Ironing Out the Details
The big moment is rapidly approaching. August training camp is in its final week, so David Shaw has entered fine-tuning mode as his Stanford team prepares for the transition to UC Davis preparation. On Monday, the Cardinal simulated the pressure cooker of overtime play (the defense recorded a stop; the offense responded with a touchdown) and dedicated an entire stretch of practice to no-huddle situations. The club's retooled D used this to ready for speed-oriented attacks that it anticipates facing frequently this year.
James Vaughters turned in his best training session of camp, while fellow linebacker A.J. Tarpley addressed the team in the post-practice "Wise Words" speaking series. His message was aimed at fortifying Stanford's cohesion entering this final stretch of prep: He encouraged players to trust their teammates on the field. Tarpley's words resonated with guard Joshua Garnett (interview embedded below), whose offensive line happens to be fine-tuning that type of trust as it strives to jell as a unit.
"It starts with learning everyone's techniques, what steps they take, how they get set," Garnett said. "But it ultimately comes down to trust. Like A.J. was talking about after practice, you have to trust that your guy's going to be there. In a certain block, you have to trust that your center is going to be there [to help]. In another one, you have to trust that your tackle will be there. I think our guys are doing a great job of getting along."
Hansen and the Linebackers
Tarpley's own position group, meanwhile, has been bonding through intense physical work. New inside linebackers coach Peter Hansen, whose last job was on the staff of the San Francisco 49ers, has brought some of All-Pro Patrick Willis' training techniques with him to the Farm. Stanford linebackers are frequently conducting drills in a small chute that's only five feet tall. It forces them to maintain fundamentally solid, low technique to the ground while playing the position.
The subsequent leg muscle burn certainly isn't pleasant.
"We don't like it too much," linebacker Blake Martinez laughed. "All of us kind of smirk and grimace at [the contraption] when coach Hansen brings it out."
Martinez did his share of grimacing this past offseason, laboring toward a whole new set of personal bests in the weight room. He's squatting 540 pounds and is the favorite to start alongside Tarpley at inside linebacker. He's focusing on the mental aspect of his game now, and that was on full display during Saturday's scrimmage, when he took Tarpley's advice to time the snap count and burst through the line of scrimmage on a third-and-goal tackle for loss. Martinez says the iPad app Hansen instructs the linebackers to frequently review has also helped.
"It's called 'everything it takes to be a linebacker,'" he said. "It gets us in the right state of mind, that's for sure."
The full interview Martinez is embedded below.
Fanaika Likely Done for the Year, Other Injuries
Freshman offensive lineman Brandon Fanaika hurt his right arm at practice last week, and Shaw indicated that there's still uncertainy regarding the length of Fanaika's absence, but it's likely that he'll need to have surgery. Doctors will make a final call this week, but if that ends up being the case, Stanford intends to redshirt Fanaika this season. The six-foot-three, 321-pound guard, who's currently wearing a sling, was performing well at his first camp coming off a two-year LDS Mission.
Meanwhile, Shaw said that running back Kelsey Young (ankle) will be back at practice later this week, while defensive lineman Jordan Watkins will be a game week decision prior to the August 30 season opener. Freshman cornerback Alameen Murphy left the practice field with a limp Monday; Shaw said that he turned an ankle.
The biggest health intrigue surrounds Stanford star wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who will visit with doctors later this week. Shaw said Montgomery, who certainly looks fully healthy to the naked eye, "can't wait to get that yellow (non-contact) jersey off. It's driving him crazy."
Doctors can potentially fully clear Montgomery during this next examination, though Shaw said it's still technically possible -- yet unlikely -- that the receiver misses some time early in the season. As soon as Montgomery is cleared, he will again be Stanford's primary kick-off returner. He also fielded punts at Saturday's scrimmage.
Passing Game: An Increased Role?
Given the departure of 1,800-yard rusher Tyler Gaffney and the high expectations surrounding Stanford's 2014 wide receiver corps, there's been speculation that the Cardinal's offensive strategy may tilt -- at least slightly -- toward the aerial game. On Monday, Shaw himself confirmed that observers may see a shift.
"[Montgomery] will have more opportunities this year just because of the function of our team," he said. "We're still going to run the ball and be physical up front, but we don't have that 220-pound monster in the backfield anymore."
Shaw's right: The days of Toby Gerhart (235 pounds) and Tyler Gaffney (226 pounds) roaming the backfield are over. The hulking centerpiece is on the outside now: A beefed-up Montgomery checks in there at 220 pounds. Most -- if not all -- of that weight appears to be muscle.
"He's better as a route runner, he's better at making tough catches, he's better in traffic this year," Shaw said. "Last year, he was very good. This year, I think he can be great."
The Cardinal's heaviest running back this year is 204-pounder Remound Wright, who is just now returning from a suspension due to an undisclosed disciplinary issue. Wright will be back in full pads by Thursday, but Shaw acknowledged his lengthy time away from the team makes him a longshot to start.
Despite the shift in personnel, don't expect Stanford to abandon its power run identity. As Shaw hinted, the Cardinal will likely pass more often and more aggressively, but everything will still operate within its run-first framework on the ground. The running backs, though smaller than the bruisers of the past, have still turned heads during camp.
"They're not Gaffney's size, but they do some things better than him, and some things not as well," Garnett said. "It's going to be fun to see them play."
I asked Shaw about Hogan's development in the pre-snap game of checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage. Of course, this is an area in which Andrew Luck truly excelled.
"[Hogan's] very close to where we want to be," Shaw said. "We're pushing for 100 percent. Those things at the line change so late, so he has to be able to get us to the right pass protections and the right run plays. He's been really good, but I don't want really good anymore. I want great."
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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