The return of Tyler Gaffney and Shayne Skov highlighted the first day of the second session of Stanford spring ball, but the pair of fifth-year seniors weren't the only reinforcements to join the team.
Gaffney, who returned to the program after a year playing minor league baseball, and Skov, who missed the first session of spring ball due to a university suspension stemming from an offseason DUI, were only a few of a number of Cardinal players who returned to action. Graham Shuler (disciplinary reasons), Keanu Nelson (discipline), and Kevin Reihner (injury), all returned to practice as full participants. Ed Reynolds, Ricky Seale and Charlie Hopkins, who were limited during parts of the first session, were also full-go on Monday.
Stanford isn't 100 percent healthy, however. Offensive lineman Cole Underwood is still out as he continues to recover from a knee injury suffered in fall camp. Josh Nunes will also miss the remainder of spring ball with the workout-related injury he suffered before the start of spring ball. And freshman linebacker Blake Martinez is out for the rest of spring with an unspecified upper-body injury he suffered during spring break.
Stanford will be careful with cornerback Barry Browning, but Browning will do some light position and 7-on-7 drills.
"Barry Browning was held out today," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He did some individual and some 7-on-7 and looks like he's really close, but as usual we're going to go extremely slow, especially with guys with repaired shoulders that play defense. We're going to be really slow, but he's honestly ahead of schedule, which is great. So we'll probably look for him to get back to full speed in training camp, but he'll take some individual, he'll take some 7-on-7. He's close right now. If we played a game in like a month he'd be ready to play I'm sure."
Running back by committee a positive: Although it doesn't always have the most positive of connotations, Stanford is likely to employ a running back by committee approach next fall, and David Shaw isn't apologizing for it.
"It's a fun group to have, and we're going to constantly talk about how positive it is, I'll say it again, how positive it is, to have a quote unquote running back by committee," Shaw said. "That always seems to have a negative connotation, but for us, it's like our tight end position has been. We've got multiple guys and we give them all different things to do. We're going to have that issue at linebacker. We play a 3-4. We have six really good line backers. So those guys are going to have to rotate in and have chances to play. I'm excited about where they are."
More on Gaffney and Skov: Though Shaw said he didn't notice much rust in Gaffney's game on day one, he isn't ruling out the possibility later in the spring.
"After one practice (his year off from football was) not noticeable at all," Shaw said. "We'll see when everything gets complicated, does he snap back in? Because it's so much muscle memory. One of the most unnatural things in football is pass protection for a running back. It defeats all common sense that Shayne Skov is blitzing in the A-gap and you have to go get in his way. And being away from that for a year and then coming back and hitting Shayne, as light as (Shayne) is now, full speed, that's just such a different thing and that's what he's going to see when he gets back to playing football. We'll see how much of that comes back."
Shaw said that Gaffney is actually a few pounds heavier than when he last played football at Stanford, but has maintained his mobility.
"It was just great to see Tyler come back at 220 and still be able to run and move like he did at 215, 217," Shaw said.
On the scale, the opposite is true for Skov. Shaw said that Stanford's star linebacker has dropped more than five pounds, and now weighs between 234 and 235.
"I think he's moving better, which is something that was conscious that we all talked about," Shaw said. "I thought he started the season last year a little too heavy. He was big, he was big and physical. But I think he played his best football between 230 and 235 and he's right around 234 and 235 right now, something like that."
Shaw said that Skov's first practice of the spring was a success.
"Shayne looked like Shayne," Shaw said. "Made plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, a little over-excited his first rep in 9-on-7, but Shayne knows what we need him for. We need him for leadership, we need his emotion and energy. We need him to be relentless. Because he, for the last four years, he sets the tone for this team emotionally. Not just the defense, but the team emotionally, and he gave us that today."
Spring game details: Whereas in past years Stanford employed a draft to determine the spring game rosters, this year's contest, like the 2012 edition, will feature a more conventional approach.
"We've backed away from (picking teams)," Shaw said. "When we had Andrew Luck dropping back with a third string left tackle, that's when I realized, I don't want him to do that anymore. So we're going to keep the groups together."
Second session game plan: While the first session of spring ball focused largely on installing the team's base formations, the second will include more situational work.
"Today we did 7-on-7 in the red zone," Shaw said. "Tomorrow we'll do our first team red zone move the ball period. We'll have a third down blitz session Thursday I believe. So we're really going to start honing in on mostly red zone and mostly third down. I believe Thursday we also get to short yardage and goalline. I preach it and talk about it all the time, situational football wins games. We don't ever just want to come out here and run plays. We put the base stuff in the first session, the second session is in my opinion what wins games. Third down percentage, red zone touchdown percentage, short yardage and goalline and what you do on third downs on both sides of the ball, that's what wins football games so that's what this session is going to be heavy on."