Notebook: Fall Camp
STANFORD, Calif. – After the 2021 season, head coach David Shaw pledged to look deep into all aspects of the football program and see where Stanford could improve in 2022. With the Cardinal on the waning side of fall camp with an eye toward the Sept. 3 season opener against Colgate at Stanford Stadium, some changes are evident and some are not so obvious.
For one, the Cardinal has switched to a 4-3 base defense after primarily employing a 3-4 since 2010. Stanford has defined a new position, the edge, a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid.
"It fits our personnel better," said Lance Anderson, the Willie Shaw Director of Defense. "We don't have a lot of size or experience on our defensive line, but we do have some talented guys playing on the edge. Ultimately, we're trying to find what best suits our personnel to allow us to stop the run."
With veterans at linebacker and in the secondary, adding some responsibilities to those areas makes sense.
"We're going to be multiple in the secondary in terms of playing multiple coverages, being able to disguise looks, things like that," Anderson said. "If necessary, load the box and play some one-high coverages, things in the man or cover-three family.
"We've got a lot of trust in our DBs that we can do that and can win those one-on-one matchups on the outside that may be created."
Kyu Blu Kelly, a senior with 25 starts, and Ethan Bonner, in his fifth year with five career starts, are expected to man the cornerback positions.
"Ethan's been good the last few years, but has battled some injuries," said Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "He's healthy now, and the best that he's looked.
"I don't know how many programs have the two starting corners that we have right now. He's having his best camp. Kyu's having his best camp. I'm really excited about where those guys are."
Photo by Scott Gould/ISIphotos.com
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SHAW DESCRIBED WHY it was important to have continuity in the coaching staff in a year in which the program wanted to make a deep dive into all aspects. Stanford was among five FBS programs with no staff changes during the offseason and is among three to have six assistant coaches who have remained on staff for at least seven years.
"We stripped away everything and rebuilt it starting with philosophy," Shaw said. "It's great to have a group of guys with some roots together, because we have a collective institutional memory of, 'OK, this is what we've done, but that doesn't fit us any more, this fits us.'
"It was not easy. We had to strip a lot of things down, we threw a lot of things out. It was mostly subtraction. But our experience together made that process go really well."
Tavita Pritchard, the Andrew Luck Director of Offense, said the changes make Stanford more efficient.
"The playbook has shrunk to a certain degree," Pritchard said "But it's also about what we're asking guys to do within a play, the adjustments. We're trying to have guys play faster, have fewer things to think about. We're really trying to get rid of conflict in guys' brains. Just trying to eliminate clutter in their heads.
"We've always been known as a complex offense. I still don't think we're not complex, but we could stand to be as simple as we can be."
David Shaw. Photo by Dom Simons.
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E.J. SMITH, STANFORD'S top rushing threat, has had an impressive camp.
"He really wants to be great," Pritchard said. "And sometimes that manifests itself in pressing and trying to do too much. What E.J.'s learned, and what he's doing a great job of this training camp, is just letting the game come to him, taking the runs that are there. And, when he has a chance, to go hit something and be special. He's being steady and consistent, and then those big plays happen."
Beyond his running ability, "We've had a plan for E.J. since the beginning, and that was to really groom him to be an all-around back. We're looking forward to him being everything we need him to be: Run between the tackles, run outside, pass receive out of the backfield, pass receive as a receiver in the slot, and also potentially helping us in the return game.
"That's been our plan all along, to groom him for a year like this."
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FIFTH-YEAR RECEIVER Brycen Tremayne, a bigtime playmaker who suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle against Oregon in Game 5 last season and was held out of most activities in the spring, is practicing at full speed and without any limitations
"He's definitely a very special player with all the intangibles that he has," quarterback Tanner McKee said. "He's tall and fast, he's got great hands, great routes, gets in and out of breaks, knows defenses very well, can diagnose coverages and can change his route depending on the coverages. He's going to be great for us this season.
"Today, just in 7-on-7, he made some spectacular amazing catches in the back of the end zone where he had to climb the ladder.
"Brycen's still Brycen."
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PATRICK FIELDS arrived as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, starting at safety as early as his freshman season.
Fields already has a master's in accounting and is working on a second, this one in management science and engineering.
"Just a great kid and you see why he is such a perfect fit here at a place like Stanford," Anderson said. "We didn't get him the first time around, but we're glad to have him now."
Fields said he was close to coming to Stanford out of Union High School in Tulsa, but "What it came down to was Stanford didn't allow early enrollees at the time," Fields said. "In my situation, it was best for me to get out of high school, get out of my hometown, and be able to start my college career."
But Fields always saw the value in Stanford, which is why he is here now.
"Professional networking is why I always kept Stanford in mind," Fields said. "Just seeing all the startup companies that are launched out of Stanford and, really, just looking at the entire world and who makes the greatest impact in whatever sector it is, whether it's business, social impact, humanities, sustainability … a lot of it always ties back to Stanford.
"That's what encouraged me the most to want to come here. It's the life-changing impact that happens day in and day out at this university."
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David Bailey. Photo by Karen Hickey/ISIphotos.com.
LAST SPRING MARKED Stanford's second year with early enrollees, but the first time they were enrolled for winter quarter. In 2021, there were two. This year, there were three: David Bailey (edge), Mudia Reuben (wide receiver), and Sam Roush (tight end).
Bailey, especially, has benefited. He is expected to receive significant playing time.
"For a true freshman to come in and make the impact he's made so far … It's pushed some of our older guys to really step up," Shaw said.
"We've helped him some with his technique, but he's a very talented individual and a great team guy. He wants to do it right, which is a big reason why the older guys have really liked him. He wants to be good at what he does. Asks great questions. Responds to leadership on the team. For a freshman, he is advanced."
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McKEE, A JUNIOR, finally had a full off-season with his receivers and said the timing, anticipation, and precision is there. He's also excited about what Smith has shown, and even with some of the other backs, mentioning sophomore Brendan Barrow as an example of a younger player who could step into a bigger role in the backfield.
"Last year, we never had a game where the quarterback, our top three receivers, or our top tight end were all healthy at the same time. If they can stay healthy -- along with where E.J. Smith is right now -- that skill group can match up against anybody in the country," Shaw said. "Top five."
McKee, whom Shaw called "the unquestioned leader of the team," is excited for the season.
"We're going to come out with a lot of fire this season," McKee said. "We've been practicing with a chip on our shoulder all off-season, having in the back of our head that we're not going to relive last season. That was a one-time thing.
"This season, we're coming out with a new fire. We're going to attack teams right in the face and we're going to come out and push hard. We'll be really aggressive this year."