Stanford returned to practice on Monday after a rare camp off day on with an efficient session.
"I learned my lesson from a year ago where I made this practice really long and physical," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We shortened this one down, got some more red zone, less running in. It was actually a really good practice."
The shorter practice was part of a larger plan designed to ensure Cardinal players will be in top physical form for the season opener against San Jose State. Stanford has already begun to ease its practice intensity level.
"We still have two two-a-days this week," Shaw said. "And in the mornings we're going to go hard. We're going to be us, we're going to be physical. The afternoons we'll shorten those practices down a little bit and get some more situational things and make it more of a thinking man's practice. But the mornings we're going to get after it just like we always do."
Most years, the Cardinal would have started scaling back its practices before the end of the month. But a rare opening week bye forced Stanford to adjust its camp schedule. Shaw, who will serve as a guest analyst this Saturday morning for FOX's college football studio show, said that there are positives and negatives to opening the season a week late.
"We get a chance to see other people," Shaw said. "As I told the guys, we get a chance to see other people have their first game jitters and watch teams this week maybe lose games that they shouldn't lose because of turnovers, penalties, and being sloppy. Hopefully we can learn a lesson from watching other people. The negatives are we basically have 12 games in 13 weeks after this bye."
Shaw and Stanford has a plan to manage the team's health throughout the grueling regular season.
"We've got some things in the works as far as our schedule goes to make sure that we're smart about taking care of our bodies throughout the season," Shaw said. "It's not great to go out like gangbusters and then die at the end. We want to be known as finishers, guys that finish games strong, guys that finish the season strong. So we've put together a plan of what we're going to do in the first three or four weeks, the middle three or four weeks and then the (final) four weeks as far as practice, in terms of how much hitting and in terms of how long practices are."
Center still open: David Shaw revealed on Saturday that Stanford's center competition was likely down to two - Conor McFadden. He confirmed that was still the case on Monday.
"It's close (between McFadden and Wilkes)," Shaw said. "I'm still of the mind that it's going to be hard to move Kevin Danser because of where he is at guard. He can play center and is doing a good job, but it's going to be hard to justify moving him out and training a new right guard where he should be an All-Conference guard this year. I think we all feel great about where he is there."
Khalil Wilkes made a move in the competition during Saturday's open practice. Wilkes "outplayed everybody at the center position," during the scrimmage, Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said.
"He was making those calls and had very few errors, whereas we had a couple (errors) with the other guys and stuff that was not very typical of those guys," Bloomgren said. "But nevertheless it was a game-type environment. We made it as game-like as we could. Khalil outplayed everybody on Saturday."
Bloomgren also noted that the competition was still ongoing despite Wilkes' strong performance.
Injury update: Stanford has avoided major injuries thus far in camp, but several players have suffered minor ailments.
Starting receiver Ty Montgomery was held out of practice on Monday after getting hit on the hip during Saturday's scrimmage. The injury is not considered serious, and Montgomery is expected to return to practice this week. The same goes for defensive backs Ed Reynolds and Usua Amanam, who missed Monday's activities with minor lower body injuries.
"As with Usua, as with Ed Reynolds, if we were playing a game today (Ty Montgomery) would have played," Shaw said. "But we want to make sure we're as healthy as we can be at the beginning of the season."
A pair of running backs who missed Saturday's practice returned on Monday. Anthony Wilkerson was back in action at the end of Monday's practice, and Ricky Seale returned for the entire Monday session.
Hopkins emerging: The combination of a foot injury which made it difficult for redshirt sophomore Charlie Hopkins to keep on weight and the departure of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo opened the door for Hopkins to move from defensive line to tight end.
The switch could pay significant dividends for the Cardinal.
"He's shed a lot of weight," Shaw said. "He's down in the 250's now. He's moving really well. I had the conversation with him today: He's going to play… It's nice that Charlie can go in there and he catches the ball well. He's a good athlete for his size."
Hopkins will team with starter Luke Kaumatule, who recently tipped the scales at about 265 pounds, to form a solid one-two punch at the 'Y' tight end position. Offensive lineman Kyle Murphy will also contribute at tight end in certain situations.
Redshirt junior Davis Dudchock, the most experienced tight end on the roster, is also competing to see the field.
"He's another guy that's fighting for a role," Shaw said. "He's fighting for playing time. He catches the ball extremely well. He runs good routes. He's not as big as the other tight ends, not as physical as the other tight ends, but does a solid job in the running game.
"So he has a tight end battle, but he's also battling with a guy like Devon Cajuste who's another big-bodied guy who plays in the slot. So those two guys are kind of fighting for playing time as far as our big slot. We have little slot guys and big slot guys. He's had a solid camp and he's going to travel and how much he plays will be how much he earns."
Stanford has yet to determine which, if any, of the freshmen tight ends will play this year. Shaw said De la Salle product Austin Hooper is the closest to seeing the field.
"I think Austin Hooper's been close," Shaw said. "Austin Hooper has made some big plays and he's a physical sucker as you would expect a De la Salle young man to be. He blocks extremely well."
How ready Hooper and the other freshmen tight ends are for game action could play a role in some of Stanford's offensive personnel schemes. Ideally, Shaw said the Cardinal would present a variety of different lineups to the opposition.
"We want to present as many personnel groupings to the defense as we can," Shaw said. "That's not a secret. We haven't done it as much lately, but that's been our M.O. really for going on seven years now."
Though he's not technically listed as a tight end, redshirt senior fullback Ryan Hewitt possesses many tight end skills and will be a crucial part of the Cardinal passing game in 2013. In 2012, Hewitt's season took a turn for the better when Kevin Hogan replaced Josh Nunes as the starting quarterback.
"You saw when Hogan took over last year his production went through the roof," Shaw said. "To have a quarterback that can escape the pocket and get on the edge and find Hewitt leaking out has been huge. He's been a big part of what we've done for a few years now. He's feeling great. He's so versatile. He's lined up outside, inside. He's lined up everywhere. So he's been great for us."