A "Cardinal Conversation" w/ Greg Roman

On Wednesday, June 30, 2010, The Bootleg's Co-Founder Jim "Emeritus" Rutter had a chance to chat with Greg Roman, Stanford's Associate Head Coach and Assistant Head Coach Offense. Read on to hear Coach Roman's views on the opportunities and challenges facing the Stanford offensive juggernaut as we head toward the highly-anticipated 2010 season.

"A Cardinal Conversation w/ Greg Roman"

On Wednesday, June 30, 2010, Bootleg Co-Founder and Editor Jim "Emeritus" Rutter had a chance to catch up by phone with Stanford Football's Associate Head Coach and Assistant Head Coach Coach - Offense, Greg Roman , now in his second season on the Farm.

The Bootleg: Thank you for taking the time, Coach! You just got off of a plane – can we safely assume you were busy visiting prospective student-athletes?


Greg Roman: Yeah, we were pretty busy this spring, traveled quite a bit - a lot of planes, a lot of airports, a lot of schools, but I think we feel pretty good about where recruiting is going this year.


TB: Now that you have been involved in the college recruiting process for a year and a half, are you getting used to that part of the job after spending the previous 13 years in the NFL?


GR: You know, the great thing about recruiting at Stanford is the quality of the young people that you get to talk to, it's pretty exciting as far as I am concerned.  The quality of the people and also the mission you are selling, the opportunity you are presenting. When you see the graduates and the upperclassmen on our team that graduate and the success that they go on to have. As a coach, you know what the end product can look like. It is really exciting trying to translate that message to the young kids in high school because they can hear what you are saying, but you are painting a picture for them - I don't think they fully understand what it means to go to Stanford and to be part of the Stanford community beyond their time there.

TB: Do you feel you have more credibility now coming off an 8-4 regular season record and having made it to a bowl game?

GR: Oh yeah, I think it's night and day. Two years ago you went out making the case that we are on the rise - we are going to this and going to do that. They would look at you and think "Yeah, I have heard this one before", but then they see you do it. That probably lends some credibility. And then the amount of success we had against big-time programs on national television, that went a long way! And just being in airports, at schools, talking to coaches, it is really amazing what a year can do. 

TB: Beating USC in the "Biggest Upset Ever" was one thing, but last year's win at the Coliseum was perhaps even more impressive...

GR: Yes, a couple of years ago when that happened, I remember where I was. That was shocking. This past season we were a little more methodical in how we did things. It wasn't a big-time upset - it was just our going out and doing our thing and having some success with it. While the "shock value" wasn't necessarily there, it brought us a lot of credibility. 

TB: With Jim Harbaugh, you, David Shaw and now Vic Fangio, Derek Mason and Pep Hamilton. there seems to be an increasing "NFL flavor" to the coaching staff? How does that help our program? Is there a schematic impact or does the benefit come more from the confidence it instills in our players?


GR: The NFL experience is sort of like a "PhD" in football coaching. Any time the playing field is so even - there are not a lot of great teams or bad teams. There is so much parity in that league, so coaching really, really matters. The margin of error in the NFL is so small that coaching really takes on critical importance. I think for all of us that have coached at that level, and now at this level, it lends to having some experience schematically. When you coach in the NFL for a season, that is 20 games at a minimum and since it is year-round football, you definitely see all aspects of things during your offseason studies. Every day you go in there it if "football, football, football". There is a schematic advantage you can bring from that league and at the same time recruiting-wise, you know it is supposed to look like NFL player is supposed to look like, you know what an NFL player at each position represents. That is what the young players like to see. They think hey, if this guy has coached in that league and that is where I want to go, then he will have some great insight into what I need to do to become player. It has proven to be a pretty positive thing across the board.

TB: Can you tell when you are evaluating a high school kid, are you able to tell whether there is a realistic likelihood that he could make it to the professional level? 

GR: I definitely think so, especially when you can see him in person. Film can only show you so much. High school film can be nebulous at times because you are not sure of the quality of the opposition, the film quality - some kids speed their film up! Until you see the young man in person, then you get a real sense. I am now connecting the dots, I am seeing this kid in person, his ceiling may reach that high. Certainly a lot of things have to fall in place for that to happen, but yes, I think you can tell.

TB: You never "doctored" your own film back in high school, did you Coach? 

GR: (Laughing) Oh, believe me..., not that it would have made a difference anyway, but I think the technology was beyond me! 

TB: Other than scoring points, securing the ball, and dominating time-of-possession, do you or the staff collectively have a distinct offensive "philosophy"?


