Stanford Football: Joshua Garnett

Spring ball is a lovely little dose of football that gets us all through the year, but it’s a far stretch from what we know and see in the fall. For the most part, it gives the young guys solid snaps and lets the older guys tune their skills.

But the coach who put it best this spring was Oregon coach Mark Helfrich who said, “In spring ball, you’re panning for gold a little bit. There’s a bunch of crap and one fleck of gold. You grab it and build on that and try to fix the other parts.”

So, here’s a look at who or what those flecks of gold were for the Pac-12 North:

Cal: If the Bears had been even adequate on defense a year ago, Andy Buh would still be in charge of the defense. Of course, that didn’t happen, but as a result coach Sonny Dykes was able to bring in Art Kaufman -- a man with a much more extensive list of success coordinating defenses. With Kaufman on board, Cal got back to basics, upped the amount of hitting it did in practice and took steps toward getting back to respectability. And, oh yeah, it remained healthy throughout the process.

Oregon: Offensively, if there’s any kind of gold/silver lining to the fact the Ducks lost Bralon Addison, it’s that they lost him early in the spring, which gave the younger, less experienced receivers more reps. Obviously, you never want to see a guy go down, but the timing of this injury gave other guys the time to step up and bring along the learning curve. Defensively, the silver lining is that the pass rush definitely improved. Between Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, Oregon is going to have two really solid defensive linemen on its hands.

Oregon State: The Beavers lost Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks and with him about 1,700 yards of receiving. They spent the spring trying to figure out where they’d find it. The fleck of gold in this season for Oregon State is that it might be on the right trail with two young receivers -- sophomore Victor Bolden and redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmon. They’re both players to keep track of next fall as quarterback Sean Mannion will certainly continue his gun-slinging ways.

Stanford: The two-time defending Pac-12 champion’s blueprint has long been in place. Now the program is in the rinse-and-repeat state among college football’s elite -- and for Stanford that starts with the offensive line. With four new starters up front, the talented group needs time to mesh, but it showed enough throughout spring to encourage the coaching staff it can remain a strength of the team. Center Graham Shuler and left guard Joshua Garnett also displayed leadership traits.

Washington: Whenever there’s a coaching change before a spring season, the fleck of gold is always going to be the fact that for both the coaches’ and players’ benefit, there was a period of time to get acquainted with one another. For Chris Petersen, he was installing a new system, bringing UW an overhaul in the coaching staff and implementing new rules and ways of doing things. Hopefully the spring period moves this group from Petersen’s program with Steve Sarkisian’s players to more of Petersen’s program.

Washington State: Ask any WSU fan about the future at quarterback beyond Connor Halliday and there is no worry in the world. It has been that way since Tyler Bruggman signed his letter of intent as part of the Class of 2013. What few counted on was that a walk-on could end up challenging the heir apparent -- but that appears to be the case. Luke Falk, who at one time was committed to Cornell, split reps with Bruggman and outperformed him in the Cougars’ spring game.
We finish our list of five predictions for the second half of Stanford's spring practice.

No. 1: Staying the course/depth chart

Much of the commentary that has followed Stanford football over the past four years involves the program's incredible resurgence.

Before Jim Harbaugh and his staff arrived, there was a faction -- a small minority, but it was there -- that believed the school should drop down a level in football. It was a concept that angered David Shaw, and several other fans and alumni of the program, and is now less plausible than a Stanford national title.

Expectations are obviously very different now. With the second session of spring practice set to begin next week, Stanford is set to continue preparations for a run at a third-straight Pac-12 title.

Like any program replacing hoards of talent, there are questions that need to be answered, but nothing about the current state of the program indicates the Cardinal shouldn't be among the best in the conference. They have recruited well, they have a lot of good players returning and the coaching staff has proved its mettle.

If there's anything left to predict, it's that the status quo will remain just that.

