Nothing earthshattering to report from Saturday's open practice to the public, but I thought I'd fill everyone in on some developments before next Saturday's Cardinal & White Spring Game at Kezar Stadium.
RB -- Stepfan Taylor. He was spectacular. One thing that stuck out in my mind was a goal-line play where he literally just leaped over three linemen. If he can stay healthy, expect good things out of him. The rest of the corps I didn't see much, so I can't expand on them beyond that they weren't the focus of the offense. For some reason, I thought I even saw Jeremy Stewart out there, but that may be my memory playing tricks on me. (UPDATE: My eyes didn't deceive me -- Stewart is returning next year despite being a senior this year.)
O-line & D-line -- This is where there will definitely be questions. Without a doubt, the D-line is just as good, if not better than last year. Shayne Skov looks to have not skipped a beat from the Orange Bowl while Alex Debniak and Brent Etiz were also notable standouts, although by no means were these three the only standouts. Practically the whole line was stellar. On offense, though, I must report, there are still some issues. Practice kept having the coaches move in and out players, so I can't really comment on one person in particular, so I'll just say this: as of right now, pray the offense doesn't get caught in 3rd and short, Stanford fans. The O-line was generally pretty good (but not great) at protecting the QB. At times, though, even though linemen didn't have a clear shot at the QBs, they were able to rush the passer, and on one particular play, provide a sack. Rush defense was fantastic as nearly every 3rd and short they practiced was stopped. Goal line defense was great -- goal line offense... Overall, I think we'll find out more about both lines, but especially the O-line, this Saturday in SF. For now, it still appears to be a work in progress.
Receivers -- Lots of good things here. Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu were pretty good, and that was to be expected, but Luck seems to have spent a considerable amount of time with rising-Junior receiver Drew Terrell, as he made some unbelievable catches with defenders hands clearly in his face, including a TD-scoring 30 yard bomb from Luck.
Secondary -- There's not a lot to report here. Both Bademosi and Thomas had some good breakups, but it remains to be seen how the rest of the squad will do. As I mentioned before, after Luck, the QBs, save for maybe Nottingham, preferred the running game. However, there is a concern (at least with me) that our corners were unable to get to Luck on his infamous runs after getting past the line of scrimmage, so that's something to watch as well.
Kicking -- Didn't see any kickoff returns, so I can't say anything about special teams in that regard. However, like the previous two open practices, practice ended with FGs. Rising-Junior Eric Whitaker is just spectacular and looks to be a carbon copy of his brother on the field. Whitaker was hitting FGs from both hashes from the 40-yard line, and that's with a pretty strong (cold) wind blowing from over his right shoulder. Competing with him was rising sophomore Jordan Williamson. There's definitely a dropoff in production between Whitaker and Williamson, but if push came to shove, Williamson could get the job done. He doesn't have the strength of Whitaker, as he was missing some 30+ yard field goals, but I think he'll do just fine if Coach Shaw decides to hand-off some of the kicking duties to him in blowout games.
Overall it was a good practice. There were more fans there than the last open practice, and attendance was helped by the fact that some signees and their families (with requisite red folders and campus maps in hand) came to watch the practice. I even saw some what I assume were fans living in the Bay Area wearing shirts from the Ivies watching practice.
The highlight was most definitely the defensive line and how there seems to be little, if any, dropoff from last year. However, I am most concerned with the O-line. As I said, they can do their job reasonably well in 1st down situations, but getting into short-yardage situations where a run is called may be playing with fire as of now. Part of it may have had to do with playing against a stellar defense, but whatever the reason, the top-line offense couldn't overcome our top-line defense. I didn't get to see who was behind center, so that'll be something to check out here as spring practice closes.
Do Stanford fans have to worry? No, I don't think so. Last year's Cardinal & White game saw the defense shine with fans wondering if we could get anything going on offense, even with Luck behind center. However, as Fall progressed, with the UCLA game being the aberration, it took until after the Oregon and USC games for the defense to really step up while the offense was on fire throughout. While Stanford has lost some substantial bodies on the O-line from last year, there's still a week left before the close of Spring practice, and more than four months before Stanford kicks off its 2011 season against San Jose State. That's a lot of time to bulk up and get better.
As a reminder, the Cardinal & White game will be at Kezar Stadium at 2PM this coming Saturday. Students can earn a point towards tickets for the Oregon matchup and Big Game (yes, students, there will be a ticket maximum on students for Oregon like there was for the USC game this past year) while attendance is free for all fans. For those of you who can't come, ESPN3.com will be streaming the game live for those of you with online access.
Oh, and the men's and women's basketball teams have both committed to showing up as well. Something tells me that they are going to get a very long line for autographs after the game, especially the women.