Cardinal fans caught a glimpse of some of the position battles unfolding at training camp during Stanford’s open practice on Saturday morning, especially at right guard, inside linebacker and running back.
Head coach David Shaw confirmed afterward that junior Johnny Caspers, who played with the first team throughout practice, has a lead over senior Brendon Austin at right guard, the only unfilled spot on the Cardinal offensive line.
Observers were surprised to see Shayne Skov’s old inside linebacker spot filled by sophomore Kevin Palma, not one of the upperclassmen previously thought to be battling for that job: junior Blake Martinez, fifth-year senior Joe Hemschoot and junior Noor Davis. But Shaw said that all four of those linebackers are rotating in alongside fifth-year senior A.J. Tarpley, and hinted that Martinez was still the favorite.
“I think Blake has kind of stood out,” Shaw said, “but every day Noor makes a big play, and that’s been exciting, because he’s going to play for us. Kevin Palma is starting to show that he’s ready. He’s not the young guy in the room anymore. He’s making the calls, he’s stepping up and making plays. So we have, in my opinion, five really good options on the inside.”
Palma and fellow sophomore Peter Kalambayi, who plays outside linebacker, stood out with 13 combined tackles in the Spring Game in April.
Senior corner Ronnie Harris had a pick-six on Saturday as the defense had the upper hand in Saturday’s practice, the first of camp that has included tackling.
Nevertheless, both senior Kelsey Young and junior Barry J. Sanders, who are competing for the starting running back job, made big plays in the running game. Young broke free on one run and Sanders shiftily broke tackles for a tough, nine-yard gain on another.
“We have at least three more or four more tackling days, and that’s the only thing I’m going to judge the running backs on: days that we tackle,” Shaw said. “So this is really the first true evaluation.”
Saturday also marked the first time that freshman Keller Chryst played publicly in a Cardinal uniform, and it did not take long for him to make an impression.
Already Stanford’s biggest passer at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Chryst fit right in during side-by-side passing drills with his fellow quarterbacks, throwing some of the tightest, hardest spirals of the bunch.
Shaw has already said that knowledge of Stanford’s playbook will be Chryst’s biggest obstacle this season. However, the Palo Alto High grad has been making swift progress.
“Keller is ahead on the playbook,” said junior wide receiver Michael Rector. “He’s way further than we expect him to be at this point, which is really good.”
Shaw, who has advocated against the player union at Northwestern and a pay-for-play system in the past, said he wasn’t surprised by Friday’s ruling in the O’Bannon trial, which could force the NCAA to pay players some of the money earned off their likenesses.
“I think it changes things,” Shaw said on Saturday. “The only real reaction I have is that it’s what we all expected. This has been coming for six months now. Everyone knew which way this was going to go. So now, the next step is, what happens with the NCAA? What happens with the Big Five conferences? What happens with the rules, regulations, and things that everybody decides to do? So I’m here to see what happens next.”
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.