Learning the Mental Aspect
Luke Kaumatule's eyes widened when he moved from tight end back to his original defensive line position in the middle of last season.
"I came in with big dreams, trying to come in and just play," he said.
It didn't quite work out that easily. The six-foot-seven, 267-pound specimen, who destroyed offenses from the defensive end position in high school, saw only limited playing time after his position switch.
"At the college level, it's more a mental game," Kaumatule explained. "Everyone out here is physical. Everyone out here is violent. Everyone out here is fast. The only thing that sets you apart is if you know what you're doing, and I didn't know what I was doing last year."
Stanford will enjoy a big boost if he's more comfortable by the time the 2014 season kicks off. Monday's first spring practice marked the beginning of an offseason of work in which the Cardinal aims to replace 10 starters and reload at several positions, and Kaumatule is just one of many promising players looking to take the next step toward consistent productivity. His situation is very much emblematic of the one that faces a talented roster looking to progress and sustain the program's unprecedented success.
"This year I'm going to try to memorize everything and be a factor on this defense," he said. "[As a unit], we definitely have that hurt and hunger (from the Rose Bowl loss) that we're trying to fulfill, but we just have to look forward and get better every day."
Position Battle Update: Offensive Line
After players began jockeying for position Monday, David Shaw revealed where some of Stanford's battles currently stand. In addition to indicating that Kyle Murphy (right rackle) and Josh Garnett (left guard) will likely be first-time starters next season, he also shed light on the fight to replace Kevin Danser at right guard by establishing Johnny Caspers as the odds-on favorite to start there.
"It's almost a foregone conclusion," Shaw said. "He was really good last season, but just wasn't in a position to compete with Kevin Danser yet. But I honestly don't know that anybody is going to pass him."
The Stanford offensive line is shaping us as projected in our extensive look at the position earlier this month. The only position with any significant amount of remaining uncertainty is Khalil Wilkes' old center spot, but Graham Shuler is the favorite there. The key for that junior will be adding strength with Shannon Turley this offseason: Shuler is currently at 286 pounds but told me that his ideal playing weight would be about 295 pounds.
"I'm working on my strength, my hand placement, my feet," he told me. "I want to be able to consistently move through people."
Shaw has lauded Shuler for his tremendous athleticism in the past, and the coach emphasized on Monday that the 2014 offensive line -- which has a chance to be exclusively filled by starters from the heralded 2012 recruiting class -- has an excellent shot to be Stanford's most athletic since Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2007.
"It's a monster of a left side," Shaw raved. "[In Peat and Garnett], you're looking at two guys who should be able to move people. I love putting those two guys right next to each other. And then you've got Kyle Murphy who's super athletic right next to Johnny Caspers, who's very athletic also, with an athletic center."
A new hint also came out regarding Stanford's supplementary line positions, which include the backfield Ogre (Garnett's role last year) and the jumbo tight end (Murphy's). The Cardinal released its 2014 spring roster, and it does not include Dillon Bonnell, who manned the Ogre fort in 2012 and did have a fifth year of eligibility remaining. That means the Cardinal will certainly turn to fresh talent outside of the starting line positions.
"Thomas Oser, Kevin Reihner, Dave Bright," Shuler said. "It's going to be fun to see those jump around and show off their versatility."
Injury Report; Burns Suspended
A pair of key players are gradually nursing themselves back to health after Stanford's rigorous 2013 campaign. Receiver Ty Montgomery (knee) and nose tackle David Parry (lower abdominal injury) will both miss time this spring as they recover from their maladies. Montgomery is expected to be back in full action during the second session of spring ball with a brace on his knee. That brace is expected to come off immediately after the April 12 spring game.
Parry, meanwhile, has reportedly been able to corral the nagging issue that has bothered him for several months now. Shaw said that he'll be "in and out" of spring practice to ensure the proper rest to fully overcome the injury.
In other news, Shaw announced that quarterback Ryan Burns, who is expected to make a serious push for the back-up job behind Kevin Hogan, will miss the first session of spring ball because of a "disciplinary issue."
Saturday's 9:30 a.m. open practice will mark the team's next official media availability. Stanford will not don pads at practice until later this week. Right now, players are re-acclimating themselves to the practice field. The offensive line group, in particular, appears to be chomping at the bit.
"As of right now, the sky is the limit," Shuler said. "We just have to see how far we can push it. We've been waiting a long time, man. We're fired up. We've got a lot of great guys. You come in together with a group like this in that first summer and you have no choice but to bond."
- Shaw said that Stanford is more likely to employ a running back by committee approach this season than in years past. The simple reason: The Cardinal is not equipped with a prototypical bell cow-type back this year. "We don't have a 220, 215-pound guy, so it's probably a good idea to rotate these guys in and out," he said. Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders, and Kelsey Young are the lead dogs at the position now. Young has made a switch from the perimeter.
- Shaw claimed that Stanford's wide receiver corps may be the deepest in the nation, and it appears that he has a strong case. Michael Rector and Devon Cajuste (the nation's top dogs in per-catch average last year) complement All-American Ty Montgomery. Jordan Pratt and Jeff Trojan have also made key contributions, while Francis Owusu's ceiling "is as high as it gets."
- Stanford has yet to announce its new defensive backs coach, though former Texas assistant Duane Akina has reportedly been offered the position. The Cardinal is comfortable letting graduate assistant Marc Mattioli work with the team's defensive backs for the time being. Shaw's father, Willie (a retired DB coach), was also in attendance at practice Monday. He watched converted safeties Dallas Lloyd and Kodi Whitfield for five minutes before telling his son that "those two guys look natural" at their new positions. "I trust his eyes as much as anybody on the planet," David Shaw said.
- Defensive end Aziz Shittu has emerged as a vocal leader of Stanford's defensive line group. "He comes out with an enthusiasm and motivates me all the time," Kaumatule said. "He's always laughing. Times can be rough, but that guy always has a smile on his face. He's ready to grind."
- Fifth year senior Blake Lueders, the only remaining Stanford player to have seen action under Harbaugh, leads in a different fashion. "Lueders just comes out hard-headed," Kaumatule smiled. "He leads by example. He's probably got the hardest head on the team."
- Defensive line coach Randy Hart's message to the Stanford team
on the first morning of spring practice: "It's better to be
ripped than to be praised."
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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