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April 13, 2014

Spring Game Recap: Defense shines





Stanford's Spring Game played out much the same way that the program's open scrimmages have throughout spring practice - with the defense having an advantage. Buoyed by four forced turnovers and 14 tackles for loss, the defense topped the offense 47-23 on a perfect Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium.

"It went pretty much like spring had gone, which is we started off and defensively we were so good up front," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "A lot is going to be said about the guys that were leaving including Derek Mason. But we have a veteran group up front that's really, really tough to run the ball against and really tough to pass protect. We think we're going to have a good offensive line but it's hard to show that with the guys we have up front. But then we see (the offense) battling back. That's the way spring has gone. Offense couldn't move the ball early in spring, had a chance to make some plays. Today (played) out just like that. Without the last two fumbled snaps it's a one-score game with a chance for the offense to come back and tie it or win it."

With Evan Crower held out due to a broken nose, Ryan Burns and Kevin Hogan received all of the work at quarterback. Hogan completed 14-22 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.

"I think Kevin played well," Shaw said. "It's tough to give him enough time against this defense. When he had time he made some great throws. He got out and scrambled a couple of times. I thought he played well. Saw everything and executed his assignments well."

Burns completed 12-25 attempts for 131 yards and an interception. He was also sacked six times. Though he made several nice throws, Burns showed his youth throughout the spring game, fumbling three snaps, throwing a pick-six, and presiding over several instances of miscommunication in the backfield.

"This is a tough defense to learn to play against," Shaw said. "Every mistake you make is going to get a light shone on it."

Shaw was particularly disappointed about Burns' three fumbled snaps.

"When you fumble a snap nobody else gets a chance to play," Shaw said. "You can't have that. Very discouraging, very upsetting. Ryan Burns knows he has to work on that. He's been a shotgun quarterback but you have to take the ball from under center with us. The starting center was in there. He has to be able to get those snaps."

Still, Shaw emphasized that Burns' struggles aren't exactly uncharacteristic of a young quarterback in Stanford's system.

"He's about on pace with every freshman quarterback we've had except for Andrew (Luck) who was a little bit above," Shaw said. "He's right where Kevin Hogan was his freshman year, right were all those other guys their freshman years. It's a lot to learn and hopefully early in the season next year he gets it."

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Stanford's defense was also stout in the ground game. The Cardinal offense was limited to 148 yards on 49 carries, an average of 1.5 yards per carry.

Barry Sanders was the most productive of Stanford's backs, gaining 68 yards on 12 carries. He also caught two passes for 19 yards.

"He's going to make some wild plays," Shaw said. "He's going to make some highlight plays. And we've talked about it. He's going to have some phenomenal four-yard runs because they should have been a minus-two. He took a screen out there that should have been a tackle for loss, made two guys miss, and had a positive gain. That's the kind of ability he has."

Kelsey Young, who has flourished this spring after moving to running back, had another solid performance, gaining 27 yards on seven carries. However, Young was forced to leave the game early after suffering a right arm injury.

"He's going to get some x-rays to see how bad it is," Shaw said. "He was in a lot of pain. By the time he got to the sideline the pain had subsided which is good. But we'll see exactly what it is when we get the x-rays."

Ricky Seale rushed for 15 yards on nine attempts, Kevin Hogan eight yards on five.

Noticeably absent from the running back group was Remound Wright, who has missed the second session of spring ball due to disciplinary reasons. He's expected to return to the practice field this summer for training camp.

"We'll see how well he takes advantage of his time off and how he comes back," Shaw said. "He's still going to have a chance to compete. He's worked extremely hard for us. I don't believe in lingering punishments. Punishments are what they are and they come back and we say, 'OK let's get started.' I don't hold things against guys."

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Several of Stanford's young linebackers have earned praise this spring for their maturation, and the improved play of the likes of Peter Kalambayi and Noor Davis was evident again on Saturday.

Kalambayi, who started at outside linebacker in place of Kevin Anderson, who missed the game with a minor injury, led the defense with seven tackles and two sacks.

On the heels of a strong spring, Kalambayi is now Stanford's third outside linebacker (behind Anderson and Vaughters) and figures to earn significant playing time next season.

"He's ready to play," Shaw said. "And for years we've done a good job of getting guys ready to play so they can rotate in and spell guys. You saw that from Alex Debniak years ago. You saw that from Kevin Anderson last year coming in and playing a lot even quote unquote as the third outside linebacker. That's where Peter is right now. Peter is ready to play. He is fast, he is physical, and we're excited about what he can do for us."

