With two weeks until the season starts, Saturday's open house and scrimmage marks the half way point in training camp. Stanford held a scrimmage that was open to the public. As with all scrimmages there was some good and some bad. Sometimes that would just vary if you were rooting offense or defense. A few notes before we get to the position breakdowns.
Michael Rector returned to the practice field after his suspension. He made a nice catch down the sideline from Kevin Hogan that was called back because of a sack and maybe a penalty where the referee felt Rector stepped out of bounds before coming back in to catch the ball. Rector had been suspended for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Head Coach David Shaw left open the possibility that Rector could still miss some game action as part of the punishment. Shaw would not comment on any question associated with Rector.
Several players missed the scrimmage. Some of the players were just given maintenance days off, some are recovering from injury. Devon Cajuste, Brendon Austin, Kodi Whitfield, Kevin Anderson and Brandon Simmons were the most notable missing action today. The good news is that Shaw expects all of them back at practice at some point this week. With Nick Davidson and David Bright returning for duty, later this week could actually be as healthy as the Cardinal has been all camp.
The age old camp question was asked about who, how many, and when will it be decided about true freshmen playing year one.
"I think we have eight or nine freshmen who could," Shaw said. The question is if it is worth it? I love our defensive backs right now. They have the ability to play. But we wager, do we play them four or five plays a game or hold them? If it is going to be more than that then great. If we can find a role on special teams then great. It is worth it to play four or five plays on offensive or defense and seven or eight plays on special teams, now you are playing in the game and it is worth burning that redshirt year. Those are the discussions we'll start to make. But there is a group of freshmen that look like they are ready to play now we'll see if we have roles for them."
Shaw says he usually likes to make a decision on freshmen within the first four games. "If a guy hasn't played by four games then it is not worth it. Now we have broken that. We broke it Aziz Shittu and we broke it with Harrison Phillips because of injury. We were past four games into the year, and David Parry got hurt and another guy was hurt and we had to play Harrison last year. Aziz's freshman year two guys went down. We had basically decided to redshirt him. I had to come to him and say if you don't want to burn your redshirt that is fine. He said 'coach if I get a chance to play then I want to play.' But normally four games is my deal."
The specific question was about Bryce Love who again was a standout in scrimmage. Love shows tremendous speed and a great ability to change direction. He had a 65-yard touchdown run near the end of practice. Earlier he had a great run inside where he got lost among the trees only to bounce it outside for a big run down the sideline. Get Love in space and he seems to be a tremendous play maker. But are there enough touches to make it worth playing him this year?
Another standout this scrimmage was fullback Daniel Marx. The first drive after the halftime for the starters I thought Marx was particularly dominant and when I started really watching him. On the drive he made three lead blocks to open holes, twice the defenders ended up on the ground. Earlier in the day he had picked up the blitz nicely in pass protection.
"He is exactly what we were hoping he was going to be," Shaw said. "He is physical. He is smart. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He is athletic enough to tip toe around those blocks and then get back down and be physical. He has to read a lot of stuff before he can make his block. He is one of those guys that gets absolutely no publication. I appreciate you asking about him because nobody talks about the fullback. But we are excited about him. He has all the tools you are looking for to play at that position at this level and the next."
(Hey, anytime the coach says he likes my question, you better believe I'm using the quote!)
The defensive star to me was clearly Brennen Scarlett. He has a great motor. At one sequence he made three straight plays. The first he made the tackle on the right sideline. The next play he got in the backfield for a tackle for a loss. The third play he chased a sweep play down to make the tackle on the left sideline. A defensive lineman who can get sideline to sideline, but can also create penetration in the backfield is always a good thing.
Now to the position breakdowns:
Kevin Hogan looked pretty sharp. He had two nice deep balls, one to Francis Owusu and the aforementioned to Rector. He was then able to slice and dice the short game to the tight ends as you would expect.
"Kevin has continued, really from the Cal game on last year," Shaw said. "We missed a lot of deep balls last year. He's just more comfortable right now. When you combine his athleticism as a runner and a deep ball thrower, it has been exciting all training camp."
