Notebook: Flying Start First week of preseason camp complete
By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. – The Stanford football team concluded its first week of the preseason Sunday with an open practice at Dan Elliott Field. Several hundred spectators watched the Cardinal compete in contact drills as the squad readies for its season opener Sept. 26 against Rice in Sydney, Australia.
The offense and defense had good moments during the spirited two-hour workout in warm but comfortable conditions. Junior running back Bryce Love went the distance on a burst up the middle on the first play of the contact session, and senior quarterback Keller Chryst showed good mobility and arm strength with the first unit, targeting an array of receivers.
Junior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside made a nice leaping touchdown catch of a Chryst pass between two defenders. Chryst also hit junior receiver Trenton Irwin in stride for a long scoring toss.
Defensively, the secondary and linebackers were active. Junior strong safety Justin Reid and senior inside linebacker Jordan Perez produced interceptions.
“I think the first week went well,” said junior cornerback Quenton Meeks. “As a team, we keep working and building. We’ve looked crisp on both sides, and we’re trying to keep pushing each other.”
David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, believes fall training camp is all about competition.
“You’re not supposed to like the other side in practice,” Meeks said. “After, we go in the locker room and have fun with each other. But when you’re on the practice field, it’s go time.”
Junior defensive end Dylan Jackson liked what he saw, especially from the younger players.
“We definitely got a lot accomplished,” he said. “We’ve got the freshmen rolling. They’re picking up the playbook, which is a lot to throw at them the first week. But they’re adjusting pretty well and the sophomore class is really coming along.”
Chryst was 6-0 as a starter last season, but sustained a knee injury against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl that required offseason surgery. He worked diligently to return for fall camp and is ready to lead the offense.
“I feel good,” he said. “When we started, I was a little limited as a precaution. I’ve done basically everything, and the offense is coming together.”
According to Chryst, the biggest challenge during his rehabilitation was mental.
“Ninety-nine percent of it,” said Chryst. “Doing the right thing every single day. Getting treatment, asking for help and trusting the people around you.”
His dedication and commitment have not gone unnoticed.
“I’m so happy for him,” Meeks said. “He worked so hard during the offseason and was so determined to get back on the field and be even better. Just seeing him zip the ball around, he hasn’t missed a beat. You root for a guy like that because he wants it so badly. I can’t wait to see what he does this year.”
Neither can Shaw. Chryst has improved his knowledge of the offense, and that should help his play calling and decision making.
“He is now taking A.P. courses,” said Shaw of Chryst’s playbook studies. “He was a good student last year, and now he’s at the advanced level. Now it’s about getting A’s.”
Fifth-year senior Ryan Burns and sophomore K.J. Costello are also battling for playing time, but Chryst is the starter.
“He’s asking all the right questions, he’s seeing things really well and he’s got a comfort level about him and understands what we’re doing,” Shaw. “The biggest problem that he’s had is we’re really good in the secondary, which is great, but it makes us be as good as we can be.”
Like all the quarterbacks, Chryst hasn’t been hit yet, but has never avoided contact. More than once last season, Chryst delivered big blocks for his teammates down field.
“Quarterbacks are never really live in practice,” he said. “The first game I’m going to be juiced and everyone else will be, too.”
Senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips admitted it has been strange without All-Americans Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey around. Both had eligibility remaining, but were chosen early in the opening round of the NFL Draft. Thomas is playing for the San Francisco 49ers and McCaffrey with the Carolina Panthers.
“We miss them more from a friendship level as much as we do on the field,” said Phillips. “Offensively, you notice when Christian is not in. And defensively, you realize when Solomon is not in. Spring ball was more of the shock.”
Even without Thomas, Phillips thinks this defense has the potential to be dominant.
“My freshman year, we were No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (16.4), third in total defense (282.4) and seventh against the run (104.5),” he said. “I believe this defense is more talented. I was fortunate to play on that defense, and nothing against it, but there’s a different feel with this one. We all have a common goal, and that’s to win a national championship.”
With the long trip and early start to the season, the next two weeks will be key before the team departs for Australia on Aug. 19.
“You’re more tuned in to focusing on every rep,” said Chryst. “We changed up our walk through and they’re no longer casual. We’re locked in.”
Added Jackson, “There’s definitely a sense of urgency. Other than that, it’s just taking care of your body and getting into the weight room a little bit more.”
Meeks expects big things from a secondary that boasts depth, talent and experience.
“We’ve grown so much as a unit,” he said. “Coach (Duane) Akina has done such a great job of teaching and pushing us. We just try to be great every time we step on the field and set a standard for the team on and off the field.”
Many players caught Shaw’s eye during the first week of camp.
“Quite a few,” said Shaw. “I try to think of them in roles, not who’s stepping up and is going to take over a position. I like where all of our tight ends are right now. We’ll find roles for those guys: Scooter Harrington, Kaden Smith and Dalton Schultz. I like our complement of receivers. The competition at safety is great because they’re all good. It could be game by game who starts at safety and nickel. And great competition at inside linebacker.”
Four-star freshman running back and wide receiver Connor Wedington is getting an opportunity to showcase his playmaking skills and could make an immediate impact. A native of Lake Tapps, Washington, he rushed for 4,035 yards and scored 69 touchdowns at Sumner High, both school records.
Players received Monday off, and many spent Sunday night watching Game of Thrones in the Andrew Luck Auditorium.
“It is a phenomenon that is sweeping across the country,” said Shaw. “Our team is no different.”
Chryst expected a big turnout.
“That is huge for us,” he said. “Probably more than half the team is going to watch.”
Quotable: “Bobby is doing amazing things. He’s really standing out.” – Phillips, on the play of senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke.
— #GoStanford —