A piece of somber news emerged from Stanford's first practice of training camp, when Cardinal head coach David Shaw revealed that redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Ikenna Nwafor would likely be forced to take a medical retirement from football.
Nwafor suffered what is believed to be a foot/leg injury early in the 2013 season and never returned.
"Ikenna, as of right now, there's a good chance he's not going to be back," Shaw said. "It looks like he's going to be medically retired. We've seen a couple of experts now, been going back and forth on this for a while, and it looks like that's where it's going to go. I think Ikenna understands that, his family understands that. It's sad, the ability that we believe that he has, that he of course has and was excited about, but he's also pre-med and he's got a bright future outside of football."
While Nwafor's health is of first and foremost concern moving forward, his absence will be a significant blow to Stanford's defensive line depth.
Henry Anderson, David Parry, Blake Lueders and the emerging Aziz Shittu figure to get the bulk of the playing time at defensive line this year; training camp could play a critical role in determining which of the team's other young linemen emerge as rotation players.
"Luke Kaumatule shows signs," Stanford defensive lineman David Parry said. "Pretty much right now the only guys that I saw working towards being a significant role player are probably Luke, Aziz… Jordan Watkins has his moments. That's about where we're at right now."
As for the state of Stanford's pass rush sans Nwafor (and Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro and Shayne Skov), Shaw is optimistic that Stanford's starting outside linebackers, along with several of their returning defensive linemen, will help the Cardinal defense generate pressure.
"We'll see," Shaw said. "Day one without pads on it is what it is. But I thought Kevin Anderson really had a good year last year backing up Trent Murphy. He came in and made some big plays, just didn't have to play a lot because of the way Trent was. But (we have) a lot of confidence in Kevin. I think James Vaughters is faster and more explosive than he was a year ago. I think he feels that. He looks good. I think Aziz Shittu is going to help us internally. I think a healthy Henry Anderson helps. I think all of those things lead us to believe we can be productive on our pass rush."
Stanford did not don pads in its first practice of the summer, but Shaw was pleased with his team's performance given the circumstances.
"I liked the way we started," Shaw said. "I think we maintained an intensity throughout as much as you can without pads on. There wasn't a lot of foolishness, not a lot of other stuff going on except guys doing what they were supposed to be doing. It wasn't perfect, but I applaud our sense of maturity as a team for the way we started training camp."
Shaw singled out Ty Montgomery, Kevin Hogan, James Vaughters and Wayne Lyons as players who impressed on day one.
Though Montgomery's status for the season opener against UC Davis remains in doubt - he had surgery in February to repair an injured right shoulder - he has been cleared to participate in non-contact practice drills.
"Without pads on, there's nothing (limiting him), he's great," Shaw said. "He's good against the press, not worried about any of that stuff, arm is great. It's the contact of him getting tackled right now that we'll be cautious about, but as far as everything he needs to do without pads on, even I think when we go shells and we're not tackling, I think he'll be fine. And he feels great and looks great"
Though four of Stanford's five starting offensive linemen from the 2013 team have graduated, the offensive line outlook is rather settled for 2014. While they are not locked in as starters, Kyle Murphy (right tackle), Graham Shuler (center) and Josh Garnett (left guard) are expected to replace Cameron Fleming, Khalil Wilkes and David Yankey, respectively.
Right guard, however, remains a heated battle between Brendon Austin and Johnny Caspers.
"I'd be surprised if those positions (right tackle, center, left guard) went any other way based on how spring finished," Bloomgren said. "The right guard spot is truly a battle. It's going to be really interesting to see how that sorts out."
At tight end, Austin Hooper and Eric Cotton have emerged as the frontrunners at the 'Y' and 'F' tight end spots, respectively.
"I love how Austin has done," Bloomgren said. "Austin came out of spring hands down as the starting 'Y' tight end, inline tight end, and Eric Cotton was the starting movement tight end. Again, it's very similar, (looking) back at 2012 you would have had Levine Toilolo at the 'Y' and Zach Ertz at the movement tight end position. And again, are those guys (Hooper and Cotton) those two yet? Nope. But they're doing a great job and they're getting their job done."
Running back figures to be one of the most heavily contested position battles of training camp with Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders, Remound Wright, Ricky Seale and perhaps even Christian McCaffrey competing for playing time.
If spring ball was any indication, however, Young might have a leg up on the group.
"Kelsey Young was the starter coming out of spring," Bloomgren said. "He earned it in the spring. Now, we'll see where that goes. That is a position where there is an open competition. But the guy that I think won the job if you were simply judging on the spring would be Kelsey Young. But we have 28 more practices before we have to play so we'll see where that one goes.
"(Young would have been the starter out of spring based on) simply production. Because they're all getting better. Every single one of them got better, but his production and his explosion is out of sight."
Though he had a strong 2013 season as Stanford's starting nose tackle, fifth-year senior David Parry was never truly himself last year. The Iowa native battled through a painful abdominal injury, which limited his production.
"I'd say it definitely hurt my pass rush, not being able to torque and not having the same type of burst," Parry said. "That's going to be significant. Also, taking on double teams and holding on the point, it was kind of tough to try to stabilize. I'm getting hit from the side and I have no midsection strength."
Fortunately for Parry - and Stanford's defense - he's now back to full strength.
"I'm feeling great today, feeling ready for the season," Parry said.
"Pretty much overall, I'm planning on my game to be improved in all aspects pretty significantly."
Parry will be joined by a pair of fifth-year seniors in Stanford's defensive line unit: Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders. While Anderson has long been a headliner of the Cardinal defense, Lueders only made the move from outside linebacker to defensive end last season. He's made significant strides since changing positions, Parry said.
"He's progressed quite a bit," Parry said. "He's always working to fix his game where it needs fixing. He came from outside backer so he had a decent pass rushing ability and he's even good at stopping the run, he just has to be a little bit more consistent. He's taking those strides every day to be that player."
All told, the defensive line group has lofty aspirations for the 2014 campaign.
"All of us probably have the expectation to be the best defensive line in the country," Parry said. "We want to be the best defensive line that we can be. Every single day we're going to come in here and work. We have Henry Anderson, Blake Lueders, and even Aziz Shittu is showing his head in there. We have a good group of guys that come out here and Coach Hart gets us going."
With the departure of Shayne Skov to the NFL, Stanford lost not only one of the best linebackers in the nation, but also one of its vocal leaders. Skov was a massive presence in the field and on the locker room; his pregame speeches drew attention for their intensity and impact.
Shaw does not plan to nominate an unofficial replacement for Skov in that area, however.
"What Shayne did (with his pregame speeches) was so special," Shaw said. "I'd hate to just put somebody in there just to have somebody there. That just kind of evolved naturally. He didn't used to always do it... I don't anticipate anybody taking over that."
At least week's Bay Area college football media day, Cardinal linebacker A.J. Tarpley identified Parry as the strongest player on the team.
Parry, who can bench press 420 pounds, admitted that he tends to fare well in the Cardinal's strength testing, but also named a trio of fellow workout warriors.
"Lee Ward is a beast," Parry said. "Pat Skov is strong. Blake "Machinez" Martinez is one of the strongest linebackers that I've seen in a long time. We have guys across the board that are pretty strong in the weight room."