Still the worry is who the backup quarterback will be. Keller Chryst took the first turn with the second unit. Ryan Burns took the next turn after halftime. Neither looks like where they'll need to be in the future.
"They have both progressed," Shaw said. "They both missed some throws today that we'd love for them to make. but it is the trials and tribulations of having young quarterbacks. We're putting it to them pretty good. They are getting a ton of reps. The work today was really good. Both guys hit some big plays, both guys missed some big plays. There is really nothing to report now, and really, probably (won't be until) a couple of games into the year."
From what I've seen the past two Saturdays I don't think there would be a question that Chryst would be the next man up. Granted he missed receivers as well. But he looks more poised in the pocket and when he starts dialing it in he seems to be more consistently accurate. Burns seems to want to run more when his first read isn't available. He also has a tendency to throw the ball high. in one stretch he did that on back to back throws. One was a downfield throw, the next on a simple timing out pattern. It just seems to me that Chryst hits the easier passes more often.
This is a deep group right now and each practice just seems to reinforce that. We all know what Christian McCaffrey can and will do. Everybody wants to forget Remound Wright who probably is still the best all around back in terms of what the Cardinal want to do. He made a couple of nice blitz pickups in pass protection. Barry J Sanders is still a good running back who is a threat when he touches the ball. Then there is Love. And finally the fifth back is Cameron Scarlett. He is the biggest back at 220-pounds and just when you think he's the slow one, he shows deceptive speed getting to the outside on sweeps. The decision on which of these two freshmen plays and redshirts will be interesting. They both clearly have the talent, but at least one of them is probably best served waiting their turn for a year.
Owusu might just be a better player in the NFL then at Stanford because he just won't get enough opportunities. That said, he showed good speed getting open deep for a touchdown. He showed the ability to make a catch in traffic on a nice 15-yard in-route. With Cajuste and Rector missing time, Owusu has clearly been working on his timing with Hogan and I believe he could be a big factor this year.
The people I was near while watching the scrimmage were clearly Trenton Irwin fans. He had a nice catch and run late in the day that netted about 15 yards. The receivers position is so hard to judge just because so much of the activity goes to the tight ends or running backs. Conner Crane is a big body that could provide some interesting matchups at times during the season.
Tight End U!!! Dalton Schultz is clearly establishing himself as a favorite target. He is great at just getting open on those short patterns in and between the linebackers. It appears he has worked his way into the starting rotation along with Austin Hooper who was back on the field today. Both receivers bailed out their quarterbacks with catches on balls thrown behind them early on. Greg Taboada again made a great grab over the cornerback on a 20 yard deep out late in the day. Eric Cotton struggled with a movement penalty but we know what he is capable of and yet he is the fourth tight end right now.
This one is the wild card. Coach Bloomgren told me the left side of the line is playing at an All-American level. We all know Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett are locked in place. But the right side?
"Offensive line wise in particular I thought we are a week behind competition wise because Nick Davidson was out for a week," Shaw said. "David Bright was out until now, he is finally back and in the competition. So those guys really haven't made a competition until now. This week is a big week for those guys to rotate in and see who is ready to play."
The starters from left to right were Murphy, Garnett, Graham Shuler, Johnny Caspers and Casey Tucker. Davidson mixed in at right tackle and Bright at right guard now with Caspers going to center. The second string lined up the first time with A.T Hall, Brandon Fanaika, Jesse Burkett, Bright and Davidson.
Stanford seems to be developing both flexibility and depth on the right side. That is good in many regards but having a couple of players coming out and winning the positions outright might be nice. The OL seems to be a work in progress still for a unit that needs to be better than it was last year.
Caspers struggled today at center with at least one quarterback exchange fumble and at least one shotgun snap that bounced back to the quarterback. Bloomgren said Caspers has had a great camp, but they can't have those types of mistakes.
Absolutely the most pleasing part of camp so far. I think the top four players will stack up nicely this year, the question is can they stay healthy and what kind of rotation will they be able to have.
