Stanford Moving Forward: Offensive Line

Will Graham Shuler win the center competition?

Stanford's offensive line loses four of five starters to graduation, yet there's a calm sense of confidence emanating from the program at the position. That's because Shannon Turley and Mike Bloomgren have done such a good job developing talent up front. Here are some of the challenges and decisions they face entering Spring practice.



Two Years Later: The Chance to Shine
Josh Garnett. Brandon Fanaika. Johnny Caspers. Andrus Peat. Kyle Murphy. Nick Davidson. Graham Shuler.

As the faxes trickled in on February 1, 2012, even the eyes of casual Stanford followers perked up, noticing the prodigious amount of beef that was signing with the Cardinal. Those with the future in mind immediately circled the 2014 season on their calendars, recognizing that year for its awesome potential: The beasts of the 2012 Cardinal offensive line recruiting class were expected to be developed upperclassmen by then.
 
In the blink of an eye, it seems, that fabled 2014 season of the future is upon us now. Spring ball kicks off next Monday, and that means the big men up front will again begin jockeying for position. Four of Stanford's five starting offensive line spots have opened up, so the day of reckoning for the touted class of 2012 has arrived.

Peat (6-foot-7, 312 pounds) who looks to be a surefire first round pick in next year's NFL Draft (should he declare), is the only returning starter at left tackle. Outside of that, this will be a rebuilding project for the Cardinal up front. But since Shannon Turley and offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren have amassed such an impressive reloading track record of trench development on The Farm, there's an aura of calm confidence surrounding it.

Projected 2014 Line
As of today, Garnett (6-foot-5, 316 pounds) is in line to assume David Yankey's role at left guard. Caspers (6-foot-4, 301 pounds -- over 30 pounds stronger now than his entry weight) is the favorite to take over for Kevin Danser at right guard, while Murphy's pristine footwork and 6-foot-7, 295-pound frame (up from only 272 pounds last spring) makes him Cam Fleming's logical successor at right tackle. There's less certainty at Khalil Wilkes' former center position, but most indications point to the arrival of Shuler (6-foot-4, 282 pounds). David Shaw frequently lauded the sophomore this past season, going as far as to call him Stanford's most athletic center since Jim Harbaugh's arrival in 2007. Shuler will likely have to add some bulk so that he enters the season at around 290 pounds, the approximate playing weights of both Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein.



A Shuffle for Extra Linemen
The projected Peat-Garnett-Shuler-Caspers-Murphy starting line would exclusively feature talent from the 2012 class. Of course, plenty of other bodies remain beyond those five, and that's where the competition of spring ball will become even more interesting. The Cardinal frequently use extra offensive linemen, and one such position that generates particular intrigue is the backfield Ogre spot, which Garnett and Caspers locked down last season.

If both of those juniors elevate to starting positions along the traditional line, Bloomgren will have several options at the Ogre. Dillon Bonnell manned the fort there in 2012, and he can theoretically return to action since he has a fifth year of eligibility remaining. Thomas Oser and David Bright, both of whom have begun to transform their bodies in several months of Turley training, represent a wave of versatile young linemen who may be ready to step in and contribute by the kickoff of 2014.

An excellent opportunity also exists for Davidson and Brendon Austin, two Stanford veterans who have been -- at least until now -- jammed behind the starting stalwarts on the depth chart. Both own prototypical tackle height: Davidson is listed at 6-foot-7, 289 pounds, while Austin checks in at a sturdy 6-foot-6, 304. Last season, Stanford used Murphy frequently in the jumbo tight end position, which effectively translated to an extra tackle blocking on the field. Assuming Murphy shifts to the standard right tackle spot, spring practice may provide clues regarding the direction in which Stanford will move at jumbo tight end. Davidson and Austin may well both be in the thick of that mix.

Former walk-ons Lucas Hinds (6-foot-4, 290) and Brian Moran (6-foot-7, 293) are also expected to provide depth in the offensive trenches.

The New Boys: Class of 2014
Moving further into the future, the Cardinal's incoming 2014 linemen all exhibit considerable potential. There seems to be an outside shot that physically complete Casey Tucker (at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, one of the top rated tackle recruits in the country) can immediately contribute as an extra offensive lineman. Peat, Murphy, and Garnett saw action during their true freshman campaigns, but the class of 2012's early playing time should probably be considered the exception, and not the rule. For most young Stanford linemen, an intense phase of physical transformation begins as soon as Turley's program begins. Tucker, Reilly Gibbons, Austin Hall, Jesse Burkett, and Brandon Fanaika (returning from his LDS mission) will all be introduced to this beating heart of the Cardinal program once summer rolls in.

That's been the backbone of the Cardinal's remarkable success up front, and that's why there's so much optimism surrounding the offensive line even in the face of this season's departures. Excellent recruiting and coaching has put Stanford in a continuous reloading cycle up front, one in which sustained strength and success has become the expectation on The Farm. Spring practice will be an integral portion of the 2014 restocking process, so pay close attention to the Cardinal's competition up front.

Stanford Moving Forward: Quarterback (Pt. 1)
Stanford Moving Forward: Running Back (Pt. 2)
Stanford Moving Forward: Wide Receiver/Tight End (Pt. 3)






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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