If there's one thing that can be derived from Saturday's extraordinary "Summer Session 2010" with Jim Harbaugh, it is this – the man can work a friendly crowd with the best of them.
On a sunny but comfortable Saturday morning at the Alpine Inn in Portola Valley, Stanford Football Head Coach Jim Harbaugh fielded questions for well over an hour, to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd of about 150 Stanford football fans. In between Ralph Waldo Emerson references and discussions of his summer reading list, Harbaugh touched on a wide variety of topics, including the current state of the offensive and defensive line, possible true-freshmen contributors, and the current back-up to redshirt sophomore franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. While it would be difficult to transcribe all 70-odd minutes of the masterful Q & A session, The Bootleg was on hand to compile some of coach's more noteworthy statements.
On the back-up quarterback situation:
"Right now, if something happens to Andrew Luck, it's Alex Loukas. Alex is also competing as a safety. So we straight-up view him as one of the best athletes on the team and we want to get him on the field as much as possible...he'll have to go both ways until we can make a determination on the other backups, Robbie Picazo, Josh Nunes, or young Brett Nottingham. We'll see where they're at, if they can totally take the reins as the No. 2 guys, see how that develops in the first eight days of training camp. If one of those guys seizes the backup position, then Alex can stay at safety. If they don't, Alex will have to go back to the offensive side of the ball and play quarterback."
On Owen Marecic playing offense and defense:
"At fullback, he probably plays somewhere between 35% to 45% of the plays. With one of the best players on the football team we'd like to see him get as many chances to help our team."
On the chance of incoming freshmen earning playing time:
"I hope so! That's the idea. This is a class of 35 incoming freshmen. We haven't, as coaches, really gotten to look at them. They all have the license, they all have the ability to compete for starting jobs…I think Blake Lueders, who will be playing that "Mike" position [inside linebacker] where Owen plays, is a guy that has a really good chance to compete early. Anthony Wilkerson, the running back, will have a really great shot at doing that. Cameron Fleming, the right tackle, we want to see if he can get into the mix early on as a freshman. And hopefully he does and we have great expectations for him for the first day of practice. Then Devon Carrington the safety, the [highly regarded walk-on] fullback Lee Ward, I'm very hopeful he will take over as the second fullback position."
On how the running backs stack up as pass-blockers:
"The best guy is Jeremy Stewart. Toby was a great pass protector, but I've always felt that Patch (Stewart) was even better than Toby as a pass-blocker."
On his defensive philosophy:
"We're trying to get personnel on defense. The first nine months I was on this job I had the luxury of meeting with Bill Walsh. About 16 times we had lunch or breakfast or I just went over and sat in his office and listened to him talk football. One of the things he said to me that I'll never forget is to put your best players on defense. With the exception of the quarterback, put your best players on defense, because the defensive athlete has to ‘react' to what the offensive player is doing."
"The candidates right now, the guys who showed u s the most coming out of spring ball were Griff Whalen, Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell. Those three in particular showed the most coming out of spring ball. Jemari Roberts as well…unfortunately Warren Reuland won't be there because he had an ACL injury in the spring."
On players in the mix to earn a starting job at safety:
"Coming out of spring, a lot can change over the summer, but I think Delano (Delano Howell) is pretty firm in there talking to (defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio and (defensive bcks coach) Derek Mason. And then the other safety there will be some competition. Mike Thomas, who was a late move from cornerback to safety in spring ball, he will have a crack at that. Alex Loukas will have a shot at that, Harold Bernard will have a shot at that. Like the running back position, we'll see how it shakes out in the first eight to ten practices, but it should be competition at that position.
On the state of the offensive line:
"We return four out of five starters, but that doesn't entitle you to a darn thing. The four starters are healthy and ready to go. The right tackle position has competition among Derek Hall, James McGillicuddy and Cameron Fleming. You also want to be in a position to have eight to nine ‘tough guys' so you feel like you can make it through a season. We just named seven right there and then two other guys really have to step up. Tyler Mabry, going in to his senior year, you expect him to back up at left tackle and possibly, he gets in the mix at right tackle. And then Khalil Wilkes as a backup center and a backup guard - so we feel like we have those nine guys, but that is not set in stone."
