With the first games of the 2013 season already only two weeks away, fall practices are in full swing all around the nation as the sounds of pads popping and coaches almost bursting veins in Tuscaloosa, Eugene, College Station and other powerhouse college football towns signal that the start of the hunt for bowl season is growing ever closer.
Meanwhile, for the players donning cardinal red shoulder pads at Stanford’s Dan Elliott Practice Field and the coaches overseeing them, the fun is just beginning.
“It’s nice to be able to go a little faster and not play pattycake without the pads on,” said head coach David Shaw with a wry smile after the players practiced for the first time with shoulder pads on Wednesday.
For a Stanford team widely heralded as one of the most physically imposing and dominating in the nation, the eagerness to stop “playing pattycake” without full pads this first week of practice seemed apparent, as Shaw remarked after practice that his players were getting a “little testy” as limited contact was introduced.
“It was good to get the pads on,” Shaw remarked. “As usual, it wasn’t perfect. It was physical, it was good, and we kind of needed that after two days without the shoulder pads on.”
The players will soon get their eagerly anticipated chance to unleash their physical energy as full pads will be introduced on Friday and tackling on Saturday.
Even without full contact and physicality, however, Shaw noted that some players were already beginning to stand out to him through the energy and effort they were giving in the early goings.
One such player that Shaw remarked on was senior David Parry, whose combination of raw power and instincts at the physically grueling nose tackle position of Stanford’s 3-4 defense made him one of the more underrated performers down the stretch last season after he filled in for the now-graduated Terrence Stephens.
Shaw strongly commended Parry’s early performance this fall, saying that the senior’s newly bolstered three hundred pound-plus frame was “hard to keep out of the backfield” during an “outstanding day” for him on Wednesday.
And because the lack of full contact during practices so far has left the coaches unable to make firm judgments regarding many of their new players, the position battles that figure to dominate the talk of this preseason for Stanford continue to be left in the air.
There doesn’t look to be a front-runner in the battle for center in the early goings but Shaw revealed that the trio of seniors—Conor McFadden, Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser—will switch off every day working with the first-team offense until a best fit emerged.
Shaw, however, was not so quick to rule out sophomore Graham Shuler, who redshirted last year but invoked a “cautious optimism” among the coaches during the preseason. Shuler, whose size and strength prompted Shaw to tout him as the “most athletic center [on the team] since he walked on campus,” evidently needs to show more consistency before he can crack the competition.
Meanwhile, Shaw is seeing lots of promise from the wide receiving corps that looks to have an expanded role in Stanford’s offense this season.
After the captains’ practices organized by junior quarterback Kevin Hogan during the offseason helped build confidence and rapport between the wideouts and quarterbacks, Shaw is already seeing increased returns.
He specifically identified juniors Devon Cajuste, Ty Montgomery and Kelsey Young, along with sophomore Michael Rector as players that were already beginning to show a strong connection with Hogan and the ability to make big plays.
The competition among the tight ends, however, has been slower to develop because of the increased contact that the position requires that the team has been unable to practice with so far. Aside from established starter Luke Kaumatule, the second spot is still wide open with senior Davis Dudchock possibly having a slight advantage in that regard.
“Davis Dudchock has his role and he’s doing pretty well,” remarked Shaw. “The rest of the guys are still trying to figure it out. There’s still a lot to learn.”
Shaw stated that the coaching staff would continue “dumping things on them” and look for a clearer snapshot of the competition within the next week.
The next week should also highlight the skill sets of the incoming freshmen more effectively, as Shaw stated that it was too soon to evaluate the new faces around camp based on just four days of practice.
Although he said that it seemed that the freshmen were having trouble keeping up with the veterans of the team physically, Shaw identified four-star linebacker recruit Peter Kalambayi as already having impressed coaches with his athleticism and speed.
If Kalambayi continues to impress, he could compete for a role in the Cardinal’s highly touted rotation of linebackers, especially with the departure of Chase Thomas to the NFL.
Already filling that void early on, however, are senior Blake Lueders and junior James Vaughters, who have already established themselves as perfect fits in Stanford’s smashmouth, highly physical style of play. They have impressed Shaw so far, who only had positive things to say about them when prompted.
“I’ve seen two human beings who are extremely hard to block,” said Shaw. “Both very physical, both play with the attitude that we want to play with. They know I personally don’t care who starts because they’re both going to play.”
As expectations for the Cardinal soar to unprecedented heights in anticipation of the 2013 season, the team will continue to ramp up the contact and physicality in its practices. It hopes to stay true to its hard-nosed, smashmouth identity while identifying the new characters that will help maintain that identity moving forward.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.