Stanford Football: Mike Bloomgren

STANFORD, Calif. -- With just one practice remaining before Saturday's spring game, Stanford associate head coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren is confident the Cardinal has taken significant strides towards replacing several pieces that left the team following last season.

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsStanford OC Mike Bloomgren is pleased to see the progress his QBs are making this spring.
Bloomgren took some time on Tuesday and told ESPN.com some of his major impressions up to this point.

With QB Evan Crower limited in the second session [deviated septum], what kind of progress has redshirt freshman QB Ryan Burns made working with the second team and how has Kevin Hogan looked?

Bloomgren: It's been a little trial-by-fire for Burnsy a little bit, jumping in there with the second group from the time he got back last Monday. And our defense is not the easiest one to jump in there against and try to decipher everything they're showing you. He's done a much better job. Every day he's gotten better. We've gone from a week ago to not being able to take the center-quarterback snap to start a play to now where we're doing that consistently well. As far as No. 8 [Hogan] goes, No. 8's been great all spring with very, very few exceptions. Leadership has been great, the way he's seeing and thinking this game right is outstanding. The things he's doing with us from a protection standpoint, getting us in the right protection, making the right adjustment to routes and is just throwing the ball really well.

RB Kelsey Young looked really good in the open scrimmage … has that been a consistent thing?

MB: I think that might have been Kelsey's best day. It's great to see it. He's taking steps every day at the running back position. The thing that you saw was the explosive runs and the consistent runs out of Kelsey, which was great to see ... the leg drive and the way he was finishing runs was outstanding and the things that's he's doing is getting better at protection every day.

What has the transition been like for Young converting back from wide receiver?

MB: When you talk about what Kelsey's done for us, Kelsey's always been an explosive runner. We've loved getting the ball in his hands, whether it was on a speed sweeps or on a screen, but the thing he wasn't the master of was running the ball from seven yards behind the quarterback, and it's taken a lot of work and he's seeing things really well. He's slowed his footwork down. I'm really pleased with how he's coming along.

The offensive line is going to look a lot different, but are you confident it will still be a very good unit?

MB: We're breaking in four new starters, and I don't know if I've ever been a part of doing that before. I wouldn't say for a second that it's been easy, but it's probably been easier than any other four you could break in. The five guys we're working with right now -- being those five guys from the class of 2012, [RG] Johnny Caspers, [RT] Kyle Murphy, [C] Graham Shuler, [LG] Josh Garnett stepping in besides [LT] Andrus [Peat] -- and then you've got people working in that are doing a great job. Brendon Austin, when he's healthy has been really good, playing the best football of his career.

Are there inherent advantages of those guys all being from the same recruiting class?

MB: Absolutely, but again, we've always had that regardless of class. Our offensive line has been so tight. I don't necessarily think it's just a product of them being in the same class.

How has the group of young tight ends developed?

MB: Austin Hooper has really stepped up. Unbelievable job at the Y position. Eric Cotton is doing some unbelievable things as a movement tight end, whether it's lining up extended and running great routes or sticking his face in there doing a great job in the run game. Then you have Greg Taboada still learning, and he's learning a lot, doing great things. When Greg knows what to do, he's really hard to stop.

What are you looking forward to getting out of Saturday's spring game?

MB: It's just another chance for us to go out there in our stadium, to put on our gear [on] and go through the motions and exercise playing a football game. Whether you're talking about X's and O's, we'll probably be limited in terms of what we do, but I want to see us go out there and put our best foot forward and play incredibly hard and finish the plays.
All indications are that Stanford is going to be a running-back-by-committee team in 2014.

You’ve heard this one before, right? Wasn’t that the word out of spring this time last year?

Then Tyler Gaffney galloped in, fresh off a minor league baseball career, and the Cardinal rode him to the tune of 330 carries, 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.

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Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders is one of several Stanford running backs battling for carries this fall.
Now the Cardinal are once again looking for a “starting” running back. This time, however, there will be no Gaffney; no baseball transfers (does Mark Appel have any eligibility left?); no veteran back with tons of experience to carry the load for Stanford’s ground game.

With Stanford into its second session of spring ball, its running back competition is one of the most intriguing and hotly contested position battles in the Pac-12. Because recent history suggests that whichever of the four potential backs emerges as the No. 1 option, he’s likely to have a stellar season. Stanford has produced a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2008. But picking that No. 1 could take some time.

“I don’t know how you pick a starter today, because they all have something they do better than the other,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren.

When you think of Stanford’s rushing attack of late, it evokes images of bell cows and dust and a trio of yards. And the last couple of seasons, that’s exactly what it’s been. In 2013 Gaffney accounted for 56 percent of his team’s carries and 59 percent of its rushing yards. The year before that, Stepfan Taylor carried 322 times and accounted for 58 percent of the rushes and 62 percent of the yards on the ground.

But that’s not necessarily the identity that Stanford head coach David Shaw is most comfortable with. Sure, if he has a back who can haul it more than 300 times in a season, he’s already shown that’s what he’s going to do. But backs who can carry that kind of workload don’t grow on trees.

