With three official practices complete, No. 23 Stanford football has opened its fall camp. Ahead of the Aug. 31 season opener against Northwestern, preparation is paramount to success for the Cardinal, a team widely considered to have the toughest schedule in the nation.
“I think it’s great. I love playing in big games,” said senior quarterback KJ Costello. “I think we play better against better teams. We prepare the same every week, so it’s kind of nice to prepare extremely hard for a good team week in and week out.”
Head coach David Shaw will be able to play around with nine fall practices ahead of normal game-week preparations for the Wildcats.
Last season’s squad amassed an 8-4 regular season, earning a berth to the Sun Bowl to face ACC Coastal division champion Pitt. With future NFL draftees Kaden Smith and Bryce Love ’19 sitting out, the latter with a torn ACL suffered in the season finale against Cal, running back Cameron Scarlett emerged from behind the expansive shadow of his predecessor to win the game’s most valuable player award en route to a sloppy 14-13 victory for the Cardinal.
Now, fifth-year Scarlett heads into the season as the primary back for the first time in his career.
“It’s a lot different preparing for the season when you don’t have someone established in front of you,” Scarlett said. “I’ve been here four years and each year I have had a Heisman candidate playing in front of me.”
As a graduate, Scarlett could have chosen to transfer and play immediately, but he chose to return to Stanford for the final year of his eligibility.
“I love this school. I love this program. I’ve built a great relationship with my coaches and even more importantly the players,” Scarlett said. “I couldn’t imagine myself going to play with a different group of guys.
“I had something to prove,” Scarlett added.
One of many players the Cardinal needed to come into camp ready to go, Scarlett may mark a return to a bellwether back after the loss of the three most productive receivers from a season ago.
“For guys that we were hoping to come in and start fast, those guys have done that,” Shaw said. The head coach, now in his ninth year at the helm, also stated that receiving corps has stepped up, especially junior Connor Wedington and sophomore Michael Wilson.
As a senior, captain and signal caller, Costello feels the weight of incorporating the new pieces into the offense squarely on his shoulder pads.
“We’ve got to establish chemistry on offense,” Costello said. “We have a lot of guys in new spots, especially on the perimeter.”
Among a laundry list of other players Shaw pointed to in Tuesday’s presser, senior Curtis Robinson was mentioned for his success in transitioning from outside to inside linebacker due to a dearth at the position. The defense bent considerably last year, but Shaw and defensive coordinator Lance Anderson have faith in this group, with standouts at cornerback in junior Paulson Adebo and senior Obi Eboh.
Another area of concern is the offensive line, which many held responsible for the run game’s regression from 25th best in 2017, springing Love into a Heisman runner-up, to 120th a season ago. The three juniors, left tackle Walker Little, right tackle Foster Sarell and center Drew Dalman are near-certain to anchor the line, but the guard positions are outstanding.
Kevin Carberry, the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator, is now in his second year in the position.
“We’re a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident with the plays, and I think that’s going to lead to a lot more success,” Scarlett said. “We’re meeting as an offense all throughout the day trying to get things figured out from different run schemes to different guys, and really just getting more comfortable with the playbook.”
The revival of the run game is seen as key to propelling the Cardinal to their first Pac-12 championship since 2015.
“We’ve got fourth-year guys, including myself, who have lost the Pac-12 championship and then two other seasons missed out on the Pac-12 title game because of one team,” Costello said.
To that end, the team discussed and set their outcome goals for the year.
“This team is pretty mature. In the offseason we set our team goals, team covenant, team vision really early,” Costello said. “Normally, we do it right before camp, but we did it four or five months back.”
“We have set our team goals very clearly, to everybody throughout the team, and now it’s just focusing on the process of getting better in every aspect of the game,” Scarlett added.
Only 22 days remain until the Aug. 31 season opener, which will be at home against Northwestern.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.