth day of practice, I can size up some obvious strengths emerging on this team. A lot of people on both sides of the ball are stepping up from the last time we saw them in the spring. Read on for a mammoth set of notes covering every position group on the team.

As has been the old format, here is a collection of very rambling observations from the first few days of practice, spanning most positions...

  • Right off the bat, here is some injury news I cleared today in talking with Buddy Teevens: Garry Cobb is day-to-day right now, and thankfully is nothing serious. Nothing structurally damaged, just tightness in his knee. He will be back in action soon... Greg Schindler took this morning off, which frankly bothered me until I asked. He had off-season ankle surgery and so they are giving him some breaks right now... The best news, though, confirms what I have previously heard on Justin McCullum. He is amazing doctors and coaches with his recovery to his knee injury, well ahead of schedule. Today was the first day they let him even move around the field in cleats, though he is not yet cleared for drills or contact. But Justin is hopeful to be in practices soon, and in games not too far thereafter... One concern expressed on the message boards has been the risk of injuries while practices take part with only upper-body pads. Buddy Teevens commented this morning after practice that NCAA guidelines dictate how many practices can utilize full pads and full contact in the pre-season period.
  • Speaking of Schindler taking off today, that made for some interesting shifts on the O-line. Edmond O'Neal actually played some at reserve guard next to Mike Sullivan. O'Neal has been a guard at Stanford, but has been pretty strictly used at tackle for some time. Of course, the primary reserves on the interior of the line continue to be Brian Head, David Beall and Dustin Stimson...
  • With Cobb out right now, though, the shake-ups in the defensive backfield are interesting. No effect on the #1 base defense, but with him gone, Jason White does come in for the #1 nickel. Though White actually drops back to act as a safety, while OJ Atogwe moves up to assume the role of the nickelback. I frankly don't believe that will hold, given how immensely talented TJ Rushing is showing himself right now. He is quicker and a better playmaker already than some of his upperclass counterparts, and he also showed me something in a practice this weekend that surprised the heck out of me - despite his small size, he can really jam a receiver off the line with very physical and strong play. I saw him just stuff Ryan Wells on one jamming drill, and Ryan is a pretty good receiver at getting off the line. When Cobb returns, he would at least be the nickelback ahead of White. The question is who and where Rushing pushes soon.
  • Though to match my exuberance for Rushing, I have to talk about the jobs Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson are doing. On Saturday's first practice, Leigh showed that he has already made a leap to another level of play beyond what he showed in an excellent spring. The best play of that day, and so far that I've seen this week from a DB, had Leigh covering Teyo in 7-on-7. Teyo ran a come-back and made for a big fat target for the QB. Leigh stuck with him somehow on his inside shoulder, and reached around Teyo's body to swat the ball away right when it arrived. Picture-perfect textbook break-up from a tough position. And it was clean. Leigh may deserve the nickname of "Glue" pretty soon, as he is consistently hanging on Teyo and any other receiver put up against him. And this is a group of receivers that is really improving quickly under David Kelly, at that. I was less impressed with Stanley Wilson until his performance this morning. He made several very tough pass breakups, with the one black mark being a play where he slipped as he tried to cut to follow his receiver's break. This was one of the best practices I've seen for Wilson at Stanford.
  • The tone for the last few practices really has been defensive excellence, if you can believe it. This supposed green machine is making a heck of a lot of plays for a bunch of young kids. As much as I love the corners, the LBs stole the show this morning. We mostly are convinced by now of what Michael Craven can do, but the standout plays belonged to David Bergeron and Jon Alston. Bergeron sniffed out a Chris Lewis bootleg, which had this been a game would have been a jaw-shattering hit for a seven-yard sack and likely fumble. It wasn't just the instinct for Bergeron making that play, it was how quickly he closed for the attack. The other great play came when Alston sniffed out a reverse and would have planted a big loss in a live game. Tom Williams was leaping in the air and giving huge atta-boy's to both players after these plays. His energy and that of his group feeds off each other.
  • Up front, I saw quite a bit of Amon and Svitek manning the ends in the #1 base defense. Svitek had a couple of big pass rushes where he got deep into the backfield before he pulled away from the yellow QB jersey. Julian Jenkins is of course the freshman story up front on the D-line, and I have watched him several times in drills with coach Peter McCarty. Though Julian has sick size, strength and quickness, he does not appear to my eyes to come in with a lot of fundamentals and understanding. The question for his contributions this fall are squarely pegged on his learning curve - how quickly can he pick up enough to know how to use his abilities to beat tackles.
