Each step of the 2005 preseason, we learned a little bit more about the
readiness of individuals in this freshman class. Since their signing back
in February, the question of who could play as true frosh this fall has burned
in the minds of Cardinalmaniacs™. Last week saw the majority of the
freshman class move to the scout team units of offense and defense, and Walt Harris told us that an important clue to who might play was held by who
practiced on the "varsity" squads. That left a select few individuals.
The number narrowed further this week. On Tuesday, when the team
resumed practices after a Monday day of rest (their first and only day without a
practice since the August 15 beginning of camp), just three frosh practiced at
all with their respective varsity units. Last week both freshman tight
ends, Erik Lorig and James Dray, practiced with the main offense against the
scout defense as part of a tight end quintet. Come Tuesday, Lorig left to
join the scout squad, leaving just Dray.
We had written during camp that we believed Dray was better ready and able to
play college football this fall, in most aspects of his game. From his
mental understanding of the position's responsibilities to his consistency to
his hands in the receiving game, Dray looked superb. Lorig has
otherworldly physical tools and looks like he could be a very special player
when his time comes, but he can better use the redshirt year to let his head
catch up with the rest of his body for the speed and complexity of the college
<Dray quote> "[Dray] remembers what to do. He's pretty tight on
his assignments. To be where you are supposed to be, on a run play or a
pass play, is huge. That has as much to do with it as talent," Harris
comments on Dray's high position on the depth chart. "He's right there.
He's done a nice job at times, but he's still a freshman."
On the defensive side of the ball, all three frosh outside linebackers
participated in both scout and "varsity" defensive work last week.
Position coach Tom Quinn told us that it was still too difficult to separate any
of them from the others, given the high level of all three's physical gifts and
mental preparedness. Then on Tuesday, we saw a little separation.
Will Powers remained with the upper defense while Clinton Snyder and Tom McAndrew practiced with the scout team. Power had a slow start to the
fall, when he began camp injured, but he has come on strong.
That being said, Powers' work was limited primarily to mental repetitions.
With four healthy outside linebackers in front of him on the varsity defense,
all in their third or fifth year of college football, his chance to take a snap
in the two-deep was rare. Come Wednesday, Powers actually spent more time
with the scout defense.
One other frosh of note is quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who took mental
reps all week with the varsity offense. However, there is currently no
need for a traditional passing quarterback on the scout offense, with Navy this
weekend's opponent and their triple-option offense. We will wait until
next week to see if Pritchard or redshirt freshman Garrett Moore takes the reins
of the scout offense. We have noticed throughout the last four weeks that
Pritchard almost always remains with the varsity offense, led by Trent Edwards
and T.C. Ostrander. When nine-on-nine running plays are practiced, it is
Moore who stands under center and hands the ball off to the running backs.
Moore also is the quarterback who signals plays in from the sideline during
scrimmage work. We believe that Pritchard is the third quarterback for
Stanford today, though there no intent to play him this fall unless a major
injury situation arises at the position. Regardless of whether Pritchard
or Moore is the third signal caller for Stanford, neither take anything other
than mental repetitions within the offense during Walt Harris practices.
The snaps are completely divided between Edwards and Ostrander.
An injury-induced quarterback quagmire aside, Dray and Powers are the two
freshmen who today are the closest to playing this fall. That being said,
only Dray took real repetitions within the upper offense by the end of the
week's practices. The 6'5" tight end is either third or fourth at his
position. Matt Traverso is the starter, while Michael Horgan should also
see heavy playing time. There are two-tight end formations a-plenty in
this offense, though it remains to be seen how many triple-tight end sets will
be employed. Austin Gunder is a capable redshirt freshman who would most
likely take the field for those rare "jumbo" formations today. To get Dray
on the field, an injury would have to befall one of those veteran top three
Moreover, junior Patrick Danahy, who controlled the tight end starting
position all spring and summer, has been out with an undisclosed injury... but
may be on the early road to a return. On Tuesday, he still donned the
yellow jersey, but Danahy attempted light position drills in the early part of
By parallel, fifth-year senior outside linebacker Timi Wusu made a big step
forward this week toward his return. Wusu missed the entire spring and did
not participate in voluntary practices during the summer. He took nary a
repetition on the field during fall camp, either. But Tuesday and
Wednesday, we saw him step into seven-on-seven defensive work. Wusu looked
like he moved freely and easily. In fact, he recorded an interception on
Wednesday and ran the ball back for a score.
