After four practices at Woodside High School in San Mateo County, Stanford football anticipates returning to practice on Stanford campus starting Wednesday. The move was made possible with the Tuesday announcement that Santa Clara County has been upgraded to the state’s “orange tier.”
The obscurity of that decision would have been foreign to college football a year ago, as would Stanford head coach David Shaw ’95 later acknowledging that if Santa Clara were to slide backwards, the team would again return to Woodside High School as its fallback plan.
Joking during an earlier press conference, Shaw said that he felt as if the pandemic provided its own brand of schooling.
“I’ve got an education in a lot of things other than football in the last six months,” Shaw said. “I feel like I’m one-tenth of the way through an M.D., especially in infectious disease. I feel like I have a better understanding of local politics, a better understanding of how counties and states work together.”
The football team has not recorded any new positive COVID-19 tests since last week. The team has had 13 student-athletes test positive, out of a cumulative 1,250 tests. All players have since recovered and are cleared to resume activities.
The first three practices for Stanford were Friday through Sunday, followed by an off day Monday. The team practiced at Woodside on Tuesday, and on Wednesday and Thursday the team will return to campus for the first time for an official preseason practice. After a Friday off day, the team will practice on four consecutive days.
Players first put on shells Sunday on the third day of practice, and will wear full pads beginning Wednesday, presumably back on Stanford campus, without tackling. Thursday practice will have pads and tackling for the first time, followed by a rest day.
Limited to 75 players at a time by state ordinances, Stanford has chosen to stage two practices, one with upperclassmen, and one with underclassmen, while also navigating players’ class schedules.
Senior center Drew Dalman, speaking to the media last Saturday, said that the split practices have made it difficult for him to get a complete picture of the offensive line and at that point had not seen anyone in pads. In the smaller group, however, Dalman has been able to get twice the amount of coaching from offensive line coach Kevin Carberry as well as twice the amount of film to watch between the two groups playing out the same reps.
So far, Shaw has been impressed with the maturity of his players. In the offseason, coaches were mostly reduced to chatting with their players over Zoom, so much of Stanford’s roster got extra football classroom time.
Defensive coordinator Lance Anderson made the same point that he feels his players are mentally prepared.
“I think our guys are well prepared mentally, and we’ll see when we get on the field where they are physically,” Anderson said.
The offensive line was pointed to by Shaw and Dalman as having progressed significantly in the offseason in both on- and off-field maturity. Physically, sophomore tackles Walter Rouse and Branson Bragg are listed at more than 20 pounds heavier than a year ago.
Shaw also talked about looking like a “more physically mature football team” with regard to the defensive line and the linebacker corps in particular.
Fifth-year safety Malik Antoine has seen the same thing on the defensive side. The extra football classroom time allowed the defense to break down tape. As far as any concerns about offseason accountability, Antoine and the other members of the leadership council have been reaching out to the members of their position group, making a point of constant communication.
“I’ve been thrilled to see how guys have come back to this training camp,” Antoine said.
Anderson also mentioned that the extended offseason allowed his coaching staff more time to figure out what was really working. He pointed to a specific example where he noticed a heavy dose of man coverage and that he hopes to provide his cornerbacks more relief this year.
“Bottom line, what we want is for our guys to have a great understanding of whatever it is that we are doing, that they know exactly what they’re doing and that they can play fast,” Anderson said. “In some areas we cut a few things out, we’ve simplified a few things and we’ve added a few things.”
On the offensive side, despite only having about a month to install the entire offense before the Nov. 7 kickoff, there is no panic. Davis Mills is the quarterback, there are a lot of returning starters and the coaching staff is accommodating the unusual schedule.
“There’s been an emphasis on getting to our core stuff and practicing a few things and doing a few things well rather than having this big arsenal,” Dalman said.
The center fully believes that four weeks will be enough time, and pointed to all of the mental reps the team could do in the offseason. Offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard ’10 mentioned specifically that there will be more competition for spots on the offensive line than the team has had in a while.
The biggest change from a year ago is undoubtedly depth. Stanford is bringing in 28 freshmen and numerous more upperclassmen are returning from injuries that kept them out of games or hampered their ability as they played through the injury.
“We have some depth around here that we haven’t had for a while,” Pritchard said. “We’re going to have a good group of guys and not just starters that are gonna be able to contribute on this football team and on this offense specifically.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.