Spring Snap Judgments: Takeaways from Stanford's Spring Game

USA TODAY Sports

In our first look at the Cardinal of 2014, some things stood out right away

Defense was the winner of the day. All three levels of the defense played well on Saturday, with the defensive line being disruptive (especially Aziz Shittu), the linebackers showing some serious depth and aggression, and the defensive backs playing pretty well as a whole. New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson doesn't look like he's missed a beat this spring, and I think that was evident in the way they played. There were no changes to the scheme, but even with a lot of new faces in on D, they still looked aggressive and perhaps even more athletic than last year.

- The new offensive line still has a way to go. David Shaw has to be thankful for Andrus Peat, because he's the only guy who had a flawless day on Saturday. But Peat's probably going to be a top 5 pick in next year's NFL draft. The entire rest of the line had a few hits and misses, consistently allowing way too much pressure in the first half of the Spring Game, before finding a little better groove in the second half. Run blocking on the whole was okay, with some big holes and some serious misses at times. They'll have the fall session to get things squared away, but it may take until a few weeks into the season for this unit to gel.

This group of running backs is capable. Shaw didn't elect to run a lot of power runs in the spring game - the bread and butter of Stanford football - so this game wasn't entirely indicative of the way the offense will look this fall, but the running backs all fared pretty well regardless. Barry Sanders led the way with 72 yards on 12 carries, including a 29-yard burst up the left side and a 17-yard run off a screen pass. His vision looks much improved since last year's spring game, and I expect him to have a major role come fall. Ricky Seale and Kelsey Young ran hard between the tackles before Young sustained a painful-looking arm injury in the second half. Lee Ward also did a nice job as the primary fullback, clearing holes with ease on a lot of lead draws. Altogether, this unit was one of the winners of the day.

Keep an eye out for sophomore pass-catchers. Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Francis Owusu didn't play much last year, but they're going to have substantial roles this fall. Cotton pulled in a leaping touchdown, while Owusu had a nice catch and run where he scampered away from AJ Tarpley in the open field. Cotton was especially a revelation, looking good both in-line and out wide, where he can provide a huge boost to the Cardinal offense. It looks like the hiatus of Stanford's tight ends might just be a one-year thing.

Dallas Lloyd is a good fit at SS. Lloyd, the converted QB, looked aggressive and natural at the position, especially in stopping the run. On the whole, the DBs generally played well, which may be new coach Duane Akina's influence in action already. The only defensive back who really had a tough day was Taijuan Thomas, who had to try and defend Eric Cotton and Devon Cajuste on jump balls in the end zone. Thomas, a 5-foot-10 nickel corner, wasn't going to stop either of those guys, so it's not something to be concerned about.

- The passing game has been slightly retooled. It looks like David Shaw and company have tweaked the routes a little bit to help Kevin Hogan throw the passes he succeeds at. There were a lot of square ins, deep digs, and posts on Saturday - with more routes between 8 and 15 yards - and the tight ends did a good job running underneath them to keep the defense trying to defend the entire field. It already appears that the passing game is in a better place than a year ago, where it was almost entirely reliant on deep play-action passes.

- Noor Davis is ready to break out. The linebacker unit was also one of the winners of the spring game in my mind, with Davis playing the best among them. He was fearless and almost unblockable at times, crashing through the o-line on more than one occasion. Peter Kalambayi and Kevin Palma also had very nice games - so the defense may not miss Shayne Skov all that much after all.

- Ryan Burns isn't going to be overtaking Kevin Hogan. Burns did have a few nice plays - including a scramble where he threw deep downfield for a 40-yard completion and a dart to Francis Owusu - but he's not quite ready to do much else other than be a backup. He threw a bad pick-six after staring down a receiver and fumbled back-to-back snaps late in the game, while not showing a lot of natural pocket presence. Hogan didn't have a very good first half either, but he turned it on in the second half, completing some tough passes and throwing for two touchdowns.

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