If Danahy or Wusu tear off their yellow jerseys anytime soon, there will be
greater insulation against Dray and Powers playing this fall, respectively.
Given the existing depth in front of the two frosh, with the possibility of more
on the horizon, the probability of either playing is low. Injuries will
have to strike to necessitate their play.
"Right now our plan is not to play any freshmen, unless we have to.
Unless injuries force us into that," Harris declares. "I know how
important freshmen are down the road. We have to be real intelligent
because they have never been in a college game before - because they're
freshmen. As a true freshman, it's even harder and more challenging for
them. We're taking a low-key approach."
Injuries are an unpredictable beast, however, so both Dray and Wusu have
traveled with the team to Annapolis for Saturday's season opener. Rules
permit Stanford to take an unlimited number of players on their roster, but a
reportedly tight sideline area in Navy's stadium has the Cardinal leaving some
players at home.
"We're not taking the whole squad," Harris told The Bootleg on
Most of the freshman class has been left behind. The two
aforementioned, however, have made the trip. Harris is also traveling all
four of his quarterbacks, which brings Pritchard along. We do not know the
complete and final count on who boarded yesterday, though we were told that a
preference was given to some freshmen from the Northeast. Nose tackle
James McGillicuddy and offensive tackle Chris Marinelli, both from
Massachusetts, made the trip, though neither is expected to be within shouting
distance of playing this weekend or at any time this fall.
One reason so few frosh can sniff any thought of playing this fall is the
rebound that the Stanford roster has made from their early-camp injury woes.
By the midpoint of camp, the injury hit to the two-deep on both offense and
defense was the story of the preseason. Since then, almost every player on
the two-deep has returned to action. Aside from Danahy and Wusu, only
Casey Carroll remains out, with ACL repair surgery taking the fifth-year senior
defensive end out for the remainder of the year.
Players who missed time in camp but have since returned include: center Brian Head, offensive guard Ismail Simpson, offensive guard Alex Fletcher, offensive
tackle Allen Smith, offensive tackle Jeff Edwards, offensive tackle Jon Cochran,
fullback Kris Bonifas, fullback Emeka Nnoli, tight end Matt Traverso, wide
receiver Gerren Crochet, wide receiver Justin McCullum, running back David Marrero, nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo, outside linebacker Jon Alston,
cornerback Carlos McFall and free safety Trevor Hooper.
That list conveys the depth of how much injuries depleted this team recently,
particularly on offense. The biggest hits came on the offensive line,
which at times has had to employ three redshirt frosh in the starting five.
The only starting offensive lineman to stay healthy throughout camp was redshirt
junior left guard Josiah Vinson. The final returns came this week from
Edwards and Cochran, which lets us all breathe a sigh of deep relief. The
starting offensive line expected on Saturday is:
Cochran (right tackle), Fletcher (right guard), Head (center), Vinson (left
guard) and Edwards (left tackle). Should injuries rear their ugly head in
the Navy game to the front five, here is what we believe to be the replacement
pattern of depth. If Head goes out, Fletcher could slide over but more
likely is that Tim Mattran would play over the ball. If the team dips to a
third center, Fletcher is the man, and he has been taking snaps in practices in
preparation. Should either guard be lost, or if Fletcher is moved to
center, the next guard is Simpson. The next guard after that is Mikal Brewer, who is also the emergency fourth center. At the tackle positions,
we thought for a time that Smith might be the first man to substitute at either
the left or right position, but now it looks like he is focused at left tackle
behind Edwards. Fellow redshirt frosh Ben Muth is the first man ready for
the right tackle spot behind Cochran.
