Big debut from “Big Island”
Nate Herbig isn’t 350 pounds anymore, thank you very much.
The massive freshman, affectionately nicknamed “Big Island” by team captain Johnny Caspers, says that he’s hovering around 338 right now, with the ultimate goal being to play around 325 or 327 when all of his conditioning is said and done. (He peaked at 368 at Stanford, by the way, making him by far the largest player Shaw has had to start with.)
However massive he might be, it might just be worth staying the course for now – because whatever he’s doing at the moment sure seems to be working up front.
In his first career start on Saturday, playing right guard in place of an injured Johnny Caspers, Herbig certainly didn’t seem out of place among the older linemen on Stanford’s front lines.
Stanford said it was looking for a “spark” on offense by moving from Ryan Burns to Keller Chryst at quarterback – but perhaps they weren’t looking in the right place, because let’s be clear: This wasn’t Keller Chryst’s victory. It was the Stanford offensive line’s and Christian McCaffrey’s victory – and the humongous freshman lineman from Hawaii was right in the middle of it.
“For a guy making his first start, I thought he played well,” Shaw said. “Not perfect or completely clean by any stretch of the imagination, but he did some good things. You saw how athletic he is at 300-and-whatever, he’s moving guys great at the point of attack.
“You saw him nimble on Christian’s last touchdown run, coming out and having to avoid a little bit of a collision and lead Christian up into the end zone. He’s got a chance. He’s not reached his potential just yet, but as a true freshman and a first-time starter, I thought he played well.”
Herbig was the first true freshman to earn a start on Stanford’s offensive line since Josh Garnett started at left guard against Washington State in 2012 in place of Khalil Wilkes. That also made him the second freshman offensive lineman to start for Stanford, period, since 2000.
“Nervous. I’m a true freshman,” Herbig said. “You grow up dreaming about it, and actually being able to live the experience is great.
In the week leading up to the game, offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren hadn’t been sure that Herbig would be able to handle a full game’s worth of snaps, but conceded that ready or not, Herbig might be the only option they could turn to. (“I’m not going to go suit up and play right guard,” Bloomgren joked.)
But when push came to shove, the freshman was part of the new-look offensive line that regained its momentum and swagger up front against the (admittedly weak) Arizona defense on Saturday – and that was without David Bright, arguably Stanford’s top offensive lineman this season, playing in a starting role.
For really the first time this season, Bloomgren didn’t have many negative things to say about the offensive line when talking to reporters on Tuesday.
“Really pleased with how the blocking unit played,” he said. “In that conversation you have to include not just the five -- it's great to have Nate Herbig in there as a true freshman starting, playing the whole game. I thought he did a great job. It's a scary movie when your fifth year senior is not in there. He's also a captain in Johnny Caspers.
“Nate jumped in there and did a great job. The guys around him really contributed to that. Casey and Jesse did a great job talking to him all day.”
As a whole, Bloomgren thought his offensive line did a much better technical job up front as well, regardless of personnel.
“There is something to blocking your man with the right technique and trusting yourself to take the right step and finding a way to strain for one more second,” he added. “Sometimes it's the body position you're in and you're able to have the balance to finish that guy. Those little details are something we did a better job with and staying on our blocks, great movement. It was great to see.”
Herbig might get that second career start out of the way on Saturday, too, as Caspers is currently said to be “questionable” to play against Oregon State.
Chryst isn’t going anywhere
Shaw praised his new starting quarterback for making some tough throws and using his mobility and instinct to turn sacks into short gains, but Bloomgren was (rightfully) more reserved in his assessment of Chryst’s first real game under center for the Cardinal.
“I think he went in there and for the most part got us in the right play and made a few good throws,” Bloomgren said. “We have to continue to get better at that position. It's something we're constantly working toward. The good thing that night is we had guys step up and play really well around him.”
We might be having a different conversation here if Michael Rector doesn’t drop/miss three deep balls that were all arguably very catchable, but even outside of those missed opportunities outside his control, some of Chryst’s throws lacked touch, he spiked two of them into the ground nowhere near receivers, and he showed an alarming lack of awareness on the tipped pass at the line late in the game and, of course, on the interception.
That said, the coaching staff has made it pretty clear that they’re going to sink or swim with Keller Chryst at the helm for the remainder of the season, and Shaw was quick to note that everything should be viewed in the lens of Chryst essentially being in Week 2 while the rest of the team is in Week 9 (which I don’t necessarily agree with – it’s not like Chryst hasn’t been practicing with the team for seven weeks, right…?).
“The good thing is you have the physical tools, and now we’re working on the nuances,” Shaw said. “We’re working on timing, on coverage-reading, on the last split-second decisions, ball placement, et cetera. But he’s got the physical tools.”
“I would say questionable again this week,” Shaw said. “We’ll see where he is. Maybe start to get him some work, but not sure when we’ll transfer him back into the lineup. We’ll see where he is later in the week.”
Marx has been “a few weeks away” for several weeks now, and this Tuesday brought the first encouraging news on Marx in quite some time. I’ve heard he’s been dealing with a lingering knee injury, but Shaw hopes to get Marx back on the field for Wednesday’s practice and maybe into a game as soon as next week.
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“Daniel Marx goes from out to maybe questionable,” Shaw said. “Maybe unlikely – doubtful is the better word. It’s a possibility that we get him back on the practice field not today, but tomorrow, at least get him back doing football things.”