Alex from Foster City (Calif.) asks:
In your opinion, which of the 2006 incoming frosh are most likely to see
the field this fall?
That is the $25,000 question this time of year, isn't it, Alex? Or at
least, one of them. As is always my answer to this question, which is
asked every year - you have to consider both need and ability. Two of the
more obvious positions of need for Stanford are wide receiver and running back.
The 2006 class has candidates for both.
I'll start with the low-hanging fruit of wide receiver. Stanford has
five freshman at the position, though we suspect one or more of them will find a
home at another position on the football field sometime this fall. It
would be dangerous to speculate on those switches before we (and the Stanford
coaches) can watch them operate in a college football practice environment and
in Stanford's offense. We will handicap those five's prospects of playing
as true freshmen this fall, however, based on available information.
The first is who has come and who has not come to campus this summer to work
out with the team and get a start on both the conditioning and repetitions of
the offense. Stephen Carr and Austin Yancy were the two who did not make
the trip. Let it first be repeated that summer workouts are theoretically
voluntary (though the entire Stanford returning roster is attending).
Incoming freshmen are not beholden to travel, eat and sleep on their dime when
they have yet to officially start (Fall Camp starts August 7). However,
with such an incredible opportunity and need at wide receiver, one would expect
most or all of the quintet to put every ounce of effort they can afford into
preparing to play this fall. Also consider how difficult the receiver
position is to play in Walt Harris' offense, which can take months or more to
learn. For those reasons, we have to believe that Carr and Yancy are
behind the eight ball, so to speak, relative to where they can and should want
to be this summer. If either of them proves to be physically able and an
exceptionally quick study, they could surprise and still play this fall.
Richard Sherman, Marcus Rance and Mark Mueller all made the effort to try and
help themselves toward that end, by attending at least some part of this
summer's workouts. Unfortunately, neither Rance nor Mueller were not
medically cleared/able to take part in the football practices. That
significantly mitigated their advantages and experiences while on campus.
Moreover, it cautions as to their health status and physical condition and
readiness to start training camp and the season. We will revisit that
question the first few days of camp in August, but color us pessimistic for this
pair right now.
As we previously reported, Sherman is in a unique - indeed, a
first-of-its-kind - situation in that he has been given the chance to attend
summer school at Stanford. Not only does that give him a head start , both
in building credits and acclimating to Stanford's academics, but that also moves
him from an unofficial to an official capacity on campus. He has a dorm
room and meal plan, unique amongst his class. He has been at Stanford
since late June and will remain all the way through training camp (summer finals
actually take place during camp). Sherman is attending every football
practice, every weight lifting session and every conditioning workout this
summer. He will be the most acclimated and prepared freshman at the start
of preseason camp in perhaps the history of this program. Finally factor
in Sherman's natural talent, which is melding and improving with repetitions in
the Stanford offense this summer, and he is as good a bet to play this fall as a
true freshman as we have seen in several years.
Could Stanford need two freshman wide receivers to play this fall? That
depends upon how healthy Sherman, Mark Bradford and Evan Moore stay through the
first half of the season. It also depends upon the improvement and
performances from Marcus McCutcheon, Mike Miller and Kelton Lynn - the next top
three wideouts. For a Carr, for example, to play, he needs to be better or
as-good-and-improving as most or all of that trio. This is one of the
questions we will be watching like a hawk in August.
At running back, the picture is more confusing. At wide receiver, there
are depth questions, but the two starters are clear and they combine as the best
duo Stanford has seen since Walters/Pitts in 1999. At running back, there
is no starter yet determined. I cannot tell you today with much certainty
who are the top two or the top three running backs. That is a result of
such a spotty performance from the running game last year. I will spare
repeating all the ghastly statistics and rankings for the 2005 Cardinal ground
game, but the two returning "incumbents" averaged less than 30 yards per game
and totaled 260-some yards each. Is it too bold to talk about a freshman
like Toby Gerhart passing one or both of Anthony Kimble and Jason Evans, as well
as '05 redshirt Ray Jones, for the #1 or #2 tailback job? Maybe in another
year, but none of the returnees have come close to proven anything yet.
Gerhart belongs in the running back conversation right now. In a normal
year, I would say that he needs to win a spot in the top two to burn his
redshirt. However, with this position so up in the air, we do not know at
the end of training camp how close or how separated the #1, #2 and #3 will be.
