Stanford has its first practice of training camp on Monday, and with it, a number of position battles will be decided. Right guard, free safety, running back, an inside linebacker spot and the 'F' tight end are up for grabs, as is playing time in the two deep at a number of other positions.
"We'll really have a lot of battles for playing time, maybe even moreso than really battles for starting spots," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I think Brendon Austin is going to compete with Johnny Caspers at right guard. Both guys are going to play, so whoever wins that, both guys are going to play.
"(At free safety), I would say Kyle Olubode has the edge over Kodi (Whitfield). But once again, both guys are going to play. Kodi has been there for 15 practices and Kyle has been there for three years. So the knowledge, of course, and understanding goes to Kyle, but Kodi is a natural safety. It's been smooth, it's been an easy transition for him. I'm excited to see him play."
"Dallas (Lloyd) is in there. I wouldn't say he's in there really battling for a starting spot just yet. He's still learning, but he's shown that he's physical, he's shown that he understands what to do, he's making calls and he's making plays, so I anticipate seeing Dallas get on the field also."
"The defensive backs I think are going to be exciting, to see where Kodi Whitfield fits in. Kyle Olugbode had a great spring, as did Jordan Richards, who of course is phenomenal. Ronnie Harris, who may or may not be listed as a starter, had an outstanding spring also. He's one of those guys that I'm looking forward to playing; he's a senior, he's matured a lot. He's ready to play. Those battles for playing time I think are going to be excited because you know how our conference is. On defense, you have to rotate guys because everybody is going fast and everybody is running 100 plays. If you don't rotate those guys and have guys that can come in fresh and play at a high level, you're going to be behind. So I think we have guys that can rotate and play.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford does have some clarity about its tight end group, which is expected to be much improved this year.
"I think it starts with Austin Hooper," Shaw said. "Austin Hooper ended spring as our starting 'Y' tight end. I think the entire group has some versatility. But Austin finished the spring as our starter and has had a phenomenal summer by all accounts. I do think Eric Cotton is a special athlete as a tight end. He's going to play a lot. And the rest of the guys will battle for playing time."
Hooper's emergence could impact the frequency with which Stanford employs its "Jumbo" offensive line packages.
"He has been a physical at the line presence," Shaw said. "We'll still do extra offensive line stuff, but we may not need to do it as much because he can get the job done at the line of scrimmage. He is physical, he is strong, but in the passing game he's also got great hands, he has soft hands. He's athletic enough to run routes. So the thing we've put on his shoulders, which is really difficult, is we've told him our expectation for him is to be our next Jimmy Dray, to be that complete tight end, that physical blocker, that pass catcher, that touchdown maker in the red zone, and that all-around tight end that we're looking for."
Personnel updates: Several Stanford players will be limited when training camp opens.
Starting receiver Ty Montgomery, who is still on the mend from a February surgery on his right shoulder, might not be ready for the start of the season.
"We'll see," Shaw said. "There's a chance either way. We'll see when he's ready to play. He's ahead of schedule. Nobody has worked harder, and put it this way: he's going to make it hard on us to keep him out. We'll do what's best for him in the long run, not the short run. When he's ready to go, he'll go. If that means we hold him out the first game, which I'm perfectly fine doing, if that means we have to hold him out against USC, c'est la vie. If he's ready against USC, he'll go. If he's ready first game of the year, he'll go."
Alex Carter, meanwhile, should be cleared to be a full participant early in camp.
"Alex is looking like he is going to be ready very, very soon," Shaw said. "He is I believe set to be cleared during training camp. So at some point in training camp Alex will be full go and we'll be able to determine from there, but I anticipate having Alex for the first game."
Remound Wright will miss the first week of training camp due to the same disciplinary issue that sidelined him for the second session of spring ball, but he, too, should be back early in camp.
"He'll miss the beginning, still left over disciplinary deal, but he'll be back," Shaw said. "He'll be in training camp. He'll be a full participant by I think week two of training camp."
Shaw did not specify whether defensive lineman Ikenna Nwafor, who missed all of spring, will be fully cleared for the start of camp.
Camp question mark: Prior to spring ball, one of Shaw's biggest concerns about the 2014 Stanford team was the inside linebacker spot opposite A.J. Tarpley. Strong and consistent performances by Blake Martinez, Noor Davis and Joe Hemschoot alleviated those concerns, however.
"Going into spring that was a big question mark," Shaw said. "It's not at all to me anymore."
