For Peat's Sake
Andrus Peat lumbered off Stanford's Elliot Practice Field Saturday without regard to his scraped nose, which absorbed some damage during the Cardinal's first public exhibition. He walked even taller than his already massive 6-foot-7 frame, fresh off his most impressive performance in a college uniform.
"The light has come on for Andrus," David Shaw said. "It was flickering for a while, but it may have come on for good today."
Peat's monstrous performance paved the way for a balanced Stanford practice effort that should spark even more optimism surrounding the team's 2013 prospects.
"I'm most excited about the fact that both sides made plays," Shaw said. "As a head coach, you hate to see one side dominate, so it was good to see both sides make big plays."
A year ago at this time, in a foreshadowing of the defensive dominance that lay ahead, the Cardinal's immovable front seven suffocated the team's offense on nearly every down from scrimmage. And while Stanford's defense performed well in practice again -- linebackers Trent Murphy and James Vaughters, in particular, stymied drives with trademarked pressure from the outside -- the Cardinal's offense showed a sturdy foundation peppered with explosive potential.
Peat's 300-plus pound lockdown on left tackle provided the backbone. At least once, the human pillar of granite stopped cold even Vaughters, who was "phenomenal" by Shaw's own account.
"Some of the stuff Andrus can do athletically, it's scary," Stanford assistant Mike Sanford said. "Physically, mentally, emotionally, he's really starting to have fun out here. The other day after practice, he came up to me and said, 'Coach, that went by too fast. I wish we had more reps today.' It's awesome to see how much he's enjoying playing."
The Offensive Line: Comfort Zones Up Front
The rest of Stanford's front, which seems to be settling into its comfort zone, certainly intensifies this fun. David Yankey, an All-American a year ago despite not starting at his natural position, shifted back to the left-guard land of pull-blocking paradise. Khalil Wilkes worked with the first team back at his preferred center position while Sam Schwartzstein, now out of eligibility, assisted the coaching staff. Veteran right tackle Cameron Fleming enjoyed a pair of spirited battles with youngster Aziz Shittu as part of his first-team duties. Kevin Danser started at right guard, though the Saratoga native will likely have to fend off a serious challenge from champion beefeater Joshua Garnett, whose strength shone through on the second team.
The Future of the Passing Game: New Weapons
Fans are starting to see in earnest why the 2012 offensive line class so excited the staff. With the mix of returning talent and those youngsters, Stanford's beef up front has made everything that much easier for the offense.
The Cardinal attack began to implement a promising, efficient short passing game that strives to utilize a wealth of emerging pass-catching talent. Six-foot-eight Luke Kaumatule was especially impressive Saturday, flashing much-improved hands before quickly rumbling for positive north-south yardage after the catch.
"Coach Shaw is a prophet," Sanford said. "He knew [Luke] was going to be good. He's been really effective moving forward and getting extra yards after contact."
Sanford praised fellow tight end Davis Dudchock for his renewed drive to deliver through run blocking, and the rising redshirt junior saw considerable time as a result. But Stanford's offense conjured the most intrigue through its free-wheeling rotation of receiving targets, who shifted between teams Saturday. With a handful of emerging talents nearing game readiness, the Cardinal look much deeper at the position than in years past, and Saturday's play-calling demonstrated a clear desire to utilize young talent.
Both Hogan and second stringer Evan Crower, who made several crisp and accurate throws, targeted Kelsey Young with a refreshing mixture of short and longer passes. The quarterbacks connected with the speedster on a pair of quick outs that have potential to become staples in Stanford's offense. Ty Montgomery, freshly fit with his new No. 7 jersey, showed extra bounce in his step and hauled in what Sanford called an "unbelievable catch on his back shoulder." He's presumably 100 percent healthy for the first time since he injured his knee October 6 versus Arizona.
