Winter conditioning, spring practice, spring conditioning, and summer conditioning are all in the rear-view mirror, meaning that David Shaw will now have the chance to work with troops who are back in ideal physical condition. So the time is ripe to evaluate the roster and set the depth chart before the Cardinal's season opener. Here's a look around the field.
The Fight for Center
With Sam Schwartzstein graduated, Stanford's complex offensive scheme must find a new "quarterback of the offensive line." Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden, Kevin Danser, and Graham Shuler are all candidates for the center job, but Wilkes and McFadden are the two most likely replacements. Whereas Danser is the most physically imposing of the bunch, the prediction here is that Shaw will want him at right guard unless sophomore Joshua Garnett has taken significant strides over the summer.
Such a scenario is certainly not out of the question, so don't rule out Danser just yet. Still, our guess is for a fierce battle between Wilkes -- who has experience at the position after battling Schwartzstein for the job two years ago -- and McFadden, a former walk-on who is said to have an impeccable grasp of the playbook. Either way, it's a competition to keep a close eye on, because it has potentially major ramifications elsewhere on the offensive line.
The Receiver Question
With 88 percent of Stanford's 2012 receiving production gone, the team's wideout and tight end rooms will be tasked with quickly establishing a new identity. Ty Mongtomery and Devon Cajuste are the top two dogs now, but the Cardinal will certainly need production from more wideouts since there isn't a single tight end on the roster with a career reception.
Michael Rector is perhaps the most intriguing name in the mix, simply because he has demonstrated the burst necessary to reinvigorate the attack with much-needed explosiveness. Hybrid player Kelsey Young is likely to see more activity in the passing game too, and camp performances may go a long way toward determining just how much his involvement will increase within Stanford's 2013 scheme. Kodi Whitfield, Jeff Trojan, Jordan Pratt, and Conner Crane all will have a chance to earn looks during live game action. Freshman Francis Owusu is the new member of the crew.
Stanford's leading receiver in 2012 was a tight end (Zach Ertz), and though that trend seems unlikely to repeat this season, the Cardinal do need passing production from the position. That brings us to one of the most pressing issues of fall camp: will either gigantic sophomore Luke Kaumatule or redshirt junior Davis Dudchock emerge as reliable targets for Hogan? Remember that effective run blocking is the ticket to playing time. Eddie Plantaric and Charlie Hopkins have both slimmed down to add depth to the position, while three true freshman -- Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton, and Austin Hooper -- wait in case they're needed in 2013.
By the time his Stanford career is done, Alex Carter has a chance to become one of the defensive faces of the Pac-12. The physicality that he brought to the cornerback position as a true freshman was prodigious, and that side of Derek Mason's secondary should continue to wow onlookers this year. The Cardinal are in need of an emergence on the other side, though, and camp may begin to answer some questions about the positioning of Wayne Lyons, Barry Browning, Ronnie Harris, and even Usua Amanam as they jockey for the second cornerback spot.
Lyons and Browning are the two favorites here (they're both now fully healthy). Amanam has told The Bootleg that he's most comfortable at his hybrid nickel back spot, but he's taken reps at corner along with Harris, whose speed has drawn praise from Stanford receivers during practice. The Cardinal have a stable of athletes vying for playing time here, and that's before counting 6-foot-2 Ra'Chard Pippens, who broke up two passes in the spring game.
The competition to determine Chase Thomas' replacement on the second level will certainly draw attention throughout camp, but it's entirely possible that this battle may not be decisively settled in 2013. That's because Blake Lueders (healthy again) and James Vaughters are both too good to be wasted on the sideline, so they'll probably both have a chance to play. Vaughters has moved back from his one-year stint at inside linebacker because Stanford coaches see him as a deadly pass rushing missile when lined up on the outside. Lueders, meanwhile, brings his brute Midwestern strength to run scrums. Camp, then, will likely be more of a way for Derek Mason to figure out how exactly he's going to juggle the two players while also mixing in emerging talents like Kevin Anderson. Remember, this is sophomore Noor Davis' position too, so camp will allow the coaches to check in on his development.
Pecking Order on the Defensive Line
Position battles will rage throughout this Stanford program, even in groups where starting jobs have long been set. Henry Anderson, David Parry, Ben Gardner, and Josh Mauro are locks to be part of Randy Hart's high-motor rotation up front, but the Farm Boys certainly need more players to enter the fray so that they can maintain their fatigue-free, high-intensity style in the trenches. Many eyes, then, will be on sophomore defensive end Aziz Shittu (who saw game action last year) and his classmate Ikenna Nwafor, who has been physically transforming himself into what Stanford hopes is its next monster in the middle. Juniors Lance Callihan and Anthony Hayes will also have their chance to crack the rotation, while other second-year players like Jordan Watkins and Nate Lohn look to enter the spotlight after a year-long grind with Shannon Turley.
Ben Rhyne and Conrad Ukropina will fight to take over Daniel Zychlinski's vacated punter position, but an equally large question mark comes at the punt returner spot. Though he rarely made headlines, the graduated Drew Terrell was rock solid fielding kicks, and Stanford special teams coach Pete Alamar must find a dependable replacement. An entire bevy of players took reps catching punts in spring. They included Tyler Gaffney, who is said to have an excellent shot at the job because of his baseball outfielder's background. He already has an instinctual feel for a football's trajectory off the punter's foot.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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