Spring Practice Report: Thursday, April 15

The Bootleg's Scott Cooley was on hand for Thursday's Tax Day practice and reports in on the latest from Coach Harbaugh and sophomore LB Shayne Skov as we head into Saturday's highly anticipated Red & White spring game.

Spring Practice Report: Thursday, April 15


- There were plenty of railbirds at Thursday's spring session but only three members of the media. Coach Harbaugh was in a very good mood and really opened up to us after practice (see quotes below).


- Secondary coach Derek Mason and special teams coach Brian Polian are the most vocal in practice. It's also amazing to see how active Vic Fangio is on the field – the guy looks like he's 90 but runs around with the defense like he's a current player.


- SS Delano Howell did not participate in practice on Thursday because of a calf injury. He told us it wasn't that serious. Michael Thomas took Howell's spot in the starting secondary.


- Saturday's spring game at Kezar Stadium will be played in four, 12-minute quarters. There won't be any returns in the punt game; players will just fair catch punts. There will be one kickoff to start the first half and one kickoff to start the second half. The "Cardinal" team will be coached by Lance Anderson while Tim Drevno will man the "White" team.


- Players that will be out of action on Saturday: Richard Sherman (still wearing yellow jersey in practice due to finger), Delano Howell, Coby Fleener, Konrad Reuland, Warren Reuland, Tyler Gaffney (in Oregon for baseball).


- Andrew Luck went No. 1 overall (not surprisingly) in the spring game draft. The White team received three picks after that and took Sione Fua, Chase Thomas and Jonathan Martin. The Cardinal began the second round by selecting Chase Beeler and Shayne Skov. The White squad then picked Matthew Masifilo and James McGillicuddy. Ryan Whalen was the first wide receiver taken. Harbaugh said he tweeted most of the draft so Booties can access his account for the full breakdown.


- Redshirt freshmen Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz are getting a lot of reps as the pass-catching tight ends. Jordan Najvar looks to be the third guy in line and he fumbled a ball during 11-on-11 drills Thursday. Harbaugh is extremely high on Toilolo and the 6-8, 244-pound freshman was simply unstoppable in 7-on-7 redzone practice. Luck targeted him multiple times and he made some ridiculous catches.


- Tight end Ryan Hewitt is seeing plenty of action as well but mostly releasing out of the backfield. Ertz also assumed this role at times.


- Redshirt freshman Usua Amanam appears to be a very small target in the flat. Luck tossed a couple of throws high to him and the other backs just look like more inviting receivers at this point.


- QB Josh Nunes really looks to be struggling right now. It's almost as if he is trying to place the ball instead of throwing it, particularly on short passes. He sailed a couple of deeper balls and Harbaugh said Nunes needs to work on his footwork (see below).


- That being said, redshirt freshman Robbie Picazo doesn't look much better. And he's not getting nearly as many reps as Nunes. When the team moved to 11-on-11 with the half field and downs, the rotation went: Luck, Nunes, Luck and then Picazo. In the short field, Nunes had two or three set of reps before Picazo got his turn. All in all; however, Stanford's backup quarterbacks aren't looking too sharp at this point in the season. Let's all hope we don't need them much.


- Alex Loukas lined up as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation during short-field 7-on-7 drills. He was either flanked by Stepfan Taylor on his right or Amanam on his left. That offensive set tried to fool the defense once by passing the ball and it failed miserably.


- Doug Baldwin was very impressive on Thursday. He was the best receiver in action… by far.


- The offense executed a nice fake end-around to Baldwin where Ertz released out of the backfield. Luck hit the streaking tight end in stride for about a 30-yard gain.


- Another interesting offensive wrinkle involved Taylor going in motion out of the backfield and lining up as a receiver. A quick pass out to him set up the bubble screen that Oregon State killed the Cardinal with last season.


- Chase Beeler had a few low snaps out of the shotgun formation.


- Punt returners in receiving order went: Richard Sherman, Drew Terrell and Baldwin.


Post-Practice Quotes


Linebacker Shayne Skov (#11)


What are you guys looking to get out of Saturday's game?


"We want to introduce Stanford fans and the rest of football nation to a new and improved defense. We want to show them the passion and physicality we bring on the defensive side of the football."


How has it been working with Owen Marecic, are you teaching him things or does it work both ways?


"We kind of bring our individual strengths and work together that way; it's been awesome working with him. He brings things he learned as a fullback, like using his hands, and you learn little things from him about how to approach and come off blocks so it's been great having him on my side of the ball this time around."