"Love where we are on the defensive line," Shaw said. "That is the biggest "question." Aziz has had a really good training camp. Solomon Thomas has had a really good camp. Brennan Scarlett continued on today getting in the backfield three or four times. Harrison Phillips didn't make as many plays today but I think he's progressed really nicely. He has to play out of position for us to a certain degree. He has to play the nose and an end. He is doing a great job. Those four guys are giving us what we are looking for. We still need depth. Jordan Watkins tweaked a groin a little while ago but he is back. He looked really good in practice the other day and looked better today. So hopefully he'll get to the point of rotating in."
I already mentioned Scarlett, but each of the other DL made some great individual plays. Thomas provided a nice pass rush a couple of times. While Phillips may not have stuck out, while I watched him he seemed to create a lot of havoc in the middle like a good nose guard. Shittu had a least one tackle for a loss. This group just continues to impress. But it's only four of them. So can they stay healthy and can they get a few more guys into the rotation to help them out?
Your starters today were Blake Martinez and Kevin Palma on the inside with Peter Kalambayi and Joey Alfieri on the outside. I'd be surprised if Palma doesn't end up winning the inside job although count on a rotation at the position. Jordan Perez and Bobby Okereke were off the bench and Mike Tyler rotated in on the outside. The group looks decent up top but depth could be an issue if one of the top players goes down.
"The scrimmage went well" Alfieri thought. "I think we got a lot of good quality reps against a great offense. I think a lot of guys, especially young guys without a lot of experience got some good game tempo reps."
Alfieri says he has seen great improvement over the first two weeks of camps. "It seems like a short period of time but I feel like a completely different player from the start of camp. I think we have gelled a lot. I think we have got a lot more confident with calls and stuff."
Alfieri was a standout in spring and has earned his playing time this season. He talked about what the change has been from year one to year two for him.
"Definitely in the mental aspect I feel a lot more confident. I don't have to think as much. When I'm on the field I can just fly around going 100% knowing my job. I feel a lot stronger than last year, I'm a lot better at using my hands. And I'm about 15-pounds heavier which has added to my strength."
One of the most interesting positions to me just because of the depth but lack of experience. With Whitfield and Simmons out, a pair of true freshmen were rotating in with the starters at safety. Dallas Lloyd seems locked in at one starting safety position. Justin Reid and Ben Edwards rotated at the other.
Ronnie Harris, Terrence Alexander and Taijuan Thomas seemed to take the first team snaps at corner with Alijah Holder and Alameen Murphy seeing action as well.
Alexander says that is pretty much how camp has gone. "We all know that with (Coach Duane) Akina no one will be given anything. We have to come out and compete every day. Every day you know you can get these reps one day and the next day he might take them away from you just to see how you respond. I love the competition in the group. It is healthy competition. Some guys may not know something at one position and I can help him out, or I might not know something and they help me out. We are fighting for the same position but we still help each other out. It is just going to elevate our defensive back group to another level. That is what we really need. As for playing time, it is going to be a competition. We all want to start at Northwestern but we all can't start. And even if you don't start against Northwestern you might start the next week. The competition won't stop. There will be a lot of changes during the year. We'll just see see how the cookie crumbles this year."
Thomas made a nice interception but was called for interference first. For the most part nobody really stuck out one way or the other although the secondary was not the focus of my attention today. Given the talent, I believe Alexander in that the playing time could end of changing on a week by week basis based on practices, health, etc. It will be an interesting group to watch when the real bullets fly.
Conrad Ukropina took the only extra point and field goal of the day. Lloyd was the holder. While the coaches did not address kicking after the scrimmage it does follow last week's conversations that it is Ukropina's job to lose right now for at least the short kicking game.
Punts were worked on. I'll be stunned if Jake Bailey isn't the punter this season. He shanked his last punt but he showed a strong leg with more hang time on a consistent basis. His best punt was about 60-yards that Sanders caught right against the sideline. Alex Robinson did have one nice punt but in general he just wasn't as consistent in his kicking which lines up with what we all saw at the spring game.
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