“When you hit the middle of the season, you’d like to have three or four guys who are still fresh,” Shaw said. “It’s just kind of how it happened the last couple of years. The 300-plus carries are gasping. But doggone it, Tyler Gaffney was 220 pounds and in great shape and he can carry it. That’s not normal. Toby Gerhart wasn’t normal. Fortunately we were OK with Tyler holding up. But I’d prefer not do that to anybody again if we don’t have to.”

This year’s quartet of potential backs -- Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders -- smacks more of Stanford’s 2011 stable. That year, Taylor carried 242 times. But other backs had their roles and niches. Gaffney (pre-baseball) and Anthony Wilkerson played supporting roles to Taylor. Jeremy Stewart was a short-yardage monster. Even the fullbacks combined for 22 carries. And of Stanford’s 518 rushing attempts that year, Taylor accounted for only 46 percent. That kind of distribution is more preferable to Shaw.

The 2014 Cardinal running game might have a similar look. And that’s not a bad thing. Unlike a quarterback competition, where a potential starter could be sitting on the bench because the guy in front of him is simply that much better, running backs have various roles they can fill. One guy might be better in short yardage. Another might be stronger in the screen game. Yet another can hit the edge better than the guy who goes up the middle. The ability to be multiple is more on par with what the Cardinal want to do.

“We have a lot of versatility at that position,” Shaw said. “But we also feel like any one of those guys in any given game could come in and carry it 20-plus times and potentially get over 100 yards. All of them have that ability. But we also feel good about the different combinations we can create with those guys.”

According to Bloomgren, Wright seems to be the “steadiest” of the four carrying the ball and in pass protection. Seale has improved his pass protection and has displayed good cutting and vision. Bloomgren described Young as “lightning in a bottle.” Recall he was used as more of a scat back before moving over to running back full time. And finally there’s Sanders.

“It’s hard to talk about Barry last, but when you talk about those other guys age-wise, that’s where he falls,” Bloomgren said. “He’s done some things that are unbelievable. He’s had a couple of those moments in scrimmages where he dead-legs people and leaves them in his wake … we just need him to be a better pass protector.”

So once again, the Stanford staff is preaching running back by committee. And this year, it looks like they really mean it.
Stanford coach David Shaw's decision to promote Lance Anderson to defensive coordinator should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

If there is anything Shaw has shown in his previous hires, it's that he likes to promote from within and strives to have continuity within the program. Choosing Anderson to replace Derek Mason, who left last week to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, fits the mold established with his initial coordinator hires of Pep Hamilton and Mason and last year's promotion of Mike Bloomgren.

The only coordinator hire that came from outside the program in Shaw's tenure was when he named current Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver the co-coordinator with Mason in 2011. Tarver was at Stanford for just that season, in which Mason still served as the play caller.

Shaw and Anderson are the only coaches who remain from Jim Harbaugh's initial staff at Stanford in 2007. Both made the jump with Harbaugh from the University of San Diego.

In all likelihood, this move was at least a year in the making. Anderson reportedly turned down the chance to become the defensive coordinator at South Florida a year ago under Willie Taggart, another former Harbaugh staff member, to remain at Stanford. It was clear then that Mason would land a head-coaching gig sooner rather than later, which makes it reasonable to assume Shaw and Anderson discussed the possibility that he'd be the eventual replacement.

That's roughly how it played out when Bloomgren was elevated from offensive line coach/run game coordinator when Hamilton took the offensive coordinator job with the Colts. In fact, Shaw and Bloomgren discussed the potential for that to eventually happen before he hired him in 2011.

With Anderson's promotion official, Stanford still has three spots to fill on its staff.

In addition to Mason, Shaw needs to replace Mike Sanford, who left to become Boise State's offensive coordinator, and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski, who will serve as Mason's defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.

Tavita Pritchard shifted from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach immediately after Sanford left, which means the Cardinal is currently without coaches for its running backs, inside linebackers, defensive backs and does not have an official recruiting coordinator.

Yankey's departure not a surprise

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Stanford left guard David Yankey's decision to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft ranks right up there with the least surprising declarations of the offseason.

Yankey could have easily justified a jump to the NFL after last season, when he was a consensus All-American and named the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman. Instead, he returned for what most assumed would be one final season on the Farm.

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AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAfter a 2013 season in which he was named a consensus All-American and the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman, David Yankey is headed for the NFL.
It's a decision the Stanford coaching staff saw coming years in advance. If not for an injury in 2010 -- when he became the first Stanford offensive lineman in 10 years to play as a true freshman -- he'd already be out of eligibility, and it became clear early on in 2011 to offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren that Yankey was destined for the NFL.

There were times that season when Bloomgren, now the offensive coordinator, had trouble finding Yankey on film. It wasn't a bad thing, either. It was because Yankey, in his first year as a starter, played so similarly to junior right guard David DeCastro that it was easy to confuse the two. That's high praise considering DeCastro was a finalist for the Outland Trophy that season and the first offensive guard taken in the 2012 NFL draft (No. 24 overall to Pittsburgh).

How the Cardinal moves on without Yankey appears to be fairly clear cut.

