Stanford will have to overcome a myriad of questions if it is to prove that 2014's five-loss campaign was just a temporary tumble from college football's elite. But on the first day of 2015 spring practice, David Shaw embraced the skepticism coming his program's way.
"I love it," he said. "There's a hunger now. As much as we try not to worry about what other people say about us, it's nice when people talk about our conference and don't talk about us. Our guys get a little upset. I think that's great."
The Cardinal enjoyed an offensive resurgence to end 2014, but there are questions about their attack's ability to sustain that success for an entire season. Meanwhile, the core of Stanford's vaunted defense has been completely gutted. Shaw's club must replace all three starting defensive linemen from last season.
Winter training, which took place over the course of the past two months, was the first step in the Cardinal's reloading effort. Players say that sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley refined the program this year, and the changes helped infuse a fresh sense of accountability following disappointment in 2014.
"No one can half-ass a rep," quarterback Kevin Hogan said.
Monday's practice practice was Stanford's first chance to work out under full supervision of the coaching staff. While workout strain had been the dominant theme of January and the first half of February, the complete football package has now returned to the forefront. Shaw indicated that he was pleased with Stanford's communication on the first non-padded day of practice.
"There's a lot to compete for," he said. 'There'll be a lot of questions people have about us, and our guys are eager to answer those."
Here are some early returns:
The questions to answer
Stanford is dealing with a smattering of injuries and absences in spring practice, and those further complicate the challenges facing the Cardinal. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, the two most experienced members of their respective position groups, will both miss spring practice due to injury. That sets the table for potentially wild competition in the trenches and in the secondary this spring: It'll be a free-for-all of unproven players battling for playing time at those positions. Shaw noted that Luke Kaumatule will shift between outside linebacker and defensive end (in nickel situations), movement that could be a fitting illustration of what is -- at this point -- an unsettled defense. "We have talented young defensive linemen that we're excited to see play," Shaw said. "But they've got a lot to learn."
Running back Remound Wright will miss the first half of spring practice because of a disciplinary issue, leaving Stanford with only two scholarship backs -- Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders -- at the moment. Shaw said that fullbacks Pat Skov (when he returns from injury) and Daniel Marx will receive single-back carries, which seems indicative of Stanford's hunger for a power runner.
Kyle Murphy has officially moved from right tackle to the left side as Stanford looks to fill Andrus Peat's old spot. Murphy's vacated position is shaping up to be a battle between Brendon Austin (also currently banged up), Nick Davidson (who just completed a brief stint on the Cardinal's basketball team), and Casey Tucker. Austin will also be in the competition for right guard, joining Johnny Caspers, David Bright, and Brandon Fanaika.