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
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
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
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.
Forward: Quarterback (Pt. 1)
Forward: Running Back (Pt. 2)
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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