"I would never name starters if I didn't have to, if you guys didn't bug me every three days for it," he smiled. "I don't think it matters. ... Who's in the first play of the game has never mattered to me, and it's not really that important. But we have to name quote-unquote starters and put them on a piece of paper so [the media] knows who they are."
With that being said, Shaw did name Khalil Wilkes Stanford's starting center. That particular announcement carries more weight than the other openings filled today because the Cardinal does not plan to rotate bodies at the center position, though Shaw affirmed that Conor McFadden and Kevin Danser are both more than capable of filling in for Wilkes there.
Shaw also named James Vaughters the starter at outside linebacker and Wayne Lyons the first-string man opposite Alex Carter at cornerback. As expected, though, he was quick to emphasize that those positions will essentially operate as timeshares.
"They both showed us they needed to play," he said. "Blake Lueders is too good not to play. Barry Browning is too good not to play."
Perhaps most notably, Shaw confirmed that Devon Carrington will play both cornerback and safety for Stanford this season. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason first hinted at that possibility early in camp. Carrington, who is 6-foot-1, has now demonstrated his ability to effectively bring a safety's physicality to the corner role.
"He's one of those utility guys that can play both at a high level," Shaw said. "That's the biggest thing that's changed in Stanford football in last five years. We have depth. We can rotate guys in. We feel we're at least two deep at just about every position."
More on Center
In previous years, Sam Schwartzstein had defeated Wilkes in the battle for center. Wilkes ended up starting 2012 at left guard before finally securing the job in the middle with his excellent performance during Saturday's scrimmage.
"Sometimes the quarterback changes the play, and the ball will be snapped in three seconds," said Shaw, outlining the unique challenges of the position. "So [Wilkes] has to communicate it, snap the ball, and get his job done all in less than three seconds. He's shown the ability to do that."
The coaching staff saw immense progress from Wilkes over the course of last season as he enjoyed the greatest amount of playing time in his Stanford career. Wilkes, who has bulked up about 10 pounds (295), is one the Rose Bowl run's unsung heroes: He's the player who miraculously recovered Kevin Hogan's overtime fumble at Oregon to set up Jordan Williamson's game-winning field goal.
"Khalil was in two battles last year: guard and center," Shaw said. "It's hard. It stretches you mentally. Playing a lot last year helped him a ton. He saw so many looks. Going against our defense in particular, he saw every defensive look known to man. ... He's a fifth-year senior now, and you can feel his leadership and command of the offense."
More on Cornerback
Shaw said that this race in the secondary has been even closer than the one at center. Both Lyons and Browning have dealt with their share of injury trouble on The Farm, but both are fully healthy and ready to fortify a defensive backfield that Derek Mason hopes is deep enough to withstand the Pac-12's high-snap count spread attacks.
The staff has complimented Lyons for buoying his natural explosiveness with vastly improved technique over the offseason, while Browning has intercepted numerous passes over the course of fall camp.
"He intercepted another one today," Shaw said. "Barry Browning has had a lot of good practices."
More on Outside Linebacker
It seems fitting that James Vaughters will fill the outside linebacker spot vacated by Chase Thomas, another Stanford player out of Georgia. The Cardinal have opened a recruiting pipeline to the Peach State ever since the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era began, and they're using it to bring defensive heat from the outside.
Neither player at this competition participated there last year. Vaughters moved back to the outside this past offseason after a one-year stint at the insider linebacker position, while Lueders missed all of 2012 after undergoing surgeries on both of his shoulders.
"Both guys are versatile," Shaw said. "Both guys are good in pass drops, both are good in man coverage, both do a good job rushing the passer, both are good against the run. They'll both play base and they'll both play nickel. We believe we've got guys who are quote-unquote starters at all those positions."
Vaughters has weighed in at 260 pounds, while Lueders isn't far behind at 255. The latter made sure his presence was especially felt the past two days, so much so that Shaw held Stanford fullback Lee Ward out of Thursday's practice.
"He ran into Blake Lueders yesterday," Shaw said of Ward. "That's a painful thing."
Other Offensive Personnel News
Shaw emphasized that Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney are Stanford's "lead dogs", but added that he does not plan to formally name a starter at running back this season. He says that honorific will fall to whomever is best suited for Stanford's play call on its first offensive snap. He also added that there is incredible depth at the position.
"You will see Barry Sanders play," he said. "You will see Ricky Seale play. You will see Remound Wright play."
Shaw also affirmed that Ward, Ryan Hewitt, and Pat Skov will all play at fullback after an excellent camp at the position. He said that as many as four tight ends may see action throughout the year, and that doesn't include offensive tackle Kyle Murphy, who is also expected to contribute his beef to the position. The Cardinal also have announced their intention to again use up to eight offensive linemen.
Special Teams: A Punter Named
Special teams coach Pete Alamar told The Bootleg that Ben Rhyne will replace Daniel Zychlinski at punter. Rhyne beat out Conrad Ukropina for the job. Ty Montgomery will be the Cardinal's primary opening day kick returner, with Kelsey Young and Alex Carter also in the mix.
Kodi Whitfield currently leads the punt returner competition per Alamar, who also praised Sanders and Montgomery in discussing possibilities at the position. Check out The Bootleg Radio's interview with Alamar to delve into the intricacies of special teams.
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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