On the state of the defensive front:
"We're going to start Fua (Sione Fua) at the nose tackle and Bulcke (Brian Bulcke) and Masifilo (Matt Masifilo) at the ends. Right now Keiser (Thomas Keiser) and Thomas (Chase Thomas) at the outside backers with Skov (Shayne Skov) and (Owen) Marecic inside. It gets a little dicey on the defensive line in terms of depth. At nose tackle we need some guys to step up big time and backup Fua. Terrence Stephens and Jacob Gowan would be those two guys. (Iowa walk-on) David Parry is also another incoming freshman that could give us some help there at the nose tackle. At the ends you're looking at Ben Gardner, who has really done a nice job going from 237 to almost 260 plus in the offseason. Then Mauro (Josh Mauro) and hopefully some of the younger guys get in the mix, but you start to really run out of bodies along the defensive line.
When you play a 3-4, some people think you don't really need as many defensive linemen, but the reality is, where a 4-3 plays two defensive tackles in the game, the 3-4 really plays three ‘defensive tackle bodies'. You want those ends at 270, 280 pounds plus. Nose tackles you'd like to be about 300."
On the possibility of Levine Toilolo moving to offensive tackle:
"He's firmly a tight end, I don't think he's going to be a tackle. We really thought that he would be a Polynesian guy that's going to mature a little later and become a 350-pound guy. I don't think that's going to happen. He's an athletic, athletic guy for 6-8. He has to be able to "bend". At 6-8 it's a liability and it is a huge asset for him to have that kind of arm reach. He has to be able to get underneath people's pads. He has the athleticism to ‘bend' as a tight end and he's really effective catching the ball with that length, so I don't think he'll be a tackle."
On true freshman running back Anthony Wilkerson:
"He comes to us with a lot of physical ability. He played in a ‘Wing-T' offense but was very productive in it. I think he is going to be a good fit for what we do. He may even be the most ‘physical-looking' back we have right now on campus [his current Facebook profile photo confirms this]. (We are) excited to get him out on the field and we have high expectations for him. Good kid."
On the Cardinal's kickers:
"When I break this thing down ‘Barney-style', to the most basic elements of having a good football team, I do it this way. We need a great quarterback, a good defense, and a kicker that can make field goals. If you have those three things, then you can win consistently. Or have a good quarterback, a great defense, and a field-goal-kicker that can make field goals. That's what you need. The constant there is you need a field-goal- kicker who can make field goals.
We believe we have that in Nate Whitaker. Nate did a phenomenal job for us last year, not only as a field-goal-kicker, but as a kick-off man. He is the guy we'll go into the season with. We also had a chance to recruit one of the best kickers in the country in Jordan Williamson from Austin, Texas. We had Jordan at are camp with two or three hundred kids and out of some of the best guys in the country. Jordan Williamson was the best one there in our opinion.
Then we have two really good punters, David Green and Daniel Zychlinski. We've got a really good snapper in Zach Nolan. If there's one position you worry about a guy going down that's going to be really tough to replace, it's the snapper, Zach Nolan. We're at a ‘cardiac need' to develop a backup snapper, but as far as the kickers and the punter we feel good. Those units will be very solid."
On the impact of having a full 105-man roster for the first time:
"It's more competition, number one. More guys getting trained to contribute to the team, whether it's this year as a scout team player or a backup player or a starter or a special teams player. More guys competing at that. You'll have a scout team that can actually take those reps so your starters aren't getting worn down in practice. I don't exactly know past that - because we've never had 105! Actually we'll have a couple others come after the seasons starts, so we'll really have 108, but only 105 can come to camp."
Various Other Tidbits:
- Every member of the team passed the "Conditioning Test" held last Thursday, despite higher thresholds for certain positions this year.
- Coach Harbaugh on his lack of recent "Twitter" activity: "When something comes up on Twitter I "tweet it", but lately I've gotten this urge that I'm kind of ‘over it'…I feel like my time is better used with my team or my family."
- The coaches' housing project is nearing completion, with some units scheduled to be completed later this month, and Coach Harbaugh's own home set to be finished in September.
- Coach Harbaugh enjoyed having the spring game held at historic Kezar Stadium and remains enthusiastic about the possibility of holding future renditions of the "Cardinal and White" game there. Complimented Marketing's David Vargas and Football's Mike Eubanks, who were both in attendance.
- It's quite obvious where Jim Harbaugh gets his well-known enthusiasm for the game of football. Jim's father, Jack, made the trip to Zott's for the "Summer Session" and lit up the crowd with the story of Stanford's memorable 31-14 road victory over #3-ranked Oklahoma back in 1980 when he was serving as first-year Defensive Coordinator under Head Coach Paul Wiggin. (Although Jim quipped that the 31-14 victory wasn't "quite as good as 55-21!") At the end of the session, Jack led the Stanford faithful in an unforgettable, rambunctious rendition of the Stanford post-game victory fight song, "Ay Ziggy Zoomba!"
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