Hamilton is as cool as the other side of the pillow. Leaning back in his roundtable chair, he fielded questions with a collected demeanor. Even before the interview began, Hamilton whipped out his iPad (equipped with a leather accessory stand) and noted our names and media affiliations. He even quipped that he’d have to follow up on this report, since it was for The Bootleg.
Mason is exactly what you would expect from a D-coordinator. His intensity when speaking comes out as a husky grunting of sorts. The guy is colorful and you can tell he really just lives in the moment, like most defensive players do.
The offense will operate much like last year. Hamilton will be stationed upstairs and the head coach will send in plays to Andrew Luck from the sideline. Shaw has the final say in terms of what is called.
Last season, Hamilton and Greg Roman sat side-by-side in the press box scheming and adjusting. Mike Bloomgren will occupy Roman’s seat this year and is expected to dial up the majority of run plays.
“I handled primarily base passes and the red zone (last year),” Hamilton said. “Coach Shaw called third downs and we were really good in that area, so we’d like to keep that part of it going. We haven’t sat down at this point and discussed in detail how and if anything might change from that standpoint.”
In regards to communication, Hamilton said they will again utilize the wristband system. Chase Beeler wore a wristband at times last season, and Hamilton admitted there could be as many as three guys with one on again in 2011.
Defensively, Derek Mason will be calling in the signals. He will be on the field opposed to the press box so he can talk to the secondary when they’re on the sideline. Co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will serve as the eye in the sky.
Mason said he and Tarver have meshed well. They come from the same school of thought and speak the same pigskin lingo. He said that cohesion is the motto of the staff so everyone leaves their egos at the door.
“Tarver is one of the best front seven scheme guys I’ve ever been around,” said Mason. “He looks at first and second down, and I look at critical situations. It’s been as much fun working with him in the last few weeks than I had all of last year.”
Hamilton talked about continuity as the main focus on offense. He understands that young players will have to step in and fill the voids left by Ryan Whalen, Doug Baldwin, Andrew Phillips, Beeler and Derek Hall, so getting those younger guys up to speed and assessing them in their new roles will be imperative.
“We have a lot of young guys that are competing for starting spots. It’s important for us to make sure the guys who win those competitions understand the importance of being detailed,” Hamilton said. “They have to have a tremendous amount of respect for the challenge that’s ahead of them. When you have young players, they tend to overanalyze things, so as a coaching staff we have to keep things practical for them.
Hamilton maintained that the “power” formation will return as the offensive base. The Cardinal will again be a run-first team that controls the line of scrimmage, plays with physicality and runs downhill. He said that if those areas are executed, opportunities in the passing game will be presented.
“We have to be balanced. I think that’s a big part of the chess match for us,” he said. “We want to give the appearance that we can do a number of things out of several formations and force the defense to play us honest. We strive for balance and we strive to score every time we touch the football.”
The other title alongside Hamilton’s name is quarterbacks coach. Hamilton has a strong pedigree for this job, including playing quarterback at Howard University and gaining eight years of NFL coaching experience.
“As coaches, we’re a summation of our experiences,” he said of his quarterback ideology. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been around some really good coaches at the highest level of football who have different methodologies in developing a quarterback.”
Hamilton was a part of the West Coast offense for seven of his eight years in the professional ranks. He said he learned a lot from Paul Hackett, who was quarterbacks coach under Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Hamilton has worked with both of the Turner brothers, Ron and Norv, as well as Mike Heimerdinger, who was a disciple of Mike Shanahan.
Evidenced by how Luck has matured as a quarterback, Hamilton certainly brings knowledge and credibility to the program. He estimated that 18-20 of the NFL teams run the West Coast offense and his familiarity with it is why they want to keep evolving it on The Farm. (In case you were curious, Hamilton said the remaining NFL teams run the “digit system”.)
“My tenure in the system, being around Coach Harbaugh and Andrew Luck for a year, we want to keep evolving our offense and curtail it to the talent we have now.”
Much like Hamilton emphasized, Mason admitted this would be a different defensive team in 2011 because of personnel. But the philosophy will remain the same: Be physical and execute at high level.
“If it’s not broke, there’s no need to fix it,” he said. “The foundation has been laid and now it’s time for the walls to go up. We’re in phase two. The bottom line is you can’t stay the same.”
Last week, Shaw spoke about a need for leadership on both sides of the ball. But Mason was confident he had his defensive leaders back, so maybe the head coach was more talking about the offense.
“Defensively, I think the guys that led this football team last year are still on this team. We didn’t lose a lot of leadership on that side of the ball,” said Mason. “So for us it’s more checkers, plug guys in and see how it shakes out.”
Mason identified his leaders as Shayne Skov, Mike Thomas and Delano Howell. He said they are vocal on the field and have high expectations for their teammates.
Mason said that the defense has an identity, but its biggest challenge going into the season is getting comfortable with the scheme. The expected influx of younger players must be able to grasp the concept and execute.
“The main area of focus is to make sure we understand the structure of our scheme, how to play within it and how to do it consistently,” he said. “We want to be sure every time we step onto the field, we know how teams want to attack us and how we need to stay within the scheme in order to find success.”
Carryovers like Skov and Chase Thomas don’t have much to prove during the spring. But Mason pinpointed a few defensive players that have gotten off to fast starts only a few days into the first practice session.
“We’re starting to see some life from Alex Debniak. The guy has tremendous speed and tremendous ability,” he said. “I think a year ago, it was new for him. You’re going to see young guys start to grow up.”
He also mentioned Terrence Stephens, Henry Anderson and Trent Murphy as players who have impressed.
“Those guys are going to need to play bigger roles for us, based on the guys that we lost.”
But Mason was quick to note the team has not been in full pads so it is difficult to assess where guys are after a few days, because “everybody looks good in shorts.”
Other than Skov and Thomas, Mason wouldn’t divulge which players had the inside track to fill out the linebacker unit. Most have penciled in Max Bergen as one of the inside ‘backers with the other spot up for grabs.
The staff is not looking at the Patrick Skov at linebacker, only fullback at this point. Mason said that Blake Lueders is only being worked at the outside spot this spring, contradicting what Shaw said last week. Mason did admit that he has liked what he’s seen out of A.J. Tarpley and Joe Hemschoot thus far.
“I think right now, we’re just collectively looking at the ‘backers group and saying that we’re fast and physical,” Mason said. “I think until you put pads on guys, you still don’t know whether or not these guys have what you’re looking for. They all can run and it’s evident. Collectively, we feel good about the depth, speed and agility of those guys right now.”
There’s no question the Stanford secondary made vast strides in 2010, but there is still room for improvement.
When prompted to talk about Quinn Evans specifically, Mason also inserted Terrence Brown into the conversation. These members of the secondary have underachieved to date, by many accounts.
“Those guys have shown some things in the first couple of days that make you say, ‘Okay, they’re starting to grow,’” he said. “I think it’s a maturation process for all those guys, Harold Bernard too. Those guys have been struggling to find a home. The expectations have not changed. If you’re going to step on the field at corner, you’re going to be physical. And if you can’t do it, you’re not going to play, that’s all there is to it.
“Those guys have played extremely hard. They’ve made mistakes, but the one thing I’m starting to see is those mistakes are fewer. They’re making more progress and they’re playing fast. And they’re not worrying about past mistakes. And that’s how you have to move forward. Those guys at corner, they’re out on an island and you have to have a short memory. But you have to play and be relentless. Quinn is getting better, Terrence Brown is getting better, and it’s getting competitive out there. Now, let’s throw some bones out there and see which guys grab them.”
About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as BookMaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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