The following is the second segment of a three-part conversation with Stanford Offensive Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach David Shaw conducted by "Emeritus" at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on Thursday, July 17, 2008:
TheBootleg.com: We were talking about the Stanford Football program "ascending" and that gets us into recruiting. Obviously, we can't discuss the specifics of recruiting... What about the quality of athlete you believe you can get up on your board at the key offensive positions - is that talent now at a level you and the staff feel is satisfactory? Realistically, can we draw from that pool and field a BCS-level team?
David Shaw: Yes, we can. That's what our charge is. That's why we came here! A lot of us had a lot of options, various places we could go. For me, it was a simple choice. I love this place. I love the kids that we can bring in here.
TB: Interesting coincidence that you played here, that you maintain that philosophic ideal and happened to be working with Coach Harbaugh when he had the opportunity to come to Stanford...incredibly serendipity in a way, no?
DS: Oh yes, and I don't believe it was by chance. With respect to the talent we can attract...at one point in time, I had up on my board all the guys that in the last ten years have come through Stanford and gone on to play in the NFL. We are going to get NFL-caliber players. That's what our job is. That's why we work so hard in recruiting. But at the same time, the guys that are here? You saw glimpses of it last year - guys playing hard! Guys playing to win. Guys starting to learn what it takes to win.
TB: And you think you saw a lot of that on offense? [being a sarcastic smart-ass]
DS: We saw " glimpses" of it. Now, I know what everybody wants. I know everybody wants 35 points a game and I completely understand that.
TB: Are you by nature "pass-happy"? I mean, out of curiosity, do you truly care about " entertaining" the fans or is it just about winning?
DS: I wouldn't say that I am "pass-happy" per say. I would say that at the end of every game, I want to know that we put serious pressure on that opposing defense, that their defensive coordinator sat there and said "Wow, that was hard, it was really hard to get a handle on what those guys were doing. They have the personnel- they have formations and motions. They have a really good scheme and we thought they were going to show us one thing - and they showed us something else...."
TB: You want to be a real challenge, a really tough nut to crack?
DS: Yes, and at the same time, when this offense is clicking, yeah, it is entertaining.
TB: Have you seen it click yet, even in practice? Certainly not in the Spring Game. [Silence] Understand this isn't a criticism, but more of a hopeful expectation!
DS: [Ever so slightly annoyed] Uh..it's a little bit of both. [Smiling again] Look, I understand. It's what everybody wants, what we all want. It's still a process and I guarantee this year is going to be better. But once again, in fairness also, the offense that was here before us was a little "pass-happy". It was also "sack-happy" and I'm not going to sacrifice. If we are not being efficient, we are not going to sacrifice our quarterback getting hit 20 times a game just to throw the ball 40 times down the field and complete three! And I'm just throwing those numbers out. We need to be highly efficient in everything we do. We need to tie in the running game, we need to tie in throwing to the backs, we need to tie in the big plays and have it all come together.
TB: Now this is not a personal criticism of graduated quarterback T.C. [ Ostrander] at all, but was it a challenge to have two types of quarterbacks and to try and run your offense last year. Clearly you were talking apples and oranges in terms of mobility, arm strength, etc. One had certain advantages, the other brought other skills to the table...Was it difficult to have to prepare at times for two different playing styles at that critical position?
DS: Yes, it was a challenge during the year. But it's a challenge at all positions. Some runners are better at one thing and not as strong at others. Some wide receivers are better at this or that. But at the quarterback position, yes, it is a little bigger challenge, it is a little more important because he's got his hands on the ball every play. The culmination of it, I think, was what we did in the Cal game. We really said "We're not going to have one game plan and force you guys into that single game plan. We are going to give each one of you guys something you do really well and let you go out and do it. And I think we had positive results.
TB: So now that you have three choices at quarterback that all bring some mobility, less of a classic drop-back, hang-in-the-pocket style - that is going to simplify your planning somewhat, won't it?
DS: Sure. It is a little different now because we have three very athletic quarterbacks and we know that when things break down, they can run, they can move, and we can work that into the game plan.
TB: But we're not Nebraska, right?
DS: No, we are not Nebraska 1983! We still have a lot of youth, we've got young receivers, we've got some inexperience up front, but we think we are better. We are going to be really good up front, which I think is going to be noticeable. There are now a lot of things that we can do!
