4/6 Open Practice Report

ATH Kelsey Young

David Shaw strained his hoarse voice before the last play of Stanford's Saturday open practice, a physical war that would be decided by one final snap from the two yard line.

"Last play," he yelled. "The defense can force overtime, or the offense can win it."

Then, with intensity reminiscent of the Cardinal's 2012 overtime push at Notre Dame, the Stanford offense unleashed hell through Ryan Hewitt's fullback surge up the middle. The Cardinal defense countered with a bruising response of its own. Pad-popping, muscle-grinding hulk package nirvana ensued.

The defense won, or so they thought when Hewitt succumbed to a swarm of tacklers a half of a yard shy of the goal line. However, the officials incorrectly ruled the play a touchdown in the midst of the bedlam, issuing the polar opposite of the decision made during the Stepfan Taylor-based controversy six months ago in South Bend. So the Stanford defense went from celebrating its goal line stuff to punishment push-up formation, standard procedure reserved for a scrimmage's losing unit.

"There's no such thing as a bad call," Shaw said afterward, reinforcing a "no excuses" environment.

Saturday's bizarre practice ending bled passion and exuded intensity. Since the Cardinal have used the second spring session to focus on short-yardage situations, physicality was expected. But the competitive fire fueling the battle seemed to burn hotter than it did at this point last season.

"I think we had a taste of success last year, and we don't want to let that go," senior defensive back Usua Amanam offered an explanation. "We just try to bring that fire every single day at practice."

The extent of the defense's dominance last year might have tempered competitive intensity in spring practices. This time around, though, Stanford's offense is holding its own. As evidence, look no further than Anthony Wilkerson's tough running or Kevin Hogan's efficient play, which included a pair of successful 50-yard bombs to Ty Montgomery and Michael Rector.

"It motivates the defense a little more [when the offense makes plays]," Amanam explained. "If one side of the ball is dominating the other side of the ball, it's kind of hard to get up and go every day. ... I think it's very motivating for us knowing that unless we come out on our 'A' game, the offense is going to embarrass us."

Throughout the morning, the first-team Cardinal defense stiffened up in the red zone after being beaten in the middle of the field. Ben Gardner frequently led the strike back, entering Rose Bowl mode when he registered a pile-driving backfield stop and batted down a Hogan pass on consecutive plays to set the bend-but-don't-break theme early.

Quarterback Stat Lines
Assistant Mike Sanford, recently assigned to coach the Cardinal's quarterbacks, looked like a natural fit for the job as he barked footwork instructions to Stanford's signal callers at the start of practice. Remember that Sanford played the position at Boise State during his college career. It appears that the Cardinal's stable is benefiting from his instruction.

Hogan racked up 130 passing yards on only five completions while maintaining productivity with his legs. Meanwhile, Evan Crower completed 12 of 15 passes for 85 yards ahead of third stringer Dallas Lloyd, who was noticeably more comfortable operating inside and outside of the pocket than he was last month.

Offensive Backs
Wilkerson is establishing himself as the top dog of the backfield, but expect Tyler Gaffney to embed himself into the discussion, too. After Saturday's performance, though, one must take notice of No. 32's improvement. After fighting through injury during much of the 2012 campaign, Wilkerson was fully healthy in the Rose Bowl. It showed with rhinoceros-like running through five carries in Pasadena. He's now translated that success into spring ball, opening Saturday's scrimmage with an explosive, physical 10-yard run off right tackle.

Gaffney, Ricky Seale, and Barry Sanders (30-yard draw) also contributed positively (though Alex Carter victimized Gaffney on the day's biggest hit), while Shaw said that Remound Wright was "banged up" on the day -- he'll be re-evaluated soon. As a whole, though, an afternoon that featured physicality showcased Stanford's backfield bruisers more heavily than its running backs. Several jumbo formations packed three fullbacks into the backfield simultaneously. With Geoff Meinken sitting out because of knee soreness, Hewitt, Lee Ward, and Pat Skov all pounded the trenches. Hewitt carried the ball in the previously discussed decisive moment, while Stanford targeted Ward in the flat on the popular Spider 3Y Banana fullback pass.

Capable candidates are emerging from the program's relatively untested wide receiver batch. Montgomery and Rector hauled in the aforementioned bombs on top of other excellent catches: No. 7 floated to snatch a high slant throw out of the air, while No. 3's spectacular fade catch counted as a touchdown over cornerback Ra'Chard Pippens.

"Ty is back to being Ty again; he's healthy," Shaw said before lavishing praise on Rector, a player who has improved by "leaps and bounds."

Devon Cajuste and Kodi Whitfield also earned accolades from their coach, as did senior Jeff Trojan, who snatched two difficult passes in traffic while seeing second-team action. On the day, Stanford featured five wide receivers who appeared capable of making significant in-game contributions come fall, a tally that does not include speedster Kelsey Young.

"On our board [that lists different offensive positions], we have one space that just says 'Kelsey,'" Shaw said with a smile. "It's our job to put him in positions to make plays."

The Cardinal used Young extensively on the outside, particularly when rehearsing a plethora of quick-hitting passes before the scrimmage started. One intriguing play featured Young lined up in the slot and Cajuste out wide on the same side. After No. 39 moved in motion, Hogan faked a jet sweep to him before firing quickly to Cajuste on a quick screen outside. If Stanford can establish respect for Young's right-to-left sprint, that play design would force small cornerbacks to try to tackle the big, physical Cajuste one-on-one in the open field.

