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Shaw comments on fullback position battle, development of the O-line

The pads were out on a warm Monday morning, as the Stanford football team finished its third full-contact practice of training camp. As the opener against UC-Davis approaches, head coach David Shaw is encouraged by what he sees on the defensive side of the ball.

(David Bernal/isiphotos.com)

Fifth-year senior Henry Anderson (right) looks to follow up on an impressive 2013 campaign with an even better performance in 2014. Last season, Anderson notched 19 tackles and three sacks in only eight games en route to All Pac-12 honorable mention honors. (DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)

“As practice picked up, our defensive players, those guys really shined,” Shaw said. “[Defensive end] Henry Anderson probably had his three best days of practice in a row. Just dominant, looks great.”

“Secondary-wise, I thought we were really good,” he added. “[Strong safety] Dallas Lloyd picked one off today. [Cornerback] Ronnie Harris has been practicing well as usual.”

Anderson, a fifth-year senior, has the ability to wreak havoc on offensive lines this season. As a senior last year, he played in just eight games but earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention, recording 19 tackles (eight solo), four tackles for loss and three sacks. A healthy Anderson will be key on a line that lost current Dallas Cowboy Ben Gardner ’13, who was a team captain on last year’s defense and an All-Pac-12 first team selection.

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One of the most talked-about position battles at this year’s training camp is that between senior Patrick Skov and fifth-year senior Lee Ward at fullback. Both fullbacks are remarkably similar in their physical makeup; Skov is 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, while Ward is 6-foot-1, 247 pounds.

Neither has gotten the chance to show his full skill at the fullback position in prior seasons, as Ward has mostly been a backup and a spot starter for the last three years. Even though Shaw believes that Ward has “the edge” over Skov, he praised both Skov and Ward based on what he has seen at training camp.

“I think Lee Ward has been playing extremely well,” Shaw said. “[He’s] one of the few fullbacks left in college football. When our fullbacks play well we have a solid running game.”

“I think Patrick is going to play and play a lot. I think there are things that Patrick can do that are going to help us out. Patrick is going to play more this year than he has in the past. But I think Lee has shown who he was; there’s a reason we rotated him and [fullback] Ryan Hewitt last year. Lee Ward is a downhill, physical fullback. He showed that last year and I just bet he’ll show that this year as well.”

Although Ward seems like the likely starter at this point in time, Shaw knows that he needs both Ward and Skov to be at their best if the team is going to succeed.

“We need more than one fullback to play, so I anticipate both of those guys are going to play a lot this year,” Shaw said.

With the graduation of electric running back Tyler Gaffney ‘14, Shaw hopes to use his rotation of running backs and fullbacks to keep opposing defenses off balance. It remains to be seen whether the fullback position battle changes over the next couple of days, but as of now, it is Ward who has the inside track to the starting job.

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Finally, Shaw also commented on the cohesiveness of Stanford’s offensive line after Monday’s morning session. Highly-touted offensive linemen Josh Garnett, Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy are all juniors at Stanford, and Shaw believes that fact has had a significant impact on the development of the 2014 offensive line.

“It’s been fun to watch those guys grow together,” he said. “This is a group that has really been tight since the recruiting process. So we’re really talking about four years of these guys getting to know each other, being around each other, communicating with each other.”

“There’s a lot of times when they walk into the room, and including [junior guard] Nick Davidson, it’s like all six [of the junior offensive linemen] walk in at the same time,” Shaw said. “I think with an offensive line, that is a strength, because you need that group to operate like a cohesive unit. They already have some commonalities, some familiarities, and they get along really well, so I think that is an advantage.”

Contact Matt Niksa at mattniksa80 ‘at’ gmail.com.

  • Candid One

    Sports staff…sure, the preseason’s still young and there’s still much development at hand but hopefully y’all are watching how the rebuilding secondary is emerging under its new coach. That’s been the too-often under-appreciated key group. They have been the key improvement that’s given Oregon its Stanford problem. Hopefully, you’ll fit them into your reportage to come.

  • A fan

    Nice reporting. Will keep reading more.