Stanford's third open practice of the spring was highlighted by an area in which the Cardinal struggled a season ago: the vertical passing game.
Starting quarterback Kevin Hogan connected on a pair of deep balls, one to Ty Montgomery and one to Michael Rector, and backup Evan Crower threw a 20-yard touchdown to a leaping Rector. The long passes helped Hogan amass 130 passing yards on only five completions.
"First of all, I thought Kevin Hogan was phenomenal," Stanford coach David Shaw said after practice. "We've been working on our deep passes, and he hit them. Ty ran one down, which was great. Michael Rector ran one down. I thought the guys did a good job of taking advantage of those things."
Tyler Gaffney was also solid in the scrimmage.
"He looks the same," Shaw said of Gaffney. "A couple practices in, he looks exactly the same (as he did before a stint in professional baseball). He has great movement, he's just bigger. He's 220 right now and he moves like he did when he was 215, 214. So we've been excited to see him."
Gaffney is expected to play a critical role in what will most likely be a running back by committee situation next fall.
"We've got five guys that could be the guy other places that we're going to use them to their ability," Shaw said. "It's all for the betterment of the team."
"(Anthony) Wilkerson has really picked up his game, and I think that's one heck of a one-two punch (with Gaffney). Remound Wright has been great. He got dinged up yesterday in practice. He'll be back on Tuesday, so he didn't go today, but he's been great. Barry (Sanders) has been making runs every day. Ricky Seale has been making runs every day. So just like the last three years, honestly, we have an embarrassment of riches at running back, but we're going to use guys for what they do well."
Position competition updates: The competition to replace Sam Schwartzstein has narrowed - but only slightly. Shaw said that there are now three primary candidates to earn the starting center position: Conor McFadden, Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser. Freshman Graham Shuler, back in action after missing the first session of spring due to disciplinary issues, could eventually find himself in the mix at center, but is currently working with the younger players. Also of note, Kevin Reihner played guard, not center, during the scrimmage.
"Right now Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden and Kevin Danser (are competing for center)," Shaw said. "Graham Shuler has gotten back now, he's getting back in the swing of things. So he'll take some reps with the younger guys. He's starting to show some promise, but he's not quite ready to get back in that competition just yet, he still got to get a little bit bigger."
Similarly, a group of players has started to emerge at the wide receiver spot.
"I think it's a group (of receivers who have started to emerge)," Shaw said. "I think Ty (Montgomery), as we talked about with him in the offseason, getting back to just being Ty. He's healthy. He's confident. He's comfortable. He's doing great. Michael Rector has come leaps and bounds from where he was as a freshman early in training camp. Devon Cajuste I think has really, really been great. I've been so pleased with Devon, where he is right now. Kodi Whitfield, Kodi makes plays every single day That's four guys right there. We still have Jeff Trojan, some of these other guys that are making plays also. It's becoming a very good group that is going to be a strength for us."
Not listed among Shaw's standouts at receiver was perhaps the team's most dynamic athlete, Kelsey Young. That's not because Young has struggled, however. Rather, his unique skill set defies the role of a traditional receiver or running back.
"On our board, which we put where guys are in different positions, there's one space that just says 'Kelsey,'" Shaw said. "It's not at running back, it's not at receiver. It's just Kelsey. It's our job every single day, practice and games, to make sure that we put him in positions to make plays, no matter where that is. Kickoff returner, running back, receiver, flexed out, coming back into the backfield. There's so many different things he can do. We have to make sure that every week we have a special package for him."
Defensive Line depth: Defensive line hasn't always been a deep position for Stanford, but Shaw is excited about the Cardinal's depth in the front-three this season. In addition to the four starters (David Parry, Ben Gardner, Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro will all play major minutes), Shaw said that several of the team's younger defensive linemen are developing nicely.
"We're loaded on the defensive line also," Shaw said. "Anthony Hayes has made some plays. Aziz Shittu has really come on the last couple of practices. Ikenna Nwafor at 300 pounds, at 6-foot-5, you can't move him. Just big, physical guys in there on top of Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner and all those guys. We feel like once again, just like other positions, we're finally to the point where we have some depth where we can play multiple guys so guys can stay fresh and get after it."
Recruits on campus: More than a dozen recruits were in attendance at the open practice as part of Stanford's Junior Day visit weekend festivities. Rivals 250 four-star recruits Garrett Dickerson and Christian McCaffrey, as well as Ohio offensive lineman Alex Dalton and Florida linebacker Andrew Beck were the visiting recruits with Stanford offers, but several other intriguing recruits were in town. Cardinal Sports Report subscribers can access the full visit list by clicking here
Additionally, incoming freshman linebacker Kevin Palma was spotted at practice chatting with inside linebackers coach David Kotulski.
Up next: Stanford will continue its emphasis on situational football in its final week of spring ball.
"This is a very specific period for us," Shaw said. "We're red zone, we're third down. We'll have a big third down blitz fest on Tuesday, so it will be different guys doing different things. I'm always on the look for leadership, and I think those things are starting to pop. "Shayne (Skov) is a natural leader who's always been (one). Ben Gardner stepping up as a leader, which is awesome. Both of our safeties, Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards have great leadership characteristics, so the hole that's left by Chase Thomas leaving on the defense is picked up by multiple guys, which is great."
Other Notes: Geoff Meinken (sore knees, day-to-day), Remound Wright (unspecified, day-to-day) were held out of practice on Saturday but are expected to return next week. Josh Nunes, Alex Frkovic and Cole Underwood are out for the entire spring, and Barry Browning is limited to position drills/non-contact 7-on-7 type situations, and didn't participate in Wednesday's practice.
Star defensive end Ben Gardner made a tackle for loss and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on defense, but also took a rep long snapping during Stanford's special teams period. It wasn't Gardner's first time handling long snapping duties, though barring an unforeseen situation, it's unlikely he'll receiver major reps snapping.
"He's always been on the depth, he's always been kind of the emergency song snapper," Shaw said. "So we've always kept him ready for that just in case we need him, but he's an emergency situation for us."