GR: If we do, we hope nobody figures it out. It is a real advantage to having people not be quite sure what you are going to throw at them and I think at Stanford, with our kids, our players, our men, one of the benefits is their ability to absorb the information and bank it. That allows us to be a little more multi-dimensional than other schools. That is a huge advantage as far as we see it. Talking about offensive philosophy, we really don't talk much about it publicly for a reason. We are looking for every inch we can grab - any success comes from a lot of different things coming together and that is certainly one of them - trying to evolve without others knowing you are evolving, adapting, presenting other teams with issues they haven't thought of and have to deal with. That is what we are trying to do - we can serve it up a lot of different ways. We can pound people, we can spread you out and we can do everything in between. We can shift, we can motion, we can come in with bizarre personnel groups they have never even contemplated and while they are figuring out how they deal with it, hopefully we are moving on to something else to keep them guessing a little bit.

Philosophically, our job on offense is to move the ball and score points. That is where it starts. Our prime directive is winning and how that whole equation comes together every year is a little different and week to week that is a little different based on the defense, special teams, the opponent. Our risk-taking is going to change week to week, which is why coming out of training camp, it is really important to have a really good feel for a lot of the new players coming into the program and what they are going to bring to the table.  


 TB: Fans can certainly understand the need to keep the lid on things...without giving away any secret strategy, are there some key offensive metrics you would like to see improve dramatically?


GR: Yeah, we have got to protect the ball better - we fumbled too much! We turned it over 11 times by fumble if I am not mistaken and that is too many. If we can limit that, it will help our chances a lot. An old coach once said, we want to finish each series with the ball in the kicker's hands - whether it is an extra point, field goal or a punt. That is what we want to do - get the ball in a kickers' hands (or feet). Statistically speaking, and every year is different, our statistics were pretty good across the board, but last year really doesn't factor in to this year. We have celebrated that and moved on. Across the board, we're going to have to work to be as efficient as possible and that means protecting the ball. We have got to create first downs and finish better in the red zone. Those are areas in which we feel we can do a lot better. We spent a lot of time in the spring working on a short field, where the defense is defending "width" rather than "depth" - that kind of changes things so we have spend a lot of time on that. As we move into training camp, we will be spending more time on it. 


TB:  In 2009, Stanford ran 63% of the time. Do you have a target ratio in mind as you head into 2010?


GR: Absolutely not. You're going to do what gives you the best chance to win. Coach's philosophy, and our philosophy collectively, is that we are going to run the football and we are going to accomplish that in a lot of ways. It may not look like there is a lot going into it in terms of what we run and when we run it, but that's a ratio you look back on and say "Hey, that's interesting" because in the heat of the moment, going into a game you can say "hey, we are going to run the ball" or "we want to do this or that", but once the game starts a lot can change and you have to do whatever you need to do to win.   


TB: "Conventional wisdom" assumes that Stanford will starting throwing the ball a lot more now that Toby is gone, but that is not necessarily the case....


GR: That'll be interesting. I can't sit here and say we are going to throw it more or less - it will be whatever gives us the best chance to win. That being said, Andrew is a very special player and we are really proud of him, what he represents and how he carries himself - he is one heckuva player. Coach has made no secret of how he feels about him and we all agree. He is going to have a heavy hand in our success this year. 


TB: Quarterback is obviously one of our strongest, but also "thinnest" position. What is the back-up plan should, knock on wood, something happen to our franchise quarterback? How would the Cardinal offense change? 

GR: We all feel pretty confident that we have a system that can handle that. We certainly work all the time for that contingency. Our system is pretty broad. It is something we worked on a lot in the spring and we'll work on it in training camp as well. We can change our personality pretty quickly depending on who is back there. If something happens, we move on and we adjust and adapt. We prepare for the possibility.


TB: How does Andrew's extraordinary ability change what you can do? Can you consciously take more chances throwing the ball since #12 makes so few mistakes?


GR: Well, throwing the football successfully, it isn't just the quarterback - it's also the protections, how you match up against the pass rush, what kind of coverage the defense is presenting, what kind of blitz and pressure package the defense is presenting. All that goes together in trying to figure out how much you are going to try and throw the ball, when you are going to throw the ball and how you are going to throw. We spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to protect the quarterback. Some weeks it is much easier to do that than others. It depends on a) the personnel and b) the scheme. You don't want to drop back and have a free rusher run at the quarterback a lot - over the course of a season that's going to take its toll. Our philosophy starts with protecting the quarterback first, but week-to-week it can be very different.  

TB: Your offensive line allowed only seven sacks, how much of that is "designed" and how much is it Andrew simply knowing when to run or get rid of the ball?

GR: He is marvelous back there, feeling the rush and finding the safe spot - finding that "quiet" spot. It is the combination of a lot of things. The offensive line, the running backs blocking, the scheme itself and then ultimately the quarterback managing it all. It's never one thing. It also requires having our receivers get open in a timely fashion. If the opposing corners are up pressing our receivers and our guys can't get off the press, then what is the quarterback going to do? They have to get open - that's a critical part of it.

