Stanford Defense Digs In
Fans at Saturday's open practice were treated to a resurrection of a Stanford offense that had been largely dormant in public training sessions since Andrew Luck left for the NFL. Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste both proved difficult to contain downfield, while Kelsey Young ripped off a pair of big runs behind an offensive line that had significantly improved its play since spring ball.
At the first of two closed practices Monday, it sounds as if Stanford's defense re-established its control of the situation. David Shaw said that Henry Anderson was again "just dominant" on the line of scrimmage (that's become a common theme of this training camp for No. 91, who has cut weight and fully recovered from last season's knee injury).
"Today was what you'd expect from the second two-a-day, it started off a little sluggish," Shaw said. "But as practice picked up, the defensive players really shined... Secondary-wise, we were really good."
Recent safety convert Dallas Lloyd recorded an interception. Stalwart Jordan Richards enjoyed an excellent session, and cornerback Ronnie Harris followed up Saturday's pick six with another strong effort. Kodi Whitfield's success in the defensive backfield, though, may be Monday's most noteworthy nugget. Shaw said that the recent wide receiver convert has taken massive strides at his new position since spring practice.
"Kodi has really shown that he deserves to be in the mix," Shaw said. "Whether or not he starts is inconsequential to me, because he's going to rotate in and play."
Senior Kyle Olugbode is currently the top dog at free safety. The development of the Stanford secondary seems to be trending in a positive direction under the tutelage of enthusiastic position guru Duane Akina.
The Offensive Line Gels, Class of 2012 Style
LT Andrus Peat
LG Joshua Garnett
C Graham Shuler
RG Johnny Caspers
RT Kyle Murphy
Stanford is confident that its relatively untested offensive line can deliver in 2014. Andrus Peat is the unit's only returning starter, and the four other projected hogs are all also members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class. While Shaw acknowledged that replacing 80 percent of the front line is "usually really, really scary," he firmly believes that the program has spent the past three years properly recognizing and grooming talent that's exceptional enough to defy the expected struggles of the run-of-the-mill inexperienced line. Shaw believes that all five 2014 Stanford starting offensive linemen have the ability to one day play in the NFL.
"Thankfully, with coach [Mike] Bloomgren, we recognized three years ago that this class had to be this good because they were going to play," Shaw said. "We couldn't count on a couple of those guys like David Yankey and Cam Fleming coming back for fifth years, because we knew how good they were. So we made a concerted effort three years ago: We hit it hard, we sold it hard, and we were fortunate to get these guys who are great students, really good football players, tough kids, and good guys all in one class. It's probably been our best recruiting job that we've done in a while, because we saw a need and we filled it."
But even despite the group's acclaimed talent, there have been bumps in the road. Spring practice was a difficult time for Stanford's new-look offensive line. The first half of the spring game featured a downright ugly performance up front. Success at Saturday's open practice suggested that the Cardinal trench operation has made major strides in the four months since, and Caspers echoed this notion.
"We've grown a lot since the spring," he said in the interview embedded above. "We've had all that extra time to work together and figure things out. Guys are more comfortable with where they're at."
Individually, Caspers has padded on nine pounds of strength -- he's checking in at 303 now -- and he says that the offensive line's added physical prowess from an offseason of hard work (Kyle Murphy has beefed up to 302 pounds -- about 25 stronger than he was 15 months ago) will do a good job to complement a unique sense of familiarity that already ties the recruiting group together. Shaw noted that the six linemen of the 2012 class -- Caspers, Peat, Murphy, Garnett, Shuler, and Nick Davidson -- are so close that they enter many meetings and other team functions as a group.
"We know one another," Caspers said. "We know the combinations. We've grown through this whole process together. We've had the same experiences, and we've been able to work through problems and find solutions. That's all set us up to have success together."
The head man expects this success.
“You’re going to see Andrus Peat, arguably the best tackle in America right now,” Shaw said. “Kyle Murphy is going to be one of the best tackles in America. Josh Garnett is going to be one of the best guards in America. Graham Shuler is going to be one of the best centers in America in the next few years. Johnny Caspers is going to surprise a lot of people because he’s the guy nobody knows a lot about.”
McCaffrey Makes His Move
A reporter asked Shaw about which true freshman has the best chance at playing this year, and the coach responded by naming running back Christian McCaffrey. By many accounts, the son of former Cardinal great Ed McCaffrey has electrified the program ever since arriving on campus earlier this summer.
"He's been outstanding," Shaw said. "He may play, whether it's on special teams, or a small role on offense like Barry [Sanders] had. Just getting his feet wet in college football is important. He's shown that he has the ability to play."
Lohn Leads as Sixth Defensive Lineman
On Saturday, Shaw indicated that recent position convert Luke Kaumatule has become the fifth defensive lineman in Stanford's rotation, joining Anderson, David Parry, Blake Lueders, and Aziz Shittu. At the time, Shaw said that the Cardinal was still looking for a sixth body to join that rotation, and on Monday he told The Bootleg that Nate Lohn is currently leading the pack in that battle -- though that may change, since much of training camp still remains.
Crower Solidifies Back-Up Spot
Evan Crower's stock rose with a very solid performance this past spring. Now, Shaw says that the lefty quarterback has carried his efficient play into camp. It sounds as if the back-up signal caller situation behind Kevin Hogan is all but set.
"If Kevin breaks a shoelace, Evan can come in there and run the whole show," Shaw said.
Ryan Burns will presumably be the Cardinal's third string quarterback, while true freshman Keller Chryst will likely redshirt in 2014.
The Fullback Situation
Shaw is happy with the bulldozing performance of fullback Lee Ward so far this training camp. The coach predicted that No. 36 will enjoy a big year spearheading the Cardinal's running game. He also didn't shy away from indicating that second stringer Pat Skov will see increased playing time this season.
"Pat's going to play and he's going to play a lot," Shaw said. "He's another downhill, physical fullback. And we need more than one fullback to play."
Fifth-year senior A.J. Tarpley's blitzing instincts have frustrated Stanford's offensive line during camp. Today, the veteran disguised and timed one perfectly, forcing the Cardinal's big boys up front into a holding penalty. No. 17 joined The Bootleg Radio to discuss his new defensive leadership role in the interview embedded below.
Defensive lineman Jordan Watkins is expected back in action following a minor injury next week. Aziz Shittu and Devon Cajuste were held out of Monday's workouts for precautionary reasons, but both are expected back this week. Stanford is allowing David Parry to rest in the back half of two-a-days to preserve the defensive tackle's freshness. He battled through a lower abdominal injury throughout almost all of 2013.
Running back Remound Wright is set to rejoin the team next week. He's currently serving a suspension related to the same disciplinary issue that sidelined him for the second session of spring practice.
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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