Cardinal Injury Check-Up

Before we can analyze what we saw Monday night in the opening practice of Stanford's 2007 preseason camp, we have to bring you up to speed on who was and was not on the field. There are a few new ailments to update, but also several who have healed since you last saw them hurt in the spring. Also two true freshmen have arrived with injury troubles, which we unhappily first report here.

Freshman kicker/punter David Green

We'll get the bad news out of the way right out of the gate.  The nation's #1 kicker/punter recruit coming out of high school has been on the shelf for over a month with a bulging disc in his back.

"They're not letting me do anything but rehab, so no kicking or punting," says Green of the doctors' orders.  "It's a big bummer."

"It's not looking good," he adds.  "They said you can't really put a timeline on when it will get better.  Could be next week or December."

Green did visit the Stanford doctors recently this summer, who have passed along their caution to Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh.

"It's harder for him to punt than it is for him to kick right now.  It could be a month, two months or it could be longer," Harbaugh explains.  "I'm concerned.  But I'm confident that he'll be back kicking at some point here soon."

Between losing a freshman and losing an upperclassman to injury, coaches and fans alike would almost always stomach the freshman's absence.  Given the Cardinal's epically bad kicking last year and the sky-high expectations for Green to compete and contribute right away, this one hurts.  At a minimum, it accentuates the need for fifth-year senior Derek Belch to have a superlative training camp and continue kicking into the fall like we saw him do in the spring and this summer.

An intense and healthy competition between Belch and Green, with redshirt junior Aaron Zagory sprinkled into the mix as well, would have strengthened whoever emerged at the end of August as the starter.  Now Belch has primarily those inner kicking demons with whom he will compete this camp.

Freshman tight end Coby Fleener

On the subject of freshmen with back ailments, we present a pair of herniated discs for tight end Coby Fleener, from which he has suffered since the late winter.  Doctors back in Illinois offered him conflicting diagnoses, both of which were deemed incorrect by the Stanford doctors when he arrived on The Farm three weeks ago.

"One said my discs weren't affected.  The other made it sound as if I would be paralyzed if I walked the wrong way," Fleener says.  "Fortunately the docs here are getting me all fixed up."

The good news is that the 6'6" tight end is cleared and has been able to run and lift with the team.  His lifting program is obviously modified to protect his back.  What Fleener cannot do is conduct any contact drills, which effectively renders him ineffective to the roster.

Unlike Green, however, Fleener was fully expected to redshirt this season.  Though a good athlete, he has a clear need for a redshirt year to develop his body and his strength.  One silver lining to this injury might be the possibility of a medical redshirt, which could down the road protect Fleener for a sixth year should he lose another year in his first five to injury.

Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Chris Marinelli

The most open position battle on the offensive line is at right tackle, handicapped by Jim Harbaugh as "50/50" between Marinelli and redshirt junior Ben Muth.  Muth is a year older, but it was Marinelli who started five of the last six games of the season as a redshirt frosh in 2006.  Marinelli was missing from the field this past spring as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, and he is still not yet ready to return to action.

"[He] may be limited," says Harbaugh.  "We knew that he would get healthy right around training camp, so it's an issue of strength and endurance in his shoulder."

Marinelli did not participate in Monday's practice, but he was working with a trainer.  The activities look like those of a player who is soon to be cleared to practice.  But how soon?

Until then, the competition at right tackle is not getting off the ground.  Whether Marinelli or Muth wins this job, there needs to be a full competition - and soon.  In our "Football Preview" (September) issue of The Bootleg Magazine, we ranked this position as the #2 question on Stanford's 2007 roster.

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle John Kyed

His spring ended early when he broke in his hand, but he more recently suffered some foot/ankle injury that had him reportedly in a boot.  The good news on Monday was that Kyed was not in a boot.  He, however, did not participate in any meaningful parts of practice.  We don't know how soon he will be.

Kyed is a guy we really would love to get on the field and in the mix.  He tore his MCL within the first week of his first training camp last year, and his broken hand cost him essentially the entire spring.  Offensive tackle depth and competition is pretty thin on The Farm, and Kyed could be an important piece to the puzzle.

Redshirt freshman running back Tyrone McGraw

Like Marinelli, he is hopeful to be on the field soon but starts fall camp with the "may be limited" label.  During spring practices, McGraw tore (again) his meniscus, but it was not diagnosed as a tear.  He kept playing and as a result suffered a hamstring tear on his famed 85-yard touchdown run in the Spring Game.

McGraw had his meniscus scoped after the spring, and he is rehabilitating.  The timeline for his return is unknown, but this is a setback to the excited plans crafted by the coaches for how McGraw can add a unique and explosive playmaker to the offense.

Fifth-year senior fullback Emeka Nnoli

This was the one big surprise for us Monday night as the Cardinal opened their fall camp.  Nnoli did not participate in any team drills, instead only taking the lighter repetitions against air.

It turns out that Nnoli has been playing through pain for quite some time and never told anybody.  Only earlier this week during his physical did a doctor unearth a problem, which will follow up with an MRI examination of his hip today.  Prior to those results, we cannot and should not project the severity of this ailment.

Many within the program count Nnoli as a great untold talent who could elevate the offense this season.  The fifth-year senior had an excellent spring, and any loss of time or ability to contribute from Nnoli could be a significant blow to the Cardinal.

Fifth-year senior cornerback Nick Sanchez

If you wondered why Sanchez was just a step slow during the spring - not quite looking his best - it was not for a lack of effort.  He played through a difficult hamstring injury, largely because the cornerback corps was hurting and he was needed.  After taking off some time in June and approaching it with care, his hamstring has been improving by the week.

