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January 22, 2013

Lynn Sessions: Stanford football infrastructure

Now in his fifth decade of coaching, Stanford's Director of Player Development Ron Lynn has seen about all there is to see in football. He's coached in Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, BCS Bowls, and everything in between.

While most of Lynn's experience has come in the NFL, he's also made a few notable college stops. Lynn was the defensive coordinator at Cal for "The Play," and has been on staff at Stanford as the Director of Player Personnel for three consecutive BCS bowls.

"I'm a good luck charm," Lynn joked. "That's not lost. I'm fortunate; I look at it that way… In my wildest dreams would have imagined I would have coached in a Super Bowl, coached a Pro Bowl, and been involved in an Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. Pretty neat stuff."

Lynn joined Stanford prior to the 2008 season as the co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. After the 2009 season, Lynn assumed his current position as Director of Player Development.

Cardinal Sports Report recently sat down with Lynn for an extensive and wide-ranging interview. The first in a multi-part series about based on our conversation will focus on the walk-ons and some of the infrastructure in the football program. The second will discuss the development of specific players and positions.

Walk-on talk: With all the hype around Stanford's scholarship recruiting classes over the years, the Card's 2010 walk-on class often flies under the radar. That might soon change. The class will produce as many as three starters on next year's preseason top-10 team - David Parry, Lee Ward and Ben Rhyne, as well as Kyle Olugbode and Conor McFadden, each of whom has a shot to make the two-deep depth chart.

"There are things about our program (that attract walk-ons)," Lynn said. "I think first of all the opportunity because of the academics. Second now we're becoming a high profile program. And third we've got a history of walk-ons doing well and eventually getting their education paid for and having a chance to move on. It's a pretty good gig for those guys.

"The walk-ons obviously, they have to be really great students. And because Stanford is what it is, we're right there with anybody. If you're a bright enough guy, motivated enough guy academically that you want to hit the Ivies, and still want to play football, then you're going to want to see what you can do here. And a lot of the guys that we've had that have been walk-ons that have done good things were guys that along the way were really thinking okay, it's going to be an Ivy.

"And we've had some guys that have passed up, I'm not saying they passed up Pac-12 scholarships to be a walk-on here, but I think there have been guys that have passed up lower division with the idea that if you really believe in yourself as a great football player and you want to play on the big stage, there's no bigger stage. And the quality of the education is no different. It would be arrogant to say that we're better than anybody else, but I sure as hell won't tell you we're lesser than anybody else."

Though Reed Miller was the only one of Stanford's 2012 walk-ons to play, (Miller, in fact, was the starting long snapper), two of the more highly touted walk-ons in Stanford's 2012 class are tight ends. Lynn said that both Alex Frkovic and Chris Harrell showed promise, but that it will be hard to get an accurate gauge on both players until spring ball.

"Frkovic got hurt, Harrell looks like he has some ability," Lynn said. "Those guys are big enough guys. You don't get to see a lot in the fall because they are such young guys coming in and they're not ready to go, but by the time they get to spring practice they'll be a different guy at the end of the spring."

Video Benefits: During the first few decades of Lynn's coaching career, the art of film study was rather primitive. And, the only way for coaches to ensure that their players actually did their assigned film homework was rather unorthodox.

"You would literally hand a guy a reel of film," Lynn said. "And a lot of the guys at that time, particularly the guys that were legitimate pros, bought their own 16 millimeter projector at home. What we would do too as a testing device, guys would fold up a 20 dollar bill in put it in the reel. And if it was gone you knew the guy watched the tape. If the came back and handed you the film and it fell off the guy obviously hadn't watched the tape.

"I would go through and literally cut with scissors the celluloid and then have to put it together with glue and scrape the emulsion off and it would take me maybe seven, eight hours to do something for each of the corners on the guys they're going to play against. And (also) show them three or four clips of a guy against a guy that played similarly to what our guy did."

It only takes significantly less time to create similar video content today.

"Now with the ability to put so much video in there and to get it after practice," Lynn said. "Now you can do it in 20 minutes. The issue that comes up is that as much as you can do now the players still have 'X' number of hours that they can look at it. So we can go crazy now, we can do this, we can do that we can break it up this way, look at it this way."

The three-four difference: Stanford's move to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3 has been hugely successful. The Cardinal has been able to recruit a number of versatile outside linebackers/defensive ends that give the defense an advantage.

"You'd be surprised the number of times we play in a four down scheme," Lynn said. "Nobody is completely one or the other and we play a little more four down stuff. The ability of Chase and Trent in particular, Kevin Anderson, as we go, Blake Lueders as we go, the ability for those guys to stand up and put their hand in the dirt gives you some ability to move back and forth. That does create problems. That creates problems for the offensive line. Even if they're in a two-back formation, which we don't see much of now, but the standard two back, we're going to run the football kind of thing. We don't see much of that. We can go back and forth from a 3-4 to a 4-3, 4-2, or whatever that number is. That gives you great flexibility, so those kinds of guys still fit. They're the same guys we were trying to recruit before. But now if you've got one guy in the 4-3 if you took one of those outside guys and put them at Sam (linebacker) over the tight end and the other one was going to stand up or move down over the weak side you could play still a four down deal, it still changes the blocking rules for the offense. Four down guys versus three down guys. If you don't have to substitute to get to it, that's a huge advantage."

Process of position switches: Position switches have aided Stanford's success in the past few seasons. The defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl, Usua Amanam, was once a running back. Starting fullback Ryan Hewitt was once a tight end - and may be a tight end again next year. Luke Kaumatule was recruited as a defensive end but played tight end his freshman year and is a strong candidate to be in the two-deep at the position next year.

How does the coaching staff begin the process of exploring position changes?

"Once the season's done and this phase now ends up being over and you know who's gone and who's not gone," Lynn said. "Now it's where do we want to go? What do we have to do to get better? You kind of do an overall examination of what's going on. The problem is that you don't' have a lot of time to do it right now because once everybody gets from the convention it's full time, full speed recruiting. So I'm sure that each of the guys is in their own way taking notes, iPad, however they're doing it, on the things that they want to improve in terms of their own position. I'm sure that Coach Mason, I'm sure that Coach Hamilton, I'm sure that Coach Shaw, Coach Alamar too, is sitting their saying there are things that we can do.

"Even though we've lost (Zach) Zrtz, does (Ryan) Hewitt, does (Luke) Kaumatule, does Devon Cajuste, do they become factors? And how are they different from the guys we had before. If they can't do some of the things Levine could do, and let's say we don't have a guy that can do that, I'm not saying we do or don't, but let's say we don't, then how do we make up for it? Do we continue with what we're doing right now with a lot of the big formations, we've still got a lot of really good offensive linemen that we can cover for that kind of thing, so offensively that's kind of where you go. You're looking and saying do you move Hewitt back to a legitimate quote tight end with (Geoff) Meinken coming back? You still have Skov coming back, you still have Ward coming back, those guys are pretty good. Offensively we don't' have Stepfan, but we have Wilkerson, and maybe he's healthy for a full year. He hasn't been for a while. We have Ricky Seale. We have (Remound) Wright. Everybody is looking forward to seeing Barry. We're not destitute at any given position. That's a big deal."



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