Quarterback competition continues
One area where there wasn't much clarification was at the quarterback spot, where Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes continue to vie to take over as Andrew Luck's successor in the fall. According to head coach David Shaw, the duo is rotating in playing with the first team. On Saturday, Nunes led the first-team offense while Nottingham practiced with the second team. It might have been because he was facing the second-team defense, but Nottingham seemed just a bit more like starter material over the course of the morning. Luck's former backup maintained pocket composure, displayed impressive accuracy and showed some running ability when his protection broke down. By contrast, Nunes missed a few throws and showed little creativity when facing a strong pass rush.
Coaches conservative on injuries
Though the first game of the season is five months away, the Cardinal coaches are sitting the team's injured players rather than risking further injury by playing them in practice. Chase Thomas sat out of Saturday's practice, though Shaw indicated that he would have played if it were a real game. More troubling was the absence of Blake Lueders. Shaw said that Lueders would sit for the rest of spring practice, may require surgery, and could miss some or all of the 2012 regular season. In more positive news, Wayne Lyons looked to be at or close to 100 percent, after suffering a season-ending foot injury last year. The defensive back played at full contact, and got some reps in with both the first and second-team defenses.
Offensive line still in flux
Any conversation about potential replacements for David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin on the offensive line has to be tempered by the fact that the Cardinal's standout recruiting class of Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy and Joshua Garnett hasn't arrived on campus yet. With the current state of the offensive line corps, it's definitely possible, maybe even probable, that at least one of these freshmen will be in a starting role on Opening Day. With that caveat in mind, Stanford's first-team line on Saturday, from left tackle to right tackle, consisted of David Yankey, Khalil Wilkes, Sam Schwartzstein, Kevin Danser and Cameron Flemming, though Yankey is usually a guard. With that alignment, it's easy to see the coaching staff moving Yankey back to the guard position, bumping Wilkes off the line, and starting Peat or Murphy at left tackle. The competition at guard will be somewhat more interesting, as it's unclear whether Danser or Garnett will distinguish himself in fall camp.
No replacement in sight for Coby
With Coby Fleener gone to the NFL draft, Stanford could either find a full-time replacement for him or abandon a lot of the three tight-end sets that formed a crucial part of last season's offense. Though they may wish not to tip their hand, it seems that the offensive brain trust has gone with the latter option, with few of these sets to be seen on Saturday. Ryan Hewitt did occasionally split out to tight end, but only Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz played exclusively at the position. There did remain quite a few two tight-end sets, with Toilolo and Ertz on the field simultaneously.
Defensive backfield begins to take shape
The only area of the defense seeing major turnover is the defensive backfield, where three of four 2011 starters are gone: Delano Howell, Michael Thomas and Johnson Bademosi. Several players worked in with the first-team defense at cornerback and safety, with standouts including Jordan Richards, Terrence Brown, Ed Reynolds and the fourth starter from last season, Barry Browning. The battle at safety is especially competitive, with Wayne Lyons and Devon Carrington making a strong case for playing time. The wild card in this competition is freshman Alex Carter, who could be a factor as soon as he steps on campus this summer.
Stanford will continue to practice this week before the spring game on April 14 in San Francisco. After that, the team will shut down practices until fall camp.
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