While the headlines following Stanford's first live scrimmage of the spring on Sunday were all about the offense, the foremost conclusion was the concern for the defense. It was not quite as bad, but the scene Sunday reminded me somewhat of what I witnessed last April in Stanford's concluding Spring Game. The tackling by the defense was so bad, with players so obviously whiffing and failing to wrap up, that I was honestly compelled afterward to ask Walt Harris the question, "Did you have any special rules in place handcuffing the defense for the Spring Game?" When the answer came in the negative, I should have known that the historically and horrifically bad 2006 Stanford defense would unfold the way it did that fall.
The concerns today in 2007 are not necessarily as dire. For whatever reason, the terrible tackling issue did not arise last spring until the final scrimmage (Spring Game). There was not opportunity to address the issue afterward, with no NCAA allowed coaching until fall camp. The defensive coaches are more than alert to this issue today, halfway through the 2007 spring. I would expect practices starting today to hammer down on the physical and technique shortcomings that contributed to Sunday's problems. Catching this issue now allows many practices, and more importantly two full live scrimmages, to react.
I would also offer that it is not too surprising or necessarily alarming to see tackling issues in the first real live test of the defense this spring. The defensive players are learning an entirely new base defense, with most players at different positions than they knew in the 3-4 defense. Much of the instruction the first practices of this spring focused on alignment, reads and reactions to the ball - getting into position to make a play. Defenders were often in position Sunday; they simply failed to finish in some instances. Before you play with live bullets, players cannot practice much tackling and the coaches can hardly evaluate it.
On the offensive side of the ball, there was no demonstration of a big-play runner, though putative starter Anthony Kimble left with an injury early in the scrimmage. The running backs, however, did run hard and did pick up consistent positive yardage in most instances. The question difficult to answer is whether their gains after contact can be ascribed to their efforts and abilities, or instead the failings by the defense.
The passing game was aggressive and successful, with the quarterbacks throwing for a high percentage and completing passes all over the field. It was particularly noteworthy to see the number of attempts thrown down the field, when there are some sessions of some practices that convey a strictly short passing game. The procedure penalties were the one great failing of this offense, and I know how much it upset the offensive coaches. For as radically different an offense, with its many formations and motions, as these players have had to learn, the mistakes were understandable in the first spring scrimmage.
The number one highlight of the scrimmage had to be the tight ends, with Ben Ladner and James Dray making big plays in the passing game. Best exemplifying this was one series of three plays. All three were passes to the tight ends, totaling a quick 70 yards and a touchdown. The success these two tight ends are having this spring, plus the elevated performances by the other tight ends (and Matt Traverso has yet to practice), argues strongly for heavy involvement by that position in the offense this year.
In special teams, fifth-year senior kicker Derek Belch kicked an extra point or field goal attempt after almost every series of this extended scrimmage. He nailed every one, save one PAT and the final field goal. His improvement and consistency this spring appears to be legitimate to this point. The special teams also spent time working on punting, with the first team punt unit working against an assorted group of players as a scout punt block. Right away, fifth-year senior Peter Griffin broke through, blocked a punt, scooped and scored. Granted, Griffin was a four-phase special teams starter last year - he is not "scout" material. But the punt protection, in this first live practice opportunity of the spring, looked like it has a lot of work to do.
Scrimmage drives, with highlights/lowlights
1st series (Quarterback: T.C. Ostrander)
- Anthony Kimble fumble near the 10-yardline after a great run, forced by Bo McNally
2nd series (Quarterback: Tavita Pritchard)
- 35-yard touchdown completion to Austin Gunder called back on a penalty
- Jason Evans loss of combined four yards on 2nd, 3rd & Goal at three-yardline, four-yardline
3rd series (Quarterback T.C. Ostrander
- Pass intercepted by Nick Sanchez
4th series (Quarterback: T.C. Ostrander)
- 18-yard end-around by Mark Bradford (openfield move beats Wopamo Osaisai) to the five-yardline.
- Five-yard touchdown pass to Emeka Nnoli
5th series (Quarterback: Alex Loukas)
- 27-yard pass completion to Ben Ladner
- 13-yard run by Tyrone McGraw up the middle on 4th & 2
- 10-yard run outside by McGraw to the one-yardline
- One-yard touchdown sneak by Loukas
6th series (Quarterback: T.C. Ostrander)
- 33-yard catch and run by Nate Wilcox-Fogel
-- "Halftime" break --
7th series (Quarterback: T.C. Ostrander)
- 27-yard pass completion to James Dray
- Quarterback sack of nine yards by Wopamo Osaisai
- 23-yard pass completion next play to Richard Sherman on 3rd & 19
- 25-yard pass completion next play to Mark Bradford
- 10-yard touchdown pass to Mike Miller
8th series (Quarterback: Tavita Pritchard)
- Pass deflection at the line of scrimmage by Pat Maynor
- Pass incomplete, missing wide-open Marcus Rance deep down the sideline
- 42-yard pass completion next play to Rance
9th series (Quarterback: Alex Loukas)
10th series (Quarterback: T.C. Ostrander)
- 11-yard pass completion on first play to James Dray
- 13-yard catch and run next play by Dray
- 46-yard catch and run touchdown next play by Ben Ladner
11th series (Quarterback: Alex Loukas)
- Loukas scramble and 12-yard pass completion to Marcus Rance
- 12-yard run by Jason Evans (good running after contact)
- 14-yard run by Loukas on the sideline
- Quarterback sack of eight yards by Emmanuel Awofadeju and Brian Bulcke on 4th & 2
12th series (Quarterback: T.C. Ostrander) - two-minute drill
- 1st & 10 @ own 35 - Quarterback sack of six yards by Chris Horn
- 2nd & 16 @ 29 - Pass completion of 10 yards to Stephen Carr (gets o.o.b.)
- 3rd & 6 @ 39 - Pass completion of 12 yards to Richard Sherman (o.o.b.)
- 1st & 10 @ opp 49 - Pass incomplete
- 2nd & 10 @ 49 - Pass completion of 16 yards to James Dray (carries tacklers for extra yardage)
- 1st & 10 @ 33 - Pass completion of eight yards to Carr (o.o.b.)
- 2nd & 2 @ 25 - Pass completion of four yards to Marcus Rance
- 1st & 10 @ 21 - Jason Evans run for no gain
- 2nd & 10 @ 21 - Pass completion of three yards to Evans (o.o.b.)
- 3rd & 7 @ 18 - Pass incomplete
- 4th & 7 @ 18 - Field goal attempt no good by Derek Belch (wide right)
Unofficial scrimmage statistics:
T.C. Ostrander 22-of-30, 265 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Alex Loukas 7-of-14, 87 yards
Tavita Pritchard 4-of-9, 54 yards
Jason Evans 11-51
Tyrone McGraw 10-51
Anthony Kimble 8-30
Mark Bradford 1-18
Alex Loukas 2-15, 1 TD
Sam Weinberger 1-13
Statistics are too inaccurate to publish
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