  • I saw some shaky early going for the receivers, but many of them have really picked it up. Ryan Wells has had some big catches and big plays, including one Saturday afternoon that brought a rousing ovation from the crowd on hand. Wells was blanketed with two DBs, and had the ball thrown a little short and inside. He pulled a Troy Walters-esque move to leap into the air and then reach around the first defender, in front of the second, to get his hands just on the ball. He came down and held on to the catch. Gerren Crochet had a very strong practice this morning, getting good enough separation for several catches. One came just on the sideline, and he tiptoed one foot in bounds on a high ball thrown by Chris Lewis off his back heel with a defender coming right at him. The difference for Teyo Johnson this fall is mostly how he can physically dictate separation with his strength and cuts. He also shows the knack to brush some DBs off him like gnats when he runs post patterns or out routes down the field. Still, I see a couple of bobbles or drops that just can't happen, though nobody is more critical of himself on those plays than he is. Luke Powell is taking just one practice per day right now, as he gets his muscles adjusted to football conditioning again. But it is great to see him out there again, and he is exploding with excitement to be finally involved with David Kelly and his teachings.
  • Brett Pierce and Alex Smith are both making fabulous catches already. Pierce had a diving grab along the sideline on Saturday that I didn't think he could make. I have seen Brett lay out for a ball before, but not really pick it up off the ground like that. Smith is fun to watch as he is coming into his own right before your eyes this week. In addition to some fantastic diving grabs, he is running his routes underneath and downfield to get open where the QB wants to throw to him. This pair will stretch the field this fall if this first few days of practice is any indication. It is notable that all three tight ends (including Traverso) get pretty free rotation, regardless of whether the #1 or #2 OL is at work. I think this underscores that Traverso has to be ready to play, and he needs the reps. Pierce also has stood by while Smith and Traverso get more work early on.
  • Chris Lewis is making a lot of his throws, including threading the needle between defenders with more confidence and precision than I have seen before. The gap between him and the rest of the QBs is pretty big, though. Kyle Matter and Ryan Eklund both are still improving, but they are not making the big strides that Chris did, for example, at the same time in his career. Eklund is bigger for sure, though, and you can connect some of that to a brutal choice for a summer job he took on - construction. Matter is making some good throws, but still looks challenged with his arm strength and zip. The one killer play this morning that ripped the coaches up had Nick Sebes break open down the field with a good five-plus yards of separation from his defender. Big target for an easy long touchdown, but Chris overthrew him by several yards. He absolutely cannot miss that throw in a ballgame.
  • Trent Edwards is clearly in my mind the most technically advanced quarterback to show up at Stanford as long as I've been watching. His footwork, dropback and throwing motion are way ahead of some pretty good QBs at Stanford. If his improvement and learning curve is positive, watch out. That all being said, I still want to avoid the public expectation that he is ready to play right away, because he isn't. He still has a long way to go to pick up this offense, and his accuracy wavers at times. But, man oh man, can he drop back and throw a crisp spiral on the money a lot of times. This also colors how you look at David Lofton. He can throw a good ball and he looks the part for a promising QB - I mean that. Judging him at this moment against Trent Edwards is tough, though.
  • The running backs really had a tough go this morning, with far too many fumbles. That has to kill coach Wayne Moses, who puts a high emphasis on avoiding fumbles, with drills where he personally punches and slaps at the ball. And this isn't just reserve guys, either. Bad fumbles this morning came from Casey Moore and JR Lemon, among others.
  • To match my comments about strong defense and some hiccups on offense, Buddy Teevens had these descriptors from this morning: offense - "stuttering" and "struggling for consistency"; defense - "guys are flying around making plays" and "pressuring." For what it's worth, Buddy and I are seeing the same things out there right now...
  • Mike Sgroi looks like his leg is even stronger than we saw last spring. He is hitting more and more touchbacks on kickoffs, and his 42-yard field goal attempts have an easy 15 yards to spare. His focus has to exclusively be on accuracy for his FGs - the distance is there for sure. Punting looks like a very heated competition between Eric Johnson and Jay Goff. Goff has a little better height and hang time, to my eyes, but Johnson looks more consistent with his own punts. Unfortunately, none of this means squat until either guy shows he can hit the ball forty-plus yards consistently with a legit rush coming at them. We have yet to see that pressure test.

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