Stanford's 2014 season has yet to get underway, but freshman running back Christian McCaffrey has already done something Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren did not think he would ever see on The Farm.
"I don't think I ever thought a freshman running back was going to come in here and have the kind of impact that he could potentially have and the respect that he's earned among his teammates," Bloomgren said.
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"The big thing about Christian is he is not a freshman. I will not believe that from this day forward when people tell me he is a freshman. The way he has learned, the way he's performed, and just what he's done against what I think is an elite defense (have impressed)."
While he will get carries, McCaffrey won't be the Cardinal's starter at running back. That distinction goes to Kelsey Young.
"What (Kelsey) did in camp, and it goes back to the spring as well, is he was the most consistent guy play in and play out," Bloomgren said. "The other thing he brought to us is an explosive element. Time and time again you give him the ball and give him a crease and wow, it's going. And we all know how explosive Kelsey has been in games in the past, whether it was playing at receiver, being a speed sweep guy, or any role we had on special teams. So it's nice to see that carry in and carry out from the backfield."
As for the players that will be opening holes for Young, McCaffrey, and the rest of Stanford's running back committee, the Cardinal's starting five offensive line - which features four new starters - will face its first test on Saturday in the season opener against UC Davis.
"I guess what I'd tell you is I think this group is in a great place," Bloomgren said. "I really loved the way they communicated (during Tuesday's practice). They spend a lot of time together watching film. They're really working at doing everything they can to get experience without actually having experience together.
As is the case at running back and offensive line, Stanford's tight end group will largely feature a brand new cast of characters. A trio of redshirt freshmen - Greg Taboada, Austin Hooper and Eric Cotton - will receive many of the reps at the position.
All told, the unit should be far more productive than it was last year; its emergence will expand Stanford's options on offense.
"It really opens up the playbook," Bloomgren said. "It allows us to get back to more of what we were in 2011 or 2012, especially when you have great (tight ends). Not just the ability to have one that can line up and do what you want him to do in the passing game and the running game, but can actually be a mismatch in both, which is what our tight ends bring to us right now. They're really, really lighting it up right now and I think all of us are excited to unleash them on the rest of the world."
Have any of the Cardinal tight ends performed particularly well as training camp progressed?
"Austin Hooper has been unbelievably solid in terms of what he's been able to put on tape and what he's been able to do, like we talked about, play in and play out consistency," Bloomgren said. "And then you look at a guy that's come on in camp, it's been Greg Taboda. He's just been lights out in the passing game. How much more comfortable he is in the running game has been unbelievable."
Ultimately, Bloomgren hopes the Cardinal's new-look offense is able to produce a number of explosive plays in the season opener against UC Davis.
"I want to see efficiency and I want to see the big play come to life that we're very capable of," Bloomgren said. "And the only way we're going to do that is by blocking our guy, not just our assignment, but finishing out assignment, straining through when things get tough. Whether that's the case in the run game or whether that's the case in straining in protection, so we can get one of those balls pushed down the field, because again, I'm so excited to watch Kevin Hogan and this group of receivers."
The quantity and quality of Stanford's playmakers - and the lack of traditional power running backs on the Cardinal roster - raises the question: Will Stanford open up its offense this year?
"I think it's very likely," Kevin Hogan said. "I don't necessarily mean that every single play we'll spread them out and have that whole deal, but I think it will be much more balanced where we'll have a three tight end set come in, where we'll be able to run the ball and pass the ball, and the next play we'll put four receivers out there...
"We have to get the ball outside to our playmakers and tight ends and running backs somehow on the edge. They're just too fast, too athletic, to just hole them up and try to run them up the middle. I'm excited to see what these guys can do."
One of the early surprises of fall camp was the position assigned to incoming freshman offensive lineman Jesse Burkett. During his recruitment, most projected Burkett to play either tackle or guard; center was rarely mentioned as a possibility.
However, with Thomas Oser still on the mend from a knee injury, Stanford decided to move Burkett to center, a position he had not played since his youth football days.
"Jesse Burkett is a guy we felt had some position flexibility when we brought him in," Bloomgren said. "He played tackle in high school. We certainly thought maybe he could do that. Over the summer he got a really good feel for doing the inside stuff, playing the guard position. What we realized is with Thomas Oser not coming back from his knee injury, we needed some depth at center. So we basically had a contest, for lack of a better term, to see who had some comfort level with snapping the ball between their legs and taking a step and he was the best of the freshmen."
One on one: Jeff Trojan
Fifth-year senior receiver Jeff Trojan will play his first game as a full scholarship player on Saturday when the Cardinal faces UC Davis.
Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Trojan after a recent practice to discuss the move from walk-on to scholarship player, as well as his outlook for the upcoming season.
Cardinal Sports Report: Can you run me through how you coming back for a fifth year on scholarship came together?
Jeff Trojan: As soon as I got offered the opportunity to come back I knew I was going to. This was going to be my last opportunity to play football in my life. It's the sport that I love to play and I want to stretch it out for as long as I can.
CSR: How did the scholarship come about?
JT: Coach Shaw approached me as the year was coming to an end last year and let me know they were going to have a spot for me this year and that there would be a scholarship available for me.
CSR: You're here toiling away, for lack of a better term, for so many years, paying your own way. Do you remember what that was like, that feeling when you were offered?
JT: It was pretty fulfilling. It's something that I've been working for since I committed to come here. It's something that I've always wanted to do. It's self-affirming, I guess. It was really exciting.
CSR: Moving forward to the present, how has your passing offense looked different to you this camp with the emergence of some of your tight ends than it did maybe last year?
JT: It's going to be exciting. I was talking about it with Hogan today and we feel like we have the opportunity to have tight ends that are similar to 2011 when we had Fleener, Ertz and Toilolo, as well as having the wideouts that we feel can be pretty exciting. It's going to be a good time.
CSR: Aside from the veteran guys, so you, Ty, Devon, from what you've seen this camp, which wide receiver or wide receivers might be breakout candidates this year?
JT: Michael Rector has been doing really well. He caught a lot of deep balls last year. He's worked on his game a lot to work on the underneath and more intermediate stuff. Francis Owusu as well is a really big, athletic guy that can make a lot of plays for us.
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