The Pac-12‘s teams are stocked with experienced offensive linemen heading into the 2013 season, and a year after many teams shuffled their front five and started young players, the O-lines could be the most improved unit conference-wide. Seven teams return four of their five starters from last season, but none are as highly-touted as the Stanford offensive line, led by All-American David Yankey.
Yankey, a junior, is a natural at guard, but he excelled after moving to left tackle for the Cardinal, where he started every game last season. His fellow starting offensive linemen around the conference were impressed, voting him the 2012 Morris Trophy winner.
He’s set to return to left guard in 2013, with sophomore Andrus Peat taking over at left tackle. As a true freshman last season, Peat got significant playing time at both tackle spots, appearing in every game but one.
With an extra season for Peat’s knowledge of the playbook and the position to catch up with his considerable talent, he and Yankey are expected to form one of the strongest left sides in college football. But what about the rest of the line?
The Cardinal have to fill a 6’2″, 292-lb. hole in the middle of the line following the graduation of center Sam Schwartzstein, a two-year starter who was the line’s unquestioned leader and a second-team All Pac-12 player in 2012. The post-spring depth chart lists Khalil Wilkes, Kevin Danser “OR” Conor McFadden as the new center.
Danser, a redshirt senior, stepped in at right guard last season, playing every game in the spot vacated by All-American David DeCastro. He quickly became a second team All Pac-12 player, but ESPN.com Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell believes the addition of Danser in the mix at center is a hint that true sophomore Josh Garnett is ready to take over at guard.
Garnett was the first true freshman to start on Stanford’s O-line since 2000; he was a key backup throughout the season and even played some snaps at fullback. If the former five-star recruit takes over as the starter at right guard, the more experienced Danser could slide over to center to replace Schwartzstein.
Senior Cam