Harbaugh Pre-Spring on Positions

He offers more than just soundbites and catch phrases. First-year head coach Jim Harbaugh addressed a wealth of questions surrounding his roster before beginning spring practices. Here are selected quotes on the offensive line, quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, safeties, middle linebackers, defensive ends, all areas of special teams, injuries, position switches and more.

On injured players to miss the spring:

"There is going to be about half a dozen.  There are probably seven or eight right now.  For sure, Ekom Udofia will not be in spring ball.  He had a shoulder surgery.  Chris Marinelli will not be participating - again, a shoulder surgery.  Evan Moore tells me that in a week and a half to two weeks, he will be participating in some spring drills.  Toby Gerhart is another guy who hurt his arm, playing baseball.  He will take place in some spring drills but won't be able to hit.  There are a few examples of guys who will be very limited this spring."

On position switches:

"Some of the big ones are Austin Yancy going from wide receiver to free safety.  Erik Lorig going from tight end to defensive end.  We're going to look at Sam Weinberger as a fullback; he was a linebacker.  That could continue as we go.  We're getting guys in the right spots, where they can contribute the most while being fair to the football team and being fair to them as players."

"You have to have the eye.  You have to see it.  In a few cases - Erik Lorig brought that up.  He said that he'd like to play defensive end.  So have some other players.  Probably to the point where we are going to implement a new system when we go to training camp in the summer.  We are going to place our incoming freshmen on both sides of the ball and take the first two or three practices - in drills, not the entire practice - to play a Sean Wiser at receiver but give him a safety position as well.  For every single player on the team - even the quarterbacks - we will try them on both sides of the ball.  Just so that we don't go a year, two years or three years down the road before a guy says, 'Hey, I'd rather play a different position.'  We can evaluate that early."

On his early impressions after time spent with T.C. Ostrander:

"I believe that T.C. is somebody who could have a very good season this year and win games for us.  Obviously, one thing that we are working very hard on and will continue to work hard on is decision-making.  Cutting down on the interceptions and fumbles.  Taking care of the football will be our number one objective with T.C.  But I see a guy who can throw the football when you watch the tape and who is athletic and can get out of the way of people.  He also has the respect from his teammates and has the mental capacity to lead this team and understand this offense.  He's very quick-minded.  I'm excited about T.C."

On the quarterback competition:

"You always compete for the job.  Right now, the way I see it is T.C., Tavita Pritchard and Alex Loukas.  Those three guys have the best chance.  We'll give the most attention to T.C. in terms of reps.  Yeah, it would be his job right now going into spring practice, and I expect that he would keep that, but the best player will play - the one who gives us the chance and the football team a chance to be most successful playing quarterback.  The way it works is that we give T.C. reps, and if he does well, we give him more reps.  Tavita is going to get a certain number of reps, and if he does well, he gets more reps.  Same with Alex Loukas; his reps could turn into more reps, depending on how he plays.  They really run on their own gas.  I really root for all of them.  I really do.  I coach the quarterbacks.  I realize that they are all competitive and all motivated.  They all want to be the starting quarterback, but there is only one football.  I coach them all up with that in mind.  They all want to be the starter, and we'll find the best guy."

On the relationship between the offensive line and quarterback play:

"When you give up 53 sacks, those guys are getting hit a lot last year.  They were forcing the ball to come out when they weren't ready, and they took a lot of hits.  Now, we would like to get the ball out faster this year - more three-step drops and get them out of the pocket more."

On Richard Sherman:

"Richard Sherman is going to be a wide receiver, and he might be the best wide receiver on our team.  He might be the best player on our team.  We'll see.  But I love Richard Sherman.  He's a wide receiver.  Now, there's a possibility that he could also be a two-way player as we get further down the road.  His plan right now is to concentrate solely on football during spring practice at the wide receiver position.  There will be some drills where we put him over on the defensive side of the ball and see if he can run some man coverage.  There is a thought that is brewing there as a two-way player for Richard.  Then when we are done with spring practice, he will compete some more in track in the Pac-10's if he is healthy enough to do that.  The track coach and I are on the same page there.  That's his plan for the next three weeks."