And, of course, a potential post-spring depth chart:

Offense

QB: Kevin Hogan
RB: Remound Wright
FB: Lee Ward
WR: Ty Montgomery
WR: Devon Cajuste
TE: Eric Cotton
LT: Andrus Peat
LG: Joshua Garnett
C: Graham Shuler
RG: Johnny Caspers
RT: Kyle Murphy

Defense

DE: Henry Anderson
DT: David Parry
DE: Blake Lueders
OLB: James Vaughters
ILB: A.J. Tarpley
ILB: Blake Martinez
OLB: Kevin Anderson
CB: Alex Carter
CB: Wayne Lyons
S: Jordan Richards
S: Kodi Whitfield

Countdown

No. 2: Running back competition will gain clarity
No. 3:
Hogan takes the next step
No. 4: Backup quarterback competition begins
No. 5: Whitfield will emerge at safety
The countdown of five things we learned from the first half of Stanford spring practice begins.

No. 5: The offensive line is set

With four starters from the offensive line gone from last season's team, there was a lot of buzz about what players would step in. It was easy to assign the favorites for those jobs, but by the first open practice -- the team's third overall -- it was obvious the coaching staff wasn't conducting a competition as much as it was preparing its starting five.

Left tackle Andrus Peat is the only true starter back, but both guard Joshua Garnett and tackle Kyle Murphy have seem extensive playing time over the past two seasons in the Cardinal's packages with extra linemen. One of the unknowns was which side Garnett would play, but coach David Shaw made it clear he likes him at left guard -- David Yankey's old spot -- if for nothing else than because the Peat-Garnett side will instantly become one of the most imposing in college football. A competition at right tackle to replace Cameron Fleming, who left early for the NFL, wasn't even discussed. Murphy is the starter.

Graham Shuler at center and Johnny Caspers at the other guard spot was assumed going in, but Shaw confirmed both guys are expected to win those jobs. During the open practices, Shuler made an impression as a vocal leader, and Caspers clearly fits the Stanford mold as an athletic guard that can get out in space.

The second open practice included a significant amount of scrimmage time, but drawing conclusions from those can be misleading. Defense dominated the day, but because there wasn't any elaborate offensive scheming and the defensive players have a decent understanding of the offense's checks and calls, that means very little. Individually, each offensive lineman had their moments, and the new crop hasn't done anything to dispel the notion that the offensive line will remain one of the team's strengths.
STANFORD, Calif. -- In the grand scheme of things, a single football practice in March during the course of a college career or season registers near irrelevant. For several Stanford players, it probably didn't seem like that Saturday.

With many jobs up for grabs and the team in pads for the second time since its 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, the day felt like it opened up real competition for next season's starting jobs. It also served as one of three practices this spring open to spectators and the media.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw's team was in pads for the first time since the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
Here are some observations and takeaways from Saturday:

OL already set?: It's clear who is expected to make up the starting offensive line: LT Andrus Peat, LG Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, RG Johnny Caspers and RT Kyle Murphy. Before Saturday, the only spot that seemed potentially up for grabs was at center, but Shuler, not Kevin Reihner, worked almost exclusively with the first group. Shuler, along with Garnett, were the vocal leaders of the group. It wasn't clear if there is an unofficial pecking order yet for the other positions in the team's extra-OL sets.

On Shuler and the center competition, coach David Shaw said: "We're putting the pressure on Graham. He's got all the ability in the world and needs experience and we got to get him ready to go. He's got a chance at one point to be extremely good. One of the best, we believe, around."

Burns missing vital reps: With Ryan Burns suspended for the first spring session for what has been explained only as a "disciplinary issue," starting QB Kevin Hogan and backup Evan Crower split all the reps. It felt like status quo for Hogan, but Crower looked as comfortable as he ever has in a Cardinal uniform.

"All and all, I think we have two guys that are capable starters," Shaw said. "Evan Crower can play football. If it comes to the point where he plays, we're very confident in him."

His message in regards to Burns was strikingly different.

Asked if having just two quarterbacks limits how the team practices, Shaw replied: "Not really. It just means two guys get a bunch of reps. That's the sad part, we have to have our rules, and we have to have our discipline and that's the sad part for a young quarterback that missed these because these are valuable reps that you can't get back. When he does get back, he better be busting his tail because these are vital reps that he's missing."

It was clear Shaw wanted to send a message to Burns on Monday when he publicized the freshman's suspension and made it even more so Saturday.

RB depth: Remound Wright took the first reps with the first team, but there was a lot of rotation with him, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young. Shaw lauded Wright and Seale for their steadiness and smart decision-making and Sanders and Young for their big-play potential.

