Questions for spring

The 2015 football season has begun with the start of spring football

The 2015 football season kicked off on Monday for the Stanford Cardinal as spring practice is underway. As per normal, the spring session has been broken into two segments that will ultimately end with the Cardinal and White spring game on April 11th. There has been a lot of turnover on the Cardinal this year between a large departing senior class, 5th year transfers and early departures. There are holes to fill and positions available.

Spring practice is just the first step. While there likely won't be any answers this early, hopefully spring will at least give fans and coaches a glimmer of what could be this fall. Here are some of the things I'm looking for this spring:

The most interesting question: Who will be the backup quarterback?

2015 spring football actually kicks off the race for the 2016 starting quarterback job. Whoever wins the backup role this year will clearly have a leg up when Kevin Hogan leaves after this season. To generalize, the fan base seems to think Keller Chryst is an automatic to be the 2016 starting quarterback. Maybe he will win the job but don't count redshirt sophomore Ryan Burns out just yet. Burns was highly recruited for a reason. With only three quarterbacks on the roster, there will be plenty of snaps available for both youngsters. While redshirt freshman Chryst may be the favorite, you might remember that what Coach David Shaw seems to favor the most in his quarterbacks is knowledge of the playbook. Also keep in mind that Shaw has said in the past he wont go into 2016 with a quarterback that has never seen the field. So whoever wins the backup role will likely see game action in one way or another this year, again adding to the advantage that player will have for 2016. The competition is somewhat reminiscent of the duel between Kevin Hogan and Evan Crower to back up Josh Nunes a few years ago. Burns and Chryst enter camp tied in the competition. It will be interesting to see who emerges at the end of spring. Then we'll do it all over again during training camp. And then after that again in the........

The most needed question: Who earns playing time in the defensive line?

All three starting defensive linemen from last year are gone and the top returning player is recovering from injury. Yes, Stanford is desperate for not just one, but several players to step up and prove they are ready to play. With Aziz Shittu still recovering, there are plenty of snaps to be had and Stanford needs players to take a step forward. The roster alone shows the dearth of numbers. Only six players show up on the roster for defensive linemen and that includes Shittu. Stanford hardly even has the numbers to make it through practice and one can guess there may be a player or three converted for spring into the defensive line. Sophomore Harrison Phillips earned playing time as a true freshman. He'll need to take the next step this season. Redshirt freshman Solomon Thomas received great praise from the coaches and the practice team last year. He is another player coaches will hope is ready to step into a major role this year. Is senior Jordan Watkins ready to play? Nate Lohn? Then there is the potential of Luke Kaumatule who many felt wasted a year of development by being moved to tight end two years ago The opportunity is there for all of them. The need is there for all of them. Without them, the Stanford defense is going to be a lot different then what fans have become accustomed too. Coach Randy Hart has his work cut out for him.

The most fun question: How will the kids in the defensive backfield look?

Stanford has allegedly had a couple of pretty good recruiting classes in the defensive backfield. It's time to see if that is true or not and there will be plenty of opportunity for the youngsters to showcase what they have learned. Alex Carter and Jordan Richards are NFL bound. Wayne Lyons is off to Michigan. Kyle Olugbode has graduated. Zach Hoffpauir is playing baseball and there is some debate on if he returns. Ronnie Harris is the lone returning starter at corner and he wont be at spring practice due to injury. Let the young, fast and talented step up and show their wares. Terrence Alexander impressed as a true freshman. Alameen Murphy, Alijah Holder, Brandong Simmons, Denzel Franklin and Taijuan Thomas have all received praise for their talent. Former quarterback Dallas Lloyd and wide receiver Kodi Whitfield made the shift to defense last year specifically to be ready to play this year. Come fall the overall success of this unit will likely be a product of what happens in the defensive line, but with so many holes to fill and so many young players available, this should be one of the more fun competitions of the spring.

The big boy question: Who fills the offensive line gap?

I don't care who the quarterback is. I don't care who the running backs or wide receivers are. If you can't block, none of it matters. Andrus Peat is NFL bound. Kyle Murphy will move to the left tackle spot. So who fills in at right tackle for Murphy? Casey Tucker played as a true freshman back up to Peat last season. It seems he might have a slight edge entering spring. But Nick Davidson is a legit talent as well. At right guard Johnny Caspers started last year but never seemed to own the position. Does he improve this  year? Or can someone steal the gig from him with a great spring and training camp? Brendon Austin will compete at both guard and tackle, while David Bright and Brandon Fanaika will give Caspers a run for his money.

The smaller question: Can Barry be the man?

The first half of last season I remember a lot of people watching Barry Sanders run 10 yards at a time and then not get another touch until the next half. Why not give him the ball more people asked? I was one of those people. Then toward the end of the season Christian McCaffrey emerged as the playmaker and Sanders became more of an after thought. With Kelsey Young gone, Remound Wright is out the first session of spring for disciplinary reasons, the two healthy halfbacks are McCaffrey and Sanders. This is a real opportunity for Sanders to show the coaches what he can do and also what he learned. One of the reasons for his lack of playing time was the coaches didn't seem to trust him on pass blocking. Because of that when Sanders was in the game, everyone knew he was involved in the play. Eventually teams could key on that. This spring is an opportunity for Sanders to prove he can be an every down type of back. When the season comes along Wright will probably get the most playing time and McCaffrey will get more touches, but Sanders can earn a much larger role if he can prove he can be that all around back that Stanford needs.

Up and coming question:  What redshirts develop quickest?

We get so excited on letter of intent signing day. Here comes the new class! The reality is most of that class doesn't play the first year and redshirts. One of the great things about spring is when the redshirt comes off, which rising sophomores are ready to participate and earn playing time? I've touched on many players in needed positions especially on defense. But there are plenty of interesting prospects from the 2014 recruiting class. Wide receivers Isaiah Brandt-Sims and Addison Johnson come to mind. But there are many others from that class at every position. Who learned the most from their first year? Whose body changed the most? Who can start to earn playing time. There are sure to be more than a few rising sophomores who show the coaches it is their time.

Spring is always a time to shine for the youngsters. It is a time that position battle lines are drawn. Few things are won and lost in spring football but it makes for an important first step toward the season. And for those who go into football withdrawal as soon as the season ends, seeing some live action in the spring never hurts. While so many concentrate on March Madness, the start of baseball season, the playoff runs in the NBA and NHL, for many of us, college football is a year round sport and the year is officially underway.

Stanford football has several practices open to the public. Times are subject to change so confirm in advance.

Saturday, February 28th   9:30--11:50am
Saturday, March 7th         10-11:50am
Saturday, April 4th          9:30--11:15am (This is a tentative open practice)
Saturday, April 11th      1pm       Cardinal and White spring football game

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