On the Spot with Derek Mason

DB Michael Thomas

Although Stanford's secondary wasn't tested much in the season opener against Sacramento State, the unit must improve from last year if it is to hold its own in the Pac-10. New secondary coach Derek Mason is charged with the task of slowing down the opposition's passing games, and he spoke with The Bootleg after the conclusion of Wednesday's practice to discuss the state of his position group.

What was your evaluation of the secondary as a whole against Sacramento State?
I thought guys came out and played extremely hard. Our veteran guys went out there and put in some good work. When the opportunity arose, I got the young guys in and let them play, just to see what they retained from camp and just to see where our depth is. And I feel like overall it was a good first outing.

Out of all the young guys in the secondary, Barry Browning seems to be the one that's gotten the most hype. What did he show you in camp that helped him rise up the depth chart?
Barry is a physical player. He's not the only one. Ed Reynolds, physical. Devon Carrington has ball skills and great athletic ability. I think what those young guys bring is a certain element of athleticism and physicality that's needed here at Stanford in terms of secondary play.

What did you see from Barry in the opener?
He only played a few plays, but what I did see is some physicality. In six plays he had three tackles, so that tells you what kind of ball seeker and ball hunter he is. He plays hard. He plays fast and he loves to be physical. He's a young man with a tremendous upside.

Talk about Reynolds and Carrington a bit. Do they project to a particular safety position or are they not really pigeonholed as a strong or free safety?
They're not really pigeonholed. We play them as safeties. Our safeties are really right and left, whereas in the past we've probably been more traditional, strong and free. Guys are expected to know both strong and free and with those guys in terms of being multi-dimensional, both of those guys have great dimensions. They can get down in the box, they can play physical in the box, they can play deep defense and they can cover.

Can you talk a bit more in detail what you saw from each of them in camp and in the opener against Sacramento State?
Devon Carrington I think has great range, has great athleticism and moves well. He's a great knee bender and for him, the sky is the limit. As soon as he can really keep expanding his knowledge of the defense I think he's going to be fine.

Ed Reynolds is fast, he's explosive, he's physical. He's a knock-back tackler. I'm really excited about the young guys. And then when you look at Barry again, Barry can run, he has great cover skills, he's quick to transition and he has a quick trigger in terms of being able to see it and react. So I feel good about those guys.

Onto a different topic, former safety Harold Bernard recently made the switch to cornerback. Can you talk about that transition and what you've seen from him?
All our guys… With Harold this summer, Harold was playing safety and I looked at him and he came out of high school as a corner. I saw his movement skills one day when we were going through an individual drill and I was like you know what, I need to see if this dude can play corner. So I flipped him over to play corner and it's natural for him. He can run, he can bend, he's strong, he's physical and now he's staring to get his feet wet again, and I think he loves playing corner.

It's the same thing with Terrence Brown. He was a highly recruited kid and now he's starting to come into his own. So when I look at these guys, we've got strong, solid young players. I just have to get them playing time when the opportunity presents itself and we're going to be okay.

Onto Corey Gatewood for a moment. He moved to offense a few weeks ago, and from speaking with Corey and hearing Coach Harbuagh's explanation it seemed like a joint decision where Corey could maybe contribute more on offense. But he seems to be buried pretty deep down on the depth chart on offense. Can you talk a bit more about that move?
Well I think anytime you have a young man who is as talented and multi-faceted as Corey is, he came to college as an offensive player and he felt like he could contribute after Owusu went down. For us, I think it just became a decision about what was best for him and what was going to be best for us. And for him, I think he felt he could contribute there so he talked to Coach and he ended up making the move. It's been good for both parties in my opinion. Because I see him now making plays. He's explosive, he's just waiting on his opportunities.

Michael Thomas, at least theoretically, is making the transition from a nickel back to safety. Last week in the 4-2-5, I believe he was still playing nickel, but in summer what have you seen from him? How do you think he'll adjust to the safety spot?
Oh man, Mike is a ballplayer. I really don't put tags on him. I just think he's an instinctive guy who loves to play the game. For him, wherever the ball is, he'll be around it. For us, the biggest adjustment is making all the calls and being able to physically get to where you need to be. But what Mike has shown by playing nickel is that you have to know the defense anyway. So for him knowing nickel and knowing safety, he's more than capable of being ready to make his mark at safety.


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