As nervous as we may be about the health of the offense, there is more
imminent danger for the defense in this game. Navy's offensive players are
known for their cut blocks against defenders, which can not only take
individuals out of the play but also out of the game. Blocks below the
knee are illegal when a second offensive player is already engaged with that
defender, but legal cut blocks in open space can be a real nuisance.
"They come off the ball really hard and look to cut your knees, pretty much
every play," explains Kevin Schimmelmann. "If you see them coming and can
put a hand on their helmet, you might be OK. But if you look the wrong way
for an instant, you can be taken out of the play."
"It's hard to get a good scout for that," the fifth-year senior inside
linebacker adds, "because the coaches will not let our lineman make cut blocks
in practices. Our linemen are not as fast as their smaller, quicker
linemen, either. It's hard to get a good look, especially when our offense
runs nothing like their option."
Another difficulty in scouting Navy was revealed when the Midshipmen opened
their season last Saturday against Maryland. For one, their new
quarterback offers a different look than what Stanford had been able to scout
from 2004 Navy film.
"The new quarterback is a lot more shifty. It will be interesting to
see how well he plays against the odd front," Schimmelmann shares. "The
quarterback last year made a lot of really, really good decisions last year and
was really smooth and polished. I think this guy is a better athlete and
is a little more shifty."
Schematically, the Mids employed less wing motion in their triple-option
offense last week than in 2004. And the splits between their offensive
linemen were noticeably narrower than what had been as large as two-yard splits
last fall. The Stanford offensive scout team had to make adjustments this
week after reviewing the new film, which also changes the approach for
"The wider splits last year allowed their guards in an odd front to come up
straight on the linebackers without being touched because the linemen are so far
away," Schimmelmann comments. "With narrower splits, especially with our
defensive ends crashing, they might be able to knock the line out of the way on
the way to the fullback, depending on what play we're running. It might
make them easier to get to the dive."
"In tighter quarters, it's a little bit easier because the linemen don't come
up on you as quick," he adds. "When a lineman gets up on you, without a
defensive lineman hitting him along the way, then he will get up to you real
fast. Then you have to drive him back into the hole. When the splits
are narrower, then you can hit them first.
- After three long and hard weeks of camp, Walt Harris deviated slightly
from his normal game week format. He will almost always practice his
team in full pads on Tuesday, and sometimes on Wednesday. This week the
players were in shorts and upper pads Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Thursday's practice was closed, held in Stanford Stadium from 9:30-11:30 AM
before the team loaded up the buses at noon to head to the airport.
- After Wednesday's practice, the Stanford team was addressed by legendary
former Cardinal and San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. Though
fans revered "The Genius" for his unmatched offensive acumen, his message to
the 2005 Stanford squad centered upon a winning attitude and approach on the
road. To help let the young players know that his wisdom should be taken
to heart, Walsh made mention of the 29-2 record he recorded during one stretch
with the Niners. "It's awesome when you can have a man who has
accomplished what he accomplished," praised Walt Harris after Walsh's
10-minute talk to the team. "He did an outstanding job, as you can
imagine. I looked around at the eyes of our players, and they looked
like they were spellbound, listening to a Hall of Fame coach who has been
around Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and on and on."
- For Wednesday's practice, a sound system was brought out to the practice field to blast recorded crowd noise for many of the offense's plays, with a variety of downs & distances and positions on the field. The volume was imposing, reaching a maximum of 91 decibels. My ears were ringing for a good while afterward.
- The Thursday plan after the team arrived in Annapolis? Sightseeing?
Team meetings? "Go to sleep," says Harris.
Are you fully subscribed to The
Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all
the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as
well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports
coverage with TheBootleg.com
and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!