Stanford football has almost arrived. The Cardinal kicks off the 2012 season on Friday, August 31 when they host San Jose State.
Cardinal Sports Report decided to turn to a few Stanford insiders to get some additional perspective on the challenges and opportunities the team faces.
The first part of Cardinal Sports Report's expert roundtable with former Cardinal players Bo McNally, Todd Husak and Andrew Phillips focused on the general questions facing the 2012 Stanford football team.
Part two of the roundtable examines more position-specific topics.
Part Two: 2012 Preseason Roundtable - Position Questions
Secondary with McNally
Have you seen any differences in style or scheme since Derek Mason replaced Clayton White as the defensive backs coach?
McNally: They actually have very similar coaching styles. Every coach brings a unique approach to the little things, like which technique they use for press coverage, or what stance the safeties use. But both Coach White and Coach Mason are younger guys that coach with a lot of energy, demand respect from their players, and do a great job of developing raw talent into solid football players. While the scheme has changed drastically, the secondary has maintained the same relentless effort and passion under both coaches.
Do you think it's easier for a young defensive player (i.e. Stanford true freshman Alex Carter) to learn how to play cornerback or safety, and why?
McNally: Safety is a very difficult position to learn for a young DB, there is a lot to understand and a lot of information to absorb in a very short amount of time. Corner is much easier to learn schematically, but is physically one of the most challenging positions in football. (Guarding guys like Chris Owusu 1-on-1 is not fun). I think it is really beneficial for players to start at corner, so they don't have to think as much and can develop their 1-on-1 cover skills. Once you have those coverage skills down and learn the defense from the perspective of a corner, it is easier to make the transition to safety.
Offensive line with Phillips
There's speculation that up to three true freshmen offensive linemen will play this season. What in your opinion is the hardest part for a true freshman about playing in his first year along the offensive line?
Phillips: Though everyone has a different timeline for when they're ready to go, most guys take a year before they're truly mentally capable of handling the playbook, schemes, and everything else that complicates the game jumping from the high school to college level. Some guys (think Dave DeCastro) are physical monsters who are ready to run with the big dogs from day one, but typically the biggest gains that need to be made are in the mental game. There's no chance that I would have been ready as a freshman, but Coach Harbaugh started the philosophy that Coach Shaw has continued of playing the best guy available. If a true freshman is the guy, he's the guy. There's no question the guys are talented. They'll get just as good an opportunity as the other guys in the room, and everyone will benefit from the competition.
Did you see any differences in the way the offensive line in the 2011 under the new coaches (Mike Bloomgren) compared to when you played under Greg Roman and Tim Drevno?
Phillips: It's been great to watch the new coaches carry on and improve upon where we left off as a group. I'd like to think the group we had when I was a senior was pretty spectacular, but that group last year was incredible. Truly a pleasure to watch. They are doing a great job, and their coaches continue to raise the bar and expect excellence. It's a lot of fun to watch a group that so dearly loves what they're doing go to work.
Quarterbacks with Husak
Given the complexity of Stanford's offense, do you think that it's more important for a Cardinal quarterback to be a good decision-maker and have a strong grasp of the offense, or do you think that arm strength and accuracy still outweigh knowledge of the offense?
Husak: I think the coaches are willing to give up some of the top end production for consistency because this team will be built around the defense and run game. They can live with a few incompletions, but need to avoid the big negative plays (sacks, fumbles, picks, poor decisions). The offensive installation and game plans are going to stay the same, so preparation and decision making are going to be huge components to decide which QB plays. The key is to get to the level of understanding so the decisions come easy and the QB can just focus on playing…avoid paralysis through analysis.
There's been speculation that as many as three true freshmen will receive early playing time along the offensive line in 2012. How does playing behind an inexperienced offensive line impact the quarterback?
Husak: The QB has to trust that his OL will block the right people. Otherwise, his attention will be on the pass rush and not the coverage. That is where "happy feet" (although "frightened feet" might be a more accurate description) can appear as the QB tends to react to the LB coming up through the A-gap, but the RB will come around to block him. At that point, the play is broken because the timing is disrupted. Andrew Luck was outstanding at avoiding the rush, but he was rarely surprised by the blitz and was able to adjust protections at the line of scrimmage and put his guys in the best position to succeed. That is where it goes back to the preparation and watching film because both the QB and OL should be able to see things before they happen. It might be a bigger challenge mentally than physically for the young O-Lineman to be ready, but no question that mistakes will be made. The key will be how the QB reacts to getting hit once or twice and see if that confidence and trust in the guys up front stays intact.
About the panelists
Bo McNally: McNally was a multi-year starter at safety for the Cardinal from 2007-2009. He was among the team's leading tacklers each of those seasons and recorded a memorable interception during the 2009 Sun Bowl.
Andrew Phillips: Phillips was the left guard on one of the best Stanford football teams of all time, the 2010 Orange Bowl squad. Phillips was a key cog in the imposing "Tunnel Workers Union" offensive line, and an essential player on Stanford's record-breaking offenses of 2009 and 2010.
Todd Husak: A sixth round pick of the Washington Redskins, Husak was a two-year starter for the Cardinal. As a senior Husak led Stanford to a Pac-10 title and trip to the Rose Bowl.
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