Scott Shafer on Stanford's First Scrimmage

We waited until after the first full live scrimmage this spring to talk to the Cardinal's coordinators. Now armed with data upon reviewing the film of Sunday's 101 plays, new Stanford defensive coordinator Scott Shafer talked with us Tuesday. He commented on all three levels of his defense, plus tackling concerns, standout players, installing the nickel and the culture of a Scott Shafer defense.

It appeared that the tackling wasn't good in some instances on Sunday.  Was that the biggest takeaway for you from this scrimmage?

"Yeah, the tackling - we have to make some good improvements there.  We obviously haven't tackled enough around here.  This team needs to hit and tackle, and like anything, with repetition that will get better.  We want this team to play aggressive with their tackling.  We're breaking down so much and not taking shots.  You know, the first scrimmage looked like a first scrimmage, with a lot of missed tackles.  That was disappointing.  But we came back today and had a good practice.  I like the attitude; I like the effort."

With the tackling mistakes you see, how much of it is technique?  How much of it is mental?  How much of it is physical ability or conditioning?

"Well, like any fundamental, it's all of those things.  But the way we see it is that tackling starts with an attitude, and that's followed up with great effort and technique sessions of practice.  We need a thousand reps of tackling.  That's the way we're going to get better at it.  You can't tackle dummies and get good at it.  You need to tackle live, so we need to continue to get good reps of doing that."

Is what you saw on Sunday something that has you tweak a little the drills for these last two weeks of spring practices?

"No, we're still doing the same drills that we did.  We continue to impress upon kids how important it is to play with great technique.  But nothing has changed.  It's the same as every rebuild job I've been a part of.  You walk in, and the tackling is horacious.  It's just horrible.  That's where we are.  But the good thing about it is that is going to get better every day."

What was the biggest positive?  Something you could build off of Sunday?

"There were a couple positions.  Some kids who did some nice things.  Nick Sanchez is doing a nice job, playing through some bumps and bruises.  I'm pleased with him.  Other than that, we need a couple more scrimmages.  I don't like getting too excited about much after the first scrimmage.  I don't like getting too disappointed off the first scrimmage.  That's the first time we've had to watch these kids in a live situation, when they were on their own.  You learn a lot about kids, and you also move them around a little bit.  Things start to fit together, and you make strides toward the second scrimmage, where you have a little bit better feel where you want to put your personnel."

How did your defensive line hold up?  You guys are so thin there, playing kids a lot of plays in a full scrimmage.  Did you see guys dogging a little bit toward the end?

"Yeah, we had a lot of plays with only a few guys.  But that's the way it is.  There are a lot of people around the country who have the same issues that we do, so we can't make that a crutch or an excuse.  We just have to find a way to fight through it.  In the long run, we'll be better.  We'll be tougher for it."

You do have some new guys playing new positions on the D-line.  Halfway through the spring, are there any positives from them yet?  Any points of emphasis you are trying to work with them on?

"Just attacking and reacting.  Not reading and thinking.  They think too much sometimes up front.  But I've been pleased with them.  Erik Lorig - I'm really pleased with him.  We threw a lot at him.  There's a lot on his plate right now.  It's the same for all of those kids - we've tried to put a lot of defense in, to try to get their minds to absorb a lot.  But I've been pleased with those guys.  You know, Levirt Griffin got hurt early, but I was really pleased with him.  He's playing some three technique because of lack of depth there.  We moved him down, and he did a nice job.  Udeme Udofia is doing a nice job.  Pannel Egboh is doing some nice things.  The bottom line - and they understand this - is the sense of urgency.  The sense of urgency to learn and play fast on the field is something we have not grasped yet.  But they're fighting to get it done.  Like I said, I was pleased today.  There were some good improvements in the scrimmage periods today.  I thought they picked up some of the new things that we put in.  I'm encouraged by them.  By no means am I discouraged.  They're good kids who just are still trying to figure out the new culture.  We need to continue to press on and become a defense that plays with wild enthusiasm.  We're not there yet by any means."

We've read and heard a little bit about your defenses - attacking; generate a lot of turnovers.  Can you describe what this culture is of Stanford's and Scott Shafer's defense?

"Well, it's not there yet.  I can tell you that much.  One day, you will get to the point that you walk into the stadium and you really enjoy watching the defense because they fly to the ball; they're trying to be physical and intimidate; and they are pressure-oriented.  They pressure the run and force the pass.  They make options minimal - make the opponent throw the ball and come up with sacks and interceptions.  I've been fortunate to have a lot of good players who can do that.  I'm extremely excited about getting that done here.  It won't happen overnight.  We have to do a great job with the kids in-house.  We have to do a great job of recruiting kids that fit into the system.  Hopefully people say, 'Boy, that's a fun defense to watch.'  We will take a lot of pride in that."

I've seen quite a bit of shuffles in your linebacker depth chart, with guys moving up and down and outside linebackers switching sides.  Nick Macaluso made the move over last week, but today we saw a few more shuffles.  Were those the result of evaluations coming out of Sunday's film?

"It's a little bit of everything.  You have to remember that we've only had eight days on the field with these guys.  All we saw was film off last year, in a totally different defensive scheme.  It's not fair to judge players off those things alone, especially with a brand new system.  So we're basing everything on what they put on the grass daily.  We're getting to know their strengths and their weaknesses, and the shuffle will continue until that puzzle fits together.  I don't know when that will be.  I can tell that you until we find that right formula, we will continue to move people around here.  The thing about our base 4-3 defense is that our outside linebacker positions are very similar.  Whether we play right or left, strong or weak - it doesn't really matter a lot to that kid.  We're still trying to find that formula and the personnel."

Did I see correctly today that your first team guys were Peter Griffin, Pat Maynor and Nick Macaluso?  I know Clinton Snyder was out today and has been bothered by the stinger...

"Well, yeah, but we had some injuries and guys banged up.  Clinton is okay, but we're trying to be smart with him.  We had some guys in the first group who weren't in the first group as much the other day.  There's no set depth chart right now.  There really isn't."

Did Pat Maynor show you something in particular Sunday to move ahead of Tom McAndrew today?

"There are so many things out there.  I don't think there was anything that catapulted anybody ahead of anybody else.  I was pleased with Maynor - yes, I was.  But Tom is still going to battle back there, so we have some good competition at the middle linebacker."

I know that the first practice after a scrimmage is a time coaches like to install new things.  Today was the first appearance of what you all are calling the 'Okie defense' - your nickel defense.  What did you teach the guys today about that operation?

"Just the rules.  We're just teaching the basic A, B, C's of it.  The memorization side and concepts of it, which is not higher learning.  That's what's tough about when you come in and start a new job.  It's installing a new system, but the NCAA only gives you a certain number of hours to work at that.  You also have to fix the fundamentals that were neglected or were not as good as they needed to be in the past.  That's a dilemma.  You only have so many hours in a day.  How much do you put in?  How much don't you put in?  How do you try to not lose focus on block destruction and tackling?  With the Okie stuff, we only scratched the surface of it today.  I think we did a good job."

Is it pretty tough to install a nickel defense when you guys have so few healthy defensive backs?

"Yeah, kind of [laughs].  It's hard to coach ghosts.  But we just adjust the elements and give some of those young walk-ons who are out there a shot at getting out on the field a little bit."

So is Thaddeus Chase showing you anything?

"Yeah, he did a nice job today.  He had a couple nice hits, and I'm excited to see the tape."

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