Spring Football Preview

It's time to gear up for Stanford football this spring, which provides a lot of questions to be answered. The staff is starting from scratch as they evaluate their personnel, but the Bootleg knows who are the candidates to make a splash this spring. Terry takes a look at each position in a preview of 2002 Spring Football.

Stanford kicks off spring football practice this week, giving fans their first look at the 2002 Cardinal.  We will see new coaches, new schemes on both sides of the ball, and a number of new starters.  There's a mixed sense of opportunity and uncertainty this spring.  We don't know what to expect from the new coaches, the new Spurrier-style offense, or the new defensive scheme.  With only 10 returning starters, there will be more starting positions up for grabs than in recent years.  I hope to make it out to practice several times this spring to see what's happening.  Here's what I'll be watching:

Quarterback

Chris Lewis has more experience than any new Stanford starter I can remember.  As a back-up QB for two seasons, Lewis has thrown for an impressive 2,456 yards and 20 TDs.   Stanford will be in good shape with Lewis at QB.  A more interesting question is whether the back-up QB will be Ryan Eklund or Kyle Matter.  Watching practice last fall, I thought Eklund had the stronger arm, while Matter did a better job of reading defenses and finding the open receiver in a timely fashion.  Stanford will be installing the Spurrier offense that Teevens learned at Florida.  It will be interesting to see which of the two reserve QBs does a better job of mastering the new offensive scheme.  We need one of these two players to emerge as a capable back-up.

Running Back

Kerry Carter essentially has been a co-starter for the last three years, rushing for 1,515 yards and 21 TDs, and he will be solid.  The player I really want to see at RB this spring is freshman J.R. Lemon.  However, Lemon may be rehabilitating his shoulder, so we may not have a chance to see him this spring.  In addition, Carter and Ken Tolon, who has proved he's a good RB, reportedly may miss spring practice as well.  That would give the sole remaining RB, Justin Faust, a lot of playing time and a chance to impress the coaches.  But Faust can't take all the reps at RB.  I'll be curious to see whether someone else lines up at RB.  One possibility would be fullback Casey Moore.  The Spurrier offense does not use a fullback much, favoring one-back sets.  It would be a waste of talent to keep Moore on the bench, and he has the ability to be the RB in a one-back set.  Another possibility is Brandon Royster, who was an RB as a redshirt freshman before moving to WR last spring.  From a scheme standpoint, I will be watching the role of the RB in the passing game.  Spurrier used the RB as a receiver quite a bit last year, averaging 6 completions per game to the RBs.  That would be a change for Stanford, which has not thrown much to the RB since the Walsh II era ended.

Fullback

The main question about the fullback position whether there will be a meaningful role for the fullback in the new offense.  At Florida, the fullback rarely touched the ball and wasn't on the field for the majority of the snaps.  In my opinion, Casey Moore needs to be on the field and needs to get the ball on occasion.  Either the role of the fullback needs to be larger than in the Spurrier offense, or Moore needs to get some snaps at RB. I hope the staff will find some way to get Moore involved in the offense.

Tight End

I doubt there is any team in the Pac 10 that can match the receiving ability of Stanford's three tight ends -- Brett Pierce, Darin Naatjes, and Alex Smith.  The question will be whether Stanford is able to find a way to make full use of their abilities.  The Spurrier passing offense is not oriented toward the tight end.  Last year, Florida threw to the tight end only slightly more than Stanford did.  I will be watching to see how the tight ends are used in the new offense.  In particular, I would like to see a bigger role for Alex Smith, who is a talented receiver.  One uncertainty is whether Naatjes' baseball commitment will allow him to spend much time on spring football.

Wide Receiver

The Spurrier offense uses a lot of 3-WR and 4-WR sets.  That's a good match for Stanford's personnel, because wide receiver could be Stanford's deepest position.  Luke Powell and Teyo Johnson will hold down two spots in the WR rotation.  I will be watching the battle for the other two or three regular slots.  Ryan Wells has the advantage of experience, and he's a good blocker who runs good routes.  I've been very impressed by what I've seen in practice from Justin McCullum and Grant Mason.  I also like Nick Sebes. There are a lot of talented players fighting for WR spots.  It's a good problem to have.

Offensive Line

Stanford has experienced starters at four of the five offensive line positions -- LT Kirk Chambers, LG Paul Weinacht, RG Greg Schindler, RT Kwame Harris -- and Tom Kolich should be the starter at center, having been the back-up last year.  The uncertainties on the offensive line involve the reserve positions.  Stanford has no experienced OL reserves.  There aren't many reserve offensive linemen practicing this spring, due to low recruiting numbers on the OL in the last few years and the fact that the big incoming recruiting class of OLs won't arrive until the fall.  I'm hoping that a couple capable reserves emerge this spring from the group including G/C Dustin Stimson, G Brian Head, T Mike Sullivan, and T Edmond O'Neal.  If Sullivan and O'Neal don't impress this spring, then I wonder whether we will see Drew Caylor back on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens at the strongside defensive end position, where four players are competing for one spot.  Amon Gordon, who last year played mostly at rush end in the nickel defense, has moved to the strongside DE position, which is probably a better fit for him.  Mark Anderson, who redshirted last year, was one of the nation's top recruits.  I expect good things from him.  Drew Caylor started some games last year at strongside DE as an injury replacement.  Will Svitek didn't play much last year, but has a lot of athletic ability.  That's a lot of talent at a single position.  I wonder whether all of these players will stay at this position. On the other side of the line, the rush end position seems to be Louis Hobson's for now, absent a strong push by Mike Lovelady.  The two tackle positions are pretty well set, with Matt Leonard, Craig Albrecht, and Trey Freeman rotating.  I'm curious to see the freshman tackles, Casey Carroll and O.J. Oshinowo, because they likely will be starters in 2003 and beyond.

Linebacker

Stanford is shifting from a defense with one outside linebacker and two inside linebackers to a defense with two outside linebackers and a middle linebacker.  I don't know whether that's just a change in terminology, or an actual change in scheme.  That's one of the things I'll be watching.  There are no returning linebackers with significant experience. At middle linebacker, there is a competition among Brian Gaffney, Jake Covault, Jared Newberry, and Kris Bonifas. Gaffney probably enters the spring with a slight advantage because he has played the most, but I would not be surprised to see someone else emerge as the starter.  At the strongside linebacker position, I think David Bergeron is the likely front-runner over Scott Giles and Capp Culver.   The weakside linebacker most likely will be Michael Craven.  Jon Alston, who is listed at the same position as Craven, was very highly rega


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