April 28, 2009

Stanford's Kopa on the move again

STANFORD, Calif. - Matt Kopa is used to changing positions.

After being recruited as one of the top-rated defensive ends in the country from Elk Grove, Calif., in 2004. Kopa has found a home on the Stanford offensive line.

Kopa, after a redshirt freshman season, played in 12 games at defensive end. As a sophomore he moved to defensive tackle, appearing in 11 games as a reserve.

But as his junior year approached Stanford coaches moved the 6-foot-6, 297-pound athlete to the offensive line, and Kopa shined. Appearing in 11 games, Kopa earned a start in the final six. The move to right tackle has been good for Stanford and Kopa.

This spring Kopa was on the move once again.

"I think I did really well this spring," Kopa said. "I feel I improved a lot. I switched around to both left and right side. The first session I was mostly left tackle, and I was working a lot better there since last year I played right."

Playing right or left tackle utilizes many of the same skill sets, but there is a learning curve involved.

"The technique is just opposite," Kopa said. "Everything is just mirrored. It's almost like a new position. Different footwork, different hand. You just have to get used to it. [I] just need to get some more reps at that."

Many of the Cardinal offensive linemen are able to line up at multiple positions. Chris Marinelli (tackle and guard), Chase Beeler (center and guard) are just two others players who have seen action at more than one position on the line.

"It's huge advantage to have the versatility we have," Kopa said. "Having the ability to play one position or the other, the coaches can switch us around whenever they want. And playing good and performing well at each gives us so many more options.

"If someone goes down and gets hurt, we know that next guy is just as good. He steps up and we don't have any speed bumps going up and down with our play. And we all know the game plan. And it is key with the communication, we all know what the other guys assignment is and what he will be doing. It's a big advantage."

One adjustment Kopa and his line mates have had to make is the loss of Chris Dalman and the addition of Greg Roman. And that transition has been very positive for all involved. Both Roman and Tim Drevno coach the offensive line and the players are happy with the results.

"It's great, it was really great," Kopa said. "Having Coach Roman's knowledge, his experience, he's been in the NFL. And having him teach us and drill us has been really beneficial. On top of Coach Drev's and what he brings. Having both of them, you can't beat that."

One aspect that has made the change smooth was the fact Stanford is employing many of the same zone-blocking schemes used by Dalman.

"The scheme has been the same, we are just adding more plays and expanding what we do," Kopa explained. "We still run a lot of zone. We do some trap now, stuff like that. We are just adding more."

The veteran line will try to replace the 'heart and soul' of the offense, Alex Fletcher.

"Alex was a great guy, and he brought it to the table every day, every practice," Kopa said. "But we have to move on and play without him. We have to step up and fill that void at the leadership role."

Several young players emerged this spring to give the Cardinal a solid two-deep roster heading into the fall, and Kopa said he thinks the offensive line will again flourish.

"We are getting some good depth, the o-line has a lot of experience," Kopa said. "The younger guys are getting some good reps and it is time for them to step up and do what they can do. I think they can do some great things for us.

"I definitely think the offensive line can be the strength of the team again."

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