I was in Stanford Stadium Saturday to watch the defense beat the offense 40-34 at the Stanford Spring Football Game. Here are some of my takeaways:
The wide receiver corps looks much improved
The tight ends have been featured the last few years in the Stanford passing game, but that might change this year. Junior Ty Montgomery and sophomore Michael Rector both scored touchdowns. In the process, both showed difference-making speed and play-making ability. Rector made the play of the day when he managed to turn a Kevin Hogan pass that DB Kyle Olugbode bobbled into a 44-yard touchdown.
“I thought Michael Rector was great today,” said Coach David Shaw. “You can't duplicate that speed.”
While Montgomery and Rector showed “big play” ability, a couple of other Cardinal receivers showed definite “possession receiver” potential. Kodi Whitfield, son of all-time great Cardinal tackle Bob Whitfield, showed great ability to get open en route to three catches for 18 yards and a touchdown Then there was 28-year-old Jordan Pratt. The former Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball pitching prospect arguably had the most impressive day of any Cardinal receiver with five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
I heard it said in the press box a couple of times that enthusiasm over Pratt's performance should be muted due to the fact that he wasn't usually facing first-string Cardinal defenders. Maybe there is some truth to that in terms of his ability to get open. But after you get open, you have to catch the ball and Pratt caught everything. Whether the ball was thrown low, high, or a little in front, Pratt made the catch (and he made the catch the FIRST TIME...no double clutching). At 6'3” 211, Pratt would seem to be a natural choice around the goal line and on 3rd down. 6'3” Senior Jeff Trojan had his moments too with a team leading 6 catches for 41 yards.
Also showing some skills as a slot receiver type was Senior Keanu Nelson. While not a natural pass catcher like Pratt, Nelson flashed moves and play making ability once he secured the football.
The tight end corps is looking a little rough
Long a featured strength of the Stanford offense, the tight end position looked a bit shaky in the spring game. 6'7, 260 pound sophomore Luke Kaumatule has gone from 3rd stringer last year behind Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo to the starting job. He only caught 1 pass for 10 yards and had—arguably--the worst drop of the day on a 10 yard pass thrown with only moderate velocity right between the numbers on his jersey.
Senior Davis Dudchock had a better day with 5 catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. While he looked serviceable, Dudchock doesn't appear to the type of dynamic play-maker Stanford fans have come to expect at TE. Coach mentioned that he had three freshman tight ends starting school this fall in Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper. “We're going to see how ready they are to play,” Shaw said.
Backup quarterback is suddenly uncertain
Sophomore starter Kevin Hogan rebounded from a slow start at the spring game to pass for 170 yards and two scores. While there's no question about his status as the starter, there apparently is now a serious question as to who his backup will be. Senior Josh Nunes has missed all of spring practice with an undisclosed arm injury he suffered in an off-the-field workout. After the spring game, Coach Shaw made a jarring announcement about Nunes. “Josh Nunes' situation is not a short-term deal,” Shaw said. “He may or may not be back for training camp. I'm hoping that he comes back...period.”
6'5 junior Evan Crower got an extended look as Kevin Hogan's backup and performed servicably. Throwing mostly short passes, Crower went 26-35 for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns. 6'3, 209 pound sophomore Dallas Lloyd is clearly No. 3 in the current “Nunes-less” pecking order. But, Stanford may be carving out a wildcat type of role for him. He was the only quarterback at the spring game who was allowed to take live hits.
Barry J. Sanders is a work in progress
While Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney (fresh off a stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates) will do the heavy lifting in replacing NFL-bound Stepfan Taylor, the most buzz-worthy name on the depth chart is Barry J. Sanders. The son of NFL Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders made his debut in a game situation for the Cardinal Saturday. It was not the most memorable of debuts. He had seven rushes for 12 yards, three catches for three yards, and a fumbled punt. His most impressive run of the day came on a give over the left side where he made a sideways hop reminiscent of his dad and busted it for an 11 yard gain. But there were a couple of other runs where he didn't seem to see the cutback lanes.
And, unheralded upperclassmen Jackson Cummings (Sr.) and Ricky Seale (Sr.) had much more success making unblocked men miss. Nevertheless, Coach Shaw remains high on Sanders future. “He's in a very very good situation for a young back to where we can use him,” Shaw said. “We've got two upperclassmen who are great..and a couple of other guys who are really good at what they do. Barry's got a chance to be a special player. He's not ready for everything yet, so we're going to give him bits and pieces. We're going to develop a little role for him, and we're going to utilize his ability.”
The defense has physical cornerbacks who can tackle
The defense overall seemed to be less mistake prone and more so in mid-season form than the offense. I was particularly impressed with the deep ball coverage of the cornerbacks, particularly, Wayne Lyons. I also thought the cornerbacks, as well as safety Kyle Olugbode did an excellent job tackling in the open field. On the offense's frequent 3-yard hitch routes and slants, yards after the catch were scarce.
James Vaughters looks ready to do damage
The 250 pound sophomore linebacker will be one of the few new starters on defense, and he looks ready. If Stanford defenders had been allowed to hit the quarterbacks, James Vaughters would have likely had multiple sacks. He also looked stout in holding the line of scrimmage against the run. He looks to be a player to watch.