Just before the start of camp, Sanchez told The Bootleg that he felt his hamstring was "close to 95 percent and getting better every day" - the best he has felt since 2006.  That is not stopping the cautious coaching and medical staffs from taking it very slow with Sanchez this camp.  Though we saw Sanchez go pretty hard during summer practices, he is being eased into the season and being held out of some these early practices and drills.  We understand this to be completely cautionary and not reactionary, so we don't count Sanchez as somebody in this report where Cardinalmaniacs™ should be concerned.

Harbaugh's confidence in Sanchez is deep enough that prior to the start of this training camp, he named the fifth-year senior as a starter.

Fifth-year senior cornerback Tim Sims
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Kris Evans

One reason Sanchez can ease into fall camp slowly is the return of two cornerbacks who were out all spring.  Both Sims and Evans had major hamstring injuries which precluded them from doing anything remotely resembling a practice activity.  We were heartened to see both actively returning to form during summer practices, and indeed both practiced without any visible restrictions on Monday.

That is tremendous news for the depth in the defensive backfield, and for their individual development.  This camp is now the first chance for the new coaching staff - defensive backs coach Clayton White and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer in particular - to actually work with Sims and Evans.  Sims is battling redshirt junior Wopamo Osaisai for the other cornerback starting job opposite of Sanchez.  Evans is competing for a reserve spot and the chance to play in nickel or dime situations.

Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Ekom Udofia

Another player who did not participate a lick in spring practices.  Like Marinelli, he had shoulder surgery.  Unlike Marinelli, he healed and returned to action for summer practices.  What kept the former high school All-American from participating in Monday's first practice of fall camp is a hamstring injury.

While a timeline to return for a hamstring injury is often speculative, we understand that Udofia is being handled somewhat like Sanchez - in a precautionary manner more than anything else.  If that holds true, then look for him to be back on the field soon this camp.

Udofia is expected to be the leader of Stanford's interior defensive line play, which should have more depth and talent than has been seen in several years.  Keeping Udofia healthy is key, however.

Fifth-year senior wide receiver Mark Bradford

He did some good things in the spring, but Bradford would really rather not talk about April 2007.  He was still recovering from his foot surgery and a mere shell of himself on the field.  What we saw of him during summer practices was pretty darned dominant and alleviated our doubts about his physical health.

"My foot really hasn't bothered me in the last month," Bradford declares.  "I haven't really felt anything or had too many problems with it."

Here's the kicker: the improved Bradford still was not 100 percent when we saw him in June and July.  He has continued to rehabilitate and condition, while also healing knee tendonitis in his other leg.  That knee problem came from overuse as he compensated for his hurt foot.

"I got to a point where I lost some motion and mobility," Bradford explains.  "I've been working through that pain and getting treatment three times a week."

His flexible range is already significantly improved, as measured both in the weight room and on the practice field.  You can see the improvement in Bradford's comeback routes, where he can much better sit down in the break.

Bradford practiced on Monday, and looked good.  There is little reason to believe he has any problems going into the start of the season.

Fifth-year senior wide receiver Evan Moore

The other half of Stanford's dynamic (and oft-injured) receiving duo had ankle surgery, which set him further back than Bradford in the off-season.  That would all be history by now, except for a bone bruise in his foot he suffered in May.  That kept Moore out of several weeks of team runs or practices this summer, though he picked up the pace in late July.

"In my fifth year, if I can't jump right back in without struggling too much, I have issues," he laughs.

"It feels good.  I'm cutting fine," Moore says.  "We'll see how it does after two or three practices in a row because I haven't gone two or three days in a row in a while.  But September 1 is what we're shooting for, and I'm not concerned."

Moore also practiced Monday without any restrictions or visible limitations.  He also looks clear and healthy for the start of the season.

Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Matt Kopa

Another player who has suffered important injuries and not yet had a chance to play healthy football at Stanford.  The final scrimmage of preseason camp last year, he hyperextended his elbow while blocking a field goal.  Rather than take time off, Kopa played through the injury and was not 100 percent again until November, when his play not coincidentally picked up.

Kopa had another setback this spring when he tore his PCL in one of the opening practices.  The good news is that of the knee ligaments one can tear, this is the least severe and allows the earliest recovery timeframe.  Kopa was cleared to practice on June 15 and fully participated in summer workouts with the team.  He was on the field Monday and will be part of the rotation in the defensive interior.  Kopa played as a defensive end last year in Stanford's 3-4 defense, but the 6'6" 283-pounder  is moving inside this year with the change to a four-man front.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Pannel Egboh

Since his breakout redshirt freshman season was cut short but a broken leg, Cardinal fans have been waiting for him to return to form as a one-man terror in opponents' offensive backfields.  Egboh didn't have a shabby redshirt sophomore season, tying for the team lead with 5.5 tackles for loss, but he was playing one just one good leg.  Still battling pain a full year after he broke his leg, Egboh looked like he simply might not become a completely healthy football player again.  He finished this spring bouncing between defensive tackle and defensive end, rotating with the second unit.

Seeing Egboh on Monday again running with the second-team defense could be construed as a sign for continued pessimism.  But there is more to the story.  The doctors found bone spurs in his ankle in May, after the completion of spring practices, and surgically cleaned that up.  In the short term, the surgery kept the 6'6" pass rusher off the practice field for a couple months.  He just started running again in July.

In the longer view, this is excellent news.  Egboh now apparently has the opportunity to play effective and pain-free football.  He is still working his way back, but the Cardinal can easily endure him running with the second-team defense while they have fifth-year senior Udeme Udofia and redshirt sophomore Erik Lorig manning the first unit.

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