A Cardinal Conversation w/ Andy Buh - Pt. II

The Bootleg's Co-Founder Jim "Emeritus" Rutter had a chance to chat with Stanford's Co-Defensive Coordinator and third-year Assistant Coach for Linebackers, Andy Buh, whose restocked unit is expected to be critical to the success of the 2009 season. Here is the second segment of the interview, which is sure to add to our understanding of the current state of the Cardinal's deepening LB corps.

"A Cardinal Conversation with Andy Buh" - Part II

On Wednesday, August 5, 2009, Bootleg Co-Founder and Editor Jim "Emeritus" Rutter had a chance to sit down with Stanford Football's Co-Defensive Coordinator & third-year Assistant Coach for Linebackers, Andy Buh. The following is Part II of a multi-part interview. If you want to know why it has taken a while to publish this, take a crack at transcribing ten interviews in ten days with two children under five playing outside your home office! Ha!

Part II

When we last left off in "Part I" of our interview, we were about to talk to Coach Buh about the intended use of senior leader Clinton Snyder, who is making what is likely a permanent shift from the strong-side "Sam" linebacker position to the middle linebacker or "Mike" spot, where he should be primed to anchor the 2009 Cardinal defense (and lead us to a nice bowl game!).  

The Bootleg:  So, to make sure we cover The Clint Snyder Story...He is unquestionably one of our favorite players and everybody loves the guy, but the position switch last season (to "Sam") didn't appear to put him in particularly great position for the kind of playmaking he had been known for the previous year and it sounds like you are saying that was more due his stepping up to fill a need for the team... so you have got to be looking forward to getting him back on track, right? 

Andy Buh: There's no question. We are looking for BIG things out of him. He is 500% healthy [prior to last week's reported "stinger"] and we are looking for exciting things out of him from the middle.

TB: For a guy like that, I don't think we need to hold off on constructively criticizing an obviously outstanding player who is on not one, but four watch lists for various national awards... what are some of the things that #20 can work on?

AB: Oh, there are a ton of things he can work on. One of the things we talk about is his flexibility, his eye progression, making quicker decisions on the field. Clint will always try and "one-up" you in trying to improve himself  - so there is not one area yet that Clinton Snyder has "mastered" at this point. There is still a lot of growth to observe there.

TB: Can you see him playing on Sundays?

AB: No question. I mean it, no question. Yes.

TB: Coach, talk a little about the Pac-10 conference. It seems to be increasingly run-oriented. While there are some talented quarterbacks, it seems there are even more solid to amazing backs, a lot of teams grinding away. You don't just have Toby Gerhart, but you have SC's entire stable of talent, Cal has Jahvid Best, a Heisman Trophy candidate, Oregon has LeGarrette Blount ... Have you and Ron (Coach Ron Lynn) specifically adjusted your defensive philosophy to account for this evolutionary trends in the conference?

AB: Yes, directly because of that. That's why we made the switch last year, because we need a run defense to stop the two-back offense. It wasn't just a spread league anymore.

TB: It wasn't long ago that Oregon was running a state-of-the-art spread with Dennis Dixon and suddenly all we saw were heavy doses of Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Blount!

AB: Yeah,, that's probably as much of a down-hill running team as anyone because they have one of the biggest offensive lines in the conference and their tailbacks aren't "skinny fast guys", they have all those power runners. So, yes, that was the predominant reason for switching and going with the "5-2" look. And we'll profit from that this year.

TB: Now, you have a considerable number of new additions to your unit, some very highly-rated recruits and a couple of very legitimate walk-ons - Devin Guillory (from Baton Rouge, Louisiana) in particular "looks" like he is ready to compete right away. You have highly-rated Shayne Skov coming in and normally we reserve judgment on freshmen, but clearly you have to train a talented player like that on every position from Day One, right?

AB: Yeah, we're going to start him  at the "Mike" position. We've been looking for that big, athletic "Mike". We feel like Shayne Skov fits that build. That could take care of that position for the next three, four, maybe five years. But every player, every recruit that we have coming in, was a great high school player. We need to see what type of college players they are going to be. It is a totally different game.

TB: But not every one of them went out in the Army All-American game against elite national talent and showed that he belonged! There is certainly a higher level of expectation that there would be from an "average" recruit, right?

AB: Sure, it is a little bit different, but the Pac-10 is totally different too, it is a more "violent" game. Nothing that you do in high school can compare to the competition that you'll see day-in, day-out in the Pac-10. We'll see. Some guys adjust really quickly and for others it takes a little time to "build them up". Now, guys like Shane Skov and the other players who participated in the Army All-American game and the Under Armor All-American game, definitely, they have gotten a taste of that. We're all anxious to see how they'll respond to a longer, more violent game. 

TB: But they are all at least "candidates" for being in the mix for 2009 until we know otherwise?

AB: They are all " candidates".

TB: Jarek Lancaster, Geoff Meinken?

AB: Everybody is in the mix.

TB: Presumably that extends to the 2009 walk-ons as well?