While the Cardinal hope for a bounce-back season from their rising junior stalwart, Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste both delivered positives at the receiver position. Rector, who also battled through injury last season, may have surprised onlookers with his ferociousness in blocking drills. That physicality is especially significant given that his game has, to this point, drawn attention for its speed and not its brute force (he's only 6-foot-1, 190 pounds). Cajuste, meanwhile, Sanford's proclaimed "physical mismatch waiting to happen," hauled in a pretty 30-yard pass from Crower.
Kodi Whitfield also enjoyed significant first-team time, while up-and-comer Conner Crane flashed notably sticky hands in passing drills. A reserve wide receiver throughout his time at Stanford, senior Jeff Trojan caught a handful of passes to signal that a steady climb up the depth chart may not be out of the question.
"He's following the footsteps of the other under-the-radar guys that have been productive for us," Shaw said.
An Embarrassment of Backfield Riches
Running back, a position of strength even before Tyler Gaffney makes his return April 1, enjoyed its share of moments. Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, and Jackson Cummings all ran well, while a juke sprung Barry Sanders' 20-yard touchdown run and delighted the morning viewing contingent.
"I'm glad the [running back] room now rests in Tavita [Pritchard]'s hands," Sanford joked. "Those are going to be some hard decisions to decide who's going to play."
Meanwhile, another backfield component, fullback Ryan Hewitt, will likely make offensive playing time decisions easier because of his versatility. Given Stanford's desire for proven passing targets, the staff says he'll likely be called upon to contribute in a variety of places.
"[Fullback], that's his home," Sanford said. "But we can use him in different ways."
More Depth News: Murphy's Weight, Lloyd
One of the hot topics surrounding Stanford's recently released spring roster has been tackle Kyle Murphy's listed weight of 272 pounds, down from his originally listed figure of 278. Shaw admitted that the rising sophomore's weight has fluctuated throughout his first few months on The Farm, but that strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley is implementing a plan to ensure Murphy reaches the 280 pound range without losing any of his current quickness, which has impressed. Murphy will be counted on to provide jumbo beef and line versatility for Stanford in 2013 alongside fellow rising sophomores Johnny Caspers and Nick Davidson, both of whom have filled out nicely.
Speaking of weight, quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who manned the third-team offense, has packed on a noticeable amount of muscle. His poise and accuracy in leading the Cardinal's offense has made him a candidate to climb the depth chart ladder.
"It seems like the chains just continue to move when he's in there," Sanford said.
Moving back to the offensive line, there's a potential twist in the battle for the middle spot. Since Graham Shuler and Kevin Reihner are currently unavailable, Wilkes and Conor McFadden have anchored Stanford's center competition. But first-string guard Kevin Danser took center reps with the third team Saturday, and Shaw said that he "wouldn't fight it" if Danser entered the fray at center.
The Defense Does Not Rest
The complexion of Stanford's 2013 defense is much more evident at this point than that of the offense, which is certainly in a period of transition following the losses of Zach Ertz, Stepfan Taylor, Levine Toilolo, and Drew Terrell. Still, there are positions of question on a unit that may have been one of the country's best throughout the 2012 campaign.
Vaughters' powerful Saturday performance cannot be ignored, but Shaw mentioned that Blake Lueders' first public practice following two offseason shoulder surgeries was "just as good." Lueders took reps with Stanford's second-team defense, though conventional wisdom suggests that he'll give Vaughters a run for his money as his body re-acclimates to the football field over the coming months.
The cornerback situation opposite Alex Carter remains murky with Barry Browning sidelined for at least the first half of spring. Wayne Lyons took first-team reps Saturday, but it must be noted that last season's reserve nickel back Ronnie Harris lined up with the first team at cornerback at least once during defensive drills. Stanford receivers indicated that the rising redshirt sophomore's progress has thrust him into contention for a starting cornerback role, so that's a battle to watch as spring football progresses. Ra'Chard Pippens wore a yellow non-contact jersey Saturday, further limiting the Farm Boys' options at corner.
