Two days of practice are in the books for the Stanford Cardinal. Head Coach David Shaw was most excited to talk about his trip to Italy this summer that included big hikes and tours of Pompeii. But as for football, Shaw was both excited by what he saw on the field, while acknowledging it is just day two with no pads, and mostly was just excited nothing bad happened.
"We're still running around with no pads on," Shaw said. "So I don't take anything that happens the first two practices seriously. I love our tempo. I love the energy. Guys are talking. Guys are moving. It is an intense motivated group, but it's been unbelievably respectful. Guys are staying off the ground. Guys are putting their hands on guys and not running into them. We haven't had anyone thrown on to the ground. These guys know how to work without the pads on and that is the sign of a mature football team."
Shaw did announce one injury he had left out of the pre-camp talks. Safety Kodi Whitfield has yet to practice due to an undisclosed injury. But Shaw says he'll hopefully be back in a few days and he'll certainly be ready to go for game one.
Shaw is expecting big things from the converted wide receiver this year. "In the spring he was awesome. Phenomenal. He was one of the best guys on the whole team in spring football. He did a great job this summer leading the young guys. Our young guys know what to do in the secondary because of his leadership and Ronnie's (Harris) leadership particulary. He's been great in the meetings. He's back out here, sitting behind everybody calling things out, helping guys. We're really excited about him."
Another converted offensive player looking to earn time at safety is former quarterback Dallas Lloyd. Shaw has also been impressed with him. "Dallas has been great. Especially with Kodi being out, Dallas is the oldest guy playing with Ronnie. He's making calls, he's communicating. Coach Duane has done a phenomenal job. We have so many young guys there, first year and second year guys, all those guys are battling for playing time, battling for starting jobs. Right now it is a really tight unit with great communication."
Shaw was asked if he has any reservations about starting two recently converted players at safety. The answer was straight forward. "Nope! They've earned our trust."
The defense is trying to replace starters all over the field. In the secondary, five of the top six players are all gone. Ronnie Harris is now the grizzly old veteran back there working with a lot of very talented, but very inexperience players.
"On the field I think my role is to just continuously bring energy," Harris said. "That is something I've been blessed with is just to be able to motivate guys. I'm just looking to come out here and give 100% effort and hopefully lead by example kind of like Jordan Richards did. Get these guys stimulated and get them ready to practice. First two days is pretty easy because everyone is excited, but day 15, day 16, some of those dog day two a days I still want to be able to give the energy to the team. Then off the field, just try to lead by example. Whether that is in the classroom or the community or in the weight room. I just want to lead by example, stay out of trouble and give these younger guys something to look up to like I had someone with Michael Thomas and Delano Howell."
Shaw thinks Harris's role is vital. "Ronnie and I have been through a lot in four plus years. I recognize that Ronnie is our spark plug. Not just for the defense but for the team. He's our spark plug. He's our energizer bunny. Practice was going really well today and he started getting everyone going and it got a lot better. He has recognized that responsibility and he is handling it very, very well. Positive talk, energy talk and coaching guys and pushing guys, it has been fun to watch. He knows that is his responsibility. That is what we need from him. He can't not do it for us to be where we want to be."
Harris is pleased with the growth of the group as a whole. "I think it is going very well. Eveyrone is going to go through growing pains. It is only the second day of camp. But you got guys who are eager to learn. You got guys that have amazing athleticism, amazing instincts, so when you put amazing athleticism with amazing instincts together with Coach Akina who is a wizard and a guru, the sky is the limit. The guy is so meticulous about our work. He is going to make sure that in every meeting and every practice that we are on our Ps and Qs and that is only going to get us better in the long run."
Coach Duane Akina has his work cut out for him bringing along such a young group of players. But the key is there is a lot of talent out there. Talented, but inexperienced. Harris says Akina is just the man for the job.
"Coach Akina is, first of all a father figure. He brings his family man antics into the meeting room, on to the practice field. He'll love you hard but he'll coach you hard. At the end of the day you can't do anything but respect a coach like that. I'll give 100% for him. If he tells me to run through a brick wall, I'll run through a brick wall. That is the type of guy he is. I am glad I've been able to be under him the last two years."
Harris wasn't shy about calling out some names of the young guys to look forward to whether in the future, or maybe the future is now.
"I think Brandon Simmons. Great, great young guy. He had a redshirt year and he used that to the best of his abilities. He got humungously big in the weight room. Looking at freshmen coming in, I really like Quenton Meeks. I think he is very long, very rangy, has great ball skills. Than you got Frank (Buncom), who is also just a very smart guy. You can tell he has been in his playbook well before he got here. He is making checks and calls that usually third year guys struggle with. Then at safety, I really like Ben (Edwards), he looks very athletic. Reminds me of Ed Reed the way he comes up in the hole. We'll see what happens when the pads come on. Justin Reid looks good. Very big, prototype size. I think when he gets his confidence down with all the calls he'll be another force to be reckoned with."
Despite the departed talent, Harris is very optimistic about where this young group of talented defensive backs can take the Cardinal. "I think the ceiling is as high as we make it. We come out here we take advantage of each day. Pac-12 Championship is where we need to be!"
The defensive backfield is not the only gaping hole of departed players. The defensive line is looking to replace all three starters. Senior Aziz Shittu is expected to play a big role in trying to fill some of those voids. Shittu was starting to have a breakout season before going down with a leg injury and missing the rest of the season. Nobody was more thrilled to be at practice than big #7.
"It feels great. It has been a nine month journey to be back out here to go full go. Nobody is watching over me anymore so I couldn't ask for much more."
Shittu says he is 100% and can't wait for the season ahead. He's not too worried about the lack of returning starters. "Next man up philosophy. Those guys did it, now it is time for three new guys or five new guys to step up."
Shittu expects to be used as he was last year, moving up and down the line of scrimmage in all three line spots. Right now though he is more concerned with getting his sea legs back.
"Kind of just shaking off the rust. It has been awhile since I have been back out here full go. Obviously we're not in pads right now but just shake it off, get the technique back, do all that. Continue to be physical, do the right things, run to the ball, effort, that is all I can ask for.
Like Harris behind him, Shittu is very bullish on the potential that he and his line mates will bring to the season ahead.
"Honestly I think people are saying we are the question mark, but I think we'll be a bright spot this season. But it's going to be off the work we put out here in training camp. I think the potential on this defensive line could be one of the best yet, or best in a few years, but it is all about the work that we put out here in training camp."
Three new defensive linemen and a host of new defensive backs. Looking at the Stanford roster it sure looks like the talent is there, but the giant question is how quickly that talent can materialize without experience? It might be a bumpy start, but as this team grows, this could be a very interesting defense by the end of the season.
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)!