AB: No question.

TB: The Bootleg has started to profile this year's class of impressive walk-ons. #15 Brent Seals, who may well end up at safety, is an example of how strong this walk-on class appears to be. It isn't every day you land a first-team All-CIF [All-State in California] guy, bringing him in here as a "non-scholarship" player. That development has got to be a nice augmentative addition to your defensive bag of tricks, right?

AB: Sure. Most of our "walk-ons", we beat the Ivies on. In fact in a high percentage of those cases, we beat out solid Ivy League programs offering a nice alternative, so these are very good football players. 

TB: What about #45 Devon Guillory?

AB: Guillory, I am still wondering why he didn't get at least a lower-division scholarship offer.

TB: But that is a good thing for you!

AB: That is a GREAT thing for us! That's the case for all three of our walk-on linebackers that we have. They are legitimate guys, and some did have lower-division offers, that decided to come to Stanford, so we have definitely improved our "stock" in the walk-on area.

TB: At this point there is no basis for conducting any sort of statistical analysis to make comparisons, but many have observed that this class, on paper and based on initial impressions, could well be the strongest walk-on class in the history of the Stanford Football program

AB: It sure could be. And what's great about us, about our program, is that we don't treat 'em like "walk-ons". We are saying that because that is the label or the title that they have, but once they're here, they don't know the difference. Everybody gets a chance to show what they can do.

TB: There is some strong precedent to encourage these young players. Recently, the Cardinal program has put four former walk-ons on NFL rosters in the last five years (WR Greg Camarillo, LB Tim Wusu, C Tim Mattran, LB Jared Newberry)

AB: No question. Pretty remarkable.

TB: What is the story on Johnathan Frink? The guy looks "NFL-ready" physically, but injuries have plagued him the whole time he has been here. He is still busting his tail as we can observe in practice, but are we ever going to see Frink on the field? The minute he arrived, fans were salivating, thinking we had a sure-fire all-conference backer in the making.

AB: We are going to see how he does  Have to see how that knee does after coming back from injury. He is cleared for limited work, not "full-go".  We'll see how the knee holds up, we just haven't really been able to evaluate him.

TB: Freshman Fred Craig left the program after less than a year, having struggled to gain weight and size. Not asking for you to address Fred's situation specifically (and let's add for the record that Fred Craig was one of the most impressive, sharp, articulate young men to come through our program in the past 20 years), but the question here is this - In the coaches' evaluation of prospects, how do you evaluate a player's current size versus your "projection" of the size a player can ultimately become? Some guys come in and from day one the question is, can he get to 230 or 240 since you can't realistically play LB in the Pac-10 at 200 pounds?

AB: Most of the time it's their "frame", you look at their "body-type" and make a decision based on what the prospect may look like down the road. This is not the NFL where they are already "maxed-out", where they are already who they are going to be. There are a lot of those situations at our level. We've got to "project", project sizes off of judging their body frames.

TB: On offense, one example might be Coby Fleener. Someone must have been feeding that guy because from one season to the next, he looks like a completely different player [as in "HUGE", and in a good way...and still fast!]

AB: (Nodding in reverential acknowledgement) Heck yeah! And Max Bergen is another guy. Bergen came in around 202 or 203 as a freshman and now he has put on 20-25 pounds.

TB: So, on the subject of Bergen at the "Will", you had Pat Maynor at the "Will" last year, as you stated earlier, it seems you care more about "speed" and "aggression" than "size" at that position?

AB: Yeah, we want to cover that guy up and let him run and hit. Not that six-foot, 220 pounds is "small"...That is a good-sized linebacker.

TB: How would you compare the "talent level" of the linebackers you have here with say the players you coached at San Diego State where you sent several Aztec players to the NFL? Do you have more depth here now than you had there? You certainly had some extraordinary individual players in San Diego, was that just "Andy Buh Development Genius"?

AB: No, no! The thing about those guys, and I don't want to talk too much about them, was that there weren't very many of them when we got there and for whatever reason, they never got hurt. They profited off of that, year-in, year-out, they never got banged up. They were a talented group, but we are as equally talented here, I believe.

TB: We joked about bit a bit the other day, but I have to ask it for the fan base: The Manti Te'o recruiting situation last year (losing out on the top 2009 LB prospect in the country at the eleventh hour to Notre Dame),was excruciating for the fans and that had to be tough on you - but is that just an indication of the level of intense, down-to-the-wire competition we are going to face as Stanford increasingly attracts elite recruiting prospects?

AB: Sure, sure, but I look at it as a positive, I mean, we are recruiting guys like (five-start LB) Shayne Skov and Jamal-Rashad Patterson. We are competing at the highest level and winning some of those battles, so I think it is a great thing. We are going to win some of those battles and lose some - at least we are in the battle.

TB: If you could have one player for your corps that the other coaches won't let you have, who would it be?

AB: (without a second of hesitation or thought) Toby Gerhart. Toby Gerhart. He'd make a lot of money at the linebacker position, no question.