Not much can be gleaned from one spring practice, but it's clear there isn't a significant talent discrepancy between the four players. Their lack of separation provides a sense that the competition will ultimately be decided by other factors. Shaw gave Wright the edge in pass protection.

"That guy, that's a great pass protector is going to play and play a lot," Shaw said.

Lyons to nickel: With Usua Amanam gone, CB Wayne Lyons is in line to be the team's new nickleback. He'll remain a starter at corner, but when the team uses an extra defensive back, he'll slide over and cover the slot. It's similar to how the Cardinal used current Miami Dolphin Michael Thomas, when he moved from safety in 2011, and how the San Francisco 49ers use Carlos Rogers. Thomas, before he left, predicted Lyons would win a Thorpe Award before his career was over. Taijuan Thomas also worked at nickel.

Carter out for spring: Junior CB Alex Carter will miss the spring with a hip injury, but is expected to be ready for fall camp. The silver lining is that it creates more reps for guys like Ronnie Harris and Ra'Chard Pippens, who are trying to break into the rotation in the secondary.

Number changes: Kodi Whitfield's position change from WR to FS meant he could longer share No. 9 with LB James Vaughters. He wore No. 5 Saturday, but it isn't clear if that's a full-time move or trial run. Former QB Dallas Lloyd, who also switched to safety, is still wearing No. 2, which belongs to Lyons.

Three-man competition at ILB: Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot and Noor Davis make up the three-man competition to replace Shayne Skov.

Other notes

  • With David Parry limited, Aziz Shittu played inside defensive ends Henry Anderson and Blake Leuders at tackle with the first defensive unit.
  • Kyle Olugbode took the first reps at safety next to Jordan Richards.
  • Kevin Anderson worked with the first team and remains in position to replace Trent Murphy.
  • Harris and WR Dontonio Jordan both wore yellow noncontact jerseys.
  • David Yankey, Trent Murphy, Cam Fleming, Jarek Lancaster, Sam Schwartzstein and Owen Marecic were part of a small contingent of formers players at practice.
  • Freshman TE Austin Hooper, who is coming off his redshirt, did not attend due to a mandatory academic field trip.
  • Stanford's next open practice is March 8 at 9 a.m. PT. The spring game is on April 12.
The countdown of Stanford's top 5 position battles continues.

One position battle will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 3: Center

Who to watch: Graham Shuler, Kevin Reihner

Outlook: As far as the Stanford offensive line goes, center has been the position with the most turnover in the past few years. Chase Beeler was an All-American in 2010. He gave way to Sam Schwartzstein for two years before Khalil Wilkes started in 2013. The competition to replace Wilkes starts with Shuler and Reihner and should be the most hotly contested of the four vacant starting spots on the line. Shuler was the more highly touted prospect, earning a four-star grade from ESPN, but Reihner has an extra year in the system. Neither have factored into the offensive depth chart during their careers. The backup center in 2013 was Connor McFadden, who ran out of eligibility.

Andrus Peat is the only returning starter on the line at left tackle. Joshua Garnett and Johnny Caspers are widely expected to earn the guard spots and Kyle Murphy will likely end up at right tackle.
The countdown of Stanford's Top 5 position groups with room to improve concludes today.

No. 1: Offensive line

[+] EnlargeAndrus Peat
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsLeft tackle Andrus Peat is Stanford's only returning starter on the offensive line.
Must replace: LG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming

Returning starters: LT Andrus Peat

Players to watch: Kyle Murphy, Joshua Garnett, Johnny Caspers, Graham Shuler, Kevin Reihner, Brendon Austin

Outlook: Stanford's recent success has been closely tied to the play of its offensive line, which makes it kind of strange that the position group also stands as the one with the most room to improve. Thanks to the early departures of Yankey and Fleming, the Cardinal must replace four of their five starters, with only Peat returning to protect quarterback Kevin Hogan's blindside. When the Cardinal signed seven offensive linemen in 2012, coach David Shaw predicted it could go down as one of the best offensive line classes in "modern football history." We'll find out how accurate that statement is in the fall, when all five spots have a chance to be occupied by players from that class. Garnett (guard), Murphy (right tackle) and Caspers (guard) are all heavy favorites to earn starting spots, while Shuler will have to beat out Reihner at center. There will also be competition for the roles in Stanford's multiple-lineman packages that will give regular playing time to at least two other linemen, which was the case for Murphy and Garnett last season.