With so little proven in games by Stanford's running backs, August may help
determine the starter for the season opener, but proof of play on Saturdays in
September will quickly trump and either shuffle or solidify that post-camp depth
chart. The mind become dizzy upon considering the number of scenarios that
could play out the next two months to either compel or curtail the chances of
How has Gerhart looked in summer workouts? He was in attendance through
last week, leaving Thursday to return home to Norco (Calif.). He looked in
excellent physical condition, and he put in as much time and work as he could to
become familiar with the team and the offense. However, running backs are
tested less and are more difficult to evaluate during summer practices than wide
receivers or quarterbacks. There are no pads allowed, per NCAA rules,
during unofficial football practices. Thus very few running plays are run,
and very little can be learned from those that are called. Backs feign
protection against a phantom pass rush, or they run out in patterns and do learn
some of the receiving game for their position. We are flying too blind
today to confidently call whether Gerhart will play or not, and must reserve
judgment until we see him in camp. It should also be noted that tailback
Tyrone McGraw has also been at some summer practices, and he has some real
quickness to him. It would be hard to imagine him playing as a freshman
ahead of Gerhart, however, given the disparity in their size and overall game.
The other position where I can see a true freshman playing this fall is on
the defensive line. No other position unit, in my mind, for Stanford this
year has as many questions of experience, talent and depth as the D-line.
The concern is exacerbated by injuries, as well, which we will partially cover
below in another section. The good news is that there are four defensive
linemen in this freshman class, and all four spent some time this summer at
Stanford. All four look good physically - some even surprisingly so.
The bad news is that the most difficult positions for freshmen to play straight
out of high school are on the line of scrimmage, where raw athleticism and
talent may have let them dominate as preps, but there is little substitute for
size, strength and explosiveness that comes with years of maturation and
strength & conditioning in college. An 18-year-old defensive end will
almost assuredly struggle against a 22- or 23-year-old Pac-10 offensive tackle.
Derek Hall is big and rangy and has a bright future ahead of him - possibly
even at offensive tackle - but he looks the least physically ready and mature of
the frosh foursome. Brian Bulcke was the least publicized, regarded and
recruited of the quartet, but eyeballing him in person this month was revealing.
The Canadian is built like a brick house, and that sentiment of surprise was
echoed by a lot of people on the team. Defensive linemen are even more
difficult than running backs to evaluate in a no-pads environment, so we are
anxious to see what he does when contact goes live in August. Sione Fua
and Levirt Griffin are the other two D-linemen, and they are the biggest
currently at 301 and 290 pounds, respectively. They both want to play and
are working furiously toward that goal. We can't wait to watch them in
Matt from San Francisco (Calif.) asks:
A number of potentially important players for the 2006 Stanford defense
either missed spring practices with injury or came into the spring with
lingering injuries that limited their contributions. Are there any health
updates or strength & conditioning updates that The Bootleg can provide
heading into summer workouts?
If I had a nickel for every time I heard directly or read on the message
boards the despair derived from my off-season football reports that disclose injury and
surgery information, I would be a rich man today. Football is a
violent sport, and that is more so the case today than every before, as players
become bigger and the game becomes faster. I sometimes wonder if
Cardinalmaniacs™ wouldn't be better off without those reports. It's like
the sausage factory - do you really want to learn the gruesome details that go into
producing the product you ultimately consume?
But Matt asks the question, and I'll oblige. There is a mixed bag of
news. In the category of "all better and now full-speed or improving" we
have Ekom Udofia, Udeme Udofia and Bo McNally. The younger Udofia might be
Stanford's best defensive lineman this year, though the redshirt frosh has no
college playing experience. He broke his hand in the winter, missed some
upper body weight lifting as a result, recovered, but then broke (or badly
injured) fingers during the spring. That is behind him, and he is in
finely tuned condition. The elder Udofia is the probable starter at "Sam"
outside linebacker and a valuable fourth-year player on this inexperienced
defense. He started the spring healthy but suffered an injury to his shoulder.
He is recovering, taking part in workouts, and should be 100% for camp.