Rising junior Joshua Garnett, who started in place of Yankey at left guard against Washington State and saw regular playing time this season in Stanford's formations that utilized extra linemen, should have an easy transition into the starting lineup. Whether that's at Yankey's left guard spot or at right guard, where Stanford loses Kevin Danser to graduation, remains to be seen.

Johnny Caspers was listed as Danser's primary backup this season and will likely enter spring practice as the favorite to replace him.

The Cardinal will also have to find a new starter at center with Khalil Wilkes out of eligibility and potentially at right tackle as Cam Fleming has yet to announce publicly whether he'll return for his final season of eligibility or enter the NFL draft. The deadline to declare is Wednesday.

Kyle Murphy would likely have the edge over Brendon Austin at right tackle if Fleming leaves, and the center competition will start with Graham Shuler and Kevin Reihner.

Left tackle Andrus Peat, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season, is the only starter guaranteed to return from an offensive line that ranked seventh nationally in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (4.14).

Video: Stanford OC Mike Bloomgren

December, 31, 2013
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Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren talks about his quarterback, Kevin Hogan, and the Michigan State defense heading into Wednesday's Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Rose Bowl notes: MSU missing Bullough

December, 28, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- When a team loses a three-year starter, a two-time All-Conference performer and a two-time team captain to a shocking suspension in advance of the Rose Bowl, as Michigan State did with linebacker Max Bullough, it matters. It matters big-time.

This is something that Michigan State and Stanford players agree on.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough, Denicos Allen
Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports Michigan State's defense will have to find ways to replace the leadership of Max Bullough (40).
"You can tell he was a leader on defense by the way the team reacts to him," Cardinal fullback Ryan Hewitt said. "So you know they're going to be missing their leader, their smartest player on defense."

The Spartans led the nation in rushing and total defense, and Bullough was a big reason why. His 76 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss ranked third on the defense. His potential replacements, senior Kyler Elsworth and sophomore Darien Harris -- a starter hasn't been named -- combined for 17 tackles.

While the physical loss is big, it's perhaps more challenging to lose Bullough's smarts and leadership. Mental mistakes, even more than physical shortcomings, are often critical in defensive-minded, low-scoring games, as most expect the Rose Bowl to be.

"I think they'll probably miss his leadership," Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. "I feel like he was probably the quarterback of their huddle, and in addition they will miss some of those checks at the line of scrimmage."

And that could provide Stanford with the opportunity for an explosive play.

STANFORD STYLE: Bloomgren was asked about Stanford's style of play. In past years, Stanford players have talked about "class and cruelty." It appears they have a new colorful mantra.

"When I think about our offense," Bloomgren said. "I want it to be intellectual brutality."

In other words: It's about smart guys who run over their opponents.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who is not known for turning colorful phrases to the media, picked up this same theme without much prodding.

"I would say that no one can out-weigh our physicality, out-toughen us," he said. "That's our goal. We want teams to quit, we want them to tap out and say, 'If you do that one more time, I'm done.' That's our goal."

MOVING UP FROM THE IVY LEAGUE: One of the popular topics this week is Stanford's rise to national football power as the preeminent academic university playing AQ conference football. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason pointed out that the Cardinal's recruiting pool is about "one percent" of the AQ-conference capable high school football players.

But recruiting has gotten easier than it was during the early Jim Harbaugh years. Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy said he didn't know anything about Stanford when it first started recruiting him out of Mesa, Ariz.

"I couldn't tell you what division Stanford was in," he said. "I thought it was an Ivy League school and played Harvard in a smart school bowl every year. My perception was skewed until Jim Harbaugh showed up at my door with a big grin on his face and a hungry look in his eye and he said, 'Here is what we want to do and we want you to be a part of it.' And I was like, 'Okay!'"

GOAL LINE STAND? Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney has scored 18 of his 20 rushing touchdowns against eight or more defenders in the box, the most such touchdowns among AQ running backs. On average, 50 percent of rushing touchdowns are scored against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box.

Michigan State, meanwhile, has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns all year.

GETTING DEFENSIVE: Michigan State and Stanford both rank in the top 10 in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings. Michigan State leads the FBS in yards allowed per game (247.8), rush yards allowed per game (80.5) and third-down defense (28 percent). Entering bowl season, Stanford ranks atop the Pac-12 and among the top 15 nationally in each of those categories.

Gaffney grinds Stanford to victory

November, 8, 2013
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Much like his performance Thursday night against Oregon, Tyler Gaffney's decision to give up baseball and return to Stanford came in small, grinding increments.

In the midst of his first season as a minor league baseball player, one year removed from the Stanford football team, Gaffney would watch the Cardinal play and miss it a little bit. Then he'd watch another game and miss it a little bit more. By the time the Rose Bowl came around, his mind was made up. He was giving up baseball and returning to play running back for the Cardinal.

Thursday night's performance paralleled his decision -- slow and deliberate. He'd carry the ball for a little bit. And then a little bit more. And when all the numbers were added up, Gaffney had carried a school-record 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Stanford's 26-20 win over Oregon. His long was 16. His short was minus-1, one time.

With the victory, the No. 5 Cardinal (8-1, 6-1) seized control of the Pac-12 North and kept their national championship hopes alive while severely wounding No. 3 Oregon's (8-1, 5-1).

