Notebook: Stanford opens spring practice

Shayne Skov, David Yankey, Trent Murphy and a host of other top players from last year's Rose Bowl team have moved on to the NFL, but Stanford isn't panicking over the numerous departures. The Cardinal has grown accustomed to replacing departed top-tier players, and a number of reserves from the 2013 season accrued valuable experience that will ease their transition to the starting lineup in 2014.
"I told them the first day, we love playing a lot of people," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I love to say we've played as many players as anybody in the last three years. And when you play a lot of guys, when guys graduate, their backups have a lot of experience."
Nowhere is that more apparent than along the Cardinal's offensive line. Though Stanford will have to replace four starters from the 2013 team, several Cardinal reserves received valuable game experience playing in the team's various jumbo formations last year.
"You're looking at Kyle Murphy quote unquote being a first time starter," Shaw said. "Kyle Murphy has played a lot of football in the last two years. Josh Garnett has played a lot of football. He played a lot of football last year. So we have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football."
Though he didn't plays as much as Murphy or Garnett, redshirt freshman Johnny Caspers also saw the field in some of the Cardinal's jumbo sets in 2013. And barring something completely unforeseen, Caspers will join several his fellow 2012 recruiting classmates as a starter.
"Johnny Caspers is at right guard right now and there's a better than average chance he's going to start," Shaw said. "It's almost a foregone conclusion. He was great all of last spring, he was really good (last season, too), just he wasn't in a position to compete with Kevin Danser but I honestly don't know that anybody is going to be able to pass him."
With Peat and Garnett on the left side joining Murphy and Caspers on the right and possibly Graham Shuler at center, Stanford's 2014 offensive line has the makings of a special, albeit inexperienced, unit.
"It's a monster of a left side," Shaw said. "Huge. If we become left-handed, so be it, we become left-handed. You're looking at two guys (in Peat and Garnett) that should be able to move people. I love putting those two guys right next to each other. And then you've got Kyle Murphy who's super athletic right next to Johnny Caspers, who's very athletic also, with an athletic center. So I think we've got just about our most athletic offensive line sine we've been here. We'll have some bumps early on just because of some of the inexperience but these guys have played a lot of football and I feel good about them. By midseason I think we should be midseason form. We better be, anyway."
While the offensive line outlook is rather clear for this time of year, the running back situation is not. The departure of Stanford's top two running backs from a year ago (Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson) leaves the ground game in the hands of a group of inexperienced backs.
At this point, Stanford is leaning towards employing a running back by committee approach. Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders, Kelsey Young, Pat McFadden and Christian McCaffrey will comprise the position group next season.
"That's the thought, honestly, because we have a good group," Shaw said. "Because we don't have a 220-pound guy, 215-pound (back) it's probably a good idea to rotate those guys in and out. But I will say this. It's not the biggest group but they all like to run the ball between the tackles. Ricky, Barry, all those guys, they like running the ball between the tackles. They like being seven yards deep with a fullback in front of them coming downhill. So wherever they give up in size and stature they have in heart and determination. They're motivated by playing time right now, which I think is one of the best things."
(It's worth noting that Shaw and Stanford have intended to use a committee approach to the position in similar years before eventually settling on a workhorse back.)
In contrast to the running backs, Stanford's wide receivers are one of the deepest and most proven position groups on the team.
"I'm excited about our receiving core," Shaw said. "I don't know that there's a deeper one in the nation right now. You can quote unquote call (Jordan) Pratt our third or fourth or whatever you want to call him. He's outstanding. He's made big plays in big games. And then you have the guy who led college football in yards per catch in Michael Rector. You have Ty Montgomery, who will be up for every award. You have Devon Cajuste, who changed about five games during the course of the year. You have young Francis Owusu, whose ceiling is as high as it gets."
Secondary odds and ends: A second offensive player has joined former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who made the switch in pre-Rose bowl practices, in the secondary. Former receiver Kodi Whitfield made the move in the offeason, and will compete for the vacant free safety position.
"I gave Kodi the option, the chance to compete for a starting spot at free safety or stay in this competition at receiver and still play," Shaw said. "It was not a decision made by me. It was a decision made by Kodi. I represented both options to him. If he wanted to stay at receiver he'd stay and he'd make plays for us. He saw there was an open spot. He's got a chance to compete for it. He's excited about it."
Shaw said both Whitfield and Lloyd have shown signs of promise as defensive backs.
"Both have some natural ability back there," Shaw said. "My dad (longtime college and NFL defensive coach Willie Shaw), who's been watching this thing longer than I've been alive, five minutes into practice said, 'Those two guys look natural.' I trust his eyes as much as anybody on this planet."
It's still uncertain, however, who will coach Whitfield, Lloyd, and the rest of Stanford's defensive backs.
graduate assistant Marc Mattioli is currently working with the group, but Shaw has yet to hire a permanent defensive backs coach. Former Texas assistant Duane Akina is rumored to be Stanford's top choice.
Shaw said that while the situation could be resolved "within the next week or so," Stanford "isn't in a hurry right now" to make the hire.
"We're waiting to see what happens. I'm not going to be in a rush right now to try to do anything this first session," Shaw said. "Hopefully we'll get it done after this first session."
Starting wide receiver Ty Montgomery won't participate in the first session of spring ball as he continues to recover from the knee injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl. Montgomery will be with the team and is working out, and is expected to be "full go" for the second session, which will begin in late March. Montgomery's injury did not require surgery.
Starting nose tackle David Parry will be "in and out a little bit" of spring practice with the abdominal issue that's ailed Parry for more than a year. Parry's health continues to improve and he could be a full participant in the second session, but Stanford will be cautious with the fifth-year senior.
"He's healing and feeling a lot stronger but not quite 100 percent," Shaw said. "As I told him, he's got nothing to prove to us. We know he can play. We know he's going to be a really good football player for us. We just have to get him healthy."
Sophomore defensive back Zach Hoffpauir will miss essentially all of spring ball due to his obligations with Stanford's baseball team. If Hoffpauir has a spare moment (within the permitted 20 hours of NCAA-sanctioned athletic activity each week) he might sit in on a team meeting, but beyond that, his focus will be on the baseball diamond, not the gridiron.
Quarterback Ryan Burns will miss the first session of spring ball due to what Shaw termed a "disciplinary issue". Burns will return for the second session.