The countdown
No. 2: Running back
No. 3: Linebacker
No. 4: Defensive line
No. 5: Wide receiver
Stanford right tackle Cam Fleming became the school's third player in two days to declare for the NFL draft, the school announced Tuesday.

Like guard David Yankey, who made himself eligible yesterday, Fleming broke into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2011 to block for quarterback Andrew Luck. An Aeronautics and Astronautics major, Fleming was a fixture at right tackle the last three seasons and was named second-team All-Pac-12 this year.

With Fleming's departure, Stanford will have just one starter back on the offensive line next season -- rising junior left tackle Andrus Peat, who is considered a potential high first-round pick in the 2015 draft.

While replacing that many players would usually seem like a tall task, the situation at Stanford could be different.

Kyle Murphy, a highly-recruited player from the Class of 2012, figures to have a leg up over Brendon Austin to replace Fleming. In fact, all five projected starters on the line are from the same class.

After the Cardinal inked seven offensive linemen that year, coach David Shaw made a bold prediction on national signing day.

"This could be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history," he said.

How's that for high expectations?

Of course, there's still a lot of time between now and the season opener against U.C. Davis on Aug. 30, but there's a good chance the line, from left to right, will look like this: LT Peat, LG Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, RG Johnny Caspers, RT Murphy.

Fleming's announcement comes just hours after teammate Ed Reynolds also announced he would leave early for the NFL.

Yankey's departure not a surprise

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Stanford left guard David Yankey's decision to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft ranks right up there with the least surprising declarations of the offseason.

Yankey could have easily justified a jump to the NFL after last season, when he was a consensus All-American and named the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman. Instead, he returned for what most assumed would be one final season on the Farm.

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAfter a 2013 season in which he was named a consensus All-American and the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman, David Yankey is headed for the NFL.
It's a decision the Stanford coaching staff saw coming years in advance. If not for an injury in 2010 -- when he became the first Stanford offensive lineman in 10 years to play as a true freshman -- he'd already be out of eligibility, and it became clear early on in 2011 to offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren that Yankey was destined for the NFL.

There were times that season when Bloomgren, now the offensive coordinator, had trouble finding Yankey on film. It wasn't a bad thing, either. It was because Yankey, in his first year as a starter, played so similarly to junior right guard David DeCastro that it was easy to confuse the two. That's high praise considering DeCastro was a finalist for the Outland Trophy that season and the first offensive guard taken in the 2012 NFL draft (No. 24 overall to Pittsburgh).

How the Cardinal moves on without Yankey appears to be fairly clear cut.

Rising junior Joshua Garnett, who started in place of Yankey at left guard against Washington State and saw regular playing time this season in Stanford's formations that utilized extra linemen, should have an easy transition into the starting lineup. Whether that's at Yankey's left guard spot or at right guard, where Stanford loses Kevin Danser to graduation, remains to be seen.

Johnny Caspers was listed as Danser's primary backup this season and will likely enter spring practice as the favorite to replace him.

The Cardinal will also have to find a new starter at center with Khalil Wilkes out of eligibility and potentially at right tackle as Cam Fleming has yet to announce publicly whether he'll return for his final season of eligibility or enter the NFL draft. The deadline to declare is Wednesday.

Kyle Murphy would likely have the edge over Brendon Austin at right tackle if Fleming leaves, and the center competition will start with Graham Shuler and Kevin Reihner.

Left tackle Andrus Peat, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season, is the only starter guaranteed to return from an offensive line that ranked seventh nationally in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (4.14).

Planning for success: Stanford

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Stanford's trip to Seattle to play Washington State doesn't figure to be a cake walk.

Not after last season.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson and Jeff Tuel
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsHenry Anderson's sack of Jeff Tuel in the final seconds last season ended Washington State's upset bid.
In a game at Stanford Stadium, the Cougars, who eventually finished with a 3-9 record, came nine yards away from tying it in the waning moments before back-to-back sacks of Jeff Tuel preserved a 24-17 Cardinal win. In a season full of close games for the eventual Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion, that near disaster might have been the most surprising.