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Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTyler Gaffney watched Stanford beat Oregon last season. Thursday, he carried the load.
Gaffney was in attendance for his former team's 17-14 overtime win over the Ducks last season. It wasn't a tipping point, but it pushed him one step closer to coming back to football. And with every yard gained against the Ducks on Thursday night, it reaffirmed his choice.

"It was definitely a progressive decision," said Gaffney, who now has 13 rushing touchdowns on the year. "I did it for myself and what was best for me from a school standpoint and a football standpoint. Every game contributed a little bit. It didn't come down to one game. It was everything I'd seen, and what I wanted to do."

Thursday night, Stanford was the benefactor of that decision.

"We rode him like Secretariat," said Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. "At one point, I got on the head set and asked, 'Is this child abuse?' I asked him if he was doing OK when he got close to 40 carries, and he said he wanted to keep going."

Added Stanford coach David Shaw: "Forty-five carries -- I don't want to do that to anybody. We might have taken a year off his life tonight. But it's what our guys needed, and he rose to the challenge."

The entire team did as the Cardinal snapped Oregon's streak of 18 straight road wins. With the win, the Cardinal improve to 12-1 at home against ranked teams since 2009 -- the lone loss coming to Oregon in 2011.

Per ESPN Stats & Information, 47 of Gaffney's yards came after contact, meaning he was taking some folks with him. As a team, Stanford had more rushing yards after contact (86) than Oregon had for the game (62).

"It was a grinder," Gaffney said. "We made the holes. Oregon is really good at filing in with their safeties and their backside backers. It came down to lowering the shoulders and hope for the best."

Their best was a second straight win over Oregon, 274 rushing yards on 66 attempts, 42 minutes and 34 seconds of possession and 14 of 21 third-down conversions.

"They did a great job of just grinding it, and grinding it and grinding it and getting a bunch of short, third-down conversions," said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.

With the Cardinal looking to fill the void of the graduated Stepfan Taylor, the school's all-time leading rusher, the running back job looked up for grabs following the 2012 season. And then Shaw got a text from Gaffney after the Rose Bowl that asked, "Hey coach, can we talk?"

"I knew exactly what that meant," Shaw said. "We had a home stretch toward the end of the year, including the Pac-12 championship game, where he was done with baseball and he was just around. We teased him about coming back. I honestly thought he'd give baseball two years, and then he'd be coming back next year."

Since his return, Gaffney has scored at least one touchdown in eight of Stanford's nine games. With the defense pitching a shutout through the first 50 minutes, the responsibility fell on Gaffney to muscle first downs (he averaged 3.5 yards per carry) and play the possession game. The Cardinal strung together a pair of 96-yard scoring drives -- including a 20-play, 96-yard drive to close out the first half that ate up 8:26 of clock and ended with one of Jordan Williamson's four field goals.

"We knew we were going to grind, and we knew we were going to grind with Tyler," Bloomgren said. "Did we think it was going to be 45 carries? No. You never expect that. But he's the type of guy that can handle it. So we just gave it to him and let him loose."

Stanford, Oregon still a cut above

October, 6, 2013
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STANFORD, Calif. -- The track carrying the Pac-12’s resident crazy trains -- Stanford and Oregon -- remains unaltered. Both continue to steam ahead at a furious pace with a nationally televised collision scheduled for Nov. 7.

The Cardinal strengthened their position with a hard-earned 31-28 win over No. 15 Washington Saturday night. And if there is any dignity left in the voting process, the Huskies should remain in the top 20 when the new polls come out Sunday for pushing the No. 5 team in the country at home for 59 minutes, 30 seconds and one close replay.

No. 2 Oregon, meanwhile, continued its blistering pace with a 57-16 win over Colorado. It’s the fifth straight game the Ducks have broken the half-century mark, and just the second time ever that a school has scored 50-plus in its first five. The last? That offensive juggernaut that was the 1885 Princeton Tigers.

All along we figured it was going to be Oregon and Stanford, but we’ve been wrong before. Recall last year that USC and Oregon was supposed to be the Game of the Century. By the time it rolled around, it was barely the Game of the Week.

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Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsIt's not always easy, but No. 5 Stanford keeps winning on its way to a potential super showdown with No. 2 Oregon.
But so far Stanford has fended off two of the league’s rising challengers in Arizona State and Washington, not to mention a vastly improved Washington State squad that is two games away from bowl eligibility after the "Air" out-raided the "Bear." But before we can see the highly anticipated Oregon-Stanford showdown, the Cardinal still have to go to Salt Lake City next week and Corvallis with a home date against UCLA sandwiched in between.

Rest assured, this was not the last close call.

“This is the way it’s going to be from here on out,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “There’s going to be a one-score lead in the fourth quarter, maybe a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Either we’re going to be up or we’re going to be down, and that is just the way it’s going to be. … I don’t know if there’s anything we haven’t seen. But I do know with the older guys on this team, we’ve been through this. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s a football game. You walk out of it with either a win or a loss, and our guys understand it. So no matter how imperfect the whole game is, when we get to the fourth quarter we’ve got to finish. And our guys finished well today.”

