Will an All-Around Running Back Emerge as a Leader?
Throughout the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era, Stanford has recruited and reloaded so well in the offensive backfield that there is now an assumption that the team will again make it work at the running back position. When Toby Gerhart graduated, Stepfan Taylor stepped in to become the Cardinal's all-time leading rusher. When Taylor left, Tyler Gaffney returned from minor league baseball to post one of the best single seasons in program history. Now, the spotlight again waits for someone else. There's opportunity this month for Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale, Remound Wright, and Kelsey Young to establish themselves as the solid all-around back that the Stanford offense needs to function efficiently (pass protection ability is vital). Shaw has again indicated that running back-by-committee is possible, but it's imperative that the Cardinal leave camp with at least one firmly trusted body in the backfield.
Who Will Fill the Tight End Void?
A year after notching about 100 grabs, Stanford tight ends caught only 10 passes throughout all of the 2013 season, and the resulting offensive void was massive. The Cardinal's attack was explosive last year, but a pro style offense needs the unpredictable block/catch tight end threat to achieve stable results, particularly in run of the mill third down situations and in the red zone (where, not coincidentally, Stanford's offense struggled last year). Youngsters Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada, and Dalton Schultz are in the mix to fill in this critical gap -- will one seize the opportunity over the course of this camp?
How Will the Linebacker Shuffle Resolve Itself?
Stanford has lost the starpower of Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. With younger talents like Peter Kalambayi, Kevin Palma, and Mike Tyler emerging, though, they may have more overall depth across the linebacker corps. Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters are the starters on the outside, while A.J. Tarpley, Blake Martinez, and Joe Hemschoot are all very trusted commodities on the inside. The main theme of training camp will revolve around how the shuffle of talent resolves itself. Where will formerly touted recruit Noor Davis fall into the inside mix? How much of an impact will Kalambayi have following his sensational spring? How will Hemschoot, the ultimate Swiss Army knife (he played on the inside, outside, and at nickel last year), be used in 2014? It's time to find out.
Will the Offensive Line Begin Gelling?
Talent is not a question for Stanford's big boys up front. All five projected starters are members of the Cardinal's heralded 2012 recruiting class, which featured an astounding haul of blue chip talent from across the entire United States. The only returning starter, though, is behemoth Andrus Peat. We know that he's bonded off the field with Joshua Garnett, Graham Shuler, Johnny Caspers, and Kyle Murphy. The next question, then: How quickly can the group bond on the gridiron during the chaos of an actual game? USC visits Stanford Stadium on September 6. Don't discount recruiting class of 2011 Brendon Austin, either. He was in line to be Stanford's next Ogre at the end of spring practice, but Shaw also noted that the senior, who moved from tackle, was making a strong push at right guard.
Will Leaders Emerge on Both Sides of the Ball?
Skov was famously vocal. Who will replace him as the emotional heartbeat of the Stanford defense? Meanwhile, where will central energy emanate from on offense? If Kevin Hogan can take the next step in his development at the quarterback position, perhaps he will become the glue that simultaneously stabilizes and energizes the Cardinal's attack. We have a strong feeling that Devon Cajuste's vocal, energetic personality will truly help spark the Stanford offense this year -- he does, after all, represent a wide receiver position group that may be the deepest this program has ever enjoyed. Training camp should begin to offer answers to the question of leadership.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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