Stanford surprises by doing it with defense

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Stanford surprises by doing it with defense

Sept. 14, 2011STANFORD PAGE COLLEGE PAGETOP 25 SCHEDULE PREVIEW: NO 6 STANFORD vs. ARIZONA

STANFORD -- (AP) One linebacker spreads black paint all across his face. Another screams after every sack. The safeties regularly jar helmets loose, dancing and smiling in celebration.

Apparently Stanford's defense is trying to get noticed.

On a team with Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck anchoring a high-scoring offense, that isn't always easy. Even Luck isn't sure why there isn't more fuss made about the performance of his defensive teammates.

"They've definitely outplayed us right now as a unit," he said. "It's awesome to be on the same team as them."

The defensive starters haven't allowed anyone into the end zone yet, another sign of an emerging strength that is making Stanford twice as dangerous. The Cardinal rank second in the nation in run defense (28.5 yards) and 11th in scoring defense (8.5 points) per game this season, showing they can be every bit as dominant as their star quarterback.

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Of course, blowout victories against inferior opponents such as San Jose State and Duke -- outscoring both by a combined 101-17 -- are hardly the measure of a strong defense.

The first major test for sixth-ranked Stanford (2-0) and its surging defense comes Saturday night under the lights in the desert, facing a fast-paced Arizona (1-1) team that prides itself on piling up points. The Pac-12 opener for both teams is a matchup that has typically been one determined by offense, a trend the Cardinal hope to break.

Easier said than done.

Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles has thrown for 810 yards and six touchdowns in two games this season. He also had 415 yards passing and three touchdowns in a 43-38 victory over Stanford the last time the two teams faced each other in Tucson.

Going a third straight game without allowing an offensive touchdown this season for Stanford's first-team unit is an unlikely feat. Yet a veteran-stacked defense believes it's within reach.

"That's definitely our goal," safety Michael Thomas said. "That's definitely something we talk about and we take pride in."

There was no area that figured to be impacted more by the coaching turnover this offseason than the defense.

When Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio - known by players as "Lord Fangio" - departed with him. The move figured to hand Stanford a catastrophic blow in the booth and on the field.

After all, the Cardinal ranked 110th nationally in pass defense and 90th nationally in overall defense in 2009. Now they're among the nation's best.

"The bottom line is we have better defensive players than we've had before," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "And they have a lot of pride on the performance that they put on film."

The Cardinal appear to be on the same path that Fangio first carved out.

New co-defensive coordinators Derek Mason and Jason Tarver have split duties - Mason calls the plays from the booth, Tarver is on the sidelines and also gives input - and made the staff transition seamless. Unlike the slow starts the offense has had in the first two weeks, the defense has hardly had a hiccup.

That is, except for maybe the eye black on linebacker Shayne Skov's face smearing in the North Carolina heat or teammate Chase Thomas vomiting at halftime because of a stomach bug.

"Might have been too much barbecue," Thomas said.

Not that anybody noticed.

Thomas already has 3 12 of the team's eight sacks. Stanford has recovered four fumbles and allowed just 57 yards rushing in two games, allowing only one defensive touchdown against Duke -- and that came late against the second- and third-string units.

About the only thing Stanford's defense doesn't have yet is an interception, largely because opponents haven't tried to throw the ball deep down the field. They'll certainly have their chance in the pass-first Pac-12, starting in the dry air of the Arizona desert.

"You've got these guys getting all the stats these first two games," safety Michael Thomas said. "Now we finally get a chance to get our hands on the ball and make some plays. We definitely accept the challenge."

Derek Carr to be ready for Raiders offseason activities; 'He's fired up'

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Derek Carr to be ready for Raiders offseason activities; 'He's fired up'

PHOENIX – Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s rehab from a broken fibula has been smooth and steady. He had surgery to repair a bone broken in a Week 16 victory over Indianapolis, an injury that essentially killed hopes of a Raiders division, conference or league championship.

Carr’s return to health progressed through the winter, leaving him ready to start playing football again soon.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said at this week’s NFL owners meetings that Carr should be a full participant in offseason activities. The offseason program begins April 17, with a few weeks of strength and conditioning.

