That theme carried over to the first full-contact scrimmage of 2013 fall camp, where Kevin Hogan's unit did deliver jabs of effectiveness, but never fully got the upper hand against Trent Murphy and company.
"Early on, the defense is always a little bit ahead," David Shaw said. "The hard part for us is that it may be that way for a while. But it was nice to see guys flying around and making tackles."
Still, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney both managed to break open a pair of big runs on the day, despite hounding performances from nose tackle David Parry and resurgent linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom have grabbed most of the defensive praise so far this fall camp.
"It's just so great to see Shayne back healthy," Shaw said. "He can now do what he was trying to do in his mind last year [when still recovering from 2011's severe knee injury]."
Expect Five Running Backs - And Sanders?
For the first time, Shaw gave a firm number of how many Stanford backs can expect to see action during meaningful game time this season.
"We're going to play, for the most part, five backs in just about every game," he said. "Whoever the third back [behind Wilkerson and Gaffney] is might depend on what the play call is. Barry Sanders is going to have a role. Ricky Seale is going to have a role. Remound Wright is going to have a role. It's all situation."
For the record, that's the first time Shaw has explicitly said that Sanders will see significant action. Those should be welcome words for fans who have clamoring to see the NFL legend's son in meaningful action on the Farm. It should also be noted that Jackson Cummings, yet another backfield option, has received praise during the past week.
A Boost for Cajuste
The Stanford staff has frequently mentioned that Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery are the two leaders at the wide receiver position, and Shaw went a step further toward clearing the picture at the position today.
"[Cajuste] has secured himself as our starting 'X' receiver right now," he said.
The junior's exceptional run blocking throughout the stretch run of the 2012 season certainly put him in excellent position, and it's now fortified his spot atop a busy pecking order on the perimeter. While Michael Rector, Kelsey Young, and Kodi Whitfield appear destined for significant action, a former fifth round MLB draft pick has entered the serious conversation as well.
"Jordan Pratt just continues to impress," Shaw said. "He makes big plays down the field. He's still growing and learning after those years playing baseball. He does so many things naturally, but there are so many muscle memory things that he's getting back to."
Shaw reaffirmed that it's "absolutely" possible that up to six wide receivers will see significant playing time for Stanford.
"That's what I love about where we are now, because we have a lot of guys that we think can play," he said. "I love our mentality right now, when Ty [Montgomery] comes off the field, and Kelsey [Young] goes on. Ty is cheering for Kelsey. Guys aren't combative and trying to steal reps from each other. Guys are cheering for each other because they know it's going to take all of us to win a game."
The receiver room may be relatively unproven, but it sure is crowded. Sophomore Conner Crane and freshman Francis Owusu are among the other names that also include senior Jeff Trojan, who remains dependable after a productive spring.
"He's been consistent," Shaw said. "All the way through spring and through training camp, Jeff Trojan has been that guy that lines up everywhere, knows what to do, and catches every ball."
Hayes on the Defensive Line
Defensive tackle Anthony Hayes opened eyes with some productive play this past spring, but he'd been noticeably absent from the fall camp conversation until Saturday afternoon.
"He started training camp off really slow," Shaw explained. "But at the end of yesterday and today, he made a couple of plays. And there's room for at least two more guys to get into [the defensive line] rotation."
The Stanford staff counts Parry, Henry Anderson, Ben Gardner, and Josh Mauro as automatics up front. The rest of the slots are up for grabs, and Shaw named Hayes, Aziz Shittu, and Ikenna Nwafor as the top candidates. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason has deemed Nwafor "ready," while Shittu saw meaningful time in 2012 after he told coaches that he would rather not redshirt following week four. That means Hayes still has a fight for playing time in front of him.
By all accounts, sophomores Jordan Watkins and Nate Lohn are still a step behind the rest of the contenders, though one of the two had a career day at practice Saturday.
"Nate probably had his best day as a Stanford Cardinal today," Shaw smiled. "He used his hands, got into the backfield, and got some tackles for loss."
The center competition between Conor McFadden, Kevin Danser, and Khalil Wilkes is still in a deadlock.
"I would love for there to be some movement there," Shaw said. "We're going to keep rotating guys through and I'd imagine it will be another week before we have a clear-cut leader. They're all doing well; I just need someone to do great."
Meanwhile, Danser had some complimentary words for McFadden, one of his competitors, in an interview with The Bootleg Radio.
"He knows the playbook as well as the quarterbacks," Danser said. "Hell, he may know the playbook better than some of the quarterbacks."
Shaw on the Mackey Award
The John Mackey Award, the honor that's supposed to be given out annually to college football's most outstanding tight end, squeezed its way into discussion with Shaw. Unlike Zach Ertz in 2012, sophomore Luke Kaumatule is on the preseason watch list for the award, so a reporter wanted to hear the coach's thoughts on the honor.
An objective look at statistical production suggests that Stanford's representative was robbed of the award last year, so it certainly wasn't Shaw's favorite point of discussion.
"We're still 0-for-the-Mackey," he said. "So I take [the preseason watch list] with a grain of salt. Don't get me started on that."
Stanford, by the way, has nine tight ends on its 2013 roster. "That's more than most schools," a reporter observed.
"That's more than most conferences," Shaw laughed.
Bangs, Bruises, and Notes
** Cajuste and defensive end Ben Gardner are both "banged up." Shaw said that their bruises are a normal part of early training camp contact and that they should both be back in action soon. Both players will be re-evaluated tomorrow morning.
** Stanford's No. 4 preseason ranking in the AP poll is its highest ever. As expected, senior linebacker Trent Murphy shrugged it off. "While it's nice to have a favorable ranking, that's something that the media and the fans pay attention to more than us."
** Shaw said that linebacker A.J. Tarpley and safety Ed Reynolds "have the best feel for the game of football of guys that we've been around since we've been here."
** None of the freshmen have stood out since pads have come on. Meanwhile, new quarterback Ryan Burns is working to process the Stanford offense. "There's a lot going on between his ears right now," Shaw said.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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