Fifth-year seniors Tyler Gaffney and Shayne Skov made their long-anticipated returns to the gridiron Monday as Stanford football opened its second and final two-week session of spring practice.
For Gaffney, who shocked the baseball and football worlds when he announced his decision to take time off from his professional baseball career to return to Stanford football, it was his first day back in pads in 15 months.
And with pads come hits.
“We were in thud and I got tackled,” Gaffney said. “But until then, I was kind of antsy for the first contact. I didn’t know if I was going to get knocked on my butt. It could’ve been bad. I couldn’t have that bad first impression.”
Gaffney impressed in his first day. He had one big run — though head coach David Shaw pointed out that “everybody was blocked” – and was able to keep his speed up at 220 pounds; in 2011, he played at around 215 pounds.
Skov made some noise, literally, in his return. The linebacker, known for his physical play, made a big hit during the closed practice session, but the victim remains anonymous.
“I’m not going to name names,” Skov said, “but it was exciting. First run period, I got an opportunity to lay some hat, so I got somebody pretty good. I’ll get it eventually… What goes around comes around.”
In his final year of spring practice, Skov is focusing on the little things. The senior will be working on pre-snap reads and keeping his eyes in the right spot, among other small adjustments.
But Skov’s return means a lot more than just adding another starter to the deep linebacker corps.
“Shayne knows what we need him for,” Shaw said. “We need him for leadership, we need his emotional energy, we need him to be relentless. Because he, for the last four years, he sets the tone for this team emotionally. Not just the defense, for the team emotionally. And he gave us that today.”
With Gaffney and Skov back, Shaw and Stanford will turn their attention to “situational football.”
The coaching staff emphasized that the first spring practice session would focus on getting players to play fast and evaluating players at different positions. But the second session will be a much more cerebral challenge.
“Situational football wins games,” Shaw said. “So we don’t ever want to come out here and just run plays. We put the base stuff in the first session, the second session is, in my opinion, what wins games: third down percentage, red zone touchdown percentage, short yardage and goal line… That’s what wins football games, so that’s what this session is going to be heavy on.”
That isn’t to say that the second session is devoid of physical challenges. One of the biggest advantages Stanford’s staff feels it gains from the split spring practice is that they can go full speed much more frequently in the spring than most other teams.
With that attitude in mind, the Cardinal will be back in full pads again at practice today. For a team coming off of a three-week break from football — or much longer for Gaffney and Skov — that could be a challenge.
“In order to be any good at football,” Shaw said, “you’ve got to fight through stuff and this will be our first something that guys have to fight through; second practice of spring, and I will be watching closely to see who fights through and who backs off.”
Stanford will host an open practice Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. at the Dan Elliott Practice Fields. It will be the last open practice before Stanford wraps up its spring session with the Cardinal & White Spring Game on April 13 at 3 p.m. at Stanford Stadium.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.