There’s no question the middle of the Pac-12 has gotten stronger. Utah continues to be a thorn in the side of teams, though it has yet to tally a signature win having dropped an overtime game to Oregon State a couple of weeks ago and then falling short at home against the Bruins on Thursday night.

ASU had a chance to strengthen its national standing with a neutral field game against Notre Dame, but faltered in the fourth-quarter and, for the second time in three weeks, will be bounced from the top 25.

Oregon, meanwhile, looks unstoppable -- and its blowout win over Tennessee last month looks even better after the Vols pushed Georgia to overtime Saturday. Marcus Mariota looks every bit the Heisman frontrunner after setting a career high with seven touchdowns (five in the air, two on the ground) against an improved, but still lower-tier Buffs team. The Ducks poured on 755 yards of total offense -- the second highest total in school history (the record is 772, which they got this year in the season opener against Nicholls State).

Much like the Cardinal, Oregon has a few potential pitfalls on its way to Nov. 7, including showdowns with Washington State, Washington and UCLA.

“Absolutely the rest of the league is closing the gap,” Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “Our conference has gotten really, really good. It feels like an NFL schedule right now. There are no easy outs.”

The question is, have they closed the gap enough to threaten the potential thrill-ride that is an undefeated Oregon versus an undefeated Stanford on Nov. 7? They haven't … yet.

Q&A: Stanford's Mike Bloomgren

June, 19, 2013
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When Stanford coach David Shaw went looking for an offensive coordinator, he didn't look far, promoting Mike Bloomgren a couple of weeks after Pep Hamilton left for that role with the Indianapolis Colts. No other candidates were interviewed. Bloomgren, who was previously the Cardinal's offensive-line coach and run-game coordinator, took some time this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his expectations for this season (realistic or otherwise), the competition at running back and how his time in the NFL translates to the college game.

What would you like to see out of the offense in your first year as coordinator?

Mike Bloomgren: Well, probably average between eight or nine yards per carry, have zero incompletions and win every game we play.

Well played. What would you realistically like to see?

MB: I just want to see us keep getting better as a football team. I love the steps we've taken. I'm so proud of the way our guys work and how they fight and fight and fight. I want to keep seeing that mentality and hopefully they keep seeing that in the way we play. From an efficiency standpoint, protect the football and do all the things we talk about being the core of this offense.

What goes into game planning at Stanford? I know there were times when coach Shaw would call the plays and Pep would call plays and you'd call the plays. How much collaboration really goes into it?

MB: A lot. It was as segmented of a deal as I've ever been a part of when I first got here. And from what I understand, it was worse before I got here. Last year, it was segmented, but it worked out so freaking good. So much better than I thought possible. The reasons are very simple. We're experts in our field. There wasn't much that surprised me run-game-wise from the fronts and the defensive structure. I felt like I had a good beat on teams. I thought Pep and David and (running-backs coach) Mike Sanford had a good understanding for what the defense was going to do. David was all in on third down. He's so great at calling that. Pep in the red zone has been lights-out the last few years. It's great. It's a different system. The way I understand is it stems from coach Shaw working with Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan and how they did things when they came over to Oakland from Philly together. Jon was involved in calling the plays, but when he wanted to run, he asked coach Callahan. Hopefully I was able to be that for Dave the last few years.

There's so much NFL influence on this coaching staff -- you included from your time with the Jets. How much of the NFL game translates to what you guys want to do?

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMike Bloomgren will have a diverse group of running backs at his disposal in his first season as Stanford's offensive coordinator.
MB: It's unbelievable how much translates, in terms of the volume of the system and that it's done in a West Coast terminology. Bill Walsh called plays in this system -- so much of it stems from what he came up with. And it's probably the same system that's used in more than half of the teams in the NFL. That's why our free agents do so well. They are plug-and-play guys. They show up to camp and already know the terminology. The NFL influence is real. It's real on who we are and the mark that's left on this system.

Having already served as the run-game coordinator, how much does that help as you transition into the offensive coordinator job?

MB: Hopefully a lot. I'll be frank with you. I'll still be really involved in the run game and I was an offensive coordinator before at Delta State. Obviously, a smaller level of football, but it's still played on a field that's 100 yards long and the football still had air in it. And then my time in New York with Bill Callahan and Brian Schottenheimer was incredible in helping me understand what goes into make a game plan and calling a game on game day. Plus coach Shaw isn't going anywhere, so we'll continue to have that great communication.

Coach Shaw -- unfairly, as I've written many times -- gets a lot of criticism for being too conservative of a playcaller. What do you bring as a playcaller?

MB: I'm not going to be great at talking about that because I don't think he's conservative at all. He's so well thought-out. People think he's emotionless on the sidelines. But he's not! I think back at some of the calls we had over the last few years. I remember my time with Jimmy Raye in New York, he used to talk about "Diet Coke calls." I asked him one day, "Jimmy, what in the heck are Diet Coke calls?" He said, "You call it, you grab your Diet Coke and take a sip. Sometimes you watch what happens. Sometimes you don't. And you can tell by the crowd whether it's good or bad." We had a bunch of those. The halfback flip against USC to basically end the game. Critical calls on fourth-and-1. The wildcat calls we do. Reverses. I don't see the conservative approach. I don't get it.

