The uncertainty surrounding senior defensive tackle Terrence Stephens was resolved last Friday, and the result wasn't positive for Stanford or Stephens. Stanford announced that Stephens would be ineligible to play in the Rose Bowl due to a secondary violation of NCAA rules relating to an off-campus housing matter.
Cardinal coach David Shaw didn't provide many details to explain the matter after the team's final practice in Palo Alto before heading to Pasadena, but did make sure to praise Stephens and express optimism about Stephens' future.
"It's unfortunate but it's not going to affect his opportunities in the NFL," Shaw said. This is just one of those deals and we didn't say anything about it until all of the information was gathered. We've been in constant communication with the Pac-12 and the NCAA. It is unfortunate, but he's going to get his degree, he's going to move on and get a chance in the NFL and that's what's important right now. We're going to miss him on the field, but he's part of the reason why we're here and we're very grateful to that."
Shaw confirmed that Stephens' absence from the final two games of Stanford's regular season was related to the NCAA matter.
"There was a lot of information gathering that we had to get," Shaw said.
Stanford doesn't expect there will be any additional repercussions from the violation.
Freshman Nwafor stands out: Traditionally, bowl practices have been a prime opportunity for younger players to impress the coaching staff. Last year, for instance, receiver Ty Montgomery and quarterback Kevin Hogan were said to have impressed. This bowl practice session, true freshman defensive tackle Ikenna Nwafor has caught Shaw's attention. .
"To be honest, Ikenna Nwafor just this week of practice was almost unblockable," Shaw said. "For a guy with all of the physical tools to finally start to get it, it's exciting to see. And for our guys up front, our guys are pretty good up front on the offensive line, we've had trouble with him all week. And that's exciting, knowing that we're going to bring back basically the entire starting defensive line and add a guy like Ikenna Nwafor to that group. Jordan Watkins has been phenomenal also, those two young guys, big guys up front have been great.
"Josh Garnett has had a really good week of practice so hopefully we get a chance to play him in the Rose Bowl as well."
Surgery the right choice for Lueders: When he first heard that outside linebacker Blake Lueders was getting surgery to repair a shoulder injury, Shaw was somewhat skeptical of Lueders' decision -- the former Rivals 100 recruit might have been able to find a way to play through the injury without turning to surgery. After watching Lueders' health improve throughout the season, however, the Stanford head man no longer questions the outside linebacker's choice.
"The decision to get the surgery, which I wasn't sure initially because he could still play, now I'm completely sold because he's able to go through the drills that we put him through without pain and he's 255, 257 (pounds)," Shaw said. "Next year I can't wait for him to plug in along with James Vaughters, who's starting to show promise again as well, and those guys that are going to get a chance to get on the field and contribute next year."
Vaughters role uncertain for 2013: After playing some outside linebacker as a true freshman in 2011, Vaughters moved inside full-time in 2012. Given the strong possibility that both of Stanford's starting inside linebackers (Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley) will return in 2013, and taking into account Vaughters' pass-rushing prowess, there is a chance he could move back outside next year. Alternatively, Vaughters may be used at multiple positions, Shaw said.
"James' versatility is one thing we have to talk about," Shaw said. "Because he's done well inside. He's a really good pass rusher. He showed that as a true freshman. He's one of those guys who has versatility. Hopefully we can move him around a lot."
Shaw excited for running back battle: Two of the top running backs in the nation will square off when Wisconsin and Stanford play in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. Shaw, for one, is eager to watch Stepfan Taylor and Montee Ball play in the "Grandaddy of Them All".
"(They aren't) two guys who are gimmick guys, not two guys who are fly sweep guys," Shaw said. "These are two real running backs that believe in pass protection, that believe in blocking, that believe in running between the tackles, that have great balance and vision and all of the things that you're looking for and are both two guys that you want on your team. This is going to be fun to watch both those guys to get after it."