For the first four days of Stanford's fall camp, our eyes went to the air as
Stanford primarily passed the ball. Once full pads were allowed on Friday,
the running game received immediate attention with the chance to test in a
full-contact environment. The first scrimmage session was a rousing
success for the offense, continuing its progress made during the spring.
Saturday was more uneven for the ground game, with a mixture of successes and
failures. Still, we can see the forward momentum of the offensive line and
the running game for the Cardinal in 2006. Afterward, interior offensive
line coach and run game coordinator Tom Freeman gave us his unvarnished opinion
on the progress.
"It was good," Freeman says of the first two days of running the ball in live
action. "We have a great competition at tailback, and that is paying
dividends in the way they're running, in their approach to the game and in
paying attention to what Coach [Buzz] Preston is saying to them. And we've
done some things schematically that we think takes advantage of what our kids
can do best. It looked good yesterday. Obviously we had a couple
good ones and a couple not-so-good ones today. We've done some things that
we think help us, and we're going from there."
"It's another year in the system. They're all a year older.
They're all a year stronger," the coach continues. "I think there's more
trust and belief in what we're trying to do. Yeah, I think it's paying
some dividends. We just have to hurry them along a little bit - maybe more
than we would like to. But I believe that we're making some strides."
The blockbuster story for Stanford Football on Friday was true freshman
tailback Toby Gerhart, who grabbed hold of the opportunity for heavy repetitions
in practice and in the scrimmage with the Cardinal's top two returning runners
out injured. The frosh running back rumbled for 37 yards on six carries.
Gerhart saw fewer touches Saturday afternoon but still looked strong with 21
yards on his first four rushes, before he was tripped up by one of his offensive
linemen in the backfield on the fifth carry. Redshirt sophomore Ray Jones
also moved the ball on the ground. It was an encouraging two days for an
offense that has just started fall camp, a time when the defense typically
dominates. Moreover, this work was more impressive given that Jones was a
redshirt player on the sideline last fall, while Gerhart was still in high
"We've been successful running it. They're grasping it," Freeman says
of his linemen. "I think they understand that we've got to run the ball
better. I think the thing that has helped us more than anything is the
great competition we have at tailback right now... They feed off each
other. Those great tailbacks can make you real good linemen, too."
It is unexpected to hear Freeman in a jovial mood, considering the carnage of
injuries on the offensive line. Before the start of training camp,
Stanford lost fifth-year senior and starting center Tim Mattran. Then his
replacement, upstart redshirt junior Preston Clover went down with a knee
injury. Suddenly, redshirt sophomore right guard Alex Fletcher had to move
to center, where Stanford's top two options were gone. Fifth-year senior
Ismail Simpson was promoted from the second string at left guard to fill
Fletcher's starting job at right guard.
If that were not chaos enough, fifth-year senior starting left guard Josiah Vinson is now out of commission with a concussion. That flipped Simpson to
left guard on Saturday, and vacated once again the starting guard slot.
We'll give you three guesses who lined up with the first team offense at right
guard, and you'll go down swinging on three strikes.
Fifth-year senior offensive tackle Jon Cochran moved "into the phone booth"
on Saturday, with his 6'6" 315-pound frame working for the first time in college
at guard. After four-plus years at Stanford working as a tackle, this is a
dramatic move. The position shift is likely temporary, but given the
Cardinal's depth at the interior offensive line positions and their poor luck
thus far this fall, Cochran could be called upon some time to play at guard.
This is more than a fanciful experiment to plug a short-term hole.
"He's doing a nice job," Freeman says of Cochran. "He knows that we've
got to find five guys that can help us play in there. Jon jumped in there
and did some very nice things. He's a bigger body than the rest of those
kids playing in there. I would like to see Jon develop in there.
Absolutely, that would be nice."
The first reaction for fans upon reading about these depth chart gymnastics
is to contemplate the offensive line implications for Stanford when the season
starts. But there is another story buried beneath. Stanford is a
football team looking to develop its players at their designated positions, with
the hope that each can progress and produce competition. But what happens
when injuries tear those plans apart, forcing the coaches to move players around
like jigsaw puzzle pieces on a table?
"Until he got hurt, we thought Preston Clover was off to a real nice start,"
Freeman says. "We're very pleased with what Mikal Brewer is doing.
Ismail Simpson is fighting through a lot of pain, and he's going well.
Chris Marinelli, a youngster, he's playing well. They're starting to come
- some a little faster than others. Preston getting hurt really messed up
the rotation. We've got guys playing three positions, which is
The first crisis came at center, where Alex Fletcher was a consensus
All-American coming out of high school, yet the redshirt sophomore is starting
his second season at offensive guard. Fans have made much of the prep
superstar playing "out of position." And then suddenly he was a center
again. Though an active topic of conversation for alumni and observers,
the fluidity of Fletcher playing guard and center is nothing unusual in the eyes
of his position coach.
"He's a guard, but he has to play both. There is not a Division I team
in America that doesn't have somebody playing two positions," Freeman offers.
"With 85 scholarships and those kinds of things, plus it is very unusual at
[offensive line] for a freshman to help, so you're always thin at numbers.
Alex is a guard who has the capabilities of playing center. We have Tim Mattran and Preston Clover who we thought were going to be our centers, and
they're out. Mikal Brewer and Alex Fletcher have both done a great job in
"After last season, we felt that Tim Mattran was our best center, so I wanted
Tim Mattran playing center. Now we're trying to get our next four best
players, and Alex is one of the best four. That's why he's playing guard."
