Stanford's defense made a strong statement during the Cardinal's final scrimmage of the first session of spring ball. The unit still has position battles to be contested and future NFL players to be replaced, but on Saturday, it posted a shutout over 12 offensive series.
"I give a lot of credit to Lance (Anderson), I give a lot of credit to our defensive guys," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Apparently we can play defense without Derek Mason and Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Because the defense was on fire today. It was tough to move the ball. Every time the offense would move the ball another defensive guy made a play. There weren't a lot of offensive mistakes as much as it was defensive guys making plays. James Vaughters had a heck of a day. Henry Anderson had a heck of a day. A.J. Tarpley (did as well), of course. I thought the DB's were outstanding in the scrimmage."
In fairness, it's not unusual for the defense to be ahead of the offense at the stage of the offseason, but Shaw has been pleased with how several of Stanford's younger defensive players have performed.
"I think you always learn (something about your team) at the beginning of spring because you have new guys stepping in," Shaw said "Who's going to play that linebacker spot next to A.J. Tarpley? Joe Hemschoot got banged up a little bit and missed some time and I'll tell you what, Blake Martinez stepped up and played great. You wonder with us holding David Parry out, can Aziz Shittu do what we need him to do at the nose and at end? He's answered those questions."
"The way (Aziz is) playing right now, how physical he is and how fast and athletic he is, explosive he is and the effort that he's giving, he gives us a lot of versatility," Shaw said. "He's shown us this spring that if he needs to he can play nose. He can play end. He can play outside. He can play inside. That's what we saw when we recruited him. It's great to see it on the practice field. I'm excited for him."
Shaw has also been pleased with the progress of Stanford's two new safeties, Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd. While Kyle Olugbode is currently ahead of the pack to start opposite Jordan Richards, the competition will intensify as Lloyd and Whitfield continue to learn the defense.
"I think that's safe to say (that Olugbode is leading) mainly because the other guys that we have over there have been on offense for two years," Shaw said. "So knowledge-wise he's a step ahead. I'll tell you what, Kodi Whitfiled especially has really shown some athletic ability and ability to make plays back there. He took some reps at corner today also, which was good to see. And you know, every scrimmage Dallas Lloyd comes up and makes big hits. You don't always say that about a quarterback but he puts his face in there. It's exciting. Once everybody's knowledge is on the same page then we'll really see the competition. And when Zach Hoffpauir come back from baseball in training camp, we'll see how he mixes in there also. It's a good group. I'll tell you what, our db's have stepped up against a really good group of receivers."
Several defensive backs emerged as strong vocal leaders of the group during the first session of spring. Redshirt junior Ronnie Harris and senior Jordan Richards were among the most vocal players on either side of the ball at the two open scrimmages, frequently delivering words of encouragement to fellow teammates. That was expected from Richards, a two-year starter and future NFL player. Harris' emergence as a vocal leader has been more of a surprise.
"I will say this about Ronnie," Shaw said. "Ronnie has been more of a leader than we ever anticipated as far as defensive backs go. That talk and that energy he brings every single day and every single practice has been awesome for our defense and for our DB's in particular."
Injury Updates: Several players were held out of Saturday's scrimmage with a variety of ailments, most of them minor. Patrick Skov and Michael Rector didn't participate due to minor ankle injuries; each is expected to return for the second session of spring ball. Ronnie Harris and Joe Hemschoot were also held out of the scrimmage with undisclosed ailments, but both will also be back for the second session.
Thomas Oser's injury is potentially more serious. He'll have to undergo an MRI, and his status is uncertain for the second session of spring.
Though there was some thought he would return this spring, Shaw said that Ty Montgomery will, in fact, miss the second session of spring ball as he continues to recover from the knee injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl. Alex Carter is also expected to miss the second session.
David Parry, on the other hand, might be able to participate.
"We'll see," Shaw said. "I didn't anticipate (Parry being a full participant in the second half of spring). I wasn't sure. He told me the other day he feels great. He might want to give it a go. I still need to hear from the doctors and trainers first but he said this is as good as he's felt and he might be ready to go. We'll see."
Shaw speaks out against possible early signing period: Late last week, a report surfaced that the NCAA considering establishing an early signing period for football. Currently, the signing period for football begins in early-February. An early signing period could take place in the fall or even late summer.
Shaw is not a fan of the potential change.
"I might be alone in this, but I think it's terrible," he said. "I think it's terrible. The reason is, in my opinion, coaches don't like when a kid commits and then switches. It's still going to happen. If a kid wants to change after the early signing period, he's going to appeal, and that appeal is going to go through, because the committees that decide on those appeals always give in toward the student-athlete. You've got a kid that might be 16 going on 17 that commits, then really has a chance to think about it, changes his mind, and we're going to try to hold him to that."
The potential early signing period hits close to home for Shaw and Stanford's recruiting efforts. Unlike other FBS programs, Stanford requires recruits to submit a full application complete with multiple essays before they are allowed to sign with the Cardinal. Stanford's admissions process - the most rigorous of any FBS program - is often an involved and extensive one, and recruits frequently don't receive decisions until December or January
"We have a lot of kids that don't know if they're going to get into school until after that early signing period," Shaw said. "We're going to punish the academic schools just because coaches don't want a kid to switch their commitment. People can make whatever argument they want, it boils down to that. Coaches don't want to keep recruiting an entire class. That's what it boils down to. We've been doing it for a long time, and most of us have been able to do OK."
Report: Akina to coach DB's: Shaw said after Saturday's practice that Stanford would have a defensive backs coach in place for the second session of spring ball, and that an announcement could come next week.
On Sunday, word surfaced that former Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina had agreed to join Stanford's staff.
"I really appreciated Coach Shaw and the Stanford staff," Akina told ESPN.com in a text message. "Excited to join a university so rich in tradition academically and athletically, much like the one I just left. Looking forward to being part of a great staff and continue to grow in this profession."
Akina has long been regarded as one of the top defensive back coaches in college football. He's produced numerous NFL players, including Early Thomas, Kenny Vaccaro, Aaron Ross, Quentin Jammer, Cedric Griffin, Michael Huff, and many others.