On the offensive line and defensive tackles:

"Allen Smith, I believe, is potentially an All Pac-10 player at the left tackle position.  Tim Mattran, we expect him to be a leader and a guy who can help us win football games at the center position.  Alex Fletcher is going to play right guard.  He's probably more of a center, but at this point in time, right guard will be his position.  I think those are solid right now, going into spring ball.  The right tackle position and the left guard position will be highly competitive.  Gustav Rydstedt is a guy coming over from defense to play offense, and he has a chance to compete at that left guard position.  And then at right tackle, the early favorite and a guy who we hope is going to be very good is Ben Muth.  But there are a lot of candidates in there, and offensive line is a big concern.  It's a premium in any football program, as well as that defensive tackle position on the defensive side of the ball.  That's a premium.  And there are some question marks there.  A guy like Chris Horn has to step up and play big for us.  Ekom [Udofia] is out for the spring, but I feel like he's an All Pac-10 player and we've got a really good one there.  Those are big positions of evaluation and teaching for us in the spring."

On the tight ends:

"James Dray.  My guy, Austin Gunder.  We don't have a lot of numbers there at tight end.  We're moving Ben Ladner from fullback to tight end to give us another guy.  Ben is a young guy, a freshman, but it's a chance for him to be a major contributor at the tight end position.  We'll play with the tight end, too.  Make no mistake about that.  We'll play with a tight end and a fullback."

On the status of Matt Traverso:

"Matt wants to come back to the football team, and we want Matt to come back to the football team.  He needs to hit two major criteria right now.  1) Be in school and eligible.  He has a sixth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.  2) Also today he will be meeting with our trainers to evaluate him physically.  He had an injury last year and has not been to the trainer much.  He needs to do that, and he needs to be released medically before we can get him back on the football field.  He wants to come back, and we want him back."

On Sione Fua's upcoming LDS mission:

"Sione is still weighing that decision for June or whether to go on his mission in December.  That's a decision between Sione and God.  We fully support Sione with whatever decision he feels is right for him.  We love Sione.  He has been great and a real leader in this off-season.  He would be a major contributor if he plays this fall, but he will be a major contributor if he comes back in two years from his mission.  And he will have a full scholarship when he returns.  But we'll leave that decision to God and Sione."

On where Stanford has speed:

"It always needs to be faster.  Mark Bradford is a guy who is really fast but has been limited.  I'm hoping that he can find a way to turn it loose in spring ball.  He's had some pain in his foot.  He has to be a big-time player and make big-time plays for us.  He has to find a way if there is pain there to play with it.  I don't want to see Mark Bradford be that guy who 'could have been an NFL player' or 'could have been an All Pac-10 player if I didn't have that injury.'  There are so many guys who say, 'I could have been in the League if not for that knee injury in high school.'  I don't want to see Mark Bradford be that guy.  He's working very hard to not be that guy."

On the safety positions:

"All positions really are in a sense up for grabs.  Nothing is really set in stone.  The safety really seemed thin a month or two ago.  After watching our guys, with Bo McNally, Austin Yancy and Carlos McFall, I feel really good there.  I think that's something that may have been a weakness and now may be a strength for three years to come, so I'm very excited about that."

On the defensive ends:

"The defensive end position I think will be very deep and very competitive.  Udeme Udofia, Ekom's brother, is going to be playing defensive end.  He's going from 'back to the defensive end position.  He could be that rush end who comes around the corner, like Dwight Freeney, who gets sacks, gets pressures and makes the ball come out fast.  Emmanuel Awofadeju - love that guy.  He could be that guy who can be skinny around the edge and puts pressure on the quarterback and makes that ball come out fast.  Any team who has a very high turnover ratio, the margin of turnovers is in your favor because you have the defensive end who can get that kind of pressure on the quarterback.  With Lorig going over there as well, I think our pressure from the edges is going to be very good.  I'm very excited to see that."