Okay, so why move a long-time tackle like Cochran to guard, rather than play
somebody more experienced at that position? What separates the guards from
the tackles, and what is in Cochran that makes him the best candidate to cross
"In the tackle position, you need to have guys who can play out on the
proverbial edge, that are athletic," Freeman answers. "Not that Jon isn't,
but Jon was the logical choice to move inside of those guys because in the long
run Jon has more experience than if we tried to move Allen [Smith] or Ben [Muth]. We
needed a guy. I asked Jon, 'How long would it take you to get up to speed
at guard?' He said, 'Not long.' He's been here for five years.
If you're a good tackle, then you know what your guards are doing and what your
tight ends are doing. He's done a nice job. He really has.
We're really pleased for him."
To be pleased after your offensive line has been blown to bits by injuries,
Freeman must like the direction his players are headed. Just one week into
the preseason camp preceding a 14-week, 12-game season, this unit should be a
fun story to follow.
1st team offense vs. 1st team defense
1st & 10 @ own 40: Trent Edwards run for loss of two yards (trips
coming away from the center)
2nd & 12 @ 38: Ray Jones run for four yards (Michael Okwo tackle)
3rd & 8 @ 42: Edwards pass complete to Jones for seven yards (Pannel Egboh
1st & 10 @ 49: Toby Gerhart run for eight yards
2nd & 2 @ opp. 43: False start penalty on the offense of five yards
2nd & 7 @ 48: Edwards pass complete to Gerhart for three yards
3rd & 4 @ 45: Edwards pass complete to Mark Bradford for five yards
1st & 10 @ 40: Gerhart run for four yards
2nd & 6 @ 36: Jones run for loss of one yard (Bo McNally tackle)
3rd & 7 @ 37: Edwards pass complete to Bradford for 15 yards
1st & 10 @ 22: Jones run for loss six yards (fumble, Jones recovery)
2nd & 16 @ 28: Edwards pass complete to Bradford for 28-yard touchdown
(Brandon Harrison coverage)
2nd team offense vs. 2nd team defense
1st & 10 @ 50: Gerhart run for five yards
2nd & 5 @ opp. 45: Gerhart run for four yards
3rd & 1 @ 41: Gerhart run for loss of four yards (trips over teammate)
1st & 10 @ 50: Tavita Pritchard run for one yard (play-action
2nd & 9 @ opp. 49: Jones run for eight yards
3rd & 1 @ 41: Emeka Nnoli run for loss of two yards (Will Powers tackle)
More News & Notes
- The Cardinal are thin enough in the offensive backfield with the current
collection of injuries and ailments that the last play of Saturday's scrimmage
lined up redshirt freshman 6'3" 261-pound fullback Ben Ladner in the "I"
formation behind redshirt junior and fellow fullback Emeka Nnoli. We
were stunned as the formation lined up and had no clue where the ball was
going to go. It mattered little, though, with redshirt freshman outside
linebacker Will Powers blowing up Nnoli in the backfield so fast we could not
see where he came from.
- On the subject of the offensive line shuffle, there a couple of ripple
effects on the second team after these position moves and promotions.
Cochran moving to guard opened up the second string right tackle slot, where
redshirt freshman Chris Marinelli now lives. The promotion of Simpson to
the first team opened a hole at left guard on the second unit, which was
filled by second team right guard and fifth-year senior Matt McClernan.
The new guard on the two-deep is... [drum roll]... freshman Andrew Phillips.
Phillips is making mistakes and has plenty to learn, but he has the makings of
a very good guard for the Cardinal.
- In case you are counting, that is a second perfect throwing performance
for fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards. After a 4-of-4 start
for 36 yards on Friday, Edwards connected on all five attempts Saturday
afternoon, this time for 58 yards and a touchdown.
- Some may have expected to see freshman Toby Gerhart at the head of the
tailback rotation Saturday after his breakout scrimmage Friday. But that
was just one day - the first day in pads - for the newcomer. Redshirt
sophomore Ray Jones held the #1 tailback job on this second day of full pads.
- Saturday was the sixth day of Stanford's fall camp, which allowed them for
the first time to conduct two-a-day practices. However, it was just the
fourth day of camp for redshirt sophomore running back Anthony Kimble, who
joined the Cardinal on Wednesday after a bacterial infection had him in the
hospital back home in Baton Rouge (La.). Not yet through the NCAA's
five-day acclimatization period, Kimble could not partake in both practices
Saturday. He worked in the morning but sat out the afternoon session.
Kimble's sixth day of camp will be Monday, which will allow him to join his
teammates in both the morning and afternoon for that double-day of practice.
- At the end of Friday's scrimmage, redshirt junior quarterback T.C. Ostrander pulled his hamstring. There is no timetable for the Cardinal's
#2 signal caller's return to action. In the meantime, redshirt freshman
Tavita Pritchard is at the controls of the second string offense.
- Redshirt junior Evan Moore sprained his ankle on Friday, as we previously
reported. He sat out the morning practice on Saturday but tried to run
for some receiver drills in the afternoon - unsuccessfully. The good
news is that his ankle only 24 hours later felt well enough that he wanted to
try and give it a go. Ignoring an exacerbation of the injury, look for
Moore back with the offense soon.
- Fifth-year senior inside linebacker Mike Silva sat out some of Saturday's
action. Don't be alarmed. What was noteworthy was the resultant
movement on the depth chart at the "Ted" linebacker position in Silva's
absence. Redshirt freshman Fred Campbell moved up to the first team
defense. Who appeared in Campbell's spot on the second unit?
Freshman Sam Weinberger, who early looks like a good get for the Cardinal.
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