Entering this week, perhaps the overarching theme of Stanford spring practice had been that of the offense's New Hope, which reached a crescendo Saturday when officials signaled Ryan Hewitt had scored to end matters. That ruling awarded the Stanford offense a scrimmage victory over the club's vaunted defense.
Then came Tuesday's practice, which can be known as The Defense Strikes Back.
The second session of 2013 spring ball has centered on implementing and refining specific situational strategies. Tuesday's workout focused on aggressive third down blitz packages, the type of material that certainly makes outside linebacker Trent Murphy lick his chops.
Dinner was served.
"It went really well for our defense," coach David Shaw said. "There are so many guys in the front seven who don't stay blocked. Even when you have them blocked, if somebody's not open right away, they get off of you."
Defensive coordinator Derek Mason implemented what Shaw called "controlled chaos with a lot of movement." The experienced Cardinal safety tandem of Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards bought time for blitz after blitz to do its job.
"The two safeties on the back end, if they can confuse the quarterback just briefly, someone's going to get home," Shaw said. "It was well-orchestrated by the defense today."
Murphy was the main beneficiary on the front end during an "unstoppable" practice, while David Parry and Ben Gardner also caused their share of destruction.
"It's fun to watch as a head coach," Shaw said. "It's not always fun to watch as an offensive coach."
Baptism by Fire
Even in periods of general offensive struggle, Stanford rising sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat has held his own with impressive play up front this spring. Strength and conditioning coordinator Shannon Turley's revered program has helped Peat convert fat into muscle. It's prepared him for heavy duty action with the Cardinal's first team.
"[His] pass protection has been really solid, run blocking has been really solid, picking up the calls and sometimes making the calls on blocking assignments has been very solid," Shaw praised. "He's off to a great start, and he's only getting better."
Peat's sailing hasn't always been smooth, though. When the touted freshman arrived on campus last summer, he endured a hellacious stretch of one-on-one practice pass protection assignments. Stalwarts Murphy and Chase Thomas beat Peat every single time, running circles around him to the quarterback.
"Oh gosh, it was brutal. Those guys are nasty, and they didn't pull any punches either," Shaw nearly winced as he remembered. "It was baptism by fire... At one point, I passed by him after a one-on-one [pass protection drill] and I said, 'This is good for you. There's no better place to learn.'"
Fast forward eight months, and Peat is playing with tremendous confidence and moving his massive frame more quickly than he ever has before. Shaw says that, on most days, his big tackle is able to consistently keep Murphy -- one of the nation's finest pass rushers -- at arm's length.
"It's been fun to watch his growth," Shaw said.
Garnett the Right Guard
One of Peat's fellow rising sophomore monoliths isn't making the climb up the depth chart quite as quickly. Joshua Garnett did not take any first team repetitions at right guard at Stanford's open practice this past Saturday, giving way to both Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes instead.
"I think Andrus Peat has taken great strides. I think Kyle Murphy has taken some big strides," Shaw said. "I think Josh has taken smaller strides. We're going to keep pushing him because we think he's got the ability to be extremely good at this game."
Stanford fans certainly witnessed some of that potential in glimpses of Garnett action last season, but Shaw's quote -- combined with No. 51's dearth of first team reps -- certainly seems to insinuate that he's currently trailing in the competition for the right guard starting spot. Granted, the season opener is still about five months away, but Garnett certainly has some work to do in the upcoming heavy conditioning phase and in August training camp.
For the record, Shaw did call Garnett's progression "solid." He just emphasized that it hasn't reached the level that Peat and Murphy have displayed.
Running back Remound Wright, who was "banged up" at last Saturday's open practice, is expected to return to practice on Thursday. He'll be full-go at Saturday's spring game while cornerback Barry Browning and fullback Geoff Meinken will sit out.
Browning's absence was expected as the senior recovers from a shoulder injury; Meinken's was not. The fullback, who suffered a severe knee injury during last season's spring game, has been experiencing some pain in the previously injured area. He will revisit with team doctors this week.
Meanwhile, linebacker Shayne Skov is humming along in his second year back from his ugly knee injury at a lighter, bouncier 235-pound weight. The stated goal of Stanford's medical and training staff has been to return Skov to a stronger form than his pre-injury self, and Shaw affirmed that the fifth-year senior is on track to meet that goal.
"He's fast, he's excitable, he is everything we hoped he was going to be back to. He's there right now," Shaw said. "He's been our emotional leader for three years, and this year isn't going to be any different."
Finally, tight end Alex Frkovic (also known as "the big Canadian"), who's in the midst of a long knee injury recovery of his own, is not expected to practice until August training camp.
Spring Forward Progress
Outside linebackers Blake Lueders and James Vaughters, who are currently locked in a ferocious position battle, are among the players who Shaw says have taken the biggest strides this spring. So are defensive linemen Ikenna Nwafor and Aziz Shittu.
"Aziz has put three straight great practices back-to-back-to-back," he said. "Which is exciting, because he's shown he can do it, and now we're starting to see consistency."
Offensively, receivers Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste "have really taken it upon themselves to come out and play." Both are featured in The Bootleg Radio's exclusive interview with Stanford assistant Mike Sanford, who breaks down the offense's progress above. Make sure to give it a listen before Saturday's spring game, which kicks off at 3 p.m.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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