"I think Joe Hemschoot was phenomenal. I think Blake Martinez was phenomenal. I thought Noor Davis came out of nowhere, he came from outside linebacker back to inside. He was outstanding. So I've gone from saying we have one inside linebacker in A.J. Tarpley and a whole bunch of maybes to saying we're two-deep to where we're going to have to play all four of those guys."
Heading into camp, no single position sticks out to Shaw as being of particular concern. However, he does consider the offensive line as a whole - which will feature four first-time starters - a bit of an unknown.
"I think the biggest question is not our talent on the offensive line - it's how well they'll play as a unit," Shaw said. "Because we just talked about our ability to run the ball and it all starts up there. We have a third-year starter at quarterback who is No. 2 in the history of the school in both completion percentage and pass efficiency. We have to protect him. We have this phenomenal receiving core that we're going to need time to throw the ball. It all hinges on what we do up front and we've got a talented group. I don't mind saying it and I don't mind putting it on those guys: This is the most talented offensive line we've had since we've been here. It's the most talented offensive line in eight years, with four new starters. But how fast will we gel? Will we gel week one? Weill we gel week two for this unbelievable huge early season test against a great defense in USC? Or will we gel week six, week eight? I do believe that they will gel. It's just how fast will they gel and play as a very good, efficient, cohesive unit."
Anderson's promotion years in the making: How sure was David Shaw that Lance Anderson was the right choice to replace Derek Mason as Stanford's defensive coordinator? Shaw didn't conduct a single interview for the position.
"We've been together since 2006," Shaw said. "He's always been a phenomenal recruiter. He's always been a very, very smart coach, a bright coach. He's always been a great communicator with the players. For years he was our recruiting coordinator and our liaison to admissions. So he always wore 10 different hats, but when you sat down and talked defense with him you realized this guy knows the game inside and out. And when I took over the job, Derek Mason was a no-brainer to be my defensive coordinator, but I told Lance (that) Derek is not going to be here for very long. Derek is going to get a head coaching job and I need you to be preparing to be our next defensive coordinator, which is why there were no interviews once Derek left. It was Lance's job, because I knew backwards and forward that this is going to be the guy that took over once Derek left."
Though this will be his first year as a coordinator, Anderson has played an integral role in the success of Stanford's program since he joined the coaching staff for the 2007 season. He's won recruiter of the year awards, has been the program's longtime liaison to Stanford's admissions office, and served as recruiting coordinator for several seasons. And while some of those responsibilities will be scaled back, Anderson is still expected to play a vital role in Stanford's recruiting efforts moving forward.
"We've tried to (trim down some of his responsibilities), but Lance is a workaholic," Shaw said. "I've tried to be true to Sherri, his wife, and make sure that he has a home life. But he still loves being our admissions liaison. We've taken some of the recruiting duties off of him just because of the workload he's going to have, especially during the season. But he still embraces that recruiting role. He's still an outstanding recruiter. He's still a very, very good liaison with our admissions as far as knowing what student-athlete profiles really give us an opportunity to recruit them. It's not about changing Stanford's admissions, it's about finding the right kids to put in front of admissions. And there's nobody better."
Breakout candidates: The departures of stars on Stanford's 2013 team like Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Josh Mauro, Tyler Gaffney and David Yankey will open the door for some of Stanford's current players to experience greater success this year. According to Shaw, Stanford's list of potential breakout players is a lengthy one.
"There's kind of a long list," Shaw said. "I think A.J. Tarpley is going to be at the head of that list. I think Jordan Richards has shared a lot of publicity with Ed Reynolds, but I think people are going to see Jordan for what he is, which is probably one of the top two or three safeties in the nation this year. I think you're going to see Alex Carter take that next step in his career where his play reaches his talent. He's on a mission right now to do so. I'm real excited about where he is. I think you'll see our entire receiving core, Devon Cajuste, honestly, had a phenomenal year. He broke our school record for yards per catch in a season, which we haven't really talked about much. Devon is set to have a phenomenal year. He worked out extremely hard this year. You're talking about a guy that's 225 pounds and runs in the low-4.5's. Numbers like that don't make sense. I'm excited about Michael Rector taking the next step in his career. Those guys have a chance to influence football games. It's going to be exciting."
Shaw also noted that Kevin Anderson should be considered as breakout candidate.
Senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley singled out a pair of fifth-year seniors as players who could shine in 2014.