What about you?

MB: I hope I bring something that is well thought-out and gives our kids answers. So no matter what we call from the sideline, we'll have programmed the quarterback and the offensive linemen with ways to solve whatever problems they have. We have a solid system. It's more than just being a playcaller on game day. We want our kids to have answers to whatever the defense gives them.

Now that you've been through spring, what's your take on the running backs?

MB: It's an exciting group. We were just watching some of Stepfan (Taylor's) highlights and we were like, "Dang, that guy was good." We won't have a guy that carried the load like Stepfan did the last few years -- especially last season. We've got six guys who could probably start at most schools in America and they are going to share the load. They probably could be every-down backs. But they have specialties. You look at how big Gaff (Tyler Gaffney) is right now, and oh my goodness. The way (Anthony) Wilkerson ran downhill in the Rose Bowl. The zone-running gurus are Ricky Seale and Barry (Sanders) and how they run outside and read things. You see that instinctive cut. The truth is those guys have such a good feel. Remound Wright and Jackson Cummings. If Jackson went to an Ivy League school, he'd probably be the league's all-time leading rusher by now. And he had a great spring. Those guys run the gap schemes, the who-we-are-Stanford-football plays, so well. It's going to be interesting to see where they put themselves after training camp. Who has a defined role? Who is going to snatch a job and say "Hey, I'm the third-down back. I'm going to catch it out of the backfield. I'm going to hit linebackers in their face when they try to pressure our quarterback." Who is going to win that role? Who is going to be the first- and second-down back that gets the most carries that game? And will it change from game to game?

Obviously the passing game has been catered to tight ends the last few years. How much do you need the wide receivers to be more involved?

MB: An absolute ton. Because they can handle it. You watch what Ty Montgomery did this spring and he was absolutely dominant. It's what we hoped to see last year because he was great his freshman year. We need him to not try to be any more than he is. He doesn't have to press. He doesn't have to feel any pressure. Because he is big-time good. He just needs to play his game. If he does that, we could see something that we haven't seen here in a while -- at least as long as I've been here. Then there are other guys with world-class speed. Michael Rector had a great spring. Kelsey Young is dynamic. We don't know what position he plays yet. We just call him a football player.

Finally, coach Shaw didn't interview anyone else for the offensive coordinator job. Humbling and flattering, I'm sure. But is there some pressure that goes with that?

MB: I don't know. I don't feel the pressure, to be honest. But it is remarkably humbling. When things are in the works you get calls from friends wondering if you'll get the interview. For David to say what he said within the press release was absolutely humbling. I love working for him and continuing to learn this game from him. We're all just trying to get better and be as good as we can be.

Video: Stanford OC Mike Bloomgren

March, 25, 2013
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Stanford's new offensive coordinator, Mike Bloomgren, talks about what might be different for the Cardinal this fall, QB Kevin Hogan and replacing RB Stepfan Taylor and TE Zach Ertz.

Cardinal shuffle coaching staff

January, 29, 2013
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As expected, Stanford head coach David Shaw looked internally to find his new offensive coordinator -- promoting offensive line coach and run game coordinator Mike Bloomgren to the spot vacated by Pep Hamilton.

Bloomgren
This is not only the smart move, it's also the right move. Bloomgren already played a huge part in the play calling and devising the overall game plan. As the run game coordinator, much of what Stanford has accomplished the past two seasons on the ground has been by his design. His promotion ensures continuity within Stanford's pro-style attack that isn't particularly flashy, but coupled with a punishing defense has proven to be quite effective over the past two years.

And you can't argue with Bloomgren's results in both the running game and as a position coach -- working specifically with the interior line. In 2011 -- Bloomgren's first year -- the Cardinal ranked 18th nationally in rushing offense, totaling 210.6 yards per game. That number slipped in 2012 as the Cardinal only averaged 174.3 yards per game (48th nationally). However, part of that can be explained by losing Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Coby Fleener to the NFL. Luck's reputation as an in-game playcaller and what he did for the running game is well known.

This year, under Bloomgren's tutelage, four of the five offensive line starters earned all-league honors. David Yankey was an All-American and the Morris Trophy winner and as a unit they helped Stepfan Taylor to his third-straight 1,000-yard season.

The move makes way for running backs coach Mike Sanford to take on a bigger role in the offense as he assumes the job of quarterbacks and wide receivers coach. Sanford is one of the bright, young offensive minds in the conference, so it will be interesting to see what he does with the passing game next year. The Cardinal lose five of their top six receivers (including backs and tight ends) from the 2012 unit -- so this will no doubt be an area that is heavily scrutinized heading into spring and fall camps.

Sanford's move allows Tavita Pritchard (remember him, USC fans?) to move over from a defensive assistant to running backs coach.

“Tavita Pritchard is one of the brightest young coaches I have ever been around,” said Shaw in a statement released through the school. “He has been phenomenal helping Derek Mason on defense. He was instrumental to the turnaround of our program when he was our starting quarterback and a team leader. I’m excited to have him back on our offense coaching the running backs.”

