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August 26, 2014

Farm Report: Season opener



The last time Stanford played UC Davis, in Walt Harris' home debut as head coach, things did not go according to plan for the Cardinal.

On September 18, 2005, the Aggies visited Stanford Stadium with an 0-2 record (losses to New Hampshire and Portland State) that was widely expected to fall to 0-3. Stanford, after all, was a BCS conference opponent playing in its home stadium.

But thanks in part to a touchdown scored with eight seconds remaining, UC Davis stunned the Cardinal 20-17. The loss was one of the lowest points for Stanford football in a decade full of them.

David Shaw was an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens at the time.

"It was a rough day, especially since I had a couple of Cal guys on the team," Shaw said. "So I heard from them, also."

"I just remember I had a pit in my stomach, as an alum. That doesn't take anything away from Davis, but what that says to me, is just having a team that honestly overlooked an opponent and got outplayed. And that's the beauty of college football. No matter who's ranked and who's unranked and who's FBS and who's FCS or BCS or whatever, you have a bunch of kids at 18-22 years old and you're going to roll the ball out there and you're going to play. Effort counts. Teams that play the hardest and play the smartest are the ones that win."

Shaw and Stanford's players emphasized that the Cardinal is not overlooking Davis again. The team started game planning for the Aggies last week, in fact.

Shaw is eager to watch the Cardinal's offensive line and running backs in action.

"You start on the offensive line," Shaw said. "Everybody on that line has played. Graham Shuler played last year, coming in playing tight end. Johnny Caspers played the wing a couple of times and played in the backfield and played tight end also. You've seen those guys play football. You saw Kyle Murphy play a lot, Josh Garnett play a lot last year. But now it's a complete offensive line, the entire unit, for a game. With things coming up, things flying all over the place, how do they handle all the changes? How do they handle all those things? How will they handle things that come up right before a play that maybe they hadn't seen and we hadn't prepared them for? Can they handle those things, and how do they handle those things? That's what I'm fascinated about.

"I'm fascinated about Kelsey Young. We haven't seen him play running back honestly since his freshman year, and really even then, since his senior year of high school. But he's had a great training camp and I want to see him do it under the lights. We haven't seen Barry play in a couple of years. There are a lot of guys that we're excited about getting out there playing football for us."

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Though Stanford has not made a final decision on exactly which freshmen will play this year and which will redshirt, Shaw identified several that are likely to play.

Running back Christian McCaffrey will "for sure" play this year," Shaw said, "no question about it". Fullback Daniel Marx and defensive back Terrence Alexander will also probably play, as will offensive lineman Casey Tucker.

In addition to being listed in the two deep as Stanford's backup left tackle, Tucker could find time in the Cardinal's jumbo offensive line formations.

"He's got a good shot," Shaw said of Tucker. "He's got a good shot. We're trying to ramp him up. If we can get him going the first few weeks we will, if we can't then we'll hold on to him. But he's got all the ability, but as we all know, it's more than ability. (It's also about) knowing what to do. He's getting close."

Tucker's counterparts on the defensive line, Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas, are unlikely to play this year. Shaw said Stanford remains somewhat on the fence about their redshirt, but would prefer not to play either.

"Hopefully we don't need them," Shaw said. "Because I think we have some depth at the defensive line. Luke Kaumatule has come on. Nate Lohn has come on. Jordan Watkins is back healthy. So we feel like we have some depth and as long as we stay healthy and those guys perform, well keep those other two on the bench."

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It was a whirlwind offseason for Stanford running back Kelsey Young, who went from being a relatively little used hybrid back/receiver to starting running back. Last season, working as a receiver/running back hybrid of sorts, Young rushed 14 times for 110 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 37.

In the offseason, Young and the Cardinal made a decision that would change the trajectory of his career.

"Coach Shaw called me up to his office and asked if I would like to play running back again," Young said. "I told him that's probably one of the best statements that, best questions that I've heard in a long time."

Young, who ran a 4.47 40-yard-dash this spring, starred as a running back in high school, so the position is not foreign to him. Still, even though he occupied a versatile role within Stanford's offense, he spent the last several years working with the wide receivers.

"I spent almost three years solely with the receivers," Young said. "So I really got ingrained with a receiver's mentally and really learned the skillset as a receiver. Coming in I had never played receiver before, and so when I was in the receiver room, I really had a good understanding. Just being around that I really had ingrained a receiver mentality."

Nonetheless, the transition back to running back has been relatively seamless.

"I grew up playing running back," Young said. "I just felt a lot more natural at the position. I had a lot better feel for things in the backfield as a running back. So when Coach Shaw asked me if I would like to play running back again, everything kind of clicked and came together."

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Another first-time starter on the 2014 Cardinal roster is inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who beat out a host of contenders for the spot.

"It's been a long time coming but I definitely am really excited for it," Martinez said.

Though he is the starter, Martinez, who said that he has cut his body fat percentage in half since arriving at Stanford, will to an extent share time with players like Noor Davis and Kevin Palma, who, along with A.J. Tarpley, are expected to fill out Stanford's inside linebacker rotation.

"I think Blake has been kind of the most consistent at that spot," Shaw said. "You'll see other guys roll through there but I think Blake has a chance to have a really, really nice career here."

One player who might see less time at inside linebacker than originally expected is Joe Hemschoot. Though Hemschoot was initially among the competitors to start at inside linebacker, he was recently moved to outside linebacker, where Stanford's depth is not as strong.

"(Joe is a) jack of all trades," Shaw said. "And that's our comfort level with Joe, who is a fifth year senior. We could throw Joe anywhere on the field and he'll be effective. The bottom line, honestly, is we were three deep at one inside linebacker position and two deep at the other. And (we were) two deep at one of the outside linebackers and one deep on the other side. And we need to be two deep at all those positions. That's why we moved Joe back to the outside. Feel comfortable with him rotating in there with James Vaughters. Feel really comfortable with him if we have an injury at the inside linebacker position putting him back there. Joe is one of those guys that gives you a lot of comfort as a coach because he is versatile."

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A third position battle that was decided late in fall camp was at safety, where Kyle Olugbode beat out Kodi Whitfield and Zach Hoffpauir to earn the starting nod opposite Jordan Richards. Expect the backups to be heavily involved in Stanford's gameplan, however.

"Kyle is one of the more respected guys on the team," Shaw said. "He's not a guy that talks a lot, he's a guy that produces. He's done well on special teams for a couple of years. He's come in on games on defense and played well. Our safety position, outside of Jordan, you're going to see a lot of other guys in there. Jordan is phenomenal. But Zach Hoffpauir has had a great camp. Kw has had a great camp, as well as Kyle having a good camp. I've been saying this for a while: I feel so comfortable now because we have to play all those guys in every single game because of the up-tempo offenses. The last two positions that you want to be tired are your corners and your safeties. Because they one time that they're trying to take a break during a game that ball goes behind them for a touchdown. All those guys are going to need to play, but Kyle is the veteran of that group, the oldest guy in that group, being a fifth-year senior. Those guys respect him so much. He makes a call out there, they believe him and trust him. I don't think of it in terms of him filling shoes. I think of it in terms of all those guys working together and it's been great to have him as a leader back there."

Stanford plans to use at least three players - Wayne Lyons, Hoffpauir and Olugbode -and maybe a fourth, Richards, at nickelback.

"We're trying to have as many interchangeable parts as possible," Shaw said. "You'll see those guys rotate differently throughout the game."

The Cardinal plans to rotate players at cornerback as well. Ronnie Harris and Alex Carter will share reps at one cornerback spot in the season opener, though Harris will probably get the start.

"We'll probably start Ronnie just because Ronnie has been practicing so well throughout training camp and Alex just got cleared completely a week and a half ago and has practiced well," Shaw said. "When it's all said and done they'll probably play about the same amount of snaps.

"But (Harris) has earned the right I think because of how well he has practiced. But we all know that Alex Carter's ceiling is ridiculously high and we're going to work him in there relatively early in the game."

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All of Stanford's starters are expected to have a clean bill of health for the opener, including receiver Ty Montgomery, who was deemed questionable for UC Davis (and USC, for that matter) by Shaw earlier in the summer. Montgomery had surgery on his shoulder in February.

Shaw said that Montgomery was officially cleared on Sunday.

"It hasn't been a surprise based on how he has practiced," Shaw said. "(He's) gotten tested and retested and MRI's. Everything is pointing towards the fact that he is as healthy as he can be. He's healed. He feels great. The subjective has always been there because from the beginning of training camp he's been awesome, absolutely awesome.

Kevin Hogan was not surprised that Montgomery will be ready for the start of the season, either.

"First and foremost, I don't think any of us doubted that Ty was going to play," Montgomery said. "He's been looking unbelievable all of camp, since the first day. You didn't notice any kind of rust at all, which is kind of scary."

Aziz Shittu and Charlie Hopkins were not in pads for Tuesday's practice, but each is expected to return this week and play in the opener.

Thomas Oser, Brandon Fanaika and Lane Veach are out indefinitely with more serious injuries, though Oser could be re-evaluated midway through the season.





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