TB: You lost a great one in Toby Gerhart, but appear to have a lot of excellent options (Taylor, Stewart, Gaffney, Amanam, Anthony Wilkerson, etc.). Do you prefer to determine a set "feature back" or are you happy to go with a "committee"?


GR: They are going to tell us what the answer is this summer and as we head to the season. If somebody has got a hot hand and he is just not letting himself get tackled, then he's going to get the ball. If everybody is doing that, then we have a great problem. If it is "by committee" and no one breaks out or if it is specific by role - where one back does something better than another.... You can't going into it thinking how it is going to be, otherwise you are just limiting your potential. That is going to be one heck of a competition this summer - I can't wait to see it!


TB: What about TE Jim Dray, considered to be one of the best blocking TEs in the country - how do you replace a smart, veteran guy who knew the system so well? Fortunately, it seems you may even have more weapons at the position this year in Reuland, Fleener, Ertz, Toilolo and now Dudchock...


GR: Jim will be a hard guy to replace, period. The guys who are going to play that position this year have big shoes to fill. The great news, like you said, is that we have great guys to fill that spot. What that level of competition brings is the elevation of each of their games. It is going to be very, very exciting and from our perspective fun, maximizing these guys and getting them better and at the same time going into a game and saying "OK, we have all these pieces, how are we going to get them to affect the game for us?" Multiple personnel groups - that is definitely one area we specialize in, moving tight ends around, shifting, having them all be able to impact the game. With Konrad Reuland and Coby Fleener, those are two guys that have real Pac-10 experience. We have a good feel for what they can bring to the table. Then Levine and Zach Ertz, Ryan Hewitt - it's going to be very exciting because we saw those guys making huge strides this spring. Summer training camp is going to be very interesting, especially at that position. Ryan (Hewitt) will play the fullback/H-back position and a lot of the time he and the fullback are interchangeable. We do have some traditional fullbacks, but what Ryan gives us is that we're able to wind him up at a variety of different places, get a lot of different things out of him without defining his personnel group. Ryan is a little more "multiple" than some of the fullbacks - he can line up in a wing position, he can split out or he can line up in the "I". That is just a bonus for us.  


TB: While a couple were injured much of last season, you lost three veteran all-conference-caliber players from your unit that could very capably handle the tackle position in Chris Marinelli, Allen Smith, and Matt Kopa….Following an unsuccessful appeal for the return of Kopa, the RT position becomes one of the most obvious and critical open-ended questions heading into fall. What qualities are you looking for at that position?


GR: We had a lot of good competition there in the spring. It doesn't really matter who wins the job. The bottom line is that somebody has to step up and take that job. It's going to happen in training camp. It is really hard to say who is going to do it because everyone improved. We have James McGillicuddy and Derek Hall and then we have some true freshmen coming in and if they can play, then they'll play.


TB:  Is there really a realistic chance we could see a true freshman emerge at RT? Are these specific incoming players physically ready to play in the Pac-10?


GR: That is hard to do. We'll have to see. Whether or not they'll be ready at the start of training camp? I think not. We will monitor things throughout the whole season. Guys should and do get a lot better as the season goes on. Nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

TB: So, in a pinch, you might need to snare one of Tim Drevno's interior guys?


GR: Yes, we will do whatever we have to do. That is definitely something we have discussed several times and if that's the best way to do it, we'll do it in August. Whatever we have to do to maximize our offensive line, we'll do it.


TB: Let's touch briefly on the issue of play-calling. We know it is a collaborative process. How would you describe the way you work with Coach Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator David Shaw? Who takes the lead in designing the game-plan, and who actually calls the plays? Does that change in certain situations, stages of the game?


GR: It can be situational at times. I think in order to maximize the talents we have on our staff, we all focus on certain areas in assembling a game plan and then we try to merge those ideas the best we can, building contingencies and tweaking certain aspects all week long. "A game-plan never dies" - That's our philosophy. We add things in, take things out, change things as we have a chance to look at them in practice.  As far as the play-calling goes, it is something in which we all take a role. We did it a certain way last year and it probably won't change much this year. Coach Harbaugh always has the final say on what we're doing, but I think we are all capable of calling the game - we all put time into sequencing things in our own minds and by the time the game rolls around, we all have areas to take care of - it all filters through Jim's ears.  

TB: The top two WRs seem pretty set in Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu, but you need a clear third or even fourth option to emerge among Baldwin, Patterson, Griff Whalen, Fleener, etc. What are the qualities you need to see from those third and fourth receivers?


