Stanford hosted a special guest during its Tuesday evening practice. Along with several other former Stanford standouts including Andrew Luck - David Shaw estimated that between 20 and 25 former Stanford and current NFL players would return to The Farm sometime this offseason to train - newly minted Super Bowl champion and former Cardinal cornerback Richard Sherman was back on campus this week.
Sherman was more than just a passive observer at practice.
"I told the guys to talk to him, ask him questions," Shaw said. "He spent the time with the DB's of course, with the defensive backs during one-on-ones and during 7-on-7. He was trying not to coach from the sidelines, but he couldn't help himself sometimes. Just the fact that he was here, just the fact that he's around, reaffirms with a lot of these guys why they came here. They want to be where he is, which is to be a great NFL player with a Stanford degree."
After practice concluded, Sherman spoke with a few members of the media. He addressed several topics.
Sherman on the transition from receiver to defensive back, like the one Kodi Whitfield is currently making: "I mean you just have to get used to tackling and seeing the game form the other side of the ball, understanding an attacking mentality more than a receiving one. It's hard to explain because on defense you're constantly trying to stop the (offense), you're constantly trying to do everything. And it's such a team-oriented mindset. And on offense when you're a receiver it's a team-oriented offense, but you have to win your one-on-one matchups. You have to beat the mean across from you to help your team. So it's just understanding the subtle intricacies of defense and how to prepare, watch film, and things like that."
Sherman on the questions he received from Stanford's young players: "Just different techniques, what I did to get better. How I watch film. Some of them (asked) just how's the NFL and things like that. Guys are just curious to know how it feels to win a Super Bowl. And then some of them want help with technique and things that I have a lot of knowledge on."
Sherman on entering the coaching ranks after he finishes his playing career: "Yeah, I definitely want to coach after I'm done playing. I might coach high school before I do anything, but yeah, I'd love to coach."
Sherman on Stanford's new football facility, which includes an alumni locker room: "Yeah, it's unbelievable. It feels nice to have somewhere you can go when you come here and work out. You don't have to borrow or bum any of other young guys' lockers or anything. You have your own space and it feels good."
Sherman on taking satisfaction from knowing he helped lay the groundwork for the improvements in the football program like the new facility: "It is nice. It is nice to know we won a couple BCS games. We've made it to four consecutive or something like that. It's a testament to a lot of groups of guys. It was a testament to the group of guys that came before us who set the groundwork for us. Jim Harbaugh did a heck of a job changing the culture and chancing the mindset. And also, the players now continuing the tradition, continuing to be hungry and continuing to fight and grind and win."
As for the current players, Shaw said several suffered minor injuries during Tuesday's practice. Michael Rector rolled an ankle; it's uncertain whether he'll be able to return for Saturday's open practice. Shaw didn't elaborate on other possible injuries sustained on Tuesday, but noted that he doesn't expect any to prevent players from participating in the second session of spring ball
The status of defensive lineman Ikenna Nwafor is a different story, however. While the Texas native continues to progress from the lower-body injury that's ailed him since early in the 2013 season, it's not likely Nwafor will be fully cleared this spring. Instead, Stanford is targeting a summer return.
"It's taken so long we're going to be overly cautious," Shaw said. "I'd love to get him back for training camp so he has the entire summer to prepare to play the game... I think he's on board with that. I think he feels good about that. Trying to rush him back for parts of spring, it's unnecessary. It's healing, it's just taking a long time to heal. That's just his body."
Stanford faces several questions on defense as it vies to replace five starters from its 2013 Rose Bowl team, but despite the departure of Trent Murphy, the Cardinal should be well covered at the two starting outside linebacker spots. That's because redshirt junior Kevin Anderson proved last season that he's ready to assume a larger role within the Cardinal defense alongside senior James Vaughters.
"I think the 2013 season showed huge growth for Kevin," Shaw said. "Kevin played extremely well last year. I thought in every single game he came in and he played well. He played hard, which people at Palo Alto understand from watching him play. There's nobody that plays harder. But I think he gets it. He gets the defense. And we don't worry about him one bit. Because of the way he played last year, we thought was honestly good enough to start if he didn't have a first-team All-American in front of him."
Even in a backup role, Anderson managed to put together a productive 2013 campaign. He recorded 6.5 sacks and displayed some of the traits Stanford desires in its defensive players.
"It's a combination of speed and effort," Shaw said of Anderson. "It's just pure desire. It's Skov-like to where there are going to be other linebackers that run faster than Shayne but when the ball is declared he's going to pass those guys up. It's just pure desire. And that's when Kevin does. He made a play today when he was 15 yards down the field after he blitzed. He turned and ran and just (had) that desire to run that guy down and make a play. It's great when you have guys that play that way because it's infectious."
For a unit that lost 80 percent of its starters, there are remarkably few questions surrounding Stanford's offensive line. The Cardinal's five starters are mostly set - at a minimum there is a strong leader at each position. And three of the five received substantial playing time over the past two seasons. And while Stanford's line will continue to pick up on the intricacies of the Cardinal offense, Shaw is pleased with their performance to date.
"It's been good," Shaw said. "We're not there knowledge-wise yet, but as far as athleticism, it's fun to watch. These guys can move. You hate to see David Yankey leave, but Josh Garnet is doing really, really well. You hate to see Cameron Fleming leave, but (Kyle Murphy) has moved in there and looks great. It's the reason why we recruited these guys. They're all really good. We lost a couple of good guys, but we should be good up front again this year."
What, specifically, does Shaw mean when he refers to "knowledge" gaps?
"Sometimes it's being in those positions over and over that you truly, truly understand everything," Shaw said. "So we're getting there, but just (as is the case with the) tight ends, we're putting a lot of pressure on them. We're not backing off the installation. We're throwing a lot of stuff at them. Hopefully they grasp it. But when it's all said and done we think it's going to be a good line."
Stanford hasn't spent much time working its Jumbo sets thus far in spring - instead, the Cardinal has focused on developing its true tight ends - but there is already a leader in the clubhouse for the primary extra offensive line position.
"We haven't done as much with that because were trying to get so much work with the tight ends but at some point we'll work those jumbo guys.," Shaw said. "You're looking at guys like Brendon Austin. He's done it before in games. He's the lead candidate there to be either the 'ogre' or the 'jumbo' but right now we want the tight ends to get so many reps were using the tight ends."
With Alex Carter likely out for all of spring and Ronnie Harris currently limited, there are plenty of reps to go around at the cornerback position. Ra'Chard Pippens is one of the players who has received an increased workload with the top units, and, according to Shaw, Pippens has taken advantage of the opportunity.
"He's getting a ton of reps," Shaw said. "With Alex being out, Ronnie Harris is going great, except for when we go live. He's not ready to go live yet. So he's getting a ton of reps. (Ra'Chard) made a big play at the end of the scrimmage today. So he's getting a ton of reps. He made a big play at the end of scrimmage today to deflect a pass. He's maturing. He looks like he's getting ready to play, which is great."