Stanford Spring Game Breakdown: Offense

FB Lee Ward

Stanford's defense controlled much of the spring game, but some productivity came from the Farm Boys' offense in the second half, even it was mired in inconsistency. Here's a rundown:

  • Stanford's youth and inexperience at the people-moving positions of offensive line and tight end were apparent whenever the offense faced the first-team defense, particularly along the right side of the offensive line. Some of these struggles are not surprising, since defense is typically ahead of the offense in terms of playbook installation during spring ball. Some furious blitzes, particularly inside stunts, disrupted Kevin Hogan's unit early.

  • Still, there were some particularly poor results for Stanford's retooled front that in turn suggested that some new Cardinal starting talent stands much to gain from Shannon Turley's upcoming conditioning phase. A.J. Tarpley storming through the offensive line virtually unimpeded to pancake Johnny Caspers comes to mind.

  • Stanford's line, though, did accomplish some good things. Barry Sanders, in particular, saw success running between the tackles on a handful of plays that featured good blocking at the point of attack. Caspers, Kyle Murphy, fullback Lee Ward, and tight end Austin Hooper did particularly solid work on some runs to the right side. Sanders finished with 68 yards on 12 carries. All told then, "inconsistent" may be the most appropriate word to describe the efforts of the Cardinal's hogs up front.

  • Remember, Mike Bloomgren is replacing four of five starters on the offensive line. Left tackle Andrus Peat, left guard Josh Garnett, center Graham Shuler and right tackle Kyle Murphy look to be entrenched in their positions, while Shaw noted that Caspers has a smaller lead at right guard. Brendon Austin, who sat out Saturday with a minor knee injury, and Dave Bright, who played second-team right tackle, are expected to continue battling for Kevin Danser's old position.

  • Speaking of Sanders, he had his best public collegiate showing on Saturday. He also put some of his nifty moves on display during a 16-yard gain off a screen pass. At this point, Sanders is a good bet for playing time in 2014, as is Kelsey Young, assuming he recovers quickly from an arm injury sustained Saturday. Noor Davis barreled over him on a second-half blitz after a pass-blocking attempt that will require significant improvement. As Young fell to the ground, his arm caught under an offensive lineman. Young left the stadium in a sling, and Shaw said his right arm would require x-rays. 

  • Stanford tight ends caught 93 passes in 2012 before hauling in only 10 balls in 2013. Given the infusion of young tight end talent, the position looks poised to rebound this season. Eric Cotton had a fine spring game, which included an athletic touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone. Shaw emphasized that blocking would be the most important factor as he evaluates the Cardinal's tight ends, so it's necessary to note that Cotton did an excellent job locking up James Vaughters on Sanders' 29-yard run, the offense's longest scamper of the day.

  • Stanford thus used Cotton successfully as an in-line blocker and as a receiver split out wide. He can still benefit from a few extra pounds of muscle, but it's clear that the Cardinal see significant potential for versatility in No. 80, allowing him to fill into a Zach Ertz-like role once he fully develops. Shaw has also expressed enthusiasm regarding Hooper's versatility (who also saw first-team action), while Greg Taboada participated with the second team. At the very least, there's a clear changing of the guard happening at Stanford's tight end position: Cotton and Hooper have replaced Charlie Hopkins, a 2013 first-teamer, in the top unit. We'll see where Dalton Schultz fits in come Fall.

  • While Turley's training phase will be of utmost importance to some of Stanford's younger O linemen, Ward looks as if he's in midseason form. His tank-like play at fullback paved the way for several productive runs.

  • When Ty Montgomery returns, Stanford's offense will receive a welcome boost from its most dangerous weapon. The unit will also benefit from greater access to its playbook. As expected, Saturday's public showing featured only vanilla looks -- there was very little, if any, lateral running action to keep the defense honest.

  • That long throw to Stallworth was quarterback Ryan Burns' best toss of the afternoon. The redshirt freshman, who displayed good mobility on the day, bought time by rolling right before slinging the ball downfield. Outside of his raw physical skills, though, Burns' game is clearly still a work in progress: He stared down cornerback Chandler Dorrell on an early pick-six, forced some more dangerous throws, and struggled to send Owusu in motion with proper timing early on, causing his receiver to collide with fullback Pat Skov as the ball was snapped. But Shaw did emphasize that Burns is currently developing at the same rate as all other Stanford quarterbacks did at his age (with the exception of Andrew Luck, who happened to be in attendance). Obviously, this summer will be vital for Burns as he works to master the playbook and put himself into position to compete for the backup quarterback job.

  • It's always tough to get a gauge on Kevin Hogan's play in practice situations in which he is not live, simply because Hogan's style of play almost requires running and contact. But Hogan did make one unmistakably bad decision when he telegraphed an interception to John Flacco. He was shaky in the first half, but rebounded in the second when Stanford began featuring Rector and Cajuste off play action. The secondary struggled with those matchups, and the Cardinal's passing game finally found a rhythm.

    Cajuste told The Bootleg that the key to increased success was better protection up front. Now, after watching Stanford's performance Saturday, it's safe to say that may be the key of 2014 season: The effectiveness of the Cardinal's retooled line will determine how effectively the Farm Boys can utilize their deep stable of aerial weapons.

    David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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