There are two groups of Cardinalmaniacs™ - those who group Cardinalmaniacs™ into two groups and those who don't. But a different segmentation of this Boot-population finds those who are enthused for depth chart analysis versus those whose eyes glaze over while depth chart talk induces deep and sudden sleep.
But the fact of the matter is that on the offensive line today, the depth chart is much more than a curiosity for fans who like to look to the future or analyze intra-team competitions. At this moment, the bodies are becoming scarce and we have to take a hard look at how this team can furnish a solid front five to keep the offense moving.
In Saturday's game against Arizona, we twice saw starting interior linemen go down and be helped off the field. Paul Weinacht went down with a knee injury, followed later by trainers tending to Greg Schindler on the ground. Weinacht did not return, while Schindler did after a brief absence. As of Monday afternoon's practice, Stanford fans should expect the same news on these two veteran guards. The doctors were still examining Weinacht at that time, and Buddy Teevens could not give a definitive word, but all signs point to the worst news on that knee. Expect to hear at today's press conference that corrective surgery will be needed and that Paul Weinacht is done for the season and his Stanford career. The injury, FYI, was one of those things that simply makes football an unavoidably brutal game, with a player being knocked down into his lower leg, causing his knee to buckle - nothing malicious and nothing illegal. Nothing that could be prevented with any amount of conditioning or training. Just bad luck to a fifth year senior who has been a tough and selfless player throughout his Stanford career, regardless of where he has been asked to play on the O-line.
Greg Schindler did not suffer the same, and merely took another beating to a body that is fast approaching something akin to Frankenstein's monster. Through this season, the fifth year guard has taken injuries and beatings to his shoulder, back, knee and ankle, but has played every snap that he has been able to physically stand for. Halfway through this season, I would name Schindler as the toughest warrior and most inspirational player on this team with how he has continued to fight through injuries and somehow play at an increasingly high level. Teevens calls him "one of the toughest human beings I've ever met," and positively beams at the mention of the man. Despite Greg's worsening physical condition, this O-line has come together and played better and better through the last three games. Though he might stay out of some practice action this week, Schindler is absolutely determined and expects to start at right guard this Saturday and the remainder of the season.
Dustin Stimson started the year off as a deep reserve after he missed summer workouts and even the very first of fall training camp with some personal matters he had to tend to. The good news is that he did come back to play football and has surprisingly played himself into the top reserve on the interior offensive line. The bad news is that he did return out of shape after missing all of that work, and is likely playing below his peak capabilities while playing somewhat overweight. Stimson should replace Weinacht at the starting left guard position, leaving Brian Head as the top reserve at all three interior positions from this point forward. The good news with Head as backup is that he can reasonably play center as well as the guard positions, so he can seal up the interior positions.
But the great concern is that with five games to go, it is entirely likely that Stanford will face one or more injuries on this line. Schindler could go down at any moment, which would push Head into duty and leave no obvious bodies left to back up the guard and center positions. Several possibilities include: playing frosh linemen out of their redshirts, moving Drew Caylor over to the offensive line or moving some of the reserve tackles inside.
The third of those scenarios is the one Teevens and the staff wants to go with right now. Edmund O'Neal has taken snaps through several of his years on The Farm at guard as well as outside at tackle, so his move inside is not a great stretch. Mike Sullivan has played both offensive tackle and tight end in important spots this year, and though he has very seldom taken a snap at guard is the more proven quantity in practice and in games. Expect that Sullivan would be the next guy to play at guard if a second injury strikes. If something were to happen to Stanford's star duo of tackles in Kwame Harris and Kirk Chambers, Sullivan would be the top reserve to play outside, which would necessitate O'Neal to play inside.
An offensive line with both Sullivan and O'Neal on the field for first string game action is frankly not an attractive proposition for Stanford football, but talking with Buddy Teevens I believe he might very well take that scenario above the other alternatives. Drew Caylor has played on the offensive line earlier in his Stanford career, and by all accounts is an exceptional athlete who can get to a high level of play on very little notice when switching sides of the ball. But with the current tight end situation, Will Svitek is being used as an important second TE in heavy formations, which leaves the strongside defensive end a little thin. Caylor is not completely healthy himself, but he is needed to rotate with Amon Gordon at that position. Teevens does not want to move him across the ball and leave DE so exposed.
The last possibility involves playing one or more of the redshirt class of offensive linemen, but Teevens and the staff are hell-bent on avoiding that. Not only do they want to protect the individual futures of these kids and not burn one year of eligibility for possibly sparse action late in this season, but the staff wants to keep the group together to play for the next four years. That all being said, the one true freshman who is on alert for greatest readiness is David Beall. Should injuries strike in the above scenarios that stretch Head, Sullivan and maybe O'Neal too thin, Beall is the guy who is best suited to play because of his repetitions at both guard and center, as well as his physical readiness. An important reason Teevens does not want to have to play Beall is the mental readiness, given that he and his redshirt classmates have been spending the bulk of this season taking scout team snaps. He simply does not have the repetitions and command of the offense, which could set him and the offense up for disaster by playing him now.