With continued collaboration in the play calling and game plan between Bloomgren and Shaw -- and we can now assume Sanford will play a larger role as well -- we shouldn't see any real deviation from what the Cardinal want to accomplish on offense in 2013.

Pep Hamilton paired with Luck again

January, 20, 2013
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The Stanford Cardinal will have to find themselves a new Andrew Luck Director of Offense after Pep Hamilton, the former Andrew Luck Director of Offense, took the offensive coordinator job in Indianapolis to direct Andrew Luck on offense.

But it's not just Luck who Hamilton will reconnect with -- there's also tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Griff Whalen, who both enjoyed tremendous success under Hamilton at Stanford running the West Coast offense.

From the story:
"It will be a variation of it," Hamilton said when asked about bringing the West Coast offense to Indy. "Short passing game, high completion rate. But I enjoy watching our guys coming off the ball and trying to knock the opponent back. I'm a big believer in the power-running game, I believe that opens it up for your passing game. I want to be flexible schematically in that we find ways to get the ball into playmakers' hands."

This is no rebuilding project now.

In 2012, Luck set NFL rookie records for attempts and yards passing, fell just short of breaking the NFL's rookie marks for completions and TD passes, tied the league's single-season record for most winning drives in the fourth quarter (seven) and produced a league-high nine wins in one-possession games. Plus, the Colts had more combined yards rushing and receiving by rookies than any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

This shouldn't come as a huge shock to Stanford. Hamilton has had his résumé in circulation since late last year when he was rumored for the Alabama offensive coordinator job. He also reportedly interviewed for the Oregon head-coaching job, the New York Jets offensive coordinator position and Virginia Tech's offensive coordinator job.

You have to think Stanford's Mike Bloomgren gets a good, hard look from head coach David Shaw. Bloomgren, who serves as Stanford's run-game coordinator and offensive line coach, is already a huge part of the week-to-week game planning.
LOS ANGELES -- Before a Stanford offensive lineman ever sees the field, he must first negotiate “The Room.” And The Room can be tougher than any drill, any conditioning program or even any defensive end or linebacker he will face. Because it’s in the The Room where line coach Mike Bloomgren not-so-silently passes judgment on who does or doesn’t have the chops.

And it’s not just Bloomgren. It’s the veterans, too -- Sam Schwartzstein, David Yankey, Kevin Danser – who will self-police and critique those who desire more playing time.

“Everything those guys get in that room is earned,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “And it’s a tough room. You walk in that room, you better have thick skin. Cause it’s not just Mike that’s going to get on you. Sammy’s gonna get on you. David Yankey’s gonna get on you. If you can handle that room and come out and perform, you deserve to play.”

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Rob HoltDavid Yankey and Stanford's offensive line have kept grinding down foes despite constant turnover.
For as much credit as Stanford gets for overcoming the losses of Toby Gerhart, Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck over the past few seasons, forgotten is that the offensive line has had to re-invent itself several times over with multiple standouts leaving for the NFL. The philosophy remains the same. But the personalities of each line have changed throughout the years.

“It starts in recruiting,” said Bloomgren, who began his career as a graduate assistant at Alabama and cut his teeth for four seasons as an offensive assistant with the New York Jets. “We were fortunate to plug in the three new guys last year and have them grow (Schwartzstein, Yankey and Cameron Fleming). Then you lose David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin a year early and it’s like, wow, now we have to do it again. David Yankey comes around and wins the Morris Trophy (given to the Pac-12's top lineman) and is a consensus All-American. It’s a compliment to those guys and how they work and striving to get better. They call themselves the Tunnel Worker’s Union. Those guys buy into that stuff.”

Along with assistant Ron Crook -- who manages the tight ends and offensive tackles -- Bloomgren also coordinates Stanford’s rushing attack, which has produced a three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor. And like any good running back, Taylor knows where his bread is buttered. He’s rushed for 1,000 yards behind three very different offensive line units.

“They are a lot more goofy than last year,” Taylor said. “They are great guys. I wouldn’t want to be behind any other line. They are physical, tough, smart and athletic. That’s the thing. They are really big athletic guys running around. It all starts with them and to win games, they have to do their job. And we are winning games so they are obviously doing their job.”

Stanford’s downhill, power-running approach is appealing to prospective offensive lineman. And the fact that they have offensive packages that involve as many as eight offensive linemen at a time is also attractive.

“For us, we’ve played one true freshman on the offensive line, up until this year, during the last five years,” Shaw said. “This year we’ve played three. And those guys have earned that. Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Josh Garnett. Those guys have earned that. And those guys have taken some beatings in that room. Some verbal assaults, if you will.

“… There are a lot of places that play five starters and the rest of the guys watch. They’ve had success and that’s great. But we’re going to play eight -- at least eight -- just in the Rose Bowl. And we’ve been that way all year. If we can play nine, we’ll play nine. A young guy comes in and knows he’s going to have a chance to play. That he won’t sit on the bench for three years. If he does it right. If he can survive in our room, he’ll get a chance to play.”

Danser -- who became a full-time starter this year after seeing lots of time the last couple of years as a reserve -- has seen some great offensive linemen come and go. And he’s witnessed each season how the line has rediscovered a new identity and how each group takes on a life of its own.