On the middle linebackers:

"It's critical to be good up the middle in football, just like in baseball with the battery of the catcher, the pitcher, the shortstop, the second baseman and the center fielder.  It's the same way in football with the running back, the quarterback, the center, the middle linebacker and those two safeties back there.  The 'Mike' linebacker is going to be a big evaluation for us this spring."

"Tom McAndrew has really been impressive so far in drills, with the way he's been moving.  His change of direction has been excellent.  The things you see from Brian Bulcke is the ability to front up a runner.  That's a critical for a 'Mike' 'backer.  Now, you have to see Bulcke make plays in the nine-on-seven box.  In between the tight ends, that's what you want your 'Mike' 'backer to do.  You also like to see that 'Mike' backer make plays outside the nine-on-seven box and to be able to run and make plays out there on the edge.  That's what we need to see from Bulcke.  I think he'll be able to do it inside - in fact, I'm pretty darned sure of that.  He has a lot of talents you look for in a 'Mike' 'backer.  Now, if he can't, then he would be a candidate to go to defensive end.  No question about it.  That's where they would go, from 'Mike' 'backer to defensive end.  But I like them both.  I think they both have a shot, and we have to give them a shot.  The 'Mike' 'backer is a critical position."

On the running backs:

"AK, Anthony Kimble, has done a great job as a leader this off-season, out front at all times leading his group.  He's the fastest player on the football team, right now.  April 2, 2007 he's the fastest player on the football team.  He wins all the races when we race in the 40-yard dash.  He's our best player on the perimeter - I don't think there's any question about that, when you look at the field study.  He's been challenged to be a better runner inside the tackle, and he's motivated to do that.  Toby Gerhart is a real football player.  When you study the film on Toby, he is the guy who finishes going toward the goalline at all times.  He's probably the one guy on our football team who does that exceptionally well.  You find out whether it will be just those two guys, or will there be a third back in the mix?  Do we have the guy who will be durable after 10, after 20 or after 30 carries?  We don't know that yet.  That's the evaluation you make.  I really like those guys.  I like Jason Evans.  I'm not sure that Emeka Nnoli can't get some reps back there as a big tailback.  We have some options and evaluations to make this spring."

On the special teams:

"Every player on the football team will be eligible for special teams.  Starters will play between one and two phases of the special teams.  We'll put the best players on punt and the best players on kickoff.  It will be an honor to be on either of those two phases.  Also, we're looking for six to seven core guys to play in all four phases.  Spring ball will be a great evaluation time for our special teams.  D.J. Durkin is going to head up our special teams, but all of our coaches will be involved in teaching and coaching of our special teams.  One thing that you will see in spring ball is that we will concentrate mainly on drills.  Most of our minutes on special teams will be devoted to drills to identify who the best guys are at running the rail on the punt, who our gunners are, who can cover kickoffs.  Those drills will identify who wants to be on our special teams.  We call that our pack.  The wolfpack.  It will be an honor to be on one of those.  A lot of good competition will arise in spring ball on those drills.  I love D.J. Durkin, by the way.  You're going to love him."

"I have not seen any of the kickers kick.  I've seen the two kickers run.  I've seen them condition.  The guy who can give us a little bit more consistency than we had last year.  I think David Green is going to help the competition in all of those areas - punting, field goal kicking and kicking off.  I think one thing that will help our kickers this year is that they will be more competitive.  They will be pushed more.  There is not one guy there who I can tell you is going to be our kicker.  I think that's probably that will help us."

"As a return guy, I'd like to see Anthony Kimble get a shot.  Also the little guy out of San Francisco, Tyrone McGraw, and see what he can do.  Wopamo Osaisai possibly.  The kick returner I would like to have really good straight-line speed and is physical.  Can run north and south fast and with some body presence.  The punt returner needs to be a guy who can catch and make guys miss initially."

"At long snapper, we have Brent Newhouse.  He's a very good snapper.  The area he needs to improve is being more of a factor down the field and helping with our 'net' and tackling people.  If what he does best is get the ball back to the punter every single time and helping our protection, that's what we know he can do right now.  He's our guy."

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