Notes & Quotes: "Improvement Week"

It is "Improvement Week" and rather than take the week off, The Bootleg's Scott Cooley was once again on the scene to break bread (well, sandwiches anyway) with Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. It was just "EUTM", without any players on Tuesday as the team was resting up in preparation for the mighty Ducks, who we hope will get drained physically by Troy on Halloween. Read on for the latest!

Notes & Quotes: "Improvement Week"


"Improvement Week"

As he had mention in Saturday night's post-game conference, Coach Harbaugh made it very clear on Tuesday that this week is not a "bye" or "idle" week, but instead an "improvement" week.

 

The players were given three days off from football activities starting Sunday and were to resume practice on Wednesday. The schedule will be to practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a lifting session slated for Friday and then another off-day on Saturday. Players won't be able to celebrate Halloween in style because they have to be back on the field for practice Sunday.

 

"Our number-one priority is to improve and get some guys healthy, freshened up," Harbaugh said. "We have a scrimmage planned for Thursday in the stadium with the guys that aren't getting as much playing time in the games."

 

Along with preparation for the team's next opponent,Oregon, Harbaugh mentioned a couple of specific areas the squad will look to improve upon.

 

"We need to really focus on individual technique," he stated. "We are also going to look to see where we can add to our gameplan schematically. Where we can tweak some things, make some things look different, add a coverage, add a blitz and add some plays to the offense."

 

Roster Updates

 

Because of the flourishing success the Cardinal have enjoyed on offense the past few weeks, Stanford hasn't utilized the team's punter too often.

 

Going into Week 7 the punting competition was wide open between David Green and Daniel Zychlinski, but Stanford has only needed to punt three times in the last two games. Green booted the ball on all three of those occasions, but Harbaugh stated that the job has not been secured by the sophomore.

 

"I would say that is not a rubber-stamped decision," he said. "It's ongoing to see how they punt in practice as well as in games. There's competition there."

 

In the other kicking department, Nate Whitaker has done a fine job handling place-kicking duties bestowed upon him this year. But in recent games Whitaker hasn't been as sharp.

 

"Watching him last ballgame, some kickoffs are coming down at the 13, 10 or 15 – you can see there is a little bit of fatigue there," Harbaugh said. "Earlier in the season those kicks were going to the goal line or were touchbacks."

 

The plan of action for Whitaker is to relieve him of kicking activities for three days – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – and then have him back on a normal routine next Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. Harbaugh did mention that Whitaker will receive three additional days of rest toward the end of the following week leading up to the game.

 

The two young cornerbacks who started the game versus Arizona State provided a renewed energy to the Cardinal defense. True sophomores Johnson Bademosi and Quinn Evans replaced veterans Corey Gatewood and Richard Sherman, but Harbaugh wouldn't confirm the two as shoe-ins for the starting job against Oregon.

 

"They will be back competing for those positions this week," he said. "I wouldn't put them in the rubber-stamp category. They competed, played physical, made a few mistakes (blown coverage), but overall I thought they played well."

Injury Updates
 

The sad, injury-laden story of offensive lineman Allen Smith continued on Saturday. The fifth-year senior, who had recently returned to the starting lineup, suffered a sprained MCL in the win over Arizona State.

 

If there is a bright side, the knee Smith had undergone previous operations on was not the one damaged. The Stanford medical staff is not sure how long he will be out, but Coach Harbaugh is confident he will return before the end of the season.

 

"The recovery time on that is not definite," said Harbaugh. "It's a question of whether it's a Grade 3 or Grade 2. Grade 3 is a six-week recovery and Grade 2 is about four weeks."

 

This doesn't come as a surprise, but freshmen Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney have assumed the backup roles to tailback Toby Gerhart. Coming into the season Jeremy Stewart was second on the depth chart, but sustained an ankle injury during the Washington game. Stewart's status is now "out indefinitely".

 

"The injury to Jeremy was more serious than we thought," Harbaugh stated. "Their first MRI did not show that it was serious because of the swelling. Jeremy hasn't practiced since the Washington game."

Pac-10 Young Guns

 

Three Pac-10 quarterbacks starting for the first time in their collegiate careers have exceeded expectations. USC's true freshman Matt Barkley (148.73), Stanford's redshirt freshman Andrew Luck (148.47) and Arizona's sophomore Nick Foles (147.55) rank No. 1, 2 and 3 in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.

