Change is in the air during the first session of Stanford spring practice. Joe Hemschoot has shifted back to inside linebacker. Graham Shuler is now the clear-cut leader for the open center position. Wayne Lyons is the frontrunner at nickel back. Kyle Olugbode is getting the early repetitions at free safety.
The forecast called for dreary skies during the first public look at the Cardinal's 2014 offseason developments, but sunshine and even a rainbow ultimately smiled down on them instead. Following the departure of 10 starters, the Farm Boys are in the midst an arduous reloading phase. Some of the resulting shifts have been predictable, others not as much -- just like Saturday morning's weather, which featured a gust of wind that blew over a temporary tent and sent David Shaw jogging over to help pick it up.
"The energy, the competition, the fire was there," Shaw said after practice. "But it wasn't clean by any stretch of the imagination."
Kevin Hogan completed 3 of 5 passes, but those two incompletions also happened to be interceptions (including a one-handed A.J. Tarpley pick six), while Stanford suffered through a pair of fumbles on the center-quarterback exchange. The polish clearly isn't there yet, but the intrigue certainly is as the Cardinal's coaching staff searches to discover the precise formula that will maximize 2014 winning potential.
LT - Andrus Peat
LG - Joshua Garnett
C - Graham Shuler
RG - Johnny Caspers
RT - Kyle Murphy
Stanford seems to have reached a consensus regarding its five top offensive linemen. Five days after indicating that Josh Garnett, Johnny Caspers, and Kyle Murphy are all in position to assume top spots with Andrus Peat along the 2014 front, Shaw indicated that Graham Shuler is the favorite to grab the open center position.
"We're putting pressure on Graham," he said. "He has all the ability in the world. He needs experience. We've got to get him ready to go. He has a chance to be extremely good."
Shuler's athleticism has excited Stanford's staff for two years now. He spoke of his offseason strengthening goals this past week, but establishing a firm rapport with Hogan is priority number one for now. Shaw said that the fumbled snaps were likely a result of the ball coming in lower and faster to the quarterback on snaps than it had from previous centers Sam Schwartzstein and Khalil Wilkes.
"It's on the quarterback to adjust," Shaw said. "It takes some time, but then again, spring practice is already a fourth of the way over."
There was palpable enthusiasm about the massive left side of Stanford's offensive line. Shaw mentioned that Garnett has taken over the role of vocal leader up front. Perhaps the most spirited back-and-forth battle of the day came between Peat and fellow junior defensive end Luke Kaumatule. The two six-foot-seven physical specimens exchanged victories on consecutive plays in a match-up packed with power.
Among the reserves, youngster Dave Bright showcased his developing six-foot-five, 293-pound strength with a handful of impressive moments in early drills, including one that featured a clean knockdown of Johnny Caspers. Thomas Oser also looks to have worked his way into solid initial shape with a summer of critical strengthening looming. Shannon Turley's system is designed to break linemen down to excellent condition in their first season on The Farm before adding productive bulk in the second offseason.
Kevin Reihner manned the center position for the second team while Oser, Bright, Brendon Austin, and Nick Davidson rotated through different line positions for that unit. Stanford is dressing only 11 linemen for spring practice, a situation the program hopes fosters versatility among the big boys up front.
The way Remound Wright explained the art of running back pass protection made it seem especially challenging.
"Embrace the fact that you're about to hit somebody who outweighs you by 50 pounds and has a five yard head start," he told me.
Thanks to his hard work in that regard, Wright seems to be Stanford's early leader in the backfield. A handful of productive runs on Saturday also certainly helped establish Wright's presence in the running back race.
"[He's] been very steady," Shaw said. "He's made good decisions. He's been the best of the group as a pass protector."
Learning that facet of the position will be an important challenge to conquer for Kelsey Young, who enjoyed a solid gain to the outside in his first open practice as a standard running back. Meanwhile, the two other Stanford contenders at the position drew praise for their explosive potential in the open field.
"Barry Sanders and Ricky Seale are special in space," Shaw said. "Those two guys can really do something special with the ball in their hands."
While many Stanford players engaged in full contact drills on one half of the field, the Cardinal's quarterbacks and receivers worked hard to establish aerial timing on the other end. Hogan and his receiving crew seemed to focus on sharpening short-to-intermediate routes with defensive backs playing passing league-style coverage.
