Camp Notebook: Don't Change a Thing
STANFORD, Calif. -- With its football opener only 2 ½ weeks away, Stanford is changing its approach in how to best prepare for an early kickoff.
The September 4 contest against Kansas State in Arlington, Texas, begins at 9 a.m. PDT. In early starts in the past – notably a 2009 contest at Wake Forest and the 2015 opener at Northwestern, both losses – the team woke early and practiced early to acclimate.
"We've done that in the past and it's never worked," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "So, we're never going to do that again."
Rather than shifting practice times, "We're not going to change our schedule at all," he said. "And we're not going to go two days early. We're going to go one day early. Let them build up as much sleep as possible."
Shaw found that with early curfews, few players actually fell asleep early. And early wakeup times cut into sleep hours, resulting in a less-rested team. The new approach should allow for more rest heading into the game, even with less sleep on the eve of the game.
The exceptions are two instances in which the Cardinal will mimic the turnaround time it will face in Arlington, with an easy, evening workout followed by a hard early-morning practice.
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ASKED TO NAME offensive linemen who have made great progress in training camp, left tackle Walter Rouse was quick to name three:
"(Sophomore tackle) Myles Hinton played a lot last year, but he's really poised for a big leap this year," Rouse said. "(Sophomore tackle) Connor McLaughlin has really improved his game. You can see his hard work. And (sophomore tackle) James Pogorelc has done an amazing job. He's improved in every aspect of the game and can go even further than that."
Walter Rouse (right) and Barrett Miller (middle). Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
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THE QUARTERBACK COMPETITION between Jack West and Tanner McKee continues.
"I'm not at the point where I'm going to take the temperature," Shaw said. "We're just practicing right now. Probably on the next off day, I'll take a look at it, but still probably won't make a decision.
"Jack's been here longer. He's a little bit quicker on most things, just the amount of experience, more practice time and more coaching. Tanner's a little taller and a little faster athlete.
"Both guys are doing really well right now. The good thing is both guys are able to operate the offense."
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RUNNING BACK AUSTIN JONES came into camp in the best condition of his life, faster and more explosive. Besides Jones, the position looks sharp, with junior Nathaniel Peat seeking to build on his 7.0 yards on 29 carries last season, for 204 yards.
"We want to make sure Nate gets more touches this year," Shaw said. "He's got a chance to be a gamebreaker, and not just as a runner, but as a receiver too. I love where we are with those two guys. And (sophomore) E.J. Smith is coming on as a runner and a receiver. That room is really packed right now."
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SHAW BELIEVES tight end/defensive end Tucker Fisk should be the top contender for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player, though Fisk was not on the award's preseason watch list. Stanford's Owen Marecic (2010) and Christian McCaffrey (2015) are past winners.
NFL scouts have watched Fisk, in his first year on defense, at Stanford's training sessions.
"He's going to be a full-time defensive lineman and a full-time tight end at the same time," Shaw said. "We're going to try to cap his plays at 50 plays a game – in the 20s on offense and the 20s on defense. He's a legitimate two-way player."
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SOPHOMORE RECEIVER ELIJAH HIGGINS (15 catches, 176 yards in 2020) will be a threat in several spots on the field.
"He's a guy who has shown flashes and made some big plays," Shaw said. "He was really good this spring and even better in training camp. He can play receiver outside, in the slot, and he can also play tight end. We'll give him all those opportunities to move around a bunch."
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HOW SOON DOES Shaw begin preparing for specific opponents?
"In the off-season, I always look at the first three," he said. "Spring through the summer, even in training camp, I'll look ahead at Kansas State and I've already looked at USC, and Vanderbilt."
With Vanderbilt's new coaching staff, Shaw reviewed new head coach Clark Lea's defense when Lea was defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, as well as what the new coordinators have done.
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Inside linebackers. Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
ONE OF THE more impressive players in camp is outside linebacker Stephon Herron, a junior who started the final two games last year. Herron provided a memorable performance in the double-overtime victory over UCLA in the season finale, forcing a fumble with 1:38 left in regulation that allowed Stanford to tie the game, and shooting through the line to stop the Bruins on the climactic two-point conversion attempt.
"He's gotten bigger and stronger this off-season," teammate Jordan Fox said. "He's learned the game so much more. He's flying around."
Because of Herron's relative inexperience (nine games in two seasons), Shaw said Herron, like several linebackers who were injured last year, just needs reps, in practice and in games.
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THE EXPERIENCES GAINED from last season -- the abbreviated six-game campaign in which the Cardinal could not play or practice at home for much of the season because of county COVID protocols -- could benefit the team in 2021.
"It really brought us together, as an offensive line and as a whole team," Rouse said. "We learned to do whatever it took.
"We were family before, but that team was a true band of brothers. Coming into this year, even with some new faces, we're keeping that same feeling -- that we can do anything, no matter what comes our way. Anything that anyone throws at us, it doesn't matter."