9:00-Now we are getting the origin story of the Pac-12, with a guy who should be (and probably does do) doing movie trailers. Now the vibe has gone from first day of school to Self-Help/TimeShare Seminar. Larry Scott takes the stage and is now delivering his address. He's even got those clear screen teleprompters like the President. We've just learned that the Pac-12 has led the nation in national championships in 13 of the last 14 years. Says the last 18 months would be considered one of the most transformative in the history of college athletics. Among the topics Scott touched on included the increased financial commitment to student-athletes in the form of increased medical support, spotters on the field to identify head trauma in real time, and guaranteed four-year scholarships. He elaborated on the rigor of the conference schedule (emphasis on nine-game slate) and said twice that the Pac-12 Champion would have the "toughest road to the college football playoff." I'm not sure if that's a good thing (I know it's not how the SEC does business), but it's hard to argue when you look at the ranked teams in the Pac-12 (Oregon, USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, and Arizona are all likely to start the season with numbers.
9:30- Todd Graham takes the stage and he's very excited about the fourth year of his tenure. Talked about the schools 28 wins in three years and the school record. After some more platitudes and cliches I asked him about the Sun Devils' effort to replace both its starting tackles. Graham identified Evan Goodman as an NFL-caliber talent likely to win the left tackle spot, and then listed Billy McGee, Sam Jones, and Steve Miller (Callsign: Joker) as contenders for the right tackle position. Interestingly, Graham set a hard date for the culmination of the competition: August 12. Quarterback Mike Bercovici also echoed his support of Evan Goodman and named Billy McGee as the front runner for the right tackle spot. He also talked a lot about the bonding efforts he's made with his line over the summer. As with all lineman, he's found that the path to his big guys' hearts is through their stomachs, and that's meant Friday trips to In-N-Out on Bercovici. Graham mentioned his traditional reluctance to take on a player for just one season, but highlighted the exceptionalism of Devien Lucien as a reason he chose to make an exception for him. Lucien comes from Pac-12 South rival UCLA, making it an even rarer situation for the Devils. Bercovici gave shout outs to his roommates and receivers, D.J. Foster and Ellis Jefferson, a 6'4" redshirt sophomore from Texas as likely contributors. Graham made it very clear that the team has lofty goals, and didn't shy away from aspiring to the Pac-12 Championship and the National Championship.
10:14-Coach Gary Andersen leads his players onto Sound Stage 12. As one of the six teams looking for a starting QB, I asked both he and running back Storm Barr-Woods how anxious they were to identify a starter. Andersen said there is no set timetable for making that decision and Woods said he had no problem if it took all of summer camp to identify a starter. "It happens when it happens," Andersen said. He also noted that his offensive line has yet to establish a tough and salty mindset on a consistent basis. Woods did say that the offseason conditioning program was far more rigorous than he'd experienced in previous seasons. Finally, Andersen made it clear that he put a strong emphasis on special teams. He said that starters would be used readily on special teams, and cited the fact that he'd be coaching punt team personally and that six of the nine Beaver coaches would participate in coaching the punt team as evidence of his commitment to special teams.
10:56- Jim Mora and the Bruins roll through. I talked first with Jake Brendel and asked him who was the toughest defense he faced last season. After qualifying his answer by saying that all the defenses were tough, Brendel id's Stanford as the most difficult defense schematically that the Bruins faced. He said that the Cardinal presented a number of "unscouted looks" that they'd not seen in film study. He explained that he is the player who makes all the line and protection calls and the quarterback doesn't have to make any protection reads, a responsibility that is a challenge in an offense that moves at the tempo that the Bruins do. Brendel said that he doesn't miss a chance to make a coaching point to his fellow linemen when the opportunity presents itself. Coach Mora came off as extremely self-assured but also very frank and open. When asked about the Stanford defeat, he said, "We didn't lay an egg. Stanford beat us soundly." I asked him about preparing his team for the unexpected and he talked about always giving his players a "rules structure" that will guide them from play to play. He talked about how coaches sometimes get preoccupied with being a "guru" and unnecessarily complicating things for the players.
11:30-I don't know if Deontae Cooper is going to be a great back this year for the UW, but I'll be rooting for him based on charisma alone. When asked about the quarterback controversy, Cooper jokingly inserted himself into the mix, saying he'd "watched enough TV" to make all the calls at the line. He then mimicked the hand signals QB's make to put guys in motion and re-emphasized his willingness to throw his hat in the QB ring. All jokes aside, Cooper said it wouldn't bother him or the team if it took all of summer camp to determine the Huskies starter. Most of the questions for Coach Petersen were about the opener in Boise. Nobody wanted to cop to the fact that the game has literally no implications nationally or within the conference as a whole.
12:10 PM- Coach David Shaw took the stage and the first big news for Stanford fans was that Devon Cajuste would be ready for the start of camp and that the ankle injury he sustained did not require surgery, as had been previously reported. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Shaw disclosed that Noor Davis would not be ready for the season but hoped to be ready by midseason. We know that the issue is the lower leg, but Shaw didn't elaborate any further on the nature of the injury. He also said that Davis had no interest in a medical redshirt and intented to play out the remainder of the season.
The topic switched to the kicking competition, and the only thing we know for sure is that incoming freshman Jake Bailey is going to be a factor in all three kicking areas. Shaw started with punting, hinting that that may be where Bailey is most likely to appear, follow by handling kickoff duties. He said he has faith in Bailey as a field goal kicker, but said that he didn't want to overload Bailey and that there were some "in-house candidates" he liked to take over placekicking duties. He didn't name anyone by name but did mention an incoming freshman as one of a number of candidates. It may have come as a surprise that placekicking isn't the first place Stanford intends to use Bailey.