McNally is a redshirt frosh and thus off the radar when most people assess the
Stanford secondary, but he is a valuable player who will factor either at the
safety position or in nickel/dime defensive packages. We expect more
likely than not to see him in a significant role for Stanford this fall.
He looked super last year in camp and was a tremendous scout team performer but
then broke his leg and finished the year on crutches. He returned to
action midway through the spring and quickly worked his way back into the mix.
Again, McFall showed us that he is a playmaker, despite missing instruction,
repetitions and conditioning earlier in the spring. He looks good this
summer and should have no problems starting an important training camp.
In the category of "not injured but not fully recovered" we have inside
linebacker Fred Campbell and defensive end Pannel Egboh. The former is
another bright young talent in the redshirt freshman class, while Egboh was an
upstart last year as a redshirt frosh and hoped to be a leading performer on the
defensive line this year. Each suffered a nasty broken leg/ankle last year
- Campbell at an all-star game concluding his high school senior year, and Egboh
in the waning moments of the win at Washington State in October. Campbell
is further along, running and taking part in 11-on-11 with the team. He
does not look 100%, but he is getting there. Egboh has not joined his
teammates in any 11-on-11 work this summer and likely will not. He is
still in the rehabilitation phase of his return, though he is making progress.
Not only does Egboh have a shortfall of strength in his left leg, but he also is
fighting serious pain. He should have his strength and much of his
conditioning back by the start of the season. Unfortunately, he will
likely have to play this fall through the pain - not something about to leave
In the category of "still injured or incapacitated" we have nose tackle James McGillicuddy and inside linebacker Mike Silva. The former is still another
key redshirt frosh, expected to be an important reserve behind Ekom Udofia in
the middle of Stanford's defensive line. He missed the first half of the
spring, recovering from a broken pubic bone suffered in the winter.
McGillicuddy returned to finish spring practices in April, but a discovered torn
patellar tendon had to be repaired in May. That is the relevant issue for
him today, which thus far has kept him out of conditioning runs and 11-on-11
work this summer. He should receive news this week on whether he is
cleared for running, which would put him on track for full participation in
training camp. The second setback this year for McGillicuddy is bad news,
but the good news is that he is better conditioned today (305 pounds) than when
he could do nothing in the winter (330 pounds). Silva is the biggest
mystery of the entire defense, and the summer provides few clues, unfortunately.
Migraines kept him out of all four weeks of spring practices, taking away a
valuable and underrated fifth-year senior from the linebacking corps.
Regardless of what Silva runs or how much he participates in the summer, it
means little for his fall prognosis. The issue with migraines is contact.
Absent pads and helmets, there are no true collisions during the summer.
Either Silva will play through the problem this fall, or it will keep him on the
sideline. We cannot tell which today, and training camp may not fully
inform us either. Tune in September 2 in Eugene.
Bob from Sunnyvale (Calif.) asks:
Could you tell us the Osaisai story? What happened in Track, why did
he feel he had to be Track only?
It's always about track, isn't it, Bob? First, let's rewind to January
when Wopamo Osaisai quit football to run track full-time. Up to that
point, he a two-sport athlete at Stanford, which was the full expectation for
himself and by the respective Stanford coaches when he was recruited out of high
school. True, there was a head coaching change in football that may have
changed those expectations and may have been to blame for Osaisai giving
football the boot. However, it was instead the change at his position
coach that frustrated him. Osaisai was recruited and coveted in high
school by A.J. Christoff, who also coached him his first year (2004) on The
Farm. Christoff loved Osaisai's speed and believed that he could coach up
the cornerback technique for this raw but promising talent. Moreover,
Christoff firmly believed that Osaisai's make-up speed was so spectacular that
in the earlier stages of his development, the track star turned football player
could survive some of his mistakes and still be in position to make a play when
the ball reaches his receiver.
But Christoff took off for the San Francisco 49ers after Osaisai's freshman
season (which was redshirted) and was replaced by former Washington Redskins
coach Tom Hayes. There are a number of important differences between Hayes
and Christoff which affected Stanford in 2005, but Osaisai in particular felt
the impact. The speedster never once set foot on the football field on a
Saturday during his redshirt freshman season on defense. He played and
made tremendous contributions on special teams as Stanford's top gunner, but
Osaisai most wants to play cornerback. Even taking into account some of
his shortcomings and the stage of his development with the craft, Osaisai
probably should have been given some chances in some game situations.
