Lakshman: I love the smell of football in the morning

March 1, 2016, 12:23 a.m.

Saturday was one of those days on The Farm where it was hard to stay too unhappy. Yes, it was the end of the eighth week of the quarter and the midterm-paper-project hammer was striking the anvil with an ever-increasing ferocity, but even that was no obstacle for a day like Saturday.

With the sun bursting across the cloudless California sky and glowing against the red-topped roofs in a way no postcard can ever hope to capture, there was a refreshing ether of joy permeating through the air, a resplendence fueled in no small part by the knowledge that, for however fleeting a moment, there was football to watch on campus.

It was also apparent that I wasn’t the only one feeling extra juiced that morning at the Stanford’s first open practice of spring ball. From David Shaw galloping across the field in between drills to the loud roar at the end following “Salty Dave” Bright’s breakdown of the team huddle, it was clear that the Cardinal had an extra spring in their step from top to bottom.

A dominating Rose Bowl win that bordered on humiliation will do that for you, but it’s hard not to think that the high energy during a rather vanilla spring practice is a telling sign of a very healthy locker room. Ask anyone close to the program about the 2014 season and they’ll likely point out that no one on the team was having much fun that year — wins and losses aside. Flash forward 12 months later, and you hear Coach Shaw repeatedly talk about this 2015 season as the most fun he’s ever had coaching, and it looks like the good vibes have carried over into February. That’s an exciting sign for a team that will have a lot of questions to answer and plenty of grind ahead of them before Snyder’s Army marches into Stanford Stadium on Sept. 2.

And speaking of those unanswered questions, we obviously didn’t learn much on Saturday as the Cardinal stuck to the most basic of packages. There is no torture device on this Earth that would get Shaw to tip his hand if there are any outside eyeballs at Elliott Practice Field. Nevertheless, Saturday’s open practice was still very informative. Here are a few observations from our first look at the 2016 Cardinal.



Earth, wind and fire in the backfield

I steal this moniker from the nickname given to the Washington State running back trio of Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and Keith Harrington this past season, but no team should have a trademark on clever epithets, let alone one that doesn’t even run the ball.

Stanford showed flashes of its own three-headed backfield monster on Saturday, and the results looked especially promising. Bryce Love repeatedly left defenders scorched by his afterburners, scoring more times than he was brought down.

Fans also got their first extended look at Cameron Scarlett in over six months as the sophomore, who redshirted this past season, rumbled his way forward for several nice gains, moving piles of humanity of in the process. As the prototypical power back that has featured prominently in Stanford’s offense over the years, Scarlett will likely carve out a nice role for himself in 2016, especially given Stanford’s offensive philosophy of building packages to accentuate a player’s strengths. Scarlett’s physical running style can also be the sour to Christian McCaffrey’s sweet, the yang to Bryce Love’s yin. As good as Stanford’s running game was last season, the ceiling looks even higher with Scarlett and Love spending a full year under Shannon Turley.

Speaking of McCaffrey, the reigning AP Player of the Year had a relatively uneventful day, participating in drills and fielding a few punts but sitting out of the full scrimmage at the end of practice. Shaw noted that at the end of the day that McCaffrey will be held out of contact drills for the duration of spring, but it would be foolish to think that behind the scenes, No. 5 isn’t working away and laying out his master plan to dominate college football.


Open competition everywhere

One of the more telling developments from Saturday’s scrimmage was Justin Reid lining up at nickel on the very first play while rising sophomore Quenton Meeks, he of the Rose Bowl pick-six fame, stood on the sideline. It might be natural to think that Meeks would have the nickelback job locked down with the key buried deep underground after his heroics in 2015, but defensive coordinator Lance Anderson emphasized after practice that it’s open competition across the board, especially in the secondary. No one is safe, not even those who started every game in 2015, including Meeks and rising fifth-year senior safety Dallas Lloyd, Anderson stated.

If Saturday’s practice is any indication, the competition in the secondary will be extremely fierce throughout the offseason and the battle should only intensify when free safety Zach Hoffpauir rejoins the team in the summer after dabbling in minor league baseball. With an extremely talented crop of players, a mixture of savvy veterans and touted young guns eager for more playing time, defensive backs coach Duane Akina could have some very tough decisions ahead.

As possibly the most vocal coach during Saturday’s practice, Akina already seems well-immersed in manufacturing this intense competition into improvement across the board while providing those in attendance with a first-hand glimpse into his wizardry, another special treat that only comes with open practice. As Do-Hyoung Park argued in a column last week, Stanford’s subdued fan culture allows the team to host these open sessions at the practice field as opposed to the cavernous stadium and allow observers to get an extremely close glimpse into how one of the nation’s elite programs does its business. It’s a rather unparalleled opportunity and one that made my weekend, against all odds, one of the best of the quarter.


Contact Vihan if you think he should stop copy-pasting sentences from his freshman-year English essays into his columns at vihan ‘at’ One use of the word ‘resplendence’ is far too many. 

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at'

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