After Luke Kaumatule hauled in Kevin Hogan's crisp pass on a short hook pattern at one of Stanford's early 2013 spring practices, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound freshman turned upfield and crunched his way through Stanford's secondary. His combination of surprising nimbleness and expected dump-truck physicality punished defensive backs until they managed to drag him down about 20 yards downfield.
"Physically, [Luke] is as big as Levine Toilolo now," Coach David Shaw raved. "The amazing part is that Levine's a senior, and Luke's still a freshman."
That rumble after the catch represented one of many reasons Stanford finds itself so optimistic as preparations for 2013 continue. For the first time since Andrew Luck manned the controls, the Cardinal defense has not consistently overwhelmed its own offense during open exhibitions. Beef up front has breathed air into the offensive attack. Young, emerging players with tremendous upside, such as Kaumatule, are providing an added bonus. They're the ones administering the physicality that is leveling the playing field.
Consider as example another freshman who certainly doesn't look like one. Andrus Peat has layered his 6-foot-7 frame with 310 pounds of athletic mass. He's a gigantic emblem of Stanford's offensive line development. Whereas the Farm Boys' 2012 unit sacrificed a few pounds at most spots to maintain required agility, the 2013 offensive line is shaping up to feature a supernatural combination of size and quickness. Between Peat's emergence, David Yankey's shift to left guard, a larger replacement for center Sam Schwartzstein, and general offseason strengthening throughout all the diesel positions, the Cardinal's offensive line projects to average about 10 pounds heavier at each spot than last year's.
It's not a finished project yet by any stretch of the imagination. Development is ongoing, particularly in the case of tackle Kyle Murphy, a player Stanford envisions considerably heavier than his current listed 272-pound frame. But Shannon Turley-goaded physical progress has already begun to leaves its mark on the attack. Of course, Luck-era offensive domination is gone, but so is the offensive mess of 2012 spring practice, the ineptitude that foreshadowed the Cardinal's two gut-wrenching, zero-touchdown defeats at Washington and Notre Dame. A notably balanced and sharp Stanford squad has taken shape instead, one that is operating with a delightful combination of that maturing brawn up front and fresh excitement on the outside.
Reinforcements on the Way
Two waves of reinforcements are scheduled to further bolster Stanford's punch on both sides of the football. The first group of fresh bodies is expected April 1, when Stanford's second spring session starts. The second wave, the Cardinal's 2013 freshman recruiting class, is due on campus in the summer.
Second-session returners will generate plenty of buzz. Linebacker Shayne Skov, currently finishing the final portion of his DUI-related suspension, is expected to bring his usual dose of supercharged energy. Meanwhile, running back Tyler Gaffney's return from professional baseball could create an authentic deja vu experience on the other side of the football.
Skov's return is particularly intriguing. Coaches and training personnel have confirmed that his explosiveness did indeed improve on a weekly basis coming off his devastating 2011 knee injury. There is solid optimism bordering on certainty coming from the Stanford camp that the fifth-year senior will be better than his pre-injury self in 2013. That's a tantalizing thought when it comes to further improvement of a Cardinal defense that already returns the majority of an elite unit.
Ed Reynolds sat out much of Stanford's first session with a minor tweak in his leg. He's scheduled to return April 1, as is running back Ricky Seale, who tweaked his leg at the team's first open practice. Tight ends Charlie Hopkins and Eddie Plantaric are also said to be close to full readiness at the one spot where the Cardinal is currently in sore need of bodies. One tight end option, Alex Frkovic, has yet to participate in his recovery from a severe knee injury, while fellow tight end Davis Dudchock has missed time due to the passing of his brother.
The summer reinforcement wave will bring three more tight ends, all true freshman, with it. Though Stanford would probably prefer to let them acclimate to college football physically first, early playing time for at least one of those young tight ends is a possibility if the health outlook at the position is still bleak come August. Only time will tell if Greg Taboada, Austin Hooper or Eric Cotton gets an early shot.
Other muscle positions are also anticipating personnel boosts. Freshman Graham Shuler, coming off a first session absence due to a disciplinary issue, will jump into center competition with Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden, and Kevin Danser. Kevin Reihner, sidelined because of injury so far, also hopes to hop into that five-man fray sooner rather than later.
At the fullback position, expect to see Geoff Meinken continue to work his way into the serious mix as he re-acclimates to the football field following last spring's severe knee injury. Pat Skov will also bolster the position with big-time strength after tending to a family matter during the first spring session.
Stanford is only becoming deeper, stronger, and sharper as this offseason continues. Freshman linemen Nick Davidson and Johnny Caspers, who have both packed on over 20 pounds of muscle over the past several months, are exemplars of this progression. They represent the burgeoning physical depth that the Cardinal envision dominating the Pac-12 at the line of scrimmage.
The program, now operating in era that has featured an extra session of bowl practices for four consecutive years, is building on that additional work. Expect Stanford to be firing on all cylinders earlier this season, and don't be surprised if the Spring Game that ends the second session offers a compelling preview of a well-oiled 2013 machine.
Other Featured Stanford Spring Material from The Bootleg
First Session Practice Report
Projected 2013 Depth Chart
Offensive Development Report: Part 1 (Winning the Chess Match)
Offensive Development Report: Part 2 (All Positions)
Defensive Development Report: Part 1 (Interior Line)
Defensive Development Report: Part 2 (DE, LB)
Defensive Development Report: Part 3 (Secondary)
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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