Open Practice Report: Offense Exacts Revenge

FB Lee Ward went aerial for a picturesque score

The tide turned on Saturday, and there was joy on the Stanford football practice field as a result -- at least as far as the team's offense was concerned. Finally, they won the day's short-yardage war, subjugating their defensive counterparts to 20 push-ups as a result.

That was reason enough for lineman Joshua Garnett and his counterparts to hoot and holler after two hours of physical play under the pristine Palo Alto morning sunshine.

It was the Cardinal's defense that had won a 10-play, short-yardage battle by the score of 8-2 on Thursday, but the offense struck back with a vengeance Saturday. Coaches set up a third-and-one situation four times. Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders sliced their way through the scrum to move the chains first. Then, Kelsey Young barreled his way to a big pick-up, bouncing off defenders on the way downfield. Lee Ward capped it off with an aerial bang, majestically launching his tank-like frame over the scrum and across the first-down marker.

Four conversions in a row. At long last, Stanford's offense had asserted itself against the big defensive bully that had become accustomed to controlling the flow.

"Since the beginning of the second session, the defense has dominated practice," David Shaw said. "They've been phenomenal. They were on fire Thursday, but the offense bounced back today.... Their energy was great."

So that's how push-up punishment came to be for the defense -- for players and coaches alike.

"But I didn't have to do push-ups," Shaw laughed after. "I'm technically the commissioner."

Sanders, Owusu, Hooper Impress
With Remound Wright sidelined for the second spring session due to a disciplinary issue, Sanders, Seale, and Young had extra opportunities to carry at running back. Seale took the initial first team snap. To the naked eye, Young's day could be considered the most promising. He consistently demonstrated a stubborn ability to stay upright on tough runs in between the tackles. Shaw also expressed satisfaction with Sanders' ability to turn a pair of would-be losses into positive runs.

Several underclassmen are developing into legitimate targets in Stanford's passing game. The Bootleg documented Eric Cotton's maturation during the first session of spring. His sophomore counterparts Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada are also now emerging as new intermediate passing threats. The trio of freshmen looks to have supplanted Stanford's old guard at the position, as former starter Charlie Hopkins took snaps with the second unit Saturday. (He caught a touchdown pass from Ryan Burns.)

Francis Owusu made the biggest splash in the aerial game. The sophomore wide receiver caught Stanford's other touchdown on a well-designed slot screen pass from Burns. He also made a pair of grabs in traffic and flashed impressive fluidity in racking up extra yards after the reception.

"[Francis] runs like his older brother," Shaw said. "But he's three inches taller and eight pounds heavier. Those are all young guys who we are looking to get more involved in the offense."

Chris Owusu clocked a 4.36 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Combine, the second-fastest time overall.

Bad News for Oser
Shaw revealed that sophomore offensive lineman Thomas Oser suffered a significant knee injury during the first session of spring practice. Oser, who was on crutches at practice, left in a golf cart. Shaw hopes that he'll "be back at some point next year."

Fellow lineman Brendon Austin is recovering from a much less serious knee injury. He's expected back at practice next week. Shaw said "he got rolled up" a few days ago.

Crower's Injury Gives Burns A Chance
Meanwhile, quarterback Evan Crower (deviated septum) was back in full uniform after not dressing for a practice earlier this week. He was not yet allowed to face a live defense, though.

"Evan will hopefully be back next week," Shaw said. "He's chomping at the bit. The extra reps have been great for Ryan Burns, though."

Burns, a six-foot-five, 219-pound sophomore, missed the first session of spring practice because of a disciplinary issue. During Saturday's open practice, he looked poised, accurate, and in control outside of an interception to walk-on linebacker Craig Jones. Burns is now working to corral Stanford's playbook, a challenge which has proven daunting over the past several days.

"He's made strides since the beginning of the week," Shaw said. "His first practice this week was absolutely horrendous. Today was functional, it was good. Next week, we expect him to take the rest of the steps, to the point he can be a serviceable quarterback mentally, between the ears."

Shaw noted that, physically, Burns "has all the tools." But he he stressed that mistake-free pre-throw execution is a Stanford prerequisite for the quarterback position.

"The biggest overall goal [for Burns] is to be efficient," he said. "You can't miss an audible, you can't miss a run check, you can't miss a read. Forget about knowing everything. We don't need him to know everything. We just need him to be efficient."

Early Special Teams Look
In an exclusive interview with The Bootleg Radio (embedded below), special teams coach Pete Alamar gave the first look at his 2014 unit. Barry Sanders, Dontonio Jordan, and Ty Montgomery are all expected to be in the punt return mix, while Alamar said that Montgomery has been reviewing plenty of kick return film while he's been sidelined with injury.

Keanu Nelson Transfers to BYU
Former reserve Stanford wide receiver Keanu Nelson will graduate with a degree in Science, Technology and Society this June. He has one more year of football eligibility remaining, which he plans to use at BYU next season. Nelson, a five-foot-11, 184-pound Tucson native, caught one pass and returned one punt for eight yards in his Cardinal career.

David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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