Stanford's offense got off to a fast start in the Cardinal's 2014 training camp, but the defense has responded. Cardinal coach David Shaw said that Stanford's defensive unit has been "dominant" the last two practices, particularly in some situational work the Cardinal did today.
"At the end of last week I thought the offense really was kind of handling the defense running the ball, and the last two practices the defense has really been dominant," Shaw said. "(We did) short yardage (and) goalline today, and the defense won it running way, which was good to see from the defensive perspective. So I think that was the bulk of today."
Shaw listed David Parry, Henry Anderson, A.J. Tarpley and Kodi Whitfield as players that impressed during Thursday's practice.
Another camp standout has been junior defensive end Aziz Shittu, who returned to practice on Thursday after being held out earlier in the week due to an unspecified minor injury. Shittu was one of the breakout players of Stanford's spring ball, and has maintained a high level of play throughout camp.
"We were expecting a big jump last year," Shaw said. "I think he put in the work and was close, but I think this spring he really realized his potential and is pushing himself really hard. He knows how good he can be. He's putting the work in and it's showing on the field."
"He was back live today, full speed today, was good. (He's) just so quick and explosive. We need him to play at a high level, and he and Blake (Lueders) are going to play a lot of football for us."
Shittu brings more than just talent to the defensive line group. He's also one of Stanford's most versatile linemen, capable of playing any position along the line.
"He can play anywhere across the front," Shaw said. "The biggest thing for me is that he's learned it all. He knows the different techniques involved, he knows all the calls at all those places. So how smart he is is as important as how quick he is; he can be that versatile guy that can be anywhere across the front. He could start one game in one position and midway through he's on another position, so that's great."
"That's the thing with Aziz - he can line up (at nose tackle in addition to defensive end). He's done well at the nose. He can play there, nose, he can play end. If David (Parry) needs a blow we can put him there and put Blake back out at end. I feel comfortable with that rotation."
In a recent media session, Shaw identified running back Christian McCaffrey as the Stanford freshman most likely to play this year.
On Thursday, Shaw added another name to the list.
"Casey Tucker, (I'm) really excited where Casey is also as a true freshman," Shaw said. "We'll see how early he's ready to play, but he looks like he's going to be ready to play this year."
Tucker is one of four linemen who will contend for roles in Stanford's various packages that use extra offensive linemen. Brendon Austin, David Bright and Nick Davidson are the others.
"David Bright has had a really, really good camp," Shaw said. "(We're) really excited about where he is."
"Nick Davidson has had a good camp. So we have I think four legitimate candidates right now to come in and play those positions."
While Shaw has identified McCaffrey and Tucker as early playing time candidates on offense, he has yet to name a freshman defensive player likely to play this year. That's not because the group isn't talented - to the contrary, multiple coaches have raved about Stanford's freshmen defensive backs in particular - but because the Cardinal's veterans will probably make available playing time rather limited.
"There are a lot of guys that we talk about as far as special teams, as far as offense and defense," Shaw said. "I love all of our young defensive backs. I'm so excited about every single one of them. The good thing is we feel pretty good about the DB's right now. But I think all of those guys are going to be good and we'll see early in the season if some of those guys maybe start to play on special teams and then earn a role maybe on defense at some point. Defense is a little tougher because we have so many older guys, so many fourth and fifth year seniors on the defensive side. But I'm excited about those guys.
"To mention a couple, Alameen Murphy has been outstanding, Terrence Alexander has been outstanding. I think the group as a whole, I think we're going to be really excited about these guys in the next couple of years."
Kelsey Young was spotted leaving practice on Thursday in a walking boot; however, running back coach Lance Taylor said that Young is not seriously injured and was only wearing the boot for precautionary reasons.
As he has during nearly every media session of training camp, David Shaw again raved about wide receiver Ty Montgomery on Thursday.
"Right now it's scary," Shaw said. "He's put on eight to 10 pounds and is faster, more explosive, and just excited about getting the opportunity to play. His energy is up. He doesn't want to come out of practice. He wants to take every rep. He's pushing himself, which I think is great. (The) sky is the limit for him."
Stanford's second and final open practice of training camp will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. The Cardinal will hold an extended scrimmage during that time.
Shaw expects that receiver Devon Cajuste will miss the scrimmage with an undisclosed minor injury, but that he will back next week. Freshman offensive lineman Reilly Gibbons "is getting close" to returning, as is Jordan Watkins, who should be fully cleared in the next couple of days or sometime early next week.