Shaw then offered some very candid thoughts on the past season as a whole. He explained that this year, as last, he'd handle the Red Zone pass calls and that Coach Bloomgren would handle the Red Zone run calls. Those aren't roles set in complete stone, but more revealing was the frustration that Coach Shaw expressed as well as his philosophy about red zone success. He talked about how Stanford became a "terribly inefficient" team inside the Red Zone after years of success on that part of the field. He noted that Stanford had more negative plays in 2014 than in the previous four years combined. He also cited the numerous fumbles inside the twenty, as well as missed field goals. Success in the RZ comes down to three things for Coach Shaw: running the ball, utilizing an athletic quarterback and finding match-ups. He said that Stanford improved in all three of those categories in the final three games of the season. The numbers certainly backed that up for the Cardinal. Stanford had 18 Red Zone possessions in hits final three games and they scored on 16 of those, and 13 of those 16 scores were touchdowns. Given the return of Kevin Hogan, 4/5 of the offensive line, the tight end core, and the rest of the skill players, it's fair to say that Stanford expects to maintain its late season Red Zone proficiency into 2015.
Moving forward into the upcoming season, one area where Coach Shaw is very excited is the return of the tight end position to prominence at Stanford. He admitted that there were times in 2013 that it was tough to know that the talented trio of Hooper, Cotton, and Taboada were lost to the choice to redshirt. Though clearly more talented than the other tight ends on the roster, they simply "weren't ready" as Shaw says. He said it was hard as an offense that season without viable tight end threats that the Cardinal had enjoyed in the previous seasons. With last season under their belt and the addition of Dalton Schulz to the crew, Coach Shaw is very excited about the possibilities for this particular position group. He said that the process of slotting them into specific roles had only just begun slowly, but that in Austin Hooper he could see strong similarities to Zach Ertz. Stanford fans can only hope he proves anywhere near as effective, to say nothing of the three other players who should give Kevin Hogan some very large, mobile targets all season long.
Speaking of Hogan, Coach Shaw referenced his personal trials last year as well as the staggering expectations he put on himself coming off of back to back Rose Bowl appearances. He admitted that the pressure from both the personal and football sides wore on Hogan as the season went on. Added to Hogan's stoic nature, Coach admitted that very few people really understood just how difficult most of last season was for Hogan. With all that in the rear view, Coach Shaw is very bullish on Hogan's prospects headed into 2015. I asked him to compare Hogan's level of understanding of the offense to Andrew Luck's. I asked if there was any shot for Hogan to get a game like Luck did against Washington where he called all the plays. Basically, he told me to pump on the brakes. Andrew Luck was "rarefied air" and he went to quote Urban Meyer in saying "You only get one of those in a lifetime." Nevertheless, he said that he had full faith in Hogan's mastery of the offense. He said that he had the full audible package, that they were confident sending in three plays at a time and that Hogan would be operating the offense at full capacity in 2015. To put into context, he said he could give "Hogan three plays and trust that he'd pick the right one." With Luck, "you could send in four plays, and he'd call a fifth one that ended up being the right call."
Coach Shaw also said that Stanford's first graduate transfer, Brennan Scarlett, was progressing nicely in his return from an ACL injury and that he had wowed both the coaches and the training staff with his recuperation and tenacity.
So that wrapped up the formal part of Media Day One here in Burbank. From the Stanford point of view, I can say that the Cardinal was well-represented and that nothing happened here to make me think Stanford won't rebound from last year's overall disappointment of a season. Coach Shaw seemed ready and eager to leap forward into 2015, very mindful of the missteps of 2014 as well as the positives that came with the team's stellar finish. With less than 37 days until kickoff vs. Northwestern, the team seems to be right where it needs to be headed into summer camp.
Six Final Thoughts
1. Arizona State Coach Todd Graham is one fired up Dude. He seemed the most excited to be at the event and talk about his team. Was especially proud of his "scholar-ballers," players with a 3.0 GPA. He noted how the Sun Devils finished second only to Stanford in that category.
2. Gary Andersen Should Succeed at Oregon State. From the clear attention to detail and the frankness he displayed in assessing both his own players and the Pac-12, it's evident that Andersen knows the task in front of him and that he has embraced the legacy Coach Mike Riley left him and that he has a clear vision for how to move the Beavers up the ranks in the Pac-12 North.
3. Jim Mora is a Great Interview. From his admission to the flaws that killed the Bruins against Stanford to his openness about the hubris that can cripple coaches, he came off as one of the most straightforward and self-assured of the coaches on Day One.
4. These Guys All Like Each Other. More than one coach talked about how much they enjoyed traveling from Bristol to Burbank with all of their conference peers. Oh, to be a fly on the wall on either of those flights.....
5. There May Not be a More Vital Part of Stanford's Success Than Shannon Turley. Both Martinez and Murphy echoed a sentiment about his vitality that I've heard now from a number of current and former players. Keep an eye on Colorado, by the way, who has employed a Turley protege' to oversee the Buffs' strength and conditioning.
6. Nobody Seems to be Stressing About Not Having a Starting QB. Washington, Oregon State, and UCLA were all at ease with the prospect of having no identified starter, and in fact they didn't seem to bothered by the prospect of not having one identified for the duration of camp. I for one am more than happy for Stanford to be one of the six schools with an unquestioned returner. By the way, Coach Shaw guaranteed that whoever wins the backup job to Hogan will see regular playing time in 2015, and that it was possible both Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst could play in customized packages as Hogan once did.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!