"I'm going to have to go with David Parry and Ricky Seale," Tarpley said. "Ricky is a guy who in terms of our running backs, he'll be a fifth-year senior. He's a guy who has played, but he hasn't played as much as some other guys have and nobody's talking about him. I've known him - he's always worked hard every year and he does bring another dimension to our offense in terms of (athleticism). So he wants to run the ball and what's nice is we do have this community of backs, community of weapons. It's a change up and those guys can give 110 percent every play. If they don't have to worry about carrying the ball 40 times a game they can go as hard as possible every play. So I think he's a guy that given the opportunity, he can have some electric plays for us. He's an electric running back. Big play type of guy.
"And then David Parry as is a nose tackle for us. This will be his second-and-a-half, third year starting, however you want to put it. He's been battling injuries for the past years. He hasn't played at 100 percent yet. He's the guy who is the strongest guy on our team. He was formerly a walk-on so he's very driven, very hard-working. He loves to prove people wrong. Not a lot of guys are talking about him, either, but where everything starts for us is right there, right in front of the center. He's kind of what starts the play for the defense every play, and that's again the run, against the pass. It starts with him. If he can win his matchup, it makes it a lot easier for everybody else. I think that with him coming into the season, if he can stay healthy, if he can have a 90-100 percent healthy year, I think he's a guy who could break out for us."
While no final decision has been made, Shaw expects touted incoming freshman quarterback Keller Chryst to redshirt this year.
"I would say most likely redshirt," Shaw said. "You never say never, but we haven't had a freshman quarterback ever come in and digest the offense well enough to be able to play, including the great Andrew Luck. So I would anticipate him redshirting and taking his year to learn and getting ready to compete next year."
Barry Sanders ended the 2013 season as Stanford's starting punt returner, but he could face competition from a number of players at the position during training camp.
"Barry ended the season as the starter," Shaw said. "We're going to sprinkle Ty Montgomery back there. He's shown an aptitude for it and would love to do it. I'm excited about putting him back there. Kodi Whitfield started the season last year and is a really good punt returner. A name like Christian McCaffrey, Christian wants to get back there, he wants to get into that competition. We haven't decided if he is going to play or not but he wants to be in that competition and he's done a phenomenal job both in high school and he went to the Army All American game and was the best guy there. So I'm excited to see him do it well. In training camp all those guys and maybe a couple more will get a chance."
While Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste have already established themselves as two of the conference's top receivers, Francis Owusu and Michael Rector
"(I've seen) lots and lots of progression and confidence (with Francis this offseason)," Montgomery said. "You can tell with his second year being in the offense he's playing a little bit faster. He's picking the offense up better. It's not only him, it's also Michael Rector. Michael rector did some great things for us last year. And we even have some younger guys who you may not know about yet, but you will find out about.
"We definitely have some guys in the receiving core that can play. It's not just me and Devon."
Perhaps the incoming freshman who has garnered the most buzz due to his performance in offseason workouts is running back Christian McCaffrey.
"If I had to pick one guy, I would say Christian McCaffrey has shown some really nice things for us," Montgomery said. "I'll be excited to see what he does."
A.J. Tarpley listed three Cardinal players he considers workout warriors: receiver Devon Cajuste, Blake Martinez and Kyle Olugbode.
"Devon Cajuste is a guy that is a workout warrior," Tarpley said. "His conditioning is something surreal out there watching him. Kyle Olugbode is another guy. And then a guy who had one of the best offseasons for us I'd say is Blake Martinez, a guy who is competing for that spot next to me this year. He had a ridiculous season in terms of growth and how he performed in the weight room, on the field."
Tarpley added that Cardinal nose tackle David Parry is the strongest player on the team.
"There are definitely some strong guys, but he is definitely the strongest," Tarpley said.
Stanford has had its fair share of talented defensive linemen in recent years, but Tarpley thinks two members of this year's Cardinal line could be the best he's seen during his time on The Farm.
"I think Henry Anderson and David Parry have the potential this year to be the best two defensive linemen we've had at Stanford," Tarpley said. "That comes from my first year here when Sione Fua was there and that comes from guys like Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro, who I'm good friends with, have the most respect for. But Henry and Parry, they both have very high ceilings and they're as hungry as ever to prove themselves and kind of carry on the tradition of our front-seven. I have to make sure I appreciate them as I have in the past, because we've been fortunate to have these d-linemen that have been studs and hopefully will continue to be."
Miss any of Cardinal Sports Report's exclusive coverage of Stanford's summer camps? Join the rapidly growing Farm Report premium message board for all the latest recruiting news and developments.