The first set of OTAs starts on May 22, and Carr is expected to participate fully in those workouts. There are 12 OTAs followed by a three-day mandatory minicamp that ends June 15.

Barring a setback, the Raiders won’t pull the reins on Carr’s participation during that stretch.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to take it easy,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s fired up. I got to see him working out with the trainers last week before we came down (to Phoenix). He’s doing well. I think he’s really excited about where it is and how the rehab is going. We expect to have him for all the OTAs and everything.”

A's newfound leverage has limits and Libby Schaaf can take a punch

A's newfound leverage has limits and Libby Schaaf can take a punch

John Fisher has shown admirable restraint so far as he contemplates life without the Oakland Raiders in his craw. For one, he hasn’t jumped up and down on Libby Schaaf’s desk and demand that the Oakland mayor take care of the only team she ever has to worry about ever again.

Then again, that might just be prudence on his part. In her present frame of mind, she might take such an opportunity to punch him about 35 times directly in the throat.

Schaaf’s strategy to keep the National Football League from steamrolling her worked, though it came with far more irritation at the end of the process than she thought. She learned face-first that dealing with the NFL means being attacked on all fronts, including the demonstrably false fronts tossed up at the end. She may have thought foolishly that the NFL could be somehow persuaded to see Oakland's rationale for keeping the team, but found out just how well the NFL does dismissive. Frankly, she looked Monday like she’d just had a marathon run over her.

This is not an attempt at sympathy, mind you. She’s a politician in a major American city, and she knew the job was dangerous when took it.

But now that the A’s are the last turkey in the shop, it would be good for Fisher and his new public face, Dave Kaval, to take great care not to push the city too hard. Their leverage has limits, and Schaaf, having punched the NFL to a draw by refusing to budge from his original stadium proposal, knows she can take a punch.

Also, she knows that the A’s don’t have the options the Raiders had. In short, her first offer is likely to be damned close to her last offer, because she just showed that she can do that.

In other words, the A’s have only that leverage the mayor will allow them, and will have to be happy that for the first time ever, they have no impediments between them and a new stadium save their own abilities to achieve them.

You see, the A’s new stadium has been painted as a privately financed operation, and even though there is actually no such thing (the Giants got city money for infrastructure and security when they built PacSBC&TT Park, and never forget that), that’s what it has to remain.

Oakland is trying to guide the A’s toward the Howard Terminal site with all its come-hither stares, but would tolerate Brooklyn Basin or the Coliseum. The A’s want something that allows them to cash in on the land around the stadium (shops, eateries, drinkeries, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, etc.). That much is easily done.

After that, though, Fisher and Kaval need to understand that as one of the few mayors in the nation who gave and held to a take-it-or-leave-it proposal the NFL hated at the start, middle and end, Schaaf has some steel in her spine, and now has the experience to wield it. They push too hard at their peril.

Not because they can be forced from the city, but because they could be left in the Coliseum well beyond their four-year revenue sharing window. At that point, any losses are real-money losses, and any profits come at the expense of the product.

In short, the stadium is the A’s project alone, and though Fisher and Kaval know that and have said all the right things in mind, the temptation to poke the wasp hive of public money may be too much to decline. The smart move is to accept that they are the last team standing, Oaklandically speaking, but not to assume too much beyond that.

The A’s should view this opportunity as theirs and theirs alone. They should also view as an opportunity with limits, because the undertold story about the Raiders’ move is that Schaaf lost almost no approval rating points during the process. She made it clear that the city’s commitment to the Raiders was finite and its interest in letting the NFL turn the Coliseum into the Oklahoma Land Rush was a non-starter, and she stuck to her guns with the only cost being her exasperation level late in the process. Frankly, she might have been better off announcing on Day One that any NFL official entering the city limits would be summarily jailed, jail the first one and then dare them to send any more.

That would have been the pure Oakland play.

As for the A’s, their pure Oakland play is to own the town with their deeds. A stadium built on their own dime that people want to see, and a team with talent and attitude that makes the stadium worth having.