Based on its performance in the spring game, Stanford looks primed to take a crack at the Pac-12 North title. The team seems to have transitioned well after the transition to the David Shaw regime. The starters looked sharp on both sides of the ball, even though players at several positions are battling it out to see who will be the opening day starter.
Cardinal still lucky at quarterback
Though he played only four series—three in the first half and one to open the second—Andrew Luck showed why he's the Heisman Trophy favorite heading into next season. Luck was clinical in dissecting Stanford's backup defense, marching the offense down the field for a touchdown every time he touched the ball. Luck also threw to a wide variety of targets, so it appears that losing principal targets Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen to graduation will have minimal impact on his production.
Luck leaned heavily on his tight ends, especially on Zach Ertz, who caught three touchdown passes on the day. Ryan Hewitt, a fullback and tight end, also caught a good number of balls working out of the backfield, and he looks set to become Owen Marecic's full-time replacement at fullback. Among the receiving corps, Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Griff Whalen and Drew Terrell got a lot of playing time with the starters.
The picture at backup quarterback also became a lot clearer, with Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes emerging as the clear frontrunners to back up Luck next season. Picazo started for the second team, while Nunes replaced Luck after he was removed from the game. Both backups seem to have made tremendous strides from the first session of spring practices. Shaw said that Nunes has the edge right now, but that the battle will continue into the summer. As for the rest of the quarterbacks, Brett Nottingham looked very shaky after relieving Picazo, and David Olson got in some garbage time at the end of the game. Darren Daniel, an athletic freshman quarterback who redshirted last season, has been converted to receiver, and was on the end of a few Luck lasers over the first three series.
In the trenches
The most intriguing position battles this offseason have been along the offensive and defensive lines, where Stanford lost a majority of its starters. On the opening drive, the offensive line consisted of Jonathan Martin, Kevin Danser, Sam Schwartzstein, David DeCastro and Tyler Mabry. Over the course of the game, Khalil Wilkes, Matt Bentler and David Yankey rotated into the first unit, with some players even switching jerseys at halftime.
Along the defensive line, Alex Debniak and Terrence Stephens look set to join Matt Masifilo in Derek Mason's 3-4 scheme next season. Stephens will replace Sione Fua as the Cardinal's primary nose tackle.
Defense and special teams
There were few surprises throughout the remainder of the defense and the special teams, which played well throughout the game. Ben Gardner wreaked havoc alongside Skov for much of the afternoon, but Chase Thomas, the other big returning star in the linebacking corps, did not play. In the secondary, Barry Browning joined Johnson Bademosi as a starting cornerback, and Delano Howell and Michael Thomas held down the safety positions.
Shaw didn't indicate whether Eric Whitaker or Jordan Williamson would take over Nate Whitaker ‘s starting kicking job. Eric Whitaker kicked the game's only field goal, while Williamson was a perfect six-for-six on extra points for the Cardinal team.
Per NCAA rules, Stanford will now take a couple of months off from organized team practices before returning for summer practice in June. It appears that Shaw and his coaching staff did a good job of building on last season through the spring, as the Cardinal look ready for a strong 2011 campaign.
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