GR: We definitely have to have "a third trying to become a second" and "a second trying to become a first." It's got to work that way. We know we've got two and we feel great about them. We have Ryan Whalen, one of the most underrated players in the Pac-10 and Chris Owusu as a big-play threat anytime he gets the ball. And Griff Whalen, Jamal Patterson and we have some tight ends who can fill those roles. Fleener. Ertz is pressing for playing time. Players aren't just trying to become a "three", they are trying to become a "two". In doing so, they'll be on the field. So yes, we do need that player. When you look at it, we have two receivers in the game most of the time and who that third player is, whether it be a fullback, a receiver or a tight end, there's a lot of competition for that spot. It is critical that we have somebody that emerges, and not just as a "third" - if, knock on wood, something were to happen (to one of the starters). We need a guy who is ready to be a "one" or a "two".

TB: What can we expect from intriguing redshirt freshman Usua Amanam? Are we likely see him on offense?


GR: Well, that is primarily where he was this spring. We have talked about him trying some other positions as well. He's definitely going to be involved in some capacity on offense, definitely involved on special teams and then we'll see where it goes on the defensive side.

TB: How confident are you with our current running backs "catching" the football?

GR: Yeah, that's something they continuously have to work on and improve - not just catching it, but what they do after that, being as efficient as possible, as explosive as possible. I think we spent enough time on it in the spring that the backs got better and better as the spring went on. Usua was a guy who made some nice plays in the spring game and had a good spring catching the ball, but all the players did a pretty good job and I'm not sure there is a "specialty" spot. Throwing the ball to the backs is definitely one of my favorite things to do.  


TB: If defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, wanting to help out his longtime colleague, told you the Stanford Defense could spare a man or two, on whom would you like to get your hands?


GR: That's a good question. I would love to take (DT) Sione Fua and have him be a "situational" tight end! I would love that!

Richard Sherman and Michael Thomas, there is some history there, it doesn't take them long - kind of like riding a bike.  Our defense this year, I am excited to see them - and not only schematically, but player by player. Based on what I have seen so far, they are going to be a handful this year.

TB: When you look across at that defense, can you name a few players that you are glad you don't have to game-plan against?


GR: Oh yeah. Chase Thomas, Shayne Skove, Thomas Keiser, Sione Fua, Matt Masafilo, Richard Sherman, Delano Howell. Those names jump right to the top of my head. You can see it. They are working hard over there. . I am excitied to see 'em.

TB: How much we'll see of Owen Marecic at inside linebacker, we won't know that until August, right?


GR: Yes, it is a "wait and see" on that one.

TB: Whom do you see taking over the leadership role on the offensive line, with Marinelli now gone?

GR: Beeler and Phillips certainly have the experience and those two guys are leading the charge.  Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro are growing up in a hurry. We have a really good group. Chase and Andy - this is their year and we are all working for them, to make their final year something special. So the onus falls on them, but also on the rest of us, to get it done for them.

TB: Did someone pull a switch on us with "Moose"? Who is that 300-pound guy with "Martin" on his jersey?

GR: I know, it amazing, the physical transformation that he has undergone with our strength program - he's a "man" now.

TB: Is it fair to say you don't often see that kind of dramatic change in the NFL?

GR: No. Not like that. You may see a guy that is overweight get in shape, but you don't see a transformation of a young guy growing into a man. His shoulders, his whole body has changed. We love him! He gets after it and takes a lot of pride in it - wants to be great. He is a kid that is maturing all the time  - physically, mentally, emotionally. Really excited for the season he's got coming...and for his future.


Bonus Speed Round:


TB: If you had a free pass to "guarantee" All-Conference-caliber play at one offensive position other than QB, which would it be?

GR: Oh, this is good. Let's go Right Tackle!


TB: Name three offensive players that will "surprise" people in 2010?

GR: I'll go with...wait, I don't really think Ryan Whalen is a "surprise" to people, but I think he is going to be in the NFL if he can find a team that is looking for the "Wes Welker-type" of guy...But three players? I'll say Jamal-Rashad Patterson...Zach Ertz...and then Levine Toilolo.

TB: You would be disappointed if we didn't score at least ___ points per game...

GR:  Every game is different. We'll go in saying we need to score "x" amount of points. Some weeks it will be 40, some weeks it will be 28.  


TB: Can you name a currently "lower-profile" offensive player you think has a great chance to play on Sundays.

GR: (Chase) Beeler. [notably with no hesitation!]

TB: As a center or a guard in the NFL?

GR: Center.

TB: Ok, thanks, Coach. We'll let you go now. Last thing - we know you have a couple of young sons, are you already selling them on the importance of making "the 40-year decision"? 

GR: Oh, you bet. My six-year-old is selling me on it, talking about the Cardinal all the time! The boys love Stanford!

Special thanks to Niall Adler of Stanford Athletics Media Relations for helping to arrange this interview with Coach Roman. 


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