This can, of course, change in the blink of an eye, but Stanford is in excellent health three weeks away from its 2014 kickoff. That was the most striking observation to be gleaned from the season's first open practice on Saturday. Throughout the offseason, there had been some worried whispers regarding the condition of receiver Ty Montgomery (elbow) and cornerback Alex Carter (lower body injury). Although both wore yellow non-contact jerseys Saturday, both delivered fully explosive performances. David Shaw has indicated that Carter is "very close" to being full go, and by the looks of it, Montgomery will be 100 percent very soon, too. After watching Saturday's practice, the prediction here is that he'll play on August 30 versus UC Davis.
The talk of excellent health extends to a pair of defensive linemen who both battled through 2013 at less than 100 percent. Both Henry Anderson (knee) and David Parry (lower abdominal injury) are finally again checking in at full health. For me, the bounce in Anderson's step was very easy to see, and Shaw agreed, noting that the spry No. 91 has also cut about eight pounds (he weighs 287 now) and is dominating without hindrances. "It's very noticeable, he's full speed," he said. "I'm excited for him."
Parry's fully healthy condition may be trickier to maintain throughout the grind of the season, but he told me that performing the necessary abdominal strengthening workouts and maintaining proper warm-up technique should help him avoid a repeat of last year's laborious journey. A full interview with No. 58 is embedded below.
Developing Defensive Line Depth
Injuries along the defensive line ravaged Stanford in 2013, so I sense added urgency for the Cardinal to establish trusted depth at that position. Shaw said that he needs to stockpile six trusted bodies to have a full rotation; so far, with the recent addition of rapidly improving Luke Kaumatule, he says the club has five. Anderson and Parry are the top dogs of the group, while bulked-up linebacker convert Blake Lueders and Aziz Shittu have grabbed the third and fourth spots.
After playing last season at about 260 pounds, Lueders is now listed at 274, and Shaw said that he's successfully making the difficult adjustment. "It's been hard for Blake, but he now feels comfortable," he said. "He's carrying the weight well and moving well. He's still not as a big as some of [the other defensive linemen], but he is a true workhorse there."
Lueders is stronger than Shittu, his competition for the Cardinal's defensive end spot opposite Anderson. But Shaw said Shittu is more explosive, so Stanford plans on finding an optimal combination of both players' strengths. Shittu, who struggled to consistently see the field throughout his first two years on the Farm, has seemed noticeably more animated and enthusiastic this offseason. After a powerful performance in the Oklahoma drill Saturday, he initiated a chest bump with freshman Solomon Thomas and drew a rare smile/high five combination from Shaw.
"I think Aziz Shittu is going to be ready this year," Parry said. "He's been working hard every day, and he's been putting it on tape."
Shittu lined up as Parry's back-up at nose tackle while also taking some first team repetitions at defensive end.
As for Kaumatule, Shaw said that "it's about the little things. It's the hand placement, it's the technique stuff that not everybody can see, because Luke is going to go 100 percent on every single play. He's in position to play and to play a lot."
Rotating Position Battles
The nickel back, inside linebacker (opposite A.J. Tarpley), and running back positions are all seeing a rotation of candidates pass through. Shaw said that he's particularly excited about Zach Hoffpauir's play at nickel back, while Blake Martinez earned the coach's first mention at the linebacker spot. Junior Noor Davis, though, is receiving the first steady stream of positive mention in his career, while Kevin Palma's solid fundamental play also earned him snaps with the first team today.
"Every day Noor makes a big play," Shaw said after watching No. 3 bust into the backfield to drop Ricky Seale for negative yardage. "He's going to play for us. We have five really good options on the inside (Joe Hemschoot is also there)."
Kelsey Young (interviewed about his comfort in the backfield below) enjoyed the most explosive day in the running back room, ripping off two long runs, including a bouncer in between the tackles in which he spun off heavy contact. Barry Sanders niftily turned a loss into a nine yard gain.
Run Blocking Committee Forming
Shaw officially named sophomore Austin Hooper Stanford's starting 'Y' tight end. He also indicated that Johnny Caspers has the lead in the battle for Kevin Danser's right guard position over Brendon Austin. So, with the Cardinal's starting offensive line and primary blocking tight end positions seemingly approaching resolution, we have a good idea of how the core of the 2014 club's run blocking unit will look.
Of the young tight ends, the staff is particularly comfortably with Hooper because he is physically strong enough to remain in the game even when Stanford moves to jumbo extra linemen run blocking sets. Charlie Hopkins, Eric Cotton, and Greg Taboada are competing to fill the other tight end spot, while Shaw noted that true freshman Dalton Schultz is unlikely to play in his first year on campus.
"He still needs that full year of strengthening," he said. "But he has a very bright future."
- Defensive back Ronnie Harris had an excellent day, drawing praise after recording a pick six late in practice.
- The offense is noticeably ahead of where it was in spring ball. Devon Cajuste, in particular, looks primed for a massive year. He hauled in a beautiful deep corner reception from Kevin Hogan in the midst of tight coverage from Kodi Whitfield and Jordan Richards. On the reserve side of the field, true freshman Keller Chryst threw some pretty passes, while Ryan Burns hit Rollins Stallworth with a perfect deep strike.
- The highlight of warm-ups: Behemoth Andrus Peat squaring off with fellow class of 2012 giant Joshua Garnett.
"You're a big boy," Garnett said after an intense spar filled with heavy grunting. "You're a big boy, too," Peat laughed in response. During those drills, offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren encouraged the hogs to envision themselves as rockets when exploding off the line of scrimmage.
- Stanford again dedicated a significant chunk of practice to seven-on-seven passing drills in which the short-to-intermediate passing game was an obvious focus.
- There weren't many depth chart surprises, but the complexion of the Cardinal's second team offensive line was interesting in at least one regard: true freshman Casey Tucker earned a second-team spot at left tackle. Here's how the entire second team shook out:
LT Casey Tucker
LG Brandon Fanaika (who looks like a tank at 6-foot-3, 321 pounds)
C Kevin Reihner
RG Brendon Austin (leading Ogre candidate)
RT Nick Davidson
- True freshman offensive lineman Reilly Gibbons tweaked his knee last week and was not in pads today. Shaw expects him back in action next week.
- Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel watched practice and shared a laugh with Shaw. He was on hand covering the day for the Pac-12 Network.
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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