Noor Davis, who started his career at outside linebacker before moving inside, has also shined this spring. He made three tackles (including one sack) during the spring game.

"He's ready to play," Shaw said. "He's made a huge jump really from the first session to second session. He's played so physically. He's been so smart. He knows what to do. And you see him playing with so much more confidence. I'm extremely proud of him. He's been really good. He's ready to play. He's ready to rotate in and play."

And while A.J. Tarpley is cemented as one of the two starters at inside linebacker, the competition for the other spot will extend into training camp.

"It's really close," Shaw said. "A.J.'s great but we've got three guys that are all ready to play. You've got Joe Hemschoot, you've got Noor Davis and you've got Blake Martinez. And that makes me feel good to know that we've got four inside linebackers that we can rotate in and stay fresh. I think A.J.'s going to appreciate that, so when we get into the fourth quarters of games he's not worn down and he's ready to play his best. So I'm excited."

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Kalambayi and Davis weren't Stanford's only younger players to impress this spring. The Cardinal's trio of young tight ends - Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada lived up to the hype.

Cotton and Hooper in particular were productive during every open scrimmage, and received numerous snaps with Stanford's first-team offense. The pair appears poised to earn starting jobs at the 'F' and 'Y' tight end positions, respectively.

"We'll evaluate the blocking more than the catching but it's great to see Eric Cotton go up and make a big play, a guy who is 6-foot-6 and a phenomenal athlete," Shaw said when asked about the tight ends' performance during the spring game. "We love where Austin Hooper is right now. So we're excited to see how specifically perfect they played or not in the running game but I think overall both did a good job."

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Like inside linebacker, the competition at right guard isn't one that will be settled any time soon. Three players - Johnny Caspers, Dave Bright and Brendon Austin - are still vying to replace Kevin Danser.

"It'll be competitive," Shaw said. "Right now Johnny Caspers is in there. We'll give David Bright a chance to compete. We'll give Brendon Austin a chance to compete. So we'll see how that goes. I would say just by a nose right now Johnny Caspers has it but it's going to be competitive throughout training camp."

Overall, Shaw is pleased with the state of the Stanford football team as the Cardinal prepares to transition from spring ball to the offseason conditioning program.

"I think we're pretty close to where wanted to be," Shaw said. "We'd love to be a little bit… better on the offensive line just as far as assignments and getting things done but it's the flip side of having a great defensive line. David Parry is going to make any mistake look worse than it should be. Henry Anderson. Just tough guys to block. Aziz Shittu (has been) probably the player of spring for us. Just phenomenal. Those three guys are just tough to block."

Other Notes

  • 2015 linebacker Osa Masina and wide receiver Austin Aaron were in attendance.

  • Lance Anderson was up in the booth during the game, and that's likely where he'll call the defense this season. In past years Anderson signaled in plays from the field. Now that he's Stanford's defensive coordinator, he'll be upstairs in the coaching box and another one of the assistants (today it was Peter Hansen) will signal in the plays.

  • The lineups were very similar to what they were during previous scrimmages. With Kevin Anderson out, Peter Kalambayi started opposite James Vaughters with the first unit. Joe Hemschoot started with the ones at ILB opposite A.J. Tarpley but Blake Martinez and even Noor Davis eventually rotated in with the first unit.

  • Devon Cajuste led Stanford's receivers with 5 catches for 50 yards and a TD. Rollins Stallworth had 2 receptions for 52 yards (the majority of which came on a 45-yard reception from Ryan Burns when Stallworth out-jumped Ronnie Harris on a deep ball). Michael Rector, Eric Cotton, Barry Sanders, Jordan Pratt, Conner Crane and Francis Owusu had two catches each.

  • Wayne Lyons had a very nice day with three pass breakups. For that matter, the secondary as a whole was very solid for most of the day. Kyle Olugbode started opposite Richards at safety (and Kodi Whitfield received early reps like he has in previous scrimmages). Interestingly enough, Olugbode also saw some snaps at nickel, which I don't recall seeing in previous scrimmages. With Wayne Lyons also taking reps at nickel this spring and Zach Hoffpauir capable of playing the position, Stanford will have several options at nickel when they open training camp this summer.



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