After being bested by the Cardinal offense in a short-yardage competition Saturday, the Stanford defense fought back with a fury on Tuesday during a third-down blitz session.
“[The blitz session went] really well for the defense,” said head coach David Shaw. “Trent Murphy was unstoppable today.”
The message was clear to the offense: Don’t expect to have much success in scrimmages. Not only is the Cardinal defense a physically dominant group, but it’s also filled with veterans who have a lot of experience playing together in defensive coordinator Derek Mason’s system.
And that means that Mason can put together very complex blitz packages, or as Shaw termed them, “controlled chaos.” Combined with the varied looks given by senior free safety Ed Reynolds and junior strong safety Jordan Richards in the secondary, the first team’s pass rush is nearly impossible to stop.
But there are some young guys up front who are improving quickly with the hope of turning the tide in that difficult preseason battle. Sophomore offensive linemen Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy and Joshua Garnett, all top recruits who earned significant playing time in 2012, are taking steps towards landing starting roles.
“I think Andrus Peat has taken great strides,” Shaw said. “I think Kyle Murphy’s taken some big strides. I think Josh has taken smaller strides, and we’re going to keep pushing him because he’s got the ability to be really good at this game.”
For Peat, those great strides have made him the near-certain choice to start the season at left tackle. His road hasn’t always been smooth, though.
The potent Stanford pass rush has dominated Peat at times in his young career, but those difficult reps have put Peat in his current position to succeed. One particular memory that jumps out at Shaw from Peat’s “baptism by fire” came from a particularly rough drill last August.
“He went through a stretch of one-on-one pass [protection] where he didn’t win any of them,” Shaw said. “I passed by him after…and I said, ‘this is good for you…this is going to be good for you because there’s no better place to learn.”
Murphy’s ascent to a starting role might take one more year; Peat and senior right tackle Cameron Fleming look to have a near lock on their jobs. But with Murphy’s athleticism and Stanford’s recent tight-end exodus, there’s a good chance Murphy will see time somewhere on the offensive line.
Garnett is perhaps the most perplexing of the three. One of the biggest linemen on the team, Garnett succeeded in down-blocking situations as early as the first game of last season. Many believed that it would only be a matter of time before Garnett assumed one of the starting guard spots.
But fifth-year senior Kevin Danser still has a hold on his returning spot at right guard, and Garnett won’t be unseating All-American David Yankey on the left side any time soon. That means he will have to improve quickly to start in September.
For Garnett, much of the improvement so far this spring has been mental.
“I think [I’m] definitely processing the offense a little better,” Garnett said. “I’ve still got a lot of stuff technique-wise I’ve got to work on. That’s what we’re doing. We’re out here trying to get better.”
Improving technique isn’t just an on-field task for Garnett. Much of his improvement will have to come working out over the next few months with the strength and conditioning staff.
“I definitely think if I can get flexible enough, that will get my game better,” Garnett said. “I’m a stronger guy, so I try to brute-force people and not stay low, and that’s giving me a lot of trouble right now. If I can get flexibility and get my pads down and work on that during the offseason, I think it’ll help me out a lot coming into summer.”
Garnett and Stanford have one final day of scrimmages before putting away the pads until August. The team hosts the Cardinal & White Spring Game Saturday at 3 p.m. at Stanford Stadium. The game will be open to the public.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.