When the act moved to the full live scrimmage, sophomore tight end Eric Cotton represented perhaps the most striking addition to the Cardinal's arsenal. The six-foot-six, 242-pounder saw considerable action with the first team. Stanford obviously values Cotton's big frame, long strides, and potential to reinvigorate the receiving production of the tight end position. He'll be expected to add more upper body strength this offseason, but spring ball seems to have gotten off to a good start for No. 80.
Fellow sophomore tight end Greg Taboada caught the day's only touchdown pass from Evan Crower, while Austin Hooper missed practice because of a mandatory academic field trip. Stanford's wide receiver corps stayed intact. Last Monday, Shaw noted that the unit might be the deepest in the nation.
DE - Henry Anderson
DT - Aziz Shittu
DE - Blake Lueders
DE - Luke Kaumatule
DT - Lance Callihan/Anthony Hayes
DE - Jordan Watkins
*Nate Lohn and J.B. Salem also saw action
With David Parry out and Ikenna Nwafor still in a walking boot, Aziz Shittu earned first team action as Stanford's defensive tackle. He's traditionally played at end for the Cardinal, but given the move of Kaumatule and Blake Lueders to that position, it's possible that the slightly shorter and stockier Shittu (six-foot-three, 280 pounds) can earn more playing time this coming year if he demonstrates versatility along the defensive line.
OLB - Kevin Anderson
ILB - AJ Tarpley
ILB - Blake Martinez/Joe Hemschoot
OLB - James Vaughters
OLB - Peter Kalambayi/Mike Tyler
ILB - Noor Davis
ILB - Kevin Palma
OLB - Sam Shober
Joe Hemschoot started his Stanford career as an inside linebacker before shifting to the outside last year, where he also worked into the role of Stanford's "big nickel back." Just a few days after the Cardinal announced that Hemschoot would permanently be sticking to his role on the outside, though, the senior was back in the fray at inside linebacker.
AJ Tarpley's starting spot is obviously secured, but Shaw noted Hemschoot will be competing with Blake Martinez and Noor Davis for the opening alongside No. 17 on the inside. A bulked-up Kevin Palma also saw action with the second team defense on Saturday.
Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters appear to have a lock on the starting outside spots, but youngsters Peter Kalambayi and Mike Tyler both played well on Saturday. Tyler, in particular, caught some attention with a nifty spin move on his way to the quarterback during pass rush drills. He appears to have solid instincts while working to pursue the quarterback, and that echoes praise Lance Anderson showered on him last Fall.
Cornerback Alex Carter will miss all of spring practice with a lower body injury.
"He finished the season with something, and it's kind of come back," Shaw said. "We're just going to be overly cautious. It's a lower body deal, not a broken bone, not tendons, it's muscular."
The door is wide open for Stanford to experiment with shifts in the secondary, and the Cardinal is doing just that under graduate assistant Marc Mattioli (Shaw has yet to announce the hiring of a defensive backs coach to replace Derek Mason). In an interesting twist, cornerback Wayne Lyons shifted to Usua Amanam's old nickel back spot, leaving Ronnie Harris and Ra'Chard Pippens on the outside.
"Wayne's got the edge at nickel back," Shaw said. "We're going to move [Lyons and Harris] around."
Presumably, Stanford plans on shifting Lyons to that nickel back spot -- where a more physically imposing presence is preferred -- whenever the opposition inserts an extra wide receiver. Shaw expressed satisfaction with Harris' play at cornerback, and that steadiness has apparently encouraged the Cardinal to be more liberal in its use of Lyons.
Development of the free safety position opposite Jordan Richards is in its early stages. Converts Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd spent much of practice defending passing drills while senior Kyle Olugbode (one interception), listed as a strong safety, actually saw the bulk of the first team free safety action.
"Our defense has done a great job of baiting [our offense] into mistakes," Shaw said.
- Shaw briefly discussed the controversial new 10-second rule that's been proposed for college football, which would presumably force some of the game's relatively new high-octane offenses to slow down in between plays. "I personally don't care," he said. "We've trained our guys on defense to get their butts back and to get lined up and play."
- Shaw had another thought regarding the new, faster nature of college football. When it comes to match-ups, he thinks Stanford may be benefiting from its continued focus on power football: "I think there's something to that. I think the way people recruit, the way people coach, the way they spend their entire offseasons and entire training camps going against their own offenses, the way play four spread teams in a row.... Then they play against us, we're putting nine offensive linemen on the field. It's a whole different world, and I don't mind being the outlier."
- David Yankey, Trent Murphy, Cam Fleming, Sam Schwartzstein, Jarek Lancaster, and Owen Marecic were among the former Stanford players at practice.
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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