Saturday Open Practice: Nuances to Watch

Dudchock trying to work his way into playing time

The returns of Shayne Skov and Tyler Gaffney are the obvious storylines of Saturday's open practice, but we've already discussed those extensively on The Bootleg. Here are some other intriguing nuances to be on the lookout for tomorrow.

The first chance to see 2013 Stanford football backed with its first wave of reinforcements is at 10:30 Saturday morning. Remember, yet another crop of fresh bodies will arrive when the incoming freshman class sets foot on campus this summer, and there should be at least a couple of opportunities for those newbies to earn early playing time. But the current focus is on the handful of returning veterans who look to infuse the second spring session with energy.

Middle Linebacker Depth: Hemschoot's Opportunity?
By now, the whole Cardinal football world knows that Shayne Skov is back in action, and that's a return that intensifies an already-heated competition on the interior of Stanford's second level. A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster took first team reps on the inside during the last spring session, but Lancaster will almost certainly give way to Skov in first string action moving forward.

Stanford took a hit in the linebacker corp over spring break when rising sophomore Blake Martinez suffered an undisclosed upper body injury. He wore a sling as an observer at Monday's practice and will be out for the rest of spring. This is particularly bad news for Martinez, a promising rising sophomore who had been earning lavish praise through the repetitions that Rose Bowl practice and the first spring session provided. Fellow Stanford players spoke most highly of No. 4, while defensive coordinator Derek Mason added that he would compete with Shayne Skov for some playing time in a Cardinal defense that loves to flex its depth muscles. Put that plan on temporary hold: Losing an entire half of his first career spring practice time may throw a wrench in Martinez's ascent up the depth chart.

On the flipside, rising senior Joe Hemschoot should benefit from this turn of events. As the team's fifth middle linebacker during the first session, he was often relegated to third team action while the first and second squads sizzled. Though he's about five to 10 pounds lighter than Skov, Tarpley, or Lancaster, the 227-pound Hemschoot boasts dangerous quickness. Martinez's injury probably means a promotion to the second team for him, so be on the lookout for No. 40's opportunity Saturday.

Tight End: Don't Count Out Dudchock
Almost all first session tight end attention was on rising sophomore Luke Kaumatule, and rightfully so: It's just about impossible to miss the gigantic 6-foot-8 Hawaiian plowing through the defense like a bowling ball smashes through pins (I talked to strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley about Kaumatule's remarkable physical development Wednesday, and he was complimentary of the youngster's dedication to the Stanford training system that reinvents freshman players' physiques).

The spotlight has shone extra bright on Kaumatule because the rest of the Cardinal's tight end cupboard has been so bare: Charlie Hopkins, Eddie Plantaric, and Alex Frkovic have all either been slowed or unavailable due to injuries, while Davis Dudchock missed the back portion of the session because of his brother's death.

Hopkins and Plantaric are back now, but Dudchock is the guy to watch closely. Don't count out the redshirt junior's chance to make noise. He's one of the team's truly popular "good guys," and the coaching staff has indicated that he's made progress in the one area that's hindered him most: blocking. A firm surge into Stanford's second tight end spot for the once-touted Alabaman recruit would be a feel-good story given Dudchock's difficult past month. No. 83 mixed into the Cardinal's first team offense for a number of plays during the team's first open practice in early March, so keep a close eye on his physical performance again.

The Fullback Position
With much hype surrounding running back Tyler Gaffney and linebacker Shayne Skov's returns, don't forget about a certain younger brother. Burly Pat Skov -- built for bench-press domination -- is back after missing the first session to tend to a family issue, and he'll fill out an increasingly crowded room of fullbacks.

Between Skov's return and Geoff Meinken's gradual rise back to health following last spring's severe knee injury, starting fullback Ryan Hewitt may see his role in the passing game increase just because he has so many capable bodies behind him on the depth chart. David Shaw frequently asserts that no other college football team is as deep as fullback as Stanford, and he's probably right about that, especially since Lee Ward is also in this mix of bruisers. Watching them all jockey for position while Stanford attempts to strike the delicate run-catch-block balance at fullback will be intriguing theatre Saturday and beyond.



David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.

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