TB: Right size, strength, speed combination?

AB: Everything! If you want to find your prototypical middle linebacker, he's right there - right there running the ball for us! (Laughs)

TB: At the "Emerald Bowl Bay Area Football Kick-Off" luncheon event a couple weeks back, even Cal's Jahvid Best looked over at Toby's imposing physique and shook his head in disbelief.

AB: He's a monster, yeah! Incredible.

TB: Any other guys getting poached, are we going to see Jarek Lancaster getting a look at safety?

AB: Yeah, he is going to get a look at safety. We're hoping that he can play safety, that is where we have him slotted. We're hoping that that happens. We would like to have a "big-body" presence back there in the secondary.

TB: OK, so safety Bo McNally lead the team in tackles the last couple of years. No offense to a playmaking ball-hawk like
Bo, but can we please put an end to having a guy from the secondary lead the team in tackles, or are you okay with that?

AB: Well, we are very lucky to have Bo, he has made a heck of a lot of plays for us. But yes, I would rather have our linebackers be the leading tacklers on the football field.

TB: And who should that be from a position standpoint?

AB: In our defense, that should be the middle linebacker. Our "Mike" should lead the team in tackles.

TB: Now don't get upset with me, Coach, but I do want to touch on the UCLA and Oregon games from last year. Is there an answer other than simply "better execution" to address some of our "moments of somewhat less conspicuous defensive success"? What should our fans know about what was happening down the stretch in those games. Was it injuries or lack of depth that had us struggling at those critical times? Did we guess wrong? Was it execution?

AB: I really do think it came down to execution. Looking back on it, sure, you always second-guess yourselves. There is always a better call that could have been made, or a better scheme for that situation could have been employed, but we believe on defense that whatever defense that we call, we should be able to stop our opponent if we execute properly. 

TB: But it is not a simple case of our having gone to "prevent" as disgruntled fans often allege? It isn't because you and Coach Lynn made a mistake in not sending the entire house. It isn't as if you went to all three-man rushes at the end of those games, right?

AB: No, in fact the whole series in each game, we still had "four down" and most of the time, without giving you and exact number, we were rushing five.

TB: Of course, if we execute better as a team, the Cardinal is up by two touchdowns and the point is moot...

AB: That's right.

TB: Without giving away any competitive advantage to our opponents, can you describe how you explain the 3-4 "Okie" package and when it is used?

AB: We use it when we want to put pressure on the quarterback or when we want to "max cover". Those situations come up in different parts of the field in different times in the game, different downs and distances, but we use it for those two reasons.

TB: And who are the prime candidates to come in, in such situations?

AB: (Hesitating)... I don't know. We'll see. (Smiling) That's why we have camp!

TB: That has to be an attractive opportunity for some of these young guys - they are not as likely to come in and displace Clint Snyder or some of the other outstanding veteran guys, right?

AB: There's no question. It was the way Chike (junior Chike Amajoyi) emerged so quickly as a player on our defense. Our goal every year will be to stop the run in our base packages so we can get on into our nickel package and have some fun, really whether that be in "coverage" or "attack".

TB: Is the "Okie" then much different than a traditional "nickel"?

AB: It is still considered "nickel", we are bringing in another defensive back - for either a defensive lineman or linebacker.

TB: Let's talk "wish list" - if you could have an extra card to play, other than health, what do you wish you suddenly had?

AB: Hmm, I don't know...a win! I'd love to win, get off to a fast start and win the first game. That is really all we are thinking about right now, preparing our guys for Game One.

TB: Who has the potential for surprising fans with their emergence this year? Upon whom in your mind would be a rising player for fans to keep their eyes on in 2009? Without de-motivating any of the rest...

AB: Well, I do hope you notice them all at the same time! I don't root for one guy, I root for them all.

TB:  So is your goal to have the linebacking group be more of a strength of the Cardinal defense in 2009?

AB: I hope the "strength of the defense" is the defense as a whole. That's what will win championships - if the entire defense is the star, if we are all playing together. I would hate to say one unit is going to be better than the other. I hope they all play together like we are coaching them to and if all eleven play together, and play with effort and attitude, we'll be pretty darn good.

TB: With that said, and keeping that concept of "team spirit" in mind, is there a palpable espirit d' corp among the defensive players tnat is different than the last couple of years? Is there more confidence heading into the upcoming season?

AB: I think so. If you ask Clint Syder or Bo McNally, one of there biggest frustrations is that the defense has changed every year since they have been hear. Going into their senior year, they have got to be excited to be playing the same defense for the same coordinator in back-to-back years. That has got to be one of the many things to be excited about as we get into fall camp and into this season.

TB: There is always a competitive element, but how are the veterans reacting to the newcomers, are they excited to add some of this fresh batch of talent to the team?

AB: Oh sure! I think every year we have been here, the older guys have been pleasantly surprised by the talent that has been coming in here.

Note: For those fans who would like to familiarize themselves better with the basics of defensive football, we recommend that you visit http://football.calsci.com/Positions9.html

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