Sept. 17, 2004
This is the fifth installment of a weekly column that takes you inside the minds of Stanford's assistant football coaches. Each week we will converse with an assistant coach to provide an inside look at a particular area of the team. This week we sit down with offensive line coach Steve Morton.
by Janelle Kwietkauski
JK: Can you talk about your starters and key backups? What do each of them bring to the table?
SM: Jon Cochran starts at left tackle. He brings game experience even though the position is new to him because he started at right tackle a year ago. He is a good athlete who moves his feet well. Ismail Simpson is the left guard. He has the most playing experience of any of the offensive lineman. He is a fiery competitor who works hard and enjoys playing the game of football. Brian Head is the center. He is the oldest lineman we have even though he is just a junior. He is a great example of someone who cares enough about his teammates that he is willing to make sacrifices. Josiah Vinson is the right guard. He was hampered last year due to an injury. He has made great improvements from a year ago. He is a very tough player. Jeff Edwards is the right tackle. The position is still relatively new to him. He went to a high school in Atlanta that ran the wishbone offense and now he is out on the field playing tackle and blocking the edges. He has made the transition extremely well.
The key backup roles start with Tim Mattran who is our swing tackle. He has a great work ethic, durability, and versatility. He can play both tackle spots for us. David Beall is the swing backup at guard. He rotated quite a bit last year at both guard positions so he has quite a few snaps under his belt. Mikal Brewer can play guard or center. He is out of Phoenix, Arizona, and serves as our backup at center right now. Those five starters and three backups are the core unit we have on the line right now.
JK: The running game has produced and the protection for Trent Edwards has been good against both San Jose State and BYU. How do you feel about the performance of the line?
SM: Our performance against San Jose State was good. I told the players that their effort was an "A". We were unable to have scouting tape to prepare for San Jose State. To have absolutely no tape on a team is difficult. We had an idea of what they were going to run but they did surprise us. We produced against them but we had to make adjustments.
The BYU game I thought was an "A+" in effort. The defense that BYU runs is very unique. There are not very many teams in college football that run the style of defense that BYU runs. It's multiple in it's presentation. It's deceptive, and it's disorienting at times. I think the line played extremely hard. You could see on (Mark) Bradford's long reception the offensive linemen running down the field. They were running their tails off to get down there.
JK: What are your expectations of the line?
SM: I expect them to execute their fundamentals. Their assignments, their footwork, their targeting, their striking, and their finishing the block are all very important. If you are not strong in your fundamentals, then there will come a time and a place that it will show up. There's a saying that "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard". That is what I want to see from my players. At the end of the day, they each can look at themselves in the mirror and have the question "Did we win?" If the answer to that is "Yes," then great. The bigger question is "Did I do the best I could?" So if the answer to the first question is "No," as you look at yourself in the mirror, then you can say that "We lost but it's not because I didn't do the best job I could do."
JK: What are the strengths of the line as a group?
SM: Any offensive line's strength is its togetherness. I affectionately call them the `five little piggies' because outside the center, they don't touch the ball. They are the only guys on the team that do not have the opportunity to touch the ball. In most sports, everyone has the opportunity to touch the ball, but in football there is nothing designed for the offensive lineman to touch the ball. There are plays where a lineman may touch the ball, as with a fumble but that is because the play did not go as planned. They have to work as one unit. They understand that they have each others' backs. They have to be co-dependent on each other. They are like their own fraternity inside this big operation. When I see that, I know that they will be alright.
JK: Who is the leader on the line? How does his leadership help the others?
SM: The biggest leader is Brian Head. He is the oldest member of the line. There are a lot of young players who are very close in age. They all have different strengths and weaknesses and some of them are developing into good leaders. Brian epitomizes what you want out of a leader. He is someone who is willing to sacrifice his time, knowledge, and conviction to someone that is younger and help them. He demands holding himself accountable to them so they in turn can be accountable to him. I think that is what Brian epitomizes.
JK: You were an offensive lineman in your playing days at Washington State. How has this helped you as a coach?
SM: I've been there and done that. I've been down in the trenches. The trenches are not a pleasant place to be on a game day. There are a lot of blows to the body that go unseen and there are a lot of fingers to the face. It's kind of a street fight in there and that is the fun part of the game. I've had those experiences so I can laugh with the players. There are some awfully funny things that are on the game tapes. It's fun to enjoy part of that with them. Having played the position, I do understand what it takes to play the position.
JK: You've been coaching for 29 years. You've coached a long list of prominent players including Lincoln Kennedy, Kwame Harris and Olin Kreutz. What has this experience been like and how has it helped you?
SM: There is a coaching saying which I think is very true ... "Coaches coach great players great, good players good, average players average, and bad players bad." You are supposed to be able to control your personnel through recruiting at this level. The players mentioned were great players and that is a credit to their genetics. They are great athletes and there is something special about their makeup. I've been blessed to be at places where there have been great players recruited. Sometimes I have been a part of that recruiting process, and other times I have inherited the players. I am most proud of seeing a player that may not be as talented produce through their hard work and preservation. I think that the coaches job is to get inside the heads of all the players and demand that they be the best that they can be.