“It really comes down to the work we do in the winter, spring and summer,” Danser said. “It really forms this unit. It takes leaders like Sam and leaders in the past like Chase Beeler, James McGillicuddy, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Andrew Phillips. It’s that leadership that makes this a great unit.”

And the trio of freshmen who have made their debuts this year know they are getting their trial by fire on the field -- and in The Room.

“The coaches and the older guys won’t let anything slide,” Garnett said. “They always find something. Yankey tells me you have to find something. You never do it right. Always be nit-picky and find something you did wrong. That’s what we’re all about -- getting to that next level, never being content. You are always looking for the perfect block.”

Stanford's most improved player

January, 20, 2012
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Looking for the most improved player on Stanford's football team didn't take long. Especially when you consider the circumstances that brought David Yankey to the starting lineup in training camp.

At 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, he has a tackle's body. And he was very much in the mix for the starting right tackle spot before the season started. But the decision was made about three weeks before the first game of the year to move the redshirt freshman from tackle to guard -- a position he had never played in his life.

Now, 13 starts later, Yankey is a veteran.

"There were a lot of mistakes early on," Yankey said. "But through the season as I started to get more adjusted to the role, I got better at pulling and played better overall."

He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention and freshman All-America honors by Yahoo for his efforts in helping Stanford to the nation's 18th-ranked rushing offense at 210.6 yards per game. Stanford was also seventh nationally in sacks allowed.

"Having never played guard before, I didn't really have a reaction when coach asked me to switch," Yankey said. "They said I had enough versatility to play guard, so I just did what I could to help out the team."

In Stanford's gap-scheme running attack, the guards do a great deal of pulling. That was new to Yankey, who leaned heavily on guard David DeCastro, an Outland Trophy finalist who is expected to go in the first round of the NFL draft.

"Watching him play is incredible," Yankey said of DeCastro. "He's a beast. That's the only way to describe him. He has awesome hands and feet, his technique is amazing. And I'll pick his brain all the time. He has so much knowledge and he's such a great player."

With three new starters on the offensive line heading into the season, there were some question marks about the unit. Yankey said he and fellow new starters Sam Schwartzstain and Cameron Fleming were aware of the questions, but never let them deter them. He credited running game coordinator Mike Bloomgren for getting the line up to speed and helping them adjust quickly as a unit.

With DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin leaving for the NFL, the Cardinal will again have to fill some spots on the line. Yankey said if another position switch is called for, he's ready to make the move. He no longer considers himself just a tackle or just a guard.

"I'm politically correct about it," Yankey said. "I'm an offensive lineman.

"We'll figure everything out in the spring and in training camp and see who's better at playing where. It's about finding the right combination that can protect the quarterback and run the football the way we want to."

Play-calling: Good, bad and funny

October, 30, 2011
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For the first time this season, Stanford head coach David Shaw was called out during a postgame news conference about his play-calling. He didn't seem to mind it the first two times, but the third time he was asked about the same play, it was clear he was starting to get perturbed.

The play in question came with 7:11 remaining in the game and Cardinal trailing USC 27-24 Saturday night. Drew Terrell had just returned a punt 32 yards to the USC 29-yard line.

The sequence that followed:
  • First-and-10: Quarterback Andrew Luck rushed for 14 yards to the USC 15.
  • First-and-10: Luck throws incomplete to wide receiver Chris Owusu.
  • Second-and-10: Stepfan Taylor rushes for 2 yards to the USC 13.
  • Third-and-8: Tyler Gaffney rushes for 2 yards to the USC 11.

This last play is the one that left some scratching their heads, because Gaffney took the direct snap out of the Wildcat formation. Shaw was questioned about his decision to take the ball out of Luck's hands in the red zone. On fourth down, Eric Whitaker converted the 29-yard field goal to tie the game at 27-27.

First question: What was his thought process?

"I'm thinking it was a good play -- it was a good call," Shaw said. "We wanted to make sure we got the field goal. It was a safe call. But we thought it was a good play."

Second question: We're they playing for the field goal?

"Not necessarily," Shaw said. "If they play with two high, with two safeties, we had a chance to get the first down. If they play with single safety, we gotta make sure there is one guy unblocked and we put it in Gaffney's hands and try to make him miss. Just like he did last week and the week before and the week before. The thing with us, we've got the field goal, let's run a play we know is sound. He still has a chance to get it, but let's just run it."

Third question: Had Stanford lost the game, would he second-guess the call?

"Not at all," Shaw said -- starting to show a little frustration at the line of questioning. "It's the right call. We didn't get the first down, we kicked the field goal and we tied it. What else do you guys want? You guys are picky. Unbelievable."

Shaw is one to keep his emotions in check. And for the most part he did Saturday night. But it was clear that he didn't appreciate being pressed three times on the same play.

He quickly lightened the mood however, with what he didn't say. Shaw was praising the play-calling of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and running game coordinator Mike Bloomgren.

But when asked who called the double-reverse, wide receiver pass (from Luck to Ty Montgomery) out of the Wildcat formation that went for 62 yards, Shaw let a devilish grin escape, and then he raised his eyebrows twice.

Well-played, Mr. Shaw.

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