While sharing a laugh and a word about their respective spring breaks, Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery ambled in full pads from the Stanford football locker room to the team's practice field. Monday afternoon felt just like old times -- but with a pair of new twists.
Montgomery wasn't wearing the old No. 88 anymore. Sporting his new No. 7 jersey instead, he walked alongside a man who's been down the professional baseball road and back.
On baseball's opening day, no less, Gaffney -- the player who hit .297 with a .438 on-base percentage in Class A last season -- re-opened his football career by ripping off at least one long run to go along with plenty of other positive production on the ground.
Much has happened in the 16 months since Gaffney last strapped on a Stanford football helmet, but Monday's practice brought along a charming sense of deja vu. Both the bulked-up Gaffney and slimmed-down Shayne Skov were back in action playing as their usual selves, energizing a team hitting the practice field immediately after spring break.
"Tyler looks like Tyler... Shayne looks like Shayne," head coach David Shaw said. "[Shayne] sets the tone for this team emotionally. Not just the defense, but the team. He gave us that today."
Shaw raved about Skov's added quickness after dropping weight, and No. 11 himself told CBS' Bruce Feldman that he shed 12 pounds since last year by cutting down on carbohydrate and cheese consumption.
"He's moving better, which is something we all consciously talked about," Shaw said. "I think he started last year a little too heavy. He was big and physical, but I think he plays his best football around 234-235, and he's around 234 right now."
Gaffney, meanwhile, has checked in with about 5 more pounds of bulk than his last football action, the January 2012 Fiesta Bowl.
"It's great to see Tyler come in at 220 and still be able to run and move like he did at 215-217," Shaw said.
The two seniors occasionally worked together prior to Monday's first official practice, as Gaffney said he trained with Stanford NFL alumni and even did linebackers' defensive drills to fire up his football muscle memory. Both players missed Stanford's first session of spring practice: Skov was held out as he finished the second part of his DUI-related suspension, while Gaffney was prohibited from partaking in practice until officially enrolling in spring quarter classes, which began Monday.
"I was antsy for first contact," Gaffney said after watching the 2012 Cardinal season from the stands, a year off which included driving up to Eugene to see his teammates shock Oregon. "I wasn't sure if I was going to get knocked on my butt."
The running back stayed intact while absorbing his first hit, but Shaw emphasized that work still remains before Gaffney returns to true playing form.
"We'll see when everything gets complicated, because it's so much muscle memory," he explained. "One of the most unnatural things in football is pass protection for a running back. It defeats all common sense that Shayne Skov is blitzing in the A gap and you have to get in his way. That's what he's going to see when he gets back to playing football."
Soreness: Part of the Second Session Plan
Extra spring break rest gave Stanford players an extra bounce in their steps Monday, but Tuesday is expected to see inevitable soreness kick in.
"I didn't hear any complaining today," Shaw smiled. "I'll hear it tomorrow."
In addition to focusing on specific red zone and third down blitz sets, this second spring session is designed to physically test the Cardinal's players and force them to battle through muscle discomfort.
"In order to be any good at football, you have to fight through stuff," Shaw said. "[Tuesday] will be the first test our guys have to fight through, during the second practice of spring. I will be watching closely to see who fights through and who backs off."
By Thursday, Stanford will be bruising through simulated short yardage and goal line situations. The objective is to again marry precision and physicality in a way that's become very effective on The Farm over the course of the past several seasons.
"Situational football wins games, so we don't want to come out here and just run plays," Shaw explained. "We put the base stuff in the first session, the second session is what wins games: third down percentage, red zone touchdown percentage, short yardage and goal line. That's what wins football games."
Other Reinforcements Arrive
Besides Gaffney and Skov, several other names fully participated in Stanford practice after sitting out all or part of the first spring session. Kevin Reihner and Graham Shuler both entered the battle for Sam Schwartzstein's vacated center position, while safety Ed Reynolds and running back Ricky Seale were both full-go after suffering minor injuries last month. Fullback Pat Skov also returned to practice, as did tight end Charlie Hopkins and wide receiver Keanu Nelson.
Stanford suffered some bad news on the injury front over spring break, when rising sophomore linebacker Blake Martinez was hurt. He'll miss the entire second spring session along with offensive lineman Cole Underwood and quarterback Josh Nunes, both of whom will miss the duration of spring ball.
Cornerback Barry Browning, who is nursing an injured shoulder back to health, partook in individual exercises and some seven-on-seven drills. Shaw said that he is ahead of schedule and should be back to full activity soon.
The plan to beef up offensive tackle Kyle Murphy is underway. According to Shaw, the rising sophomore is "back on his ascent" under a Shannon Turley strengthening program. Murphy checked into spring practice at 272 pounds, about 10-15 pounds below his desired weight.
"As he packs more weight on and keeps his athleticism and his flexibility, we know he's going to be special," Shaw said.
That individual project will continue through the spring game, which will pit Stanford's offense against its defense on April 13. As far as that exhibition goes, Shaw said that Stanford is permanently backing away from the team draft formula that it had employed in the past.
"When we had Andrew Luck dropping back with a third string left tackle, that's when I realized I don't want to do that anymore," he laughed.
Running back Anthony Wilkerson is looking forward to the mano-a-mano battle between the two primary Stanford units.
"Iron sharpens iron," he said. "We've got a great defense. It's going to make us a great offense."
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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