How have you improved as a player since last year?


"I feel like I was ‘physical' last year but now I'm a little bit smarter about how I play so I'm not running up just trying to kill somebody. I'm learning to pick my spots and approaching the game with a smarter mentality. There are so many little things you have to know that can change on the fly but you have to learn with experience." (Skov joked that hopefully there won't be any personal fouls this season.)


How do you like the new 3-4 hybrid defense?


"We ran a 3-4 in high school and I'm loving the new system Coach Fangio brought in. We're blitzing a lot and playing really aggressive. Even in the scrimmages with the offense, we're throwing curve balls at them they haven't seen in awhile and that's resulted in a new type of competition on the practice field. Fua, Bulcke and Masifilo are doing a great job up front so a lot of times we're coming in clean without getting blocked – I love the new defense."


Head Coach Jim Harbaugh:


What positions are you going to be evaluating the most on Saturday?


"The right tackle position – Derek Hall and McGillicuddy. The backup quarterbacks – Nunes and Picazo. The tight ends – Toilolo has really separated himself and so has Ertz. Secondary play – all the corners except for Sherman, who won't be in there. Safeties."


Where will Alex Loukas be playing?


"The ‘Cardinal' have Loukas so he will be mainly be playing safety. That was kind of a strategic pick to take him away from the ‘White' team so they wouldn't use him as their quarterback. If he plays offense it will probably be as a receiver because we won't be taking Luck off the field too much."


Loukas was running the Wildcat today, how do you like him in that role, how has he done so far?


"Really good, he's so versatile. Alex is playing safety but he could be our second-team quarterback depending on how the youngsters come along."


On the first day of spring practice we heard the players and yourself use the phrase "a lot of energy", did that carry over throughout the spring?


"One of the really good things is that there haven't been peaks and valleys this spring. It's been a spring that's had a steady upward trajectory in terms of energy."


What do you expect to see on Saturday in general?


"The spring has been very competitive offensively and defensively. I don't think there's one day we came off this field saying the offense kicked the defense's tails or vice versa. It was just never like that all spring, each side had their victories. Even within the same practice, from one period to the next, it's been very competitive. It will be interesting to see on Saturday if one side of the ball fares better than the other."


Are the players liking the new defensive scheme?


"It is something our players have really grasped onto. If you talk to them they find it very fun and interesting. Especially with Vic Fangio, he is a master coach. They see the training they are getting. Derrick Mason…we couldn't of hired a better secondary coach. You hate to compare one coach to another coach but there are five new guys and everybody that's here now is an upgrade."


How has the coverage in the secondary looked under Mason?


"It's been a lot tighter. If you talk to Andrew he would say the same thing. The routes are contested. He makes some unbelievable throws out here but the coverage is tight, there aren't guys just running down the field wide open."


Who has the best receiving abilities at the tailback position?


"They all catch the ball pretty darn well. Jeremy Stewart has done a really good job this spring. He's probably separated himself in some ways as a pass protector and runner. Stepfan Taylor has been outstanding as well. Gaffney's been out here five practices and really looked good. There's no Toby there and that's like losing three guys."


Any prediction on where Gerhart is going to be drafted next week?


"Anywhere from 20 to 40 would be my guess."


Is Josh Nunes progressing this spring?


"He needs a lot more work with his feet, being on balance for some of those shorter throws. A lot of it is just spinning off with his footwork and eye discipline. Same with Robbie, things just need to get better and cleaned up. They are both out here working hard though; they'll get there, but still have some work to do."


Has anybody surprised you this spring that you didn't expect?


All the linebackers have really played well. Skov is probably our best defensive player right now. The whole linebacker group, Owen Marecic is playing really well. The new linebackers, Chase Thomas and Tom Keiser, we knew they were really good football players but they are playing really well in the roles they are in. Sione Fua is probably another one of our best defensive players.


"Another guy that has been a surprise is Mike Thomas. He made a late switch to safety and that could really end up being his position. He's always been a corner or nickel but he's really looked impressive at safety and he's only been there two days.


Are you set with your front seven?


"Yes but we're thin up front, we need reinforcements. The backup guys like [Max] Bergen and Chike [Amajoyi] have played well. The linebackers as a whole though…coaching makes a difference, Vic is just a master coach. That was probably our best offseason pickup (laughing)."

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