"[We have] so many guys with different attributes," Young said. "We can keep the defense on its toes. [Plays like that] add another dimension to our offense."

Stanford's tight ends were mostly quiet in the passing game Saturday, though Luke Kaumatule impressed again with his bulldozing ability. Davis Dudchock also made a catch to fortify a position group that was close to full strength for the first time this spring. Charlie Hopkins and Eddie Plantaric were both full-go while only Alex Frkovic (knee) remained inactive.

The Line Battle
Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser have emerged as the two frontrunners to seize Sam Schwartzstein's vacated center position, as the two shared first-team repetitions at center and right guard. Notably, Joshua Garnett did not see first-team action even when Danser moved to center. Instead, Garnett remained with the second team throughout the duration of practice.

Afterwards, Shaw made it clear that while Conor McFadden is in the center race, Graham Shuler is not, at least for the moment.

"He's not quite ready to get back into the competition," Shaw said of the freshman who missed the entire first spring session due to a disciplinary issue.

Defensively, Stanford's two primary position battles come at the outside linebacker and cornerback spots. Blake Lueders started ahead of James Vaughters at outside linebacker, though the Cardinal have been rotating the two on a practice-by-practice basis. Meanwhile, Wayne Lyons lined up opposite Alex Carter at cornerback, though it's important to remember that Barry Browning (shoulder), another candidate for the position, will not participate in contact drills this spring. Rector beat Lyons deep on his streak reception, though safety help was strangely absent on that third-and-15 play, despite there being no big blitz.

Derek Mason's unit also featured Amanam and Ronnie Harris starting as second-team cornerbacks, with Amanam making a temporary shift over from his natural nickelback position.

"I just want to make myself more versatile and add more depth at corner," Amanam said. "It will be good for me and the team."

While Stanford's first-team defense didn't yield a touchdown outside of the blown call to end practice, Stanford's second unit was more porous in the red zone. Complementing Rector's fade was Kodi Whitfield, who made a beautiful touchdown catch over second-string safety Kyle Olugbode on a similar throw from Evan Crower. The reserves positioned Aziz Shittu and Anthony Hayes (naturally a nose tackle) as defensive ends, with Ikenna Nwafor manning the middle. Kevin Anderson, Joe Hemschoot, freshman walk-on Craig Jones, and Vaughters comprised the linebacker corps. Hayes and Nwafor occasionally pressured the quarterback, and Vaughters recorded two tackles for loss. Still, the unit -- missing injured linebacker Blake Martinez -- struggled at times, as evidenced by Crower's 80 percent completion rate.

Special Teams
Jordan Williamson kicked the ball exceptionally well, though Josh Mauro did block an attempt, while Ben Rhyne and Conrad Ukropina both delivered their share of solid punts. Stanford long snapper Reed Miller struggled in spurts, though. Gardner, the emergency replacement at the position, delivered a handful of good long snaps.

Drew Terrell might have been the steadiest punt returner in the Pac-12, and replacing his dependability is of utmost important for Stanford. Keanu Nelson, Carter, Sanders, Montgomery, and Whitfield all returned punts for the Cardinal, though no one stood out.

Thirteen 2014 Stanford prospects were on hand for Junior Day. The biggest names included offensive tackle Andrew Mike, quarterback Brad Kaaya, tight end Garrett Dickerson, running back Christian McCaffrey (Ed's son), and linebacker Andrew Beck. The Pittsburg High School (East Bay) coaching staff also watched practice from the field.

Incoming 2013 freshman linebacker Kevin Palma, who hails from the Central Valley, also made the trip to watch Stanford practice. He said the session's physical finish got his competitive juices flowing.

"We are looking good," he told me. "I can't wait to get out there and compete."

First Team Offense
LT - Andrus Peat
LG - David Yankey
C - Khalil Wilkes/Kevin Danser
RG - Kevin Danser/Khalil Wilkes
RT - Cam Fleming
TE - Luke Kaumatule
QB - Kevin Hogan
RB - Anthony Wilkerson
FB - Ryan Hewitt
WR - Ty Montgomery
WR - Devon Cajuste
Hybrid - Kelsey Young

First Team Defense
DE - Ben Gardner
DE - Henry Anderson
NT - David Parry/Josh Mauro
OLB - Trent Murphy
OLB - Blake Lueders
ILB - Shayne Skov
ILB - AJ Tarpley
FS - Ed Reynolds
SS - Jordan Richards
CB - Alex Carter
CB - Wayne Lyons

First players to mix in: ILB Jarek Lancaster, Josh Mauro (who replaced Parry at NT), OLB James Vaughters, Usua Amanam (CB playing time, in for Lyons), and OLB Kevin Anderson

Second Team Offense
LT - Kyle Murphy
LG - Johnny Caspers
C - Conor McFadden
RG - Joshua Garnett
RT - Brendon Austin
TE - Davis Dudchock
QB - Evan Crower
RB - Tyler Gaffney/Ricky Seale/Remound Wright Barry Sanders
FB - Lee Ward/Pat Skov WR - Michael Rector
WR - Kodi Whitfield/Jeff Trojan
Hybrid - Kelsey Young

Second Team Defense
DE - Anthony Hayes
DE - Aziz Shittu
NT - Ikenna Nwafor
OLB - James Vaughters
OLB - Kevin Anderson
ILB - Joe Hemschoot
ILB - Craig Davis
FS - Devon Carrington
SS - Kyle Olugbode
CB - Usua Amanam
CB - Ronnie Harris

First players to mix in: DE Jordan Watkins, DL Nate Lohn, LB Sam Yules

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

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