It didn't take David Shaw many words to express his satisfaction as he reported sophomore tackle Kyle Murphy's weight this August.
"290. Awesome," a slight smile cracked across the coach's face.
He was excited, and it's hard to blame him. Back in spring, Murphy was listed at only 272 pounds, and Shaw expressed his desire for the athletic, fundamentally polished tackle to tack on about 15 pounds of muscle so that his frame would be prepared for every-down duty. The Orange County native has now surpassed that expectation behind several months of gradual strengthening, and the already-formidable Stanford offensive line is looking that much scarier one day into 2013 fall camp.
"It was an incremental [gain], which is what you want," Shaw explained. "You don't want a huge weight gain, because that's going to come back and hurt you. It was incremental. It was systematic."
By all looks, sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley's incremental and systematic approach affected more than just Murphy. New muscle around the roster, particularly along both lines, stole the show on the Cardinal's first day of practice since last April.
Guard Johnny Caspers, who's gained about 30 pounds since he stepped onto campus last summer, is checking in at about 300 pounds now and ready to enter the playing time fray (remember that there's plenty of room for action on the Stanford offensive line outside of the starters). Senior defensive end Henry Anderson, who's bulked up to 295 pounds "without losing a step," has been the talk of summer. Sophomore nose tackle Ikenna Nwafor, who lost 40 pounds of fat upon stepping onto campus last year, has layered on 18 pounds of muscle since. He's checking in at 298 pounds now, a weight that defense coordinator Derek Mason says has him "ready to go" in the defensive line rotation this year.
Moving to the secondary, safety Jordan Richards looks noticeably more chiseled, too.
"You look at Jordan, you look at Ed Reynolds, they both took their offseason programs seriously," Mason said. "I think they understood how good last year was, but they're not satisfied. That's one of the great things about being at a place like this. These guys just want more. They're hungry."
On a larger scale, Shaw said that he's content with the physical progress of about 90 percent of Stanford's roster, but not thrilled with lagging performances from the remaining 10 percent. He said that the unspecified "couple of players" who failed Turley's end-of-summer conditioning test are not allowed to partake in practice until they pass it.
"We have a standard around here where if you don't pass the conditioning test, you don't practice," Shaw said. "There's no punishment, nothing else, it's just that if you don't pass the conditioning test, you're not in good enough shape to play on this football team."
The Pivotal War for Center
The center battle remains the focal point of Stanford's offensive line development, and today's interview with Conor McFadden delves further into that process. The competition in the middle has potentially major ramifications for the right guard position: If Kevin Danser is the one who replaces Sam Schwartzstein, the right guard starting spot can quickly turn into a melee between Josh Garnett, Caspers, and last year's left guard starter, Khalil Wilkes.
Shaw says it's too early to identify standouts since it's only day one and his team won't don pads until Friday's practice, but he did say the cerebral battle for playbook mastery at the center position is already well underway, and that the primary candidates (McFadden, Danser, and Wilkes) are "about even" in that regard. During the early open period of practice, which lasted for only about 20 minutes, Danser took repetitions with the first team at center while Garnett and Caspers rotated at right guard. Far more went unseen during the closed portion, though, so a better gauge of developments on this front should be available next week.
Shaw said that 6-foot-8 sophomore Luke Kaumatule is officially Stanford's starting 'Y' tight end. The other spot at the position will be up for grabs throughout this spring, but Davis Dudchock and Charlie Hopkins both impressed the coach during day one.
Hopkins, in particular, has earned respect within the program for how he has attacked his transformation from the defensive line to this offensive position. The change has required a significant, and rather rapid, drop in weight. Stanford's most current roster now lists Hopkins at 262 pounds.
"He's healthy for the first time in three years," Shaw said. "He was constantly in a weight gain mode [as a defensive lineman], trying to get up to 280, 290. Now that's he's a tight end, he's moving down into the 250s. He feels really good and he moves around really well."
Hogan's Comfort Level
Quarterback Kevin Hogan enters his second season as Stanford's starter with longer hair than fullback Ryan Hewitt, who usually looks like a Braveheart warrior (though it's important to note that Hogan's hair isn't at the 'flowing' length just yet). Shaw said that No. 8's comfort level within the Cardinal's scheme has grown exponentially over a full offseason of playbook acclimatization.
"[Coming out of the offseason], I asked him what his top five pass ideas were," Shaw said. "A year ago, I'd ask him for five, and he'd have to kind of think. But after all summer of going through what we've got, he's got a comfort level now. It's nice to know that I know what those plays are, and we're going to make sure we work them into the gameplan."
Expect Hogan to have more freedom on the field this year, particularly since Stanford will likely have to rely on him more with Stepfan Taylor, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo all departed.
"I think we're just going to give him more. It's not that we dumbed it down for him last year, because it was still pretty complex, but we have to take the training wheels off to certain degree, and make sure that he has a chance to grow," Shaw said. "It's about mastering the offense now. It's about going through a week of practice and not having a question for me... knowing everything so well that he's got it all under control."
Parry Highlights the Front Seven
Beyond Henry Anderson's head-turning 295-pound frame, nose tackle David Parry is making a name for himself just as Nwafor, the man behind him on the depth chart, is also establishing a presence.
"First off, let's just get this out there: David Parry is a beast," Mason said without being prompted.
Mason said sophomore defensive end Jordan Watkins, who made positive strides this offseason (he won the 'Fat Bowl,' a competition of linemen in the spring), is just a step behind Nwafor in his development, but that a lot can change in the next two weeks of camp.
Meanwhile, sophomore Noor Davis has been moved from his old outside linebacker position to the inside. Mason believes that Stanford "has found the right spot for him" within the scheme. He explains more in today's radio interview.
Sophomore Alex Carter is the standard against which all Stanford defensive backs are judged. Mason says that a finally healthy, stronger Barry Browning and Wayne Lyons have both registered offseasons to put themselves in strong position to match that standard.
"Wayne Lyons is probably in the best mental and physical place that he's ever been in," Mason said. "There's not much difference I see between Wayne and Alex Carter, just in terms of movement and ability."
Junior Devon Carrington, who has played exclusively at safety so far in his Stanford career, will have a chance to showcase his versatility and play cornerback this year as well.
"I need at least four or five corners to play during the season," Mason said. "Between so much spread and spread gun, you have to play multiple guys, because teams are getting you up to the 80s and 90s in total snaps."
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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