- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.
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.