Will the Stanford secondary situation begin to sort itself out?
A multitude of questions faced the Stanford secondary at the onset of spring ball. Who would replace Ed Reynolds at free safety? What was the succession plan for Usua Amanam at nickel back? Come fall, would stud cornerback Alex Carter be available again?
The Cardinal made strides addressing some of these issues, but final answers aren't expected until preseason camp in August. The tail end of spring ball saw interesting position switches on the official roster: Dallas Lloyd moved to strong safety, while Kyle Olugbode shifted to free safety. Olugbode is the frontrunner to replace Reynolds right now, though Kodi Whitfield has an entire summer in front of him to learn the playbook. Meanwhile, Zach Hoffpauir, an intriguing wild card in the whole secondary shuffle, will also eventually throw himself into the mix, but he's still playing baseball right now.
We do now know that Stanford plans on using Wayne Lyons in Usua Amanam's vacated nickel back role. Lyons will shift over from his regular cornerback position to fill that spot on passing downs. Ronnie Harris, who carried his ascent over into spring, will likely take over at cornerback during those situations.
Alex Carter missed all of spring practice with what Shaw is terming a
"lower body issue." The staff says they expect him to be ready for
the season. If he isn't, the Cardinal's contingency plan likely
includes Lyons, Harris, and some untested depth at cornerback:
Ra'Chard Pippens, Taijuan Thomas, and Chandler Dorrell all did
good things this spring.
So as of now, the Cardinal's most likely secondary alignment looks like this: Carter (CB), Lyons (CB), Olugbode (FS), Jordan Richards (SS). That's not set in stone, though, and the depth situation behind that potential frontline is more unclear yet at the moment.
How quickly is Luke Kaumatule catching on at defensive end?
The six-foot-seven, 265-pound Hawaiian has intrigued players and coaches with his raw potential. After moving back from the offensive side of the ball in 2013, Kaumatule has worked to learn Stanford's defensive playbook so that he can become a regular part of Randy Hart's rotation up front in 2014.
During the open sessions in spring ball, Kaumatule played exclusively with the second team at defensive end. He impressed in spurts, registering consecutive tackles for loss in one of the Cardinal's Saturday scrimmages. Kaumatule, though, faces a situation similar to Lloyd and Whitfield's in the secondary. Since Kaumatule is a recent offensive convert, he has been waiting for the long upcoming offseason stretch to fully absorb the new playbook so that he can unleash his physical potential on the field. Along those lines, this summer will be very important for his development.
Are Stanford's current freshmen on track for significant action next year?
Early returns regarding player development of the 2013 class appear promising. The tight end position, in particular, looks to have at least two legitimate new contributors in Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper. At receiver, Francis Owusu looks physically ready to add yet another weapon to the Cardinal's perimeter attack. Linemen, because of the physically strenuous requirements of their position, are typically later bloomers, but Dave Bright has strengthened himself enough to enter the competition at right guard (though junior Johnny Caspers is the favorite to win there). Unfortunately, Thomas Oser suffered a significant knee injury in March. He had also been developing well, but now faces several months of rehabilitation.
Defensively, Stanford's young linebackers took some promising steps during spring. Outside 'backers Peter Kalambayi and Mike Tyler both played exceptionally well during the spring game, while bulked-up inside man Kevin Palma also posted several productive weeks. Moving to the secondary, Thomas isn't tall, but he can provide immediate depth thanks to his quickness and coverage talent. He's an explosive athlete, so a chance at special teams contributions isn't out of the question, either.
What does the current offensive line two-deep look like?
Spring ball answered a number of questions regarding the probable complexion of Stanford's first team offense, but many practice battles remain before the offensive two-deep can be finalized. Here is our current list of projections. After reading some tea leaves, we've given Evan Crower the nod over Ryan Burns at backup quarterback. The running back situation remains wide open, though Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders impressed most during the spring game. (The program said that Young, who injured his right arm on that day, will be "healthy and ready to go for fall camp.") Receiver may be Stanford's deepest position, and that means players not listed below will contribute in 2014. The starting line is more or less set, though Shaw has noted that Johnny Caspers' right guard spot may still be up for grabs. Brendon Austin and Bright are both in that competition, while Austin is the favorite to take over for Joshua Garnett at the supplementary Ogre position.
QB: Hogan, Crower
RB: Young, Sanders (Wright, Seale also in the committee approach)
FB: Ward, Skov
TE (pass focus): Cotton, Hopkins (Dalton Schultz has a chance to make noise here)
TE (block focus): Hooper, Taboada
WR (big): Cajuste, Pratt
WR (speed): Montgomery, Rector
LT: Peat, Davidson (Casey Tucker may be ready to provide immediate depth)
LG: Garnett, Austin
C: Shuler, Reihner
RG: Caspers, Austin
RT: Murphy, Davidson
Ogre: Austin, Bright
Is the tight end position really on track to make a comeback in 2014?
The Cardinal certainly hopes so. A year after enjoying 93 catches from its tight ends, Stanford saw only 10 receptions at the position in 2013, with nary a touchdowns. This outage undoubtedly contributed to the boom-or-bust instability of the Farm Boys' offense, which was very explosive yet very inconsistent. Cotton, Hooper, and Taboada all have impressive size, and Stanford hopes that their block-catch versatility can steady the offense's intermediate passing attack.
Cotton appears to be the most explosive out of the bunch, so he logically fits into a Zach Ertz-like role allowing him to also occasionally split out wide. Hooper is rugged physically, so he will be asked to contribute in the short passing game and the in-line blocking department. Taboada is also developing, and it will be interesting to see where he and incomer Dalton Schultz fit into the mix come August. The team is currently in the midst of its most strenuous conditioning phase of the year, and solid strengthening under Shannon Turley during these months is vital for this young crop of Stanford players, especially since they play at a position where "people moving" is such an important part of the job.
This much is for sure: The Cardinal have confidence in their youngsters at the tight end position. That much was clear throughout spring ball, when they supplanted Charlie Hopkins and Eddie Plantaric on the first-team offense. Plantaric and Chris Harrell, in fact, have moved to fullback. That's another sign that Shaw is confident that his young horses can develop to give Stanford what it needs at tight end.
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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