 

"I think all three of them are minimizing mistakes that you would associate with first-year quarterbacks at a remarkable level," Harbaugh stated. "The three of them are playmakers. They are playing the way you would want juniors and seniors to be playing."

 

Harbaugh was quick to mention that he believes his apprentice is the best of not only the bunch, but the nation.

 

"I have not seen Matt Barkley play live yet, but I think Andrew is the best quarterback in the country. I have not seen a better one."

  

Lightning Bug

 

Kick returner/nickelback Michael Thomas has seen more and more playing time as the season has progressed. In the last two games, "MT3" has returned four kickoffs for 125 yards while also collecting three PBUs and 2.5 tackles on defense.

 

Thomas assists with team speed on defense and provides special teams with another dangerous returner if opponents elect not to kick off to Chris Owusu.

 

The 5-11, 188-pound sophomore reminds this writer of the San Diego Chargers' and former Kansas State Wildcat Darren Sproles. You can't see Thomas' legs moving when he runs; it's just a blur, like the Road Runner – beep, beep!

 

But the big question is, can the Cardinal put this guy in an offensive package? Does he have the hands to catch a slant pass or is he durable enough to take a hand-off and get around the end?

 

"That's something I've really thought about as the season has played out," Harbaugh said. "Michael is such a good football player and such a competitive guy. It isn't clear in my mind yet whether he is an offensive or defensive guy. His best position may be on offense and that's something that could transpire in the offseason, but not this season."

Seeing Yellow

There has been some awful officiating this season in college football. The Southeastern Conference has suspended an entire crew for a few blatantly horrendous penalties and now the Pac-10 has shelved one of its officials for missing an obvious facemask call in the Oregon State/USC game.

 

Stanford has had its fair share of blown calls as well. We need not mention the Wake Forest debacle, but even the game Saturday versus Arizona State presented a few head-scratchers.

 

The media asked Coach Harbaugh Tuesday if he perceived the pass interference call against cornerback Quinn Evans to be accurate.

 

"I didn't think so," he said. "The explanation we got was that he wasn't looking back for the ball – which doesn't make it pass interference. And that he contacted the receiver early – which we did not see from the game copy. I really felt like when the flag came out it was going to be 'offensive interference'."

 

The ire over the questionable call was compounded when a Coby Fleener touchdown was negated by an ineligible receiver downfield infraction against Ryan Whalen. Harbaugh was infuriated when the call happened on the field and remained steamed about it Tuesday.

 

"Whalen was on the line, but he was not covered up," he stated. "Stepfan Taylor was outside of Ryan and it was as good looking of a formation as you are going to ever see. It was a blown call. I asked the referee at the time to challenge, and I was told that I could not."

 

As bad as those two calls were, the Cardinal might have received a beneficial one on the penalty against Vontaze Burfict when he dislodged the helmet of fullback Owen Marecic during a hit.

 

"To me, that's football as I know it," Harbaugh said. "There are going to be situations where there will be helmet-to-helmet contact. This day and age what they don't want is people leading with their helmet. Really the person they are trying to protect is the tackler. I understand the rule and why it's in place, but football as I know it…that's a hit." 

 

"Trick or Watch" Football

 

It's doubtful that Coach Harbaugh will be out knocking on doors in full costume searching for candy this All Hallows' Eve. The fright night known as Halloween serves up a delectable pastry on the tube that evening, as Pac-10 powers collide when the USC Trojans travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks at ever-raucous, nightmare-inducing Autzen Stadium.

 

This featured game between the No. 5 and No. 10 teams in the country is scheduled to kickoff at 5:00 p.m. (PT), and will give Stanford fans and the coaching staff a sneak preview of the team's next two formidable opponents.

 

"I will definitely be watching it with a critical eye, both on the TV and off the tape," stated Harbaugh. "I guess when I'm watching it 'live' I will be somewhat of a fan, but we will also be watching it to see what we can pick up."



About the Author: Scott Cooley is a seasoned sports writer who was groomed as a reporter for ESPN.com, and he most recently served as the media relations manager for the San Jose SaberCats arena football team. He earned a Business and Economics degree from Hendrix College where he also played baseball. Cooley has a passion for producing sports content, and his writing evokes thought into the minds of his readers with a witty and entertaining style. He is a freelance writer who has been published on multiple media platforms and is always looking for additional opportunities. Cooley and his wife, Christina, reside in Palo Alto where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford. Contact him at
scottwcooley@gmail.com


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