Friday marked a pair of firsts for this Stanford preseason camp. Day
Five put the Cardinal on the field for their first day practice, spanning three
hours of the afternoon. It also saw Stanford practice in full pads for the
first time this week, as prescribed by the NCAA's acclimatization rules (two
days of no pads, two days of shoulder pads, fifth day finally in full pads).
The contact allowed by full pads on Friday gave us a better look at how the
more physical positions closer to the line of scrimmage were playing.
Previous practices accentuated the so-called "skilled" players in the passing
game. Our eyes in particular gravitated to the running game, and the play
of the linebackers trying to defend the run.
After Monday's practice, we pronounced the wide receivers as our pick for the
first-day strength of the new freshman class. After watching Friday's
practice, we are ready for a revision. Fresh off a new addition in the
form of Chike Amajoyi, switched Thursday from running back, we must now tip our
cap to the linebackers as the standout position group of this freshman class.
Amajoyi, Johnathan Frink and Max Bergen have all impressed us mightily, but we
figure we should talk to linebackers coach Andy Buh to see if our uneducated
eyes can be trusted in extolling these three frosh.
"You're right," Buh smiles. "I'm as excited as a coach can be with
three new guys. Each of them are Division I football players, and that
isn't always the case. There can be mistakes made in recruiting, but with
these three guys there were no mistakes. These guys will be future players
in our program. They will be future lettermen. They will play."
Buh is not prone to overexcitement, and he knows a thing or two about
linebacker talent. At San Diego State he cranked out an exceptional string
of linebackers, including three first-day NFL Draft picks he developed (Matt McCoy, 2nd round; Kirk Morrison, 3rd; Freddy Keiaho, 3rd). Given his
track record, we can expect that Buh's enthusiasm for Bergen, Frink and Amajoyi
will translate into their production at Stanford.
First, he has work to do with them.
"I'm basically just teaching them the game," Buh explains. "We've had
to start from scratch with all of them. The biggest thing right now - it's
baby steps - is alignment first. Then it's assignment. Then it's
their key. Then it's them executing. In that order, they're still
making those kinds of mistakes. But they're growing fast.
I've had Chike Amajoyi for one day, and he's already playing. He went from
running to linebacker, and he's so bright that he's picked it up [snaps
fingers] that quick."
"I love them all equally, but they all have their own special talents," the
coach continues. "Chike has great power and speed, so that's why we put
him at 'Willie'. Max Bergen has a lot of power - not as much speed as
Chike. But he is kind of that tough guy we can play out of the box, but he
can hold up inside the box. And then Frink is just all power. He's
all power. I bet with his size, he could jump 34 or 35 inches - that is
the kind of power you can see in him. That's why it was great when we got
Chike because we were able to move Frink to the middle, and that'll be his
natural position. Yeah, it's been fun to get those three guys."
The Cardinal this year have a host of returning players and experience on the
defensive line and in the secondary, while more questions have come in the
linebacking corps. Stanford signed just five linebackers in the last three
combined recruiting classes. Absent both veterans and youth, the soft spot
for the foreseeable future on Stanford's defense looks like the linebackers on
paper. But with these three promising freshmen - any of whom might play
this fall - the outlook is already improving.
Other News & Notes
* In our haste to finish the Day Four notes yesterday, we left out some
important observations from Thursday evening. The first was the return of
redshirt sophomore nose tackle Ekom Udofia to action. He not only
participated in one-on-one drills, but he also surprised us with a great deal of
work in the team periods of practice. Udofia missed the entire spring
following off-season shoulder surgery. The 6'2" 310-pounder returned to
action this summer and had a great six weeks of workouts, only to tweak his
hamstring on the second-to-last run of the summer. Fortunately he has
missed only a minimal portion of this camp. Udofia, a former Parade
All-American, is expected to have his best yet at Stanford.
* (Thursday) Jason Forcier, the 6'2" quarterback transfer from
Michigan, delivered probably the most impressive single play of the night.
He ran a naked bootleg that was executed not only well enough to fool the entire
defense. But he also flashed jaw-dropping speed taking the ball down the
left sideline and to the house for a touchdown. The defense this fall is
going to be prepared in unparalleled fashion for any running quarterback
Stanford will face this year, with Forcier running the scout offense. He
cannot play for the Cardinal until 2008, but this athlete is a great reason to
come out and watch practices this fall camp.
* (Thursday) The Cardinal had an excellent guest speaker at the
close of Thursday's practice. Vaughn Bryant addressed the team, speaking
from the perspective not only as a former Stanford cornerback Vaughn Bryant
(played under Denny Green and Bill Walsh in the early 1990s, drafted 4th round
in 1994), but also as someone who works today in the NFL Player Development
office. We have also noticed several leaders from the senior and junior
classes addressing the team huddle at the end of practices this week with heated
emotion and inspiration, including Allen Smith, Mark Bradford and Pat Maynor.