The Cardinal's emerging defensive depth also captured plenty of attention. Shittu has built his body into a tank, while fellow rising sophomores Ikenna Nwafor, Blake Martinez, and Jordan Watkins have all physically transformed to competitive size. Martinez, in particular, muscled through several blocks to record tackles.
Safety Ed Reynolds sat out Saturday's practice with a muscle pull but is expected back for Stanford's Tuesday session. Seale also "tweaked his leg," but Shaw expects him to be fully healthy again soon.
Tight end Alex Frkovic, who missed last season with an injured leg, still did not suit up. He joined Reynolds, Reihner, quarterback Josh Nunes, and recently converted tight end Charlie Hopkins as injury exclusions from Saturday's session. Meanwhile, Shuler, Shayne Skov, and receiver Keanu Nelson are missing this first spring practice session because of disciplinary issues.
The Barry Sanders Deal
A reporter asked Shaw why Stanford is not granting media interview requests for running back Barry Sanders, son of the eponymous NFL Hall of Famer.
"I'm not going to put a guy out front because of his name," Shaw said, citing disproportionate media interest in his rising redshirt freshman running back who has yet seen college action.
Here's The Bootleg's observed two-deep at Saturday's open Stanford
First Team Offense
QB - Kevin Hogan (2013 So.)
RB - Anthony Wilkerson (Sr.)
FB - Ryan Hewitt (Sr.)
LT - Andrus Peat (So.)
LG - David Yankey (Jr.)
C - Khalil Wilkes (Sr.)
RG - Kevin Danser (Sr.)
RT - Cameron Fleming (Jr.)
TE - Luke Kaumatule (So.)
WR - Ty Montgomery (Jr.)
WR - Kodi Whitfield (So.)
WR - Devon Cajuste (So.)
*Kelsey Young mixed in frequently (and ran some crisp short routes, a welcome change), as did Davis Dudchock (though he was the primary second team TE), Devon Cajuste, and Michael Rector. Jeff Trojan surprised with appearances all over the field and handful of receptions.
First Team Defense
DE - Henry Anderson (Jr.)
DE - Ben Gardner (Sr.)
DT - David Parry (Jr.)
OLB - Trent Murphy (Sr.)
OLB - James Vaughters (Jr.)
ILB - A.J. Tarpley (Jr.)
ILB - Jarek Lancaster (Sr.)*
FS - Devon Carrington (Sr.)*
SS - Jordan Richards (Jr.)
CB - Alex Carter (So.)
CB - Wayne Lyons (So.)
NB - Usua Amanam (Sr.)
*Shayne Skov is serving the second part of his suspension through the first spring session, while Ed Reynolds missed Saturday's practice after tweaking a muscle. He should be back Tuesday. Ronnie Harris also replaced Lyons for at least one point during drills.
Second Team Offense
QB - Evan Crower (So.)
RB - Remound Wright (So.)/Ricky Seale (Jr.)/Barry Sanders (Fr.)/Jackson Cummings (Jr.)
FB - Lee Ward (Jr.)
LT - Kyle Murphy (So.)
LG - Dillon Bonnell (Jr.)
C - Conor McFadden (Jr.)
RG - Joshua Garnett (So.)
RT - Brendon Austin (So.)
TE - Davis Dudchock (Jr.)
WR - Michael Rector (Fr.)
WR - Conner Crane (Fr.)
WR - Jordan Pratt (So.)
Second Team Defense
DE - Josh Mauro (Sr.)
DE - Aziz Shittu (So.)
DT - Ikenna Nwafor (Fr.)
OLB - Blake Lueders (Jr.)
OLB - Kevin Anderson (So.)
ILB - Blake Martinez (So.)
ILB - Joe Hemschoot (Jr.)
FS - Drew Madhu (So.)
SS - Kyle Olugbode (Jr.)*
CB - Ronnie Harris (So.)
CB - Chris Gaertner (Jr.)*
*Keep in mind that Zach Hoffpauir is playing baseball and Barry Browning is currently injured.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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