Five things to watch at 2012 spring game

Stanford offers free admission to its 2012 spring game, kicking off at 2 p.m. Saturday at San Francisco's Kezar Stadium. While most eyes will be on the quarterback battle between Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes, there are other vital questions that Stanford football needs to address. Here are five particulars to keep in mind while watching the Cardinal's Spring Game in the City by the Bay.

With the departure of Coby Fleener, is the Stanford offense transitioning away from its three tight-end look toward a more receiver-oriented set?

David Shaw has been primarily using only Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo throughout spring practice, a marked departure from 2011's three tight end formations. Is Davis Dudchock ready to assume a starter's role so that the Cardinal can preserve the "Tree Amigos"?

Early returns say that Shaw is heading in a different direction. Jamal-Rashad Patterson has been especially impressive in practice at wide receiver, prompting Cardinal enthusiasts to yell, "It's about time!" Ty Montgomery is the real deal, Drew Terrell definitely has the speed to be a weapon, and Jordan Pratt has also made nice catches this spring.

Based on this information, expect a more receiver-oriented offense out of Stanford at the Spring Game and in 2012, but keep a close eye should another tight end emerge.

Is Shaw planning to utilize Barry J. Sanders out of the backfield in a slot position?

Obviously, we won't find out for sure on Saturday, because Sanders and the rest of his heralded recruiting class is still in high school. But the thought of Stanford carving out an immediate perimeter role for the Hall of Famer's son is, at the very least, fun to think about.

Consider that the Cardinal have a stable of excellent returning running backs in Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and, if he doesn't go pro in baseball, Tyler Gaffney. Then consider that the offense's primary weakness last season was its lack of stretch-the-field explosiveness.

Enter Sanders, an athlete with dazzling speed who has the potential to create mismatches and headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. He reportedly has good hands, too. That could make him a versatile weapon who could split out of the backfield and wreak havoc in space, while Stanford's running back corps pounds opponents into submission with its downhill running.

Stanford may have that deadly dichotomy in store for fall. Look for possible hints Saturday.

Is Wayne Lyons the real deal?

The freshman cornerback missed almost all of 2011 with a foot injury, but his athleticism made recruiters nationwide drool. This past season, Stanford's defense was too slow for USC's prolific receivers and, especially, Oregon's jet-engine attack. Is Lyons a potential fix?

Never underestimate the utility of a true lockdown defensive back. His effectiveness can take away an entire third of the field, and that benefit alone can immediately make the rest of the guys out there look way faster.

Obviously, Lyons is still young and unproven, so it's unfair to assume that he will transform the defense right off the bat. But a first, long look at him in game-like conditions should give fans an idea of what to expect moving forward. Is Jordan Williamson mentally back on the horse?

This is the issue that nobody wants to touch, just because of how difficult it is to discuss how the Fiesta Bowl ended for the Cardinal. Moving forward, though, it can't be ignored: Stanford needs an effective kicker to be elite.

Williamson still appears to be Shaw's No. 1 guy, but Saturday's action will be his first in a game-like atmosphere since the debacle in Glendale. For a kicker, the spring game doesn't usually mean much. This time around, though, a good performance would mean the world for both Williamson and for the Stanford team.

Are the Cardinal planning to start one of their incoming star freshmen on the offensive line?

Stanford inked what was, by recruiting ranking measurements, the greatest offensive line class in the history of college football. With the departure of stalwarts David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, there are two openings in the unit that protected Andrew Luck last season.

During spring practice, incumbent left guard David Yankey moved over to left tackle. Does this mean that Shaw plans to move him back to guard when the incoming class arrives and let touted big men Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, and Joshua Garnett battle it out for the left tackle starter's spot?

It's rare to see a true freshman assigned to protecting a new quarterback's blind side, but with the talent arriving in Stanford's 2012 class, it's a definite possibility. Pay close attention to what the Cardinal do on the offensive line Saturday for some hints.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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