TB: So, better up front, more mobility from the quarterback, a year of the offense under everybody's belt... hopefully we should be able to reduce the sack totals, that kind of thing?
DS: And it was reduced from the year before. One thing you always want to do is reduce the number of sacks. Every year you want to reduce your sacks! You don't want to sacrifice the efficiency of your offense just to make the big plays. Bottom line is, I don't want to put the offensive line "out there" by themselves and say we aren't going to do what's best for you. Protection-wise, scheme-wise, we're going to do what's best for them.
TB: Those are things fans don't always focus on. They tend to say "Hey, the QB keeps getting sacked, we must have a crappy line!" They don't always focus on how the different position groups have to work together...
DS: Fans want the results, they want to win. That's the goal. Our job is to worry about the details. Last year, there was no way we were going to go from 1-11 to being in a BCS bowl game. It was close, but because of the injuries, because of the chance in psyche that we have gone through. We had to go through some things last year. Last year was a necessary year. It was a necessary year. I think it helped us out a lot, to learn a lot of lessons. We learned a lot from that USC game. We learned a lot from the TCU game. We learned a lot from the Notre Dame game.
TB: I don't think I can recall a recent Stanford team being as mad as they were after that TCU game. It was so "there". Guys were genuinely pissed. I remember immediately realizing a difference. We went from just losing... to losing and being pissed.
DS: And you never want to lose the game. But there was a silver lining. You know what? Here were some Stanford guys that played a good game. They played hard. And we knocked them [TCU] around a little, knocked some sense into them. We made some good plays, and we let it slip away. And the guys were pissed about it. They didn't say "Ah well, we let one get away..." They were mad about it. They expected to win. That's been one of the changes that we've started to make around here. We went into games expecting to win, expecting to play better. Not just expecting to make big plays, but expecting to make plays that need to be made.
TB: Not to make an unfair comparison, since there are big differences in terms of injuries and depth, but that seems to have already happened on defense where collectively there is that confidence of having veteran players who have been on the field and have really made plays, while on offense we still have so many question marks. What for you is the biggest question mark on offense? We have the health status of Gerhart, the health of Jim Dray, his availability, the likely unavailability of Allen Smith. Which are the biggest question marks in terms of personnel?
DS: Those are some pretty big question marks! And we have a quarterback situation that is unsettled, which is where you always want to start. The quarterback situation is unsettled. When is Jimmy Dray going to be ready to come back? When is Toby going to be ready to come back - and is he going to be that player we saw against San Jose State? When Anthony Kimble comes back and is 100% healthy, is he going to be the same guy who outran the entire Oregon defense and made them all look slow? When he's healthy, the kid can fly! These young receivers that are coming - are they going to be ready? Not just to play, but to have an impact. I am talking about the two young ones from last year - Ryan Whalen came in and played a lot as a true freshman, and played well, played hard. Didn't make a lot of plays with the ball.... Doug Baldwin made a few more plays with the ball in his hands, but still was a freshman playing, getting used to college football.
TB: We have very high hopes for Doug Baldwin! Obviously we don't know the kid like you do, but we like what we've seen. He has some of the things you can't teach. A little more of the Troy Walters ball-hawking, getting to the ball would help!
DS: Don't put "Troy Walters" on him yet! I love Troy, he had all of the tools.TB: OK, Ok, admittedly that's an unreasonable comparison. Maybe thatlevel of play is a lot to ask of a freshman, but hey, look at the kid from Texas Tech who won the Biletnikoff Award as a true freshman!
DS: Yes, and I had Troy talk to some of our guys last year. The big thing with Troy is that he came into his Stanford career, came every year in fact, into the same kind of situation we have this year: "Nobody believes in you. Maybe you guys will be okay." Troy didn't accept that! Every single day, Troy was saying "You know what? I'm better than you think I am and I'm going to go out and prove it to you! And after I prove it to you, you are still not going to believe it and I am going to go out on the next play and prove it to you again! And after I go for 100 yards, 120 yards, I'm going to come back and do it to you again next week! It's that mentality - every day, every game. It's proving yourself and excelling.
TB: So were any of the guys absorbing this advice from the sage, record-breaking veteran receiver?
DS: ...We'll see. But Troy had the right mentality. It wasn't just about being a star. It was about doing the things to help this team win football games.
Editor's Note: Part III of our three-part interview with Coach David Shaw will be forthcoming shortly.
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