Seeing none, Osaisai felt he was out of favor with Hayes and would not get a
fair shake as a cornerback. With an already superstar college track career
underway with quick work rewriting the Cardinal record books, Osaisai quit
football to run track full-time.
The greener grass on the other side of the fence turned out to taste not so
sweet, however. By the end of the 2006 track season, Osaisai had some
differences with the Stanford coaching staff on training methodology. Push
came to shove, and they parted ways late in the spring. The good news for
Osaisai is that Hayes was hired away by the New Orleans Saints and Christoff had
returned to Stanford - he saw a second life for him in football. Osaisai
talked with Christoff, was enthused by the opportunity, and then asked Walt
Harris to return to the team. Osaisai immediately joined the team in late
May for unofficial practices and has continued with the full breadth of football
and conditioning workouts. The bad news is that Osaisai did not rejoin
Stanford Football until after April, which means he missed four critical weeks
of practices. He has not been coached in football since 2005. That
should lower expectations for Osaisai's prospects in the cornerback competition
when training camp opens next month. How quickly and how effectively
Osaisai can absorb and implement Christoff's coaching will determine his chances
of being in the defensive backfield rotation during the season.
Ironically, Osaisai quit football only weeks before Hayes left and Christoff
came back to The Farm. Had he stuck around, the speedster would have been
reunited with his first coach at Stanford and probably made a good deal of
progress in the spring with his cornerback craft. Instead, he now trails
as many as four or five cornerbacks in today's putative depth chart.
That may mean a lot of special teams and not a lot else for Osaisai this
fall. Can he be happy with that? While we love the kid and marvel at
his raw talent, we have to cast a cautious eye toward his future after two
episodes already in college of parting with a program. One can only hope
that he can embrace his role, his coaches and his teammates going forward, even
though the rocky roads. As to the question of if and when he will run
track again at Stanford, we are told at this time that Osaisai and the program
are taking a break from each other this next year.
Joseph from Mountain View (Calif.) asks:
Is T.C. Ostrander considering a revival of his pitching career in a dual
I'm not sure if this is a serious question or one posed tongue-in-cheek.
To seriously answer the question: "No." Ostrander has not thrown a
baseball in a long time, and he is pouring all of his focus, effort and energy
into improving himself as a quarterback after finishing spring practices on a
down note. That being said, he loved pitching and playing baseball.
The idea of playing again brings a smile to his face, and heck, his arm has
become a good deal stronger since his high school days on the diamond...
I'll take this opportunity to comment on Ostrander's football latest.
He started the spring well, but during the second of the spring's three full
scrimmages, his fortunes plummeted with two interceptions and a third ball
nearly picked off. The redshirt junior regressed during the last half of
spring ball by stepping outside of the offense at times and taking just a few
too many chances with the ball. Walt Harris publicly called out the
quarterback after the Spring Game to the gathering of Bay Area beat writers,
broadcasting to the world that T.C. Ostrander disappointed him and needed to
become a quarterback rather than just a "talent."
Ostrander agreed 100% with his head coach's assessment, and he understood the
tool of public criticism. Harris employed that the previous spring against
Evan Moore, and the supersized wideout turned around 180 degrees into his
current incarnation as one of the game's lethal weapons. Harris also
called out Mark Bradford this spring, and we are seeing a remarkable change in
the senior receiver. Ostrander is smart enough to understand this, and he
is also responding well. He is mentally more focused than ever on
executing the offense during summer practices, and his decisions as a result are
improving. One detail in particular has Ostrander trying to keep himself
from stepping into any of this throws this summer. The motion of stepping
forward delays the speed of getting rid of the football, and that speed is
important in a live game with a live rush and defenders who will hammer you.
During any football practice, a quarterback takes no hits and cannot feel a
truly "live" rush. Summer is even more so the case, with no pads and all
kinds of time to throw.
The test for Ostrander will come in August, when Harris can coach him again
during fall camp practices and evaluate whether his quarterback has addressed
his spring shortcomings. We think it will prove to be a positive result,
if Ostrander continues on his current track.
Do you have questions you would like to Ask The Bootleg? Email
me today at
firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question may end up in next week's edition!
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 (sign-up)
and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!