Stanford's wait is finally almost over.
More than eight months after winning its first Rose Bowl in four decades, the Cardinal will begin their season at 8 p.m. on Saturday when they host San Jose State.
Stanford is expected to open the year with a relatively healthy squad.
"Injury-wise, we're pretty healthy," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Several Cardinal fullbacks are nursing minor ailments, however. Lee Ward was not a full participant in Tuesday afternoon's practice session with an undisclosed injury, but will be "full-go tomorrow," Shaw said.
The prognosis for starting fullback Ryan Hewitt is less clear.
"Ryan Hewitt is a wait and see for the (San Jose State) game," Shaw said. "He got a bruise and it's nothing more than a bruise we don't think, but the swelling has not gone down. There's still a good chance he's going to play, but especially with us having three fullbacks we can afford to hold him if we need to hold him."
Hewitt injured his knee during Stanford's open scrimmage a week-and-a-half ago. He ran at close to full speed for the first time since the injury on Tuesday, but if Hewitt doesn't practice by Thursday Shaw said it's unlikely he will play.
If Hewitt isn't healthy, it will mark the second consecutive year the Colorado native will miss the season opener. Fortunately for the Cardinal, the team has the fullback depth to lessen the blow of his potential absence.
"Thankfully we had Lee Ward ready to go last year and same with Patrick Skov and we'll have the same thing this year," Shaw said. "That's why we need to have multiple fullbacks and we'll continue to recruit fullbacks so we never run out because guys get banged up."
In other injury news, offensive lineman Cole Underwood, who suffered a knee injury last year during fall camp, is back fully participating in practice. Redshirt freshman tight end Alex Frkovic is also completely recovered from the injury he sustained last summer, though he's still regaining some of the explosiveness the injury deprived him of.
"He's not quite back where he was a year ago," Shaw said. "He's not running the same. But once again, just like we saw with Shayne Skov last year, even when they're back healthy sometimes they're not back to where they were before. I believe (Alex) has a chance to help us in the future but right now he's not in that two-deep."
Though Frkovic's exclusion from the two-deep at tight end was expected, Davis Dudchock's was somewhat of a surprise. Dudchock is the most experienced tight end on the roster and was expected to compete for playing time this season as redshirt junior. But only sophomore Luke Kaumatule and defensive line convert Charlie Hopkins were listed on the two-deep for the Cardinal's game against San Jose State.
"We'll see," Shaw said of Dudchock's role. "I know he's ready to help us on special teams. He's going to travel. He's on the travel squad. If he needs to go in and play he'll go in and play. Luke and Charlie have had really good training camps. Eddie Plantaric has had a good training camp also. I think those guys are a little bit ahead right now."
Dudchock's playing time could also be impacted by the growth of the Cardinal's trio of true freshmen tight ends. Stanford has not committed to playing any true freshmen in its season opener, but Shaw said tight end Austin Hooper is one of the two first-year Cardinal players who is a legitimate candidate to play.
"(The freshmen) all know they're all kind of in a holding pattern," Shaw said. "If they don't play the first four games or so they won't play. There are a couple that are close. We'll see about Hooper at the tight end position and on special teams. We'll see about Francis Owusu. We'll see how the next few weeks go with those guys. Those are the main candidates right now."
Special Teams Settled: Ty Montgomery is expected to be Stanford's No. 1 wide receiver this year, but he'll also have significant responsibilities on special teams. Montgomery will begin the year as the Cardinal's starting kick returner.
"Ty will take the kickoffs unless he needs a break and then Kelsey (Young) will go in, which happens during the course of the game," Shaw said. "With as much wide receiver as he's going to play and Kelsey being good as well, (it will) help a ton. If Ty has anything going on, he takes a big hit or he's caught so many balls or whatever, we have no problem putting Kelsey in."
Sophomore receiver Kodi Whitfield will be Stanford's punt returner. Montgomery and Barry Sanders could also see time at the position.
Redshirt junior Ben Rhyne beat out Alex Robinson and Conrad Ukropina in the punter competition.
"Ben Rhyne had a really good training camp coming in and competing for that punting job," Shaw said. "He was very consistent and as a punter that's what you need. You need consistency. You have to get the ball off on time, locate the ball where it needs to be located consistently and give our guys enough hang time to get down there and make a tackle."
Shaw on Jameis Winston: One of the major stories in the first week of the college football season was the remarkably successful debut of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The former five-star recruit completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns in the Seminoles' season-opening victory over Pitt.
Stanford heavily recruited Winston and hosted the Alabama native on an official visit. He even applied and was admitted to Stanford. Winston ultimately decided to play his college football closer to home, but the dual-sport star left a positive impression on Shaw.
"When he came on a visit here we all fell in love with him," Shaw said. "He's a great kid. He's smart. He knows football. He's got an unbelievable personality and whatever 'it' factor quarterbacks have, he's got it. He's also very self-aware. He knows what he does right and he knows what he doesn't do right.
"He's also blatantly honest and open. You ask him a question and you're going to get an answer. He's a wonderful kid. I got to know his dad through the process. (He has a) great family. I said it at the time - I know he's going to be successful in and out of football. He's just one of those guys."