The Taper Begins
"In the mornings, we're going to get after it like we always do," David Shaw said. "The afternoons will be more of a thinking man's practice."
Meanwhile, Stanford's coaches will begin thinking about San Jose State. They're set to gradually begin game planning for the Spartans, who kick off their season this Thursday evening against Sacramento State, nine days before the Cardinal start theirs. Since Stanford's opener is not beginning until 8 p.m. the following Saturday, the Farm Boys will be the last college football team in the country to start their 2013 season.
They also, of course, hope to be one the last two clubs playing this year. Accomplishing that goal will require the successful navigation of a treacherous schedule that will feature 12 games in a 13-week span.
"Our trail is hard enough," Shaw said. "It starts in a couple weeks, so we're all pretty patient. We're eager to watch some football. We'll watch some Thursday night and watch some Saturday."
Shaw hopes that his Stanford players will magnify the positives of having the chance to sit back and watch other teams begin their journeys.
"We have a chance to see some teams have their first game jitters," he said. "We have a chance to watch teams this week lose games that they shouldn't because of turnovers, penalties, and being sloppy."
The added week of preparation has given Stanford's coaching staff extra time to prepare a season-long practice plan designed to keep the team as fresh as possible through its virtually nonstop marathon. The Cardinal's season will essentially be divided into thirds, and each successive phase will feature reduced practice contact so that bodies can remain fresh.
"We've got some things in the works as far as our schedule goes to make sure we're smart about taking care of our bodies throughout the season," Shaw said. "We want to be known as finishers."
Small Bangs and Bruises
Along those lines, the Cardinal are taking precautions to ensure that that the roster is at perfect health before September 7. Running backs Anthony Wilkerson and Ricky Seale, held out of Saturday's scrimmage because of minor issues, both returned Monday. Seale was full-go, while Wilkerson participated at the end of the afternoon session.
Safety Ed Reynolds, who experienced groin soreness last week, wanted to take part in Monday's practice, but Stanford's staff forced him to sit out until at least tomorrow. Defensive back Usua Amanam is also expected back sometime this week, while Ty Montgomery is expected back soon after being held out Monday as a precaution.
Tight Ends, Receivers, and Red Zone Production
Shaw said that Stanford put added emphasis on red zone situations during Monday's practice. Remember that the offense struggled from inside the 20-yard line at Saturday's scrimmage, failing to score until the last play from scrimmage. (Freshman quarterback Ryan Burns rescued a broken play and hit fellow newbie Eric Cotton with a strong throw in the back of the end zone.)
Tight ends are obviously critical pieces of red zone production, and Stanford hopes that the unproven bruisers they have at the position will develop into viable targets close to the goal line. Shaw again spoke hopefully of the impressive size and athleticism his team has at tight end, noting that Luke Kaumatule is checking in at 265 pounds while Charlie Hopkins, a former defensive lineman, has found an optimal weight for his new position in the 250s.
While Shaw also mentioned athletic 290-pound offensive lineman Kyle Murphy when discussing the group, he only mentioned redshirt junior Davis Dudchock later, primarily in the context of a slot position.
"He's still fighting for a role and for playing time," Shaw said. "He's not as big and physical as the other tight ends, but he does a solid job. He has a tight end battle, but he's also battling with a guy like [wide receiver] Devon Cajuste, who is another big guy who plays in the slot."
Shaw's words confirm speculation that dates back to the day Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo departed for the NFL Draft: Cajuste, though a receiver at heart, will see some overlap in duties with Stanford's tight ends, simply because of his imposing 230-pound frame, which is larger than the other receivers'. On the flip side, the 242-pound Dudchock, considerably lighter than the other behemoths at tight end, will be used accordingly.
Speaking of receivers, Shaw again praised Jordan Pratt for his performance at Saturday's scrimmage. He also lauded junior receiver Rollins Stallworth for playing well. Stanford players have long regarded Stallworth as an excellent practice performer. Some have even called him a "terror on the scout team" because of his consistent production against the first-team defense at that position.
Stanford's only true remaining position question mark remains at the center, where Shaw said progress toward naming a starter will come within the next few days. He reiterated that the battle is "close", before repeating that Kevin Danser is almost certainly out of the mix because of his value at right guard.
"It's nice to know that, in an emergency, he can get in there and get the job done," Shaw said.
That means that Khalil Wilkes and Conor McFadden are the final two candidates to replace Sam Schwartzstein in the middle of the Cardinal's offensive line. Wilkes has the physical advantage, while Danser recently lauded McFadden for "knowing the playbook better than any of the quarterbacks."
Shaw said that "one, maybe two" members of Stanford's true freshman tight end trio could see the field this season. Cotton, Austin Hooper, and Greg Taboada have all impressed the coach.
"Austin Hooper has made some big plays," he said. "He's a physical sucker, just as you would expect a De La Salle young man to be."
Bootleg Radio: Team Speed
Stanford defensive back Devon Carrington and linebacker Torsten Rotto are today's Bootleg Radio guests. Rotto shares his perspective of climbing up the depth chart as a former walk-on, while Carrington talks about what it takes to be versatile in the Cardinal's secondary.
"We're underestimated speed-wise as a team," he said. "We have fast guys that just don't get recognized for it. We've been coached like that since day one."
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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