A close game this time around wouldn't rank as high on the shock-value scale.

After several years of ineptitude, the Cougars (3-1) finally have the look of a team that can be competitive in Pac-12 play. Their current three-game winning streak is the school's first since 2006 -- when Walt Harris coached Stanford to a 1-11 season -- and has come to life in an unforeseen manner.

"The one thing no one talks about ever when you're talking about Mike Leach is the defense and defensively, they are playing really well," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "They are playing really hard, sound defense. You don't see a lot of big runs and passes. You see guys where they are supposed to be making tackles."

The Cougars have allowed just one touchdown in the last 10 quarters. And while the teams they played (USC, Southern Utah, Idaho) are nowhere near the caliber of No. 5 Stanford (3-0), it's significant progress at a place that's been devoid of that for roughly a decade.

"Each week is kind of a work in progress," Leach said. "We need improvement this week too."

WSU appears to have caught Stanford at a good time. The Cardinal will be without several difference makers for various reasons.

All-American safety Ed Reynolds will miss the first half as a result of his targeting ejection against Arizona State, All-American guard David Yankey is away from the team dealing with an unspecified family matter and defensive end Henry Anderson, who sacked Tuel to end last season’s game, is out with a knee injury.

Devon Carrington, best known for his game-saving tackle of Marcus Mariota against Oregon last season, will step in for Reynolds and sophomore Joshua Garnett will start in place of Yankey. Garnett, a Puyallup, Wash., native and ESPN.com's No. 1 prospect in the state in 2012, said he expects a lot of friends and family in attendance at CenturyLink Field.

The Stanford coaching staff has been high on Garnett since early in the recruiting process and has been encouraged by his progress this year, using him in various jumbo packages.

"I challenged him two weeks ago to not just put flashes on film, but to put what he wants on film," Shaw said. "He's so athletic and so big and so strong and so physical. I wanted to see him move people and knock him back and, honestly, through two weeks, that's what he has done."

Shaw did not specify when Yankey, who was named the team's offensive player of the game last week, would return.

Murphy picks Stanford

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And now, the cherry on the big man sundae.

Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif.), the No. 4 offensive tackle in the country committed to Stanford, giving the Cardinal three elite offensive linemen in this class. The 6-6, 270-pound tackle is the seventh offensive linemen in the class.

Murphy joins Andrus Peat (No. 2 OT) and Joshua Garnett (No. 3 OG) on an offensive line group that now has to be considered the nation’s best.

Murphy was also considering USC. Peat announced earlier today and Garnett announced last week he was picking Stanford over Michigan.

Cardinal line bulks up again

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Stanford’s offensive line is looking better and better by the hour.

Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz.), the No. 2 offensive tackle in the country, announced he’s headed to Stanford. He's the fifth ESPNU 150 player to commit to the Cardinal.

“It’s an offensive lineman’s dream,” Peat said during his announcement.

The five-star tackle, who stands 6-7, 300-pounds, joins an offensive line class that includes highly-regarded linemen Joshua Garnett and Nick Davidson, among others.

Peat was also considering USC, Florida State and Nebraska. Wearing a red tie (giveaway?), he pulled out the Stanford hat, giving the Cardinal, arguably, the strongest offensive line recruiting class in the country.

Catching up on recruiting news

January, 27, 2012
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As you'd expect, things are picking up with national signing day just around the corner. A lot has happened in the past few days.

First, there was the commitment of offensive lineman Josh Garnett. If you haven't heard, scroll down a couple of inches.

There was also the de-commitment of Jontrey Tillman, who spoke with Mike Coppage of scout.com about failing to gain admission.
I was crushed about it. Because that's where I really wanted to be: at Stanford. He ([Stanford coach Lance] Anderson) told me good luck and said he would try to find out more about it.
I was overwhelmed. At first, I didn't want to go play basketball -- I had a game that night -- and I didn't want to play. My plan was to stay in the house but Coach Antoine came and got me out of the house. I'm glad he did, because my teammates helped me feel better - even though they didn't know what was going on at the time.

Per the article, Tillman might not declare next week and instead weigh his options. That's probably the smart move. He obviously had his heart set on Stanford so no need to make rash decisions about the future when your head isn't completely right. He still has offers from New Mexico, Memphis, SMU and Southern Miss.

With a reported 4.0 grade point average, he's obviously a bright young man and the Cardinal coaching staff saw enough in the two-star athelte to make him an offer which leads me to believe he'll land on his feet.

On the lighter side, the folks at RecruitingNation rolled the dice and made their predictions on where the remaining five- and four-star prospects would end up.

If you believe Greg Biggins, Jamie Newberg and Damon Sayles, offensive tackle Andrus Peat, ranked N0. 9 in the ESPNU 150, is headed to Stanford.

Five of seven recruiting analysts have offensive tackle Kyle Murphy (No. 27) picking Stanford over USC.

On the defensive line, four of the seven analysts have Aziz Shittu picking Stanford over USC and Cal.

Also, if you missed this on the Pac-12 blog Thursday, Stanford was rated as one of the top five out-of-state recruiting schools in a study conducted by RecruitingNation and LaRue Cook of ESPN The Magazine.
Writes Cook:

The Cardinal just can't compete with USC and UCLA for California's top talent, signing only two of the state's 73 ESPNU 150 recruits from 2007-11. But when Jim Harbaugh landed [Andrew] Luck, it proved that top prospects will travel to Palo Alto. After Harbaugh left for the 49ers, new head coach David Shaw convinced 2011's No. 2 ILB James Vaughters (Tucker, Ga.) to stick with Stanford, and the Cardinal currently have three out-of-state ESPNU 150 preps committed for 2012, including top-25 overall prospect OLB Noor Davis (Leesburg, Fla.).

The Cardinal had players from 27 different states on the roster this past season.

Stanford lands OL Joshua Garnett

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Stanford wants to be a physical football team with a rugged running game. It just picked up a piece that can make that happen.

Offensive lineman Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup) has picked Stanford over Michigan.

“I love the strength and conditioning program and I’ve seen firsthand how much bigger and stronger the Stanford players get," he told ESPN Recruiting's Greg Biggins. "I knew David DeCastro in high school and he was always strong but now he’s benching over 500 pounds and is an absolute beast, that's how I want to be.”

The 6-foot-5, 285 pounder is consider the top prospect in the state of Washington. He's ranked No. 44 overall on the ESPNU 150.

Garnett is the 5th offensive line commitment for the Cardinal and they’re in the running for two more elite linemen: Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) and Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona del Sol), who will both announce on signing day. Murphy is ranked 27th on the ESPNU 150 and Peat ninth.

And, yes, signing three of the nation's top-45 offensive linemen would be impressive — and would raise an eyebrow or two among 2013 QB and RB recruits.

Stanford recruiting roundup

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A look at what happened this week in the world of Stanford recruiting.
“I’m almost there, I’m still working on it,” Kaumatule said. “I had my surgery and that held me back a little but I’ll get it done and everything will be good. I’m very confident I’ll get cleared. In the meantime, I’m in contract with UCLA, Cal, Washington and Colorado and I’m going to try and visit all those schools if I can."

Additional news and notes on players already committed to Stanford.
Writes Hartman:

Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant described Nick Davidson, son of Viking offensive line coach Jeff, as one of the best players he has coached in 20 years.

Stanford-Washington: Let's get physical!

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Sarkisian/ShawGetty ImagesWashington coach Steve Sarkisian, left, and Stanford's David Shaw both bring a physical brand of football into Saturday night's matchup.
Football folks often talk about a team being "physical." Or playing "physically." Yet those are general terms that don't tell us much, other than suggesting a team can run the ball and stop the run because it's solid up front.

You, of course, want specifics. What does it really mean?

"What's your deal?" That's what it means.

Harken back to the scene of beleaguered former USC coach Pete Carroll -- Carroll beleaguered! -- sharing an unhappy handshake in 2009 with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who had just aggressively run up the score on the Trojans in a 55-21 win. That was physical football writ loud and large and in your face with no apologies. The Cardinal rushed for 325 yards -- 178 yards and three touchdowns from Toby Gerhart -- and scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns. And on the third one, Harbaugh had opted to go for two.

"What's your deal?" Carroll asked Harbaugh.

His deal, Pete, was physical football, which is about a team mercilessly imposing its will at the expense of its opponent. New Stanford coach David Shaw was the Cardinal's offensive coordinator that day when USC's homecoming was ruined by its worst home loss since 1966, a beatdown that required only 144 passing yards from Andrew Luck.

Stanford is always called "physical" these days, and Shaw immediately cited the 2009 USC bludgeoning as his favorite example of that well-deserved reputation.

"It was 55 to whatever and we probably ran the same play 12 or 13 times in a row," he said. "And about 25-30 times in the game."

That play was Gerhart up the middle.

Washington also knows about Stanford playing physical football. The 25th-ranked Huskies visit No. 8 Stanford on Saturday with a 41-0 beatdown delivered in Seattle last year still fresh in their collective noggins. Stanford, which led 28-0 with 8 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter, outgained Washington 470 yards to 107, the lowest total for the Huskies under coach Steve Sarkisian.

"They just out-physicaled us," Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. "Just beat us down. Plain and simple."

Harbaugh shared that take, gleefully gloating to his players afterward in the locker room, according to Bud Withers of the Seattle Times:
"Dominating!" Harbaugh hooted at his players. "We kicked their ass every which way! One hell of a job on both sides of the line! Dominant, dominant!"

Then Harbaugh referenced Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and the UW head coach's defensive coordinator, Nick Holt, and said, "What are you guys, 5-1, 6-1 against that group [in his four-year tenure]? That's the highest-paid coaching staff around!"

No one wants to hear that sort of talk from an opponent. But what could the Huskies say in return?

"You want to bring it to them, but they're bringing it to us," Dennison said. "It was hard."

Thing about that game, though, is the Huskies haven't been the same since. Sure, they got ripped the next week at Oregon, with some obscure quarterback named Keith Price recording his first career start for an injured Jake Locker. But they are 9-1 since the Oregon game, and clearly playing more physical football.

How did Stanford build a physical football team?

"It's really pretty simple," Shaw said. "You have really, really physical practices and the cream rises to the top. The guys who are physical and tough by nature, they stand out. And the guys that aren't, they start to wilt."

How did Washington take the same course?

"I think you have to practice it and you have to coach to it," Sarkisian said. "It has to be talked to and you have to give living examples of it. And you have to play the game that way, and I think you need to call the game that way. We've tried to dedicate ourselves to that."

And the Stanford game was a turning point, in large part because Sarkisian decided it would be, even if that didn't go over well with some of his players at the time. That included a fairly embarrassing film session showing guys getting pushed around. That included more hitting -- and yelling -- in practices.

"The coaches after that week definitely tested our will as a team," Dennison said. "But we didn't ever want to see that happen again. It was pretty embarrassing. We took it to heart."

It appears that is true. Stanford ranks third in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (181.7 yards per game). Washington ranks fourth (173.7 ypg). Stanford ranks first -- and second in the nation -- in run defense (59.5 ypg). Washington ranks third -- 17th in the nation -- (97 ypg).

Of course, being physical doesn't mean you don't throw the ball; these teams have combined for 40 touchdown passes -- it just means balance creates efficiency: Stanford is No. 1 and Washington No. 2 in the conference in passing efficiency.

Further, Washington isn't there yet. It's improved on both lines but it's not yet grading roads like the Stanford does. It starts in recruiting with an emphasis on linemen. Sarkisian surely looks enviously at the Cardinal's line, which includes guard David DeCastro, who is not only the nation's best run-blocker, but also a product of Bellevue (Wash.) High School, which is a short drive from Husky Stadium.

It just so happens that the two most talked about recruits in the state of Washington this year are a pair of offensive linemen: Joshua Garnett and Zach Banner. Both have offers from just about everyone, and Sarkisian needs to sign at least one. If he gets both, well, that would be quite a deal.

But that's the future. The present is the Huskies trying to win a "hello, world" game at Stanford, and the Cardinal trying to record a quality win that boosts its national-title contender Q-rating among those ranking teams in the national polls.

Both coaches will talk about turnovers and mistakes and execution and all of that. But the first question for the Huskies is if they can match Stanford's physical play.

Said Sarkisian: "They've done a nice job of that and they've dedicated themselves to being a physical football team. I think we have as well. We'll find out how far away we are on Saturday."

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