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January 25, 2013

Lynn Sessions: Player Development

In this day and age of closed practices on The Farm, it's often hard for Cardinal fans to get an accurate gauge about the players not in Stanford's two-deep depth chart. With that in mind, who better than Director of Player Development Ron Lynn to change that, and shed some light on Stanford's young and up-and-coming players?

Cardinal Sports Report sat down with Lynn earlier this month for a wide-ranging and extensive interview. The first article from our interview focused on the infrastructure surrounding the Stanford football program. This story deals with the development of specific players and position groups.

Line improvement: There are many reasons for Stanford fans to be optimistic about the Card's 2013 campaign. First and foremost, the defense returns nine of its 11 starters from the Rose Bowl game and should again be among the best in the nation.

And even though Stanford's top receiving targets from 2012 have moved on, there is also reason for optimism on offense, largely stemming from what most expected will be a drastically improved offense line. Four returning starters and the continued maturation of the 2012 offensive line recruiting class could be a potent combination for the Cardinal.

"(Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy committing on signing day) was huge and it wasn't just those two," Lynn said. "It was (Josh) Garnett. It was (Nick) Davidson, it was (Johnny) Caspers. Those guys everybody wanted and they haven't done anything to disappoint. Graham Shuler is also a guy that we think is going to be a good player. He needs to gain a little weight but he's a young guy. That first year and Shannon Turley's development with those guys, that's huge. And now they now what Mike (Bloomgren) wants and what Ron Crook wants in terms of technique. And all the things that Turley does makes more sense to them. And when it makes sense to you, you can work a hell of a lot harder at it other than it's something that's random. I think those guys will be really, really good."

Dissecting the secondary: Whereas in past seasons the departure of a player the caliber of Terrence Brown leaving would be a devastating blow to Stanford's secondary, the Cardinal now have the depth the overcome a significant loss in the defensive back corps.

"We used to have that," Lynn said. "One guy went down you went, 'Oh my God, what do we do now?'"

"I'm disappointed personally that Terrence Brown is leaving, but Barry's healthy, Wayne's healthy, Ronnie Harris is healthy, Ra'Chard Pippens is coming along really well. There's another guy like Alex Carter that's taller. There's six right there (including Usua Amanam)."

The difference between Stanford's secondary being elite or merely above average may come down to, at least in part, the play of Wayne Lyons, whose development was stunted by an injury he suffered early in his freshman season. If Lyons is able to emerge as the lockdown cornerback many projected he would become earlier in his Stanford career, he and Alex Carter would likely form one of the best cornerback tandems on the conference. Lyons' success might be a matter of growing even more familiar with Stanford's defensive schemes.

"I think we're probably a little more complex than what he's done before," Lynn said. "And that's always a fine point, where do you make it simple enough that a guy can go play but at the same time this isn't Jones Junior High. You're playing pretty sophisticated offenses and pretty sophisticated passing games. When you're looking at USC and UCLA is pretty good with throwing the ball. Mike Leach at Washington State, and Sark, you're going to see pretty good passing guys. So you have to do a little bit more than maybe what he's been used to doing.

"And everybody is a little bit different. When does it happen? It's the law of readiness and education. When you're ready to walk, you walk. You can have everybody telling you take that step, take that step, but until you're ready and confident to do it as a youngster you're not going to do it."

Freshman Alex Carter is an example of a player who was able to make the transition from high school to college more rapidly.

"I'm not going to say he was a surprise but I was pleasant how rapidly he developed," Lynn said. "He became a physical force on that side."

At this point, it seems like a safe bet that Carter, Lyons and rising senior Barry Browning will be Stanford's top three cornerbacks. In all likelihood, the fourth will be one of the Amanam/Pippens/Ronnie Harris trio, though it is conceivable that Xavier Woods could compete for time in the two-deep if he winds up at Stanford.

Here's what Lynn had to say about the three presumed contenders to make the two-deep at cornerback:

Lynn on Harris: "He's not the biggest guy but he's probably the fastest of all the defensive backs."

Lynn on Amanam: "Usua just hasn't played that as much. The nickel thing is kind of he's a playmaker and he's a guy who understands football and that kind of thing, so I think that's something that you can see from us."

Lynn on Pippens: Ra'Chard Pippens is coming along really well. He made some really good progress towards the end of the year.

Stanford is also well positioned at safety next season.

"Ed Reynolds had another year under his belt," Lynn said. "He's still not the greatest tackler in the world, but he's a really good ball hawk guy and he's gotten better as a tackler. He will be better next year as a tackler."

"Jordan Richards is a banger. We haven't had a big banger. Sometimes he can be a better tackler in space but he's one of those, and I date myself, but Ronnie Lott, Kenny Easley guys. And they were better hitters than they were necessarily tacklers. Jordan is becoming a better tackler but he's a big banger, so the two safeties inside are better."

Lynn is confident that the safety backups are also more than capable.

"I've always liked (Devon) Carrington and I think he did a really good playing this year and I think that gives us three really good ones," Lynn said. "And I think (Zach) Hoffpauir and (Drew) Madhu will fit right in with those guys."

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Nose tackle outlook: If Stanford does have a concern on defense, it's probably locating a solid backup to presumed starting defensive tackle David Parry. While several of the true freshmen defensive linemen have garnered rave reviews, a pair of redshirt freshmen - Lance Callihan and Anthony Hayes actually have the preferred body type to play nose tackle, Lynn said.

"To play the nose tackle normally you're looking for a little squattier body guy," Lynn said. "Not that you wouldn't like the 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 guy, but because you're getting a lot of double-teams and a lot of guys around your legs and that kind of thing the long-legged guys sometimes don't translate there so much."

"I think both Hayes and Callihan need to do something. It's time for them. They're big bodied guys and one of them needs to be in a position to back up Parry and the other one might well be a guy where you get into situational defenses could be a factor. I'm anxious to watch both Ikenna (Nwafor) and Jordan (Watkins) and see where they go…. I think both of them (Nwafor and Watkins) have a chance (to back up Parry). Maybe Nate (Lohn)'s a guy that jumps into that mix too."

There's no such depth concerns at defensive end or linebacker.

"The defensive ends, everybody has seen (Ben) Gardner and (Henry) Anderson and (Josh) Mauro, (Aziz) Shittu has been in there a little bit. Charlie Hopkins has been out hurt and so it will be good to see where he is when he comes back. The linebackers, Martinez is a guy that's got some real oomph to him. I'm anxious to see Noor (Davis) now."

Lynn said that Davis has progressed well since losing a few pounds.

"I think part of it was I think he came in here too heavy," Lynn said. "I think he thought he had to be 250 and he's down now probably 20 pounds from that and he's moving way, way better."

Question marks in the passing game: In contrast to most spots on defense, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the future of Stanford's tight end and receiver positions.

The departure of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo will leave the tight end position wide open.

"Luke (Kaumatule) will be interesting," Lynn said. "I don't know where we go with (Davis) Dudchock, how Davis continues. He had more time two years ago than he did this year. And the hope was that he'd get a little bigger and stronger and that hasn't necessarily happened. (Alex) Frkovic shows things and he's a pretty good-sized guy."

There also would seem to be ample opportunity for one of the Card's three or four incoming freshmen tight ends to contribute. And there would have been an even larger need for tight ends if it wasn't for Stanford's decision to move Luke Kaumatule from defensive end to tight end before the season.

"We felt as if defensively we were going to be okay (at defensive end)," Lynn said of the decision to move Kaumatule to offense. "And really, that's what we recruited him as. He was recruited as a defensive end. And that discussion came up the more we saw him and the more he did in the offseason and that kind of thing. 'Woah, wait a minute now. There is a possibility that Ertz and Toilolo could go. And so what happens now?' If we didn't do that, we'd probably be looking to do it now. So now this guy has a year under his belt, he's got a year of coaching, he's got a year of lining up and playing in that position. I think he'll be just fine. But the idea was here's a big athlete that can run and he's got good eye-hand coordination, so he can catch the ball".

Although Stanford's tight ends carried the Cardinal passing offense in 2012, Stanford did lose their two starting wide receivers in Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell as well. While Ty Montgomery will be expected to return to his 2011 form, there will be a significant need for one of the incoming freshmen (Francis Owusu, perhaps), or returning players to make significant contributions.

"The freshmen receivers, somebody in that group has got to come up," Lynn said. "Whether it's Kodi (Whitfield), who got some (playing) time. I think we were all pleasantly surprised with his speed. I'm not sure that he played as fast in high school as what he is and he looks like he's got good enough speed. (Michael) Rector and (Dontonio) Jordan both had good days at times. Conner Crane had good days at times. Rollins Stallworth has some tools that if you talk to the defensive guys somewhere along the line they'd tell you this guy had some days where you went, Gees, he's a legitimate track guy, a legitimate 400 meter guy,' so he has some speed. I don't know if it translates much, I didn't watch him as much to the 40 type stuff as it does longer because he's a little bit of a strider, but he'll be an interesting guy."

The offensive backfield outlook: "There's no surprises in the running back thing," Lynn said.

"And the quarterback… I'm anxious to see, I don't think we've heard the last of Josh (Nunes). I know everybody loves Hogan right now. We all do. And there are miles to go on Hogan just in terms of his mechanics and that kind of thing but he can get that done. He can be a different guy coming out of the spring too.

"I'm anxious to see (Evan) Crower a little bit and I'm really anxious to see Dallas (Lloyd) and see where he is. Because I still think he's an athlete. I think he loves it here and he loves the experience. He's playing and walks off the field with a smile on his face. He's a little older guy like Pratt, and that's another guy. I thought he had moments in the early fall and I still think somewhere along the line he's going to have to jump up there and be a factor, but when you lose two of those guys in Patterson and you lose Drew then there are spots, so we'll see. There will be more opportunities."

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