* Returning to Day Five... True freshman Taylor Skaufel did not
have a powerful recruiting profile coming out of high school, but he is
surprising a few of his doubters with his plays and ability to run this fall.
Skaufel is currently running with the second team defense at free safety.
* One proxy we like to use in preseason camp to gauge the true freshmen
who will see the field: which ones are seeing serious work with the special
teams units. We have seen a lot of work there from cornerback Corey Gatewood, which leads us to believe that he currently is penciled in as one of
the frosh likely to see time this fall. However, there are still two-plus
weeks of camp to go and a full three weeks until the season opener. A
freshman has a lot of room to rise or fall during that time.
* Somebody not participating in seven-on-seven or team periods yet is
freshman tight end Coby Fleener, still being cautiously handled with a pair of
herniated discs in his back. But Fleener has done individual drills and
even snuck into some one-on-one work. Even in those limited looks, Fleener
is already earning rave reviews from the coaching staff. There is a very
high ceiling expected of the 6'6" athlete, particularly given his ball skills
and aerial elevation. If his back continues to respond well to treatments,
and if he can be healed and healthy - don't rule out Fleener as somebody who
could see the field and play an impact role this fall.
* We've talked a lot this week about the freshman class, due in part to
their talent across a number of positions. They also are the newest
players with whom we are the least familiar, seeing them in their first ever
Stanford practices this camp. Have you read enough this week where you can
now figure which true freshman is seeing the most work at this juncture in camp,
often seen with the first team? Scroll to the bottom of this story for the
* Fifth-year senior kicker Derek Belch had an excellent day kicking
Friday. We're not sure if we saw him miss in his field goals. His
distance on kicks also continues to impress. Redshirt junior Aaron Zagory
is sharing time in that competition, and he is hitting more than his share of
field goals. But there is a clear difference in his power and that of
* We noted that fifth-year senior wide receiver Evan Moore was held out
of action on Thursday's practice. Jim Harbaugh told us to expect the 6'7"
wideout to come right back, as the staff handles him with caution this camp.
True enough, Moore was back in action Friday afternoon and resumed his role with
the first-team offense.
* Sixth-year senior Tim Mattran went out during Friday's practice.
His injury is undisclosed but believed to be minor. Harbaugh says he
expects his starting center to be out only "through the weekend". In the
meantime, redshirt freshman Bert McBride stepped up into the first-team center
position. He did a pretty fair job. Classmate Andrew Phillips has
ascended to the second-team center role, which increases his work at the
position. Phillips came into camp primarily as a guard but took some
rotating snaps at center with the third-team defense. For the time being,
his identity is more focused at center, and he is already improving his snapping
of the ball.
* Two standout interceptions were recorded on Friday, snared by each of
the Cardinal's two current first-team cornerbacks. Redshirt sophomore
Chris Hobbs beat fifth-year senior wide receiver Mark Bradford for a ball on the
sideline and was mobbed by teammates immediately. A little later, a fade
pattern intended for redshirt sophomore tight end James Dray was a little
underthrown by fifth-year senior quarterback T.C. Ostrander. Redshirt
sophomore Kris Evans made a great leaping play on the ball and pulled it down.
These two corners are certainly growing in their opportunities while their three
veteran position mates are on the shelf.
* With all of the talk earlier on the freshmen linebackers, you may
wonder how the competition for the starting middle linebacker position between
redshirt sophomore Fred Campbell and redshirt freshman Nick Macaluso is faring.
Both players were moved from outside linebacker to the "Mike" position, just 24
hours before the start of camp. We asked Andy Buh about the duo while he
had him on the microphone: "They're doing great. I don't really ever
like talking about the depth chart, but those two guys are scrapping. Once
we get into scrimmage mode, we'll find out who will win that battle. I am
equally impressed with both of them. They have a lot of the same
qualities. We'll see how that battle ends up... It's almost like
this: When you move a linebacker to defensive end, he might be one of the
worst guys at linebacker but now he becomes one of the fastest guys. It's
the same thing with the linebackers. You take the slowest games at an
outside linebacker position, and you move them inside. Now they're the
fastest guys. The switch has been really good. They're profiting
* The answer to which true freshman is seeing the most work today,
often with his first-team unit? Fullback Owen Marecic. That is a
function of his talent, toughness and mental approach, but it also has something
to do with opportunity. Fifth-year senior Emeka Nnoli is still on the
shelf, and that unfortunately won't be changing anytime soon. Redshirt
freshman Sam Weinberger also was out Thursday, for a second straight day.
But Marecic is not backing his way into the first-team snaps we saw throughout
Friday afternoon. He is a hard-hitter and quick learner who is impressing
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