Stanford opened training camp on Monday, and Cardinal head coach David Shaw wasn't particularly fired up about the team's first practice. Then again with four months of rust to shed and a helmets-only setting, that reaction was probably to be expected.
"It was OK," Shaw said. "For safety reasons we have the (acclimation) period so we practice without pads on. This game is game is not meant to be played without pads on. We need to adjust, we need to be smart, we have to get our guys to go hard, put their hands where they're supposed to, put their helmets where they're supposed to be, keep each other safe, keep each other healthy, but at the same time, execute the scheme in all three phases. I would say it was OK. It was a good start, but we have a lot to work on, obviously."
Without full contact it was hard to make conclusive determinations on the performance of the team, but Shaw thought Skov and the defense as a whole had strong days.
"Shayne Skov is running around," Shaw said. "It's great to see him back full speed. I thought the defense did really well; I thought they moved around really well, but we'll see. We'll see as it gets going. Day one, it's hard to have guys stand out day one."
With Shayne Skov noticeably slimmer than this time last year and Kyle Murphy, Johnny Caspers[/db] and Henry Anderson larger (after putting on good weight), Stanford's offseason strength and conditioning program seems to have paid dividends.
Still, there are several players - Shaw estimates about 10 percent of the team - who must improve their conditioning level. Shaw didn't provide specifics, but said that "a couple" players had yet to even pass the program's conditioning test, a prerequisite for practice participation.
"I would say for 90 percent of our team, absolutely (I'm happy with their conditioning)," Shaw said. "Absolutely. To see Henry Anderson at 295 pounds, heavy as he's ever been, still be able to run around and be in conditioning and handle practice like this where the guys are getting a lot of reps, more split practice where the guys are running around, it's great to see our big guys. They were sweating, but they were moving. I think (strength coach Shannon) Turley did a phenomenal job. That other 10 percent, we had a couple guys that didn't pass the conditioning test. We've had a standard practice around here: you don't pass the conditioning test, you don't practice. There's no punishment, nothing else, just if you can't pass the conditioning test, you're not in shape to be on this football team."
By all accounts, Kevin Hogan's first offseason as Stanford's starting quarterback was a productive one. Beyond the redshirt sophomore's physical progression, Shaw said he has noticed an improvement in Hogan's command of the team and the offense.
"He's just more comfortable," Shaw said. "He's more comfortable, he feels good. I think running the offense in the offseason at the captain's practices with no communication from us, I think, forced him to get a good handle on everything that we're doing. He did all the scripts, he decided what they were doing every day, he put it all together and he did it all summer. I think that helped him just have a good comfort level with everything that he's doing so that when he goes out there and steps in the huddle he's got a command, he's got a better command of our offense."
Hogan's improved knowledge of the Cardinal playbook didn't happen overnight.
"I've been in the playbook all offseason and summer and ready for (the coaches) to throw whatever at us, and hopefully, I'll be ready to handle it because it'll help us as an offense," Hogan said.
What did Shaw discuss with Hogan in their first conversation of the summer?
"I was really, really vague," Shaw said. "I just said, 'How did it go?' I wanted to hear what he had to say. I asked him what his top five pass ideas were. He told me those. I'm not telling you guys. He told me those. Whereas a year ago, I'd ask him for five and he'd have to kind of think, but after all summer going through everything that we've got, he's a comfort level now. It's nice to know that I know what those are and our coaches know what those are. We want to be sure that we work those into every gameplan."
A four back committee?
While Stepfan Taylor was the primary ball carrier, Stanford utilized a rather liberal running back rotation in 2011. Jeremy Stewart was the short-yardage back and received significant playing time along with Tyler Gaffney, Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson. Last year, only two backs - Taylor and Wilkerson - received more than 23 carries. Moreover, Taylor actually took 78 percent of the handoffs to running backs in 2012. (His percentage of total carries, which includes rushes by Kevin Hogan, wide receiver reverses and fullback dives, was 59 percent.)
Expect the 2013 Stanford running game to resemble the 2011 version more than the late-season 2012 one.
"Two years ago we played up to four backs in a game," Shaw said. "Looking at it, I think we'll probably go back to that. Rickey Seale's coming off a phenomenal spring. He's a fourth-year senior. If he earns the right to play, we're going to play him. Tyler Gaffney has come back in great shape, had some nice runs today. And Wilk (Anthony Wilkerson), Wilk looks great."
Gaffney, of course, returned to Stanford in the second session of spring ball after missing the 2012 season while playing minor league baseball. Shaw wasn't surprised that the Southern California native decided to return to the gridiron.
"I think he always knew," Shaw said. "He always knew that there was going to be an opportunity for him to come back. I personally thought that he would probably take two years before he made that decision. He played well in baseball; he played really well. I think he missed football. He loves football. When it's all said and done, he's going to play football for pay in the future."
Gaffney's decision was motivated by his desire to earn his degree and help his fellow Class of 2009 recruits finish their careers on a high note.
"I do everything day-by-day," Gaffney said. "I went to baseball and it was a great opportunity. I made a good effort and thought it was a good way to help the Cardinal win a championship and be a part of my graduating class and finish my degree."