In a recent 'mic'd up' segment that was shot for the Pac-12 Networks, Stanford defensive line Duane Akina was recorded discussing a subject that rarely comes up in a college football practice: foreign language studies.
"It's hard when you've taken French and we're trying to teach you Chinese," Akina said.
What, exactly, did Akina mean?
"For 35 years I've been speaking one language in terms of what we call coverages, what we call techniques and all, and so have they," Akina said. "So we're both kind of merging what they have learned and what I'm used to saying over and over, but they're doing a great job of adapting to some of the new concepts that maybe we're stressing right now, some of the new techniques, some of the new drills, and we're getting cleaner with it all. I appreciate the defensive backs being open to some of these new ideas and seeing where it takes us."
Any change in scheme or methodology does not seem to have slowed Kyle Olugbode. The Bay Area native, who was awarded a scholarship in the offseason after spending four years as a walk-on, beat out several strong contenders to earn a starting spot at safety.
"I love his work habits," Akina said. "I love how conscientious he is. His practice intensity is great. He is learning intensity in the classroom is great. And there's enough athletic ability, he's an absolutely steal as a walk-on. And I've seen a lot of outstanding players develop like that. But just his work ethic is just above all is what I see. I'd put him there with the Earl Thomas' and Kenny Vaccaro's, who are kind of my benchmark when it comes to work habits."
One of the players who figures to see significant playing time in reserve duty is junior Kodi Whitfield, who moved from receiver in the offseason. According to Akina, Whitfield has picked up the intricacies of the new position rather quickly.
"Kodi is a quick study," Akina said. "And our position, it's not an add water instant player position. It takes time in the secondary because so many things are unique and foreign. You're moving backwards, the guy you're defending is running forward. He knows where he's going, you have no idea. He's a great athlete many times. And so it takes some time to develop all of the skills, but he is a great natural athlete, very loose hips. Playing on offense helps him I believe understand some of the concepts that offenses are built and that's how I teach - I teach from an offensive side in terms of understanding splits and concepts. He's really a quick study that way, plays the ball extremely well when it's in flight. What he just needs is he needs some gameday reps to get out there under fire where you have to make those decisions in 3.2 seconds and understanding there will be some growing pains back there because if we make a mistake on the back end, it's not a six or seven yard gain. Many times it's a critical mistake. So we just want to make sure he's prepared and you don't want to trot him out there in a tough situation."
The same thought process might apply to the Cardinal's five true freshmen defensive backs. Akina is bullish on the group, but Stanford won't need to press most of them into early duty.
"I think they all have the ability to play," Akina said. "I think they're really outstanding young prospects. I'm excited to have an opportunity to work with these guys and I'm excited to see what the prospects will be in three or four years down the road. I think all of them have the ability to play. You can't play them all, especially we've got three outstanding corners in my opinion and we have three starting corners right now that can line up and play. So finding reps for everybody is going to already be difficult. We have great depth, and I think (Ra'Chard) Pippens is a good solid player too. He's come a long ways. So I'm pleased with all of them. And whoever we choose to pull out of the redshirt year will be good. We'll saturate them in special teams. And for the others, they're very fortunate. I can go back through a long list of great players I've had that have redshirted. A couple of those guys are sitting on a yacht out in front of Miami Beach right now because they did redshirt. I'm excited to work with all of them, even the inside safeties."
At this point, Louisiana native Terrence Alexander has emerged as perhaps the lone freshman defensive back who is assured of seeing the field this year.
"I think right now as you look at it, probably (Alexander) is going to be the one that's going to be out there right now," Akina said. "We've had a couple of injuries with the others and that's set them back. So I think he'll be the one that will be out there and he'll play and we'll find a role for him in maybe some of our sub packages. Because I'm a parent too, and I just don't want to burn a year, and he's a very capable player. If we're going to pull him out we need to make sure it's worthwhile for him."
One on one with: Kyle Olugbode
After a recent practice, Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Olugbode to discuss his experience at Stanford and earning a scholarship in the offseason.
Cardinal Sports Report: What was your reaction when you saw the depth chart or were informed by he coaches that you were going to be starting this year?
Kyle Olugbode: It was nice. I've been here a while so it was just nice to see hard work pay off, I guess. Just trying to get better every day, and it's been a process. But we're excited for the season
CSR: When were you put on scholarship?
KO: I think the end of this year.
CSR: So it would have been for the winter quarter?
CSR: Do you remember what that was like for you to get that news that after paying your own way for a few years that was finally going to happen?
KO: I was real excited. Not really for me, because I feel like there our program has been real great about welcoming everybody. It doesn't matter if you're a scholarship guy or a walk-on guy. Everyone is treated the same way. Everyone is getting the same opportunities. But when Coach Shaw told me I was real happy. I was really happy for my parents, mostly, because it's a weight off their shoulders. It was real nice, it was real exciting.
CSR: Going back a few years, you were the starter coming out of spring ball (in 2012), correct?
KO: Yeah, I guess. It was a while ago.
CSR: Was that at all frustrating to be at that point, and then all of a sudden you have two NFL guys that pop up and you might not play as much as you thought. Is that something that you had to kind of deal with?
KO: Yeah. The thing is, the great thing about this game is that there are always highs and lows and you really just have to be able to kind of focus on the process. Not matter how things are going or how bad things are going, if you stay grinding or stay focused on just trying to get better every day, things will eventually work out.
What's the biggest difference between Coach Akina and Coach Mason?
KO: They're both real energetic, first off. They're both very in on the details. I guess the main difference would be our individual periods. We go through a lot of the concepts that we're going to be facing. We do a lot of walk through and teaching tempo stuff where we can see the route combinations that we're going to get and how all of us as a defensive backfield are going to communicate and work our way through those things.
CSR: Have any of the freshmen caught your eye?
KO: All of them. I love them all. Alameen is great, Alijah, Terrence, they're all going to be real good players. I'm excited for the future. Denzel and Brandon are going to be great players too. It's just awesome to see how hard they work coming in. it's going to be a real special class. It's going to be fun to watch in the next couple of years, three, four years, see how they do.
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