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
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
Up and coming question: What redshirts develop
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 OPEN SPRING PRACTICES:
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
9:30--11:15am (This is a tentative open practice)
Saturday, April 11th
1pm Cardinal and White spring
Questions for spring
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