Stanford players are surrounded by excitement and anxiety during this point of the year-round college football grind.
The exciting news: Stanford Stadium will host the program's 2014 Spring Game on Saturday at 1 p.m. In what serves as a brief respite from an eight month-long stretch that features only practice fields, weight rooms, and John Deere carts, players will again have a chance to perform in front of a live crowd at the palace itself.
That part of the equation should conjure up some healthy adrenaline, the kind that's only possible to replicate by strapping on pads and jogging through the Stanford Stadium tunnel. At the same time, though, it may also inspire some nerves: The April 12 end of spring ball means that sports performance director Shannon Turley's summer conditioning phase is underway.
That's the most grueling and painful part of the year-round cycle, the phase which features muscle-tearing E-Centric pull-ups and those vaunted John Deere carts, which players must famously push around campus to develop functional strength.
"There's definitely some anxiety there," running back Barry Sanders laughed. "We take off the pads and go straight back there with Turley. Hopefully, the new weight room takes some of the downside off. We're all excited for that."
Sanders was referring to the program's new state-of-the-art weight room, which is the latest completed part of the new facility that opened last October.
Now, though, Stanford fans have a chance to watch a potentially entertaining benchmark in the team's development. The Cardinal passed 58 times and ran the football on only 18 plays during last season's spring game, so onlookers had a good chance to see the team's developing deep aerial game. It featured a deep Michael Rector touchdown reception, something which later became an important component of Stanford's offense in the 2013 season.
The Cardinal is expected to focus on its intermediate passing game this time around.
Sorting Out Inside Linebacker
The Farm Boys will also continue to sort out their defensive situation Saturday, and a big part of that job entails finding a way to fill Shayne Skov's void at inside linebacker. Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot, Noor Davis, and Kevin Palma are the candidates to start alongside A.J. Tarpley.
Martinez is the favorite, as he saw the most immediate action behind Skov last season. Davis and the younger Palma, though, have drawn praise from new inside linebackers coach Peter Hansen, though neither have cracked the in-season rotation yet.
"I've rotated the inside guys every day," he said. "Noor's doing a great job. I know nothing about the history about what's happened his first two years. I just know what I see, and he's done a great job. He just needs to keep taking those steps forward when it comes to details and technique."
Hemschoot, meanwhile, is a veteran whose versatility continues to be a valuable tool in the repertoire of the Stanford defense.
"We've been calling him the Swiss Army Knife in the office," Hansen said. "When coach [Duane] Akina and I (the new defensive coaches) are watching film and we see No. 40 out there, we have to ask what position he's playing, because he's so versatile. We're going to focus on him on the inside, because I think he prefers inside, but we're not going to forget he has the ability to be so versatile."
Interesting Position Changes
Stanford has made some changes on its official roster. Many are minor, but some conjure interest and may present hints as to the complexion of the depth chart in a few months:
- Dallas Lloyd is listed at strong safety instead of free safety, where he initially expected to play. The Cardinal like Lloyd's big, physical frame and may be looking at him as the heir apparent to Jordan Richards at strong safety.
- On that note, Kyle Olugbode has officially changed listings from strong safety to free safety, where he has been taking snaps this spring. This move, combined with the move of Lloyd to strong safety, may indicate that Stanford is silently pleased with the progress that Olugbode and Kodi Whitfield are showing at the free safety spot.
- Eddie Plantaric and Chris Harrell, former tight ends, are now listed as fullbacks. This may be seen as a sign that Stanford's young tight ends (Greg Taboada, Austin Hooper, and Eric Taboada) are also coming along. Shaw has praised all three throughout spring. This past week, he lauded Taboada's strength and versatility.
- Anthony Hayes and Nate Lohn are now both listed at defensive end. They were previously on the roster as defensive tackles. That leaves David Parry, Ikenna Nwafor, Lance Callihan, and Alex Yazdi as the Cardinal's official tackles, though it must be noted that Aziz Shittu has seen extensive time in the middle of the line this spring. Keep an eye out on how Shittu is utilized Saturday and during the season. Stanford may rely on his potential versatility this year, especially if the defensive line again encounters some injuries.
- Quarterback Ryan Burns should have another excellent opportunity to impress Stanford's coaching staff at the helm of the Cardinal's second team offense. That's because usual back-up Evan Crower will still be sidelined because of a broken nose.
- Guard Brendon Austin (knee) is questionable for the spring game.
- Cornerback Alex Carter remains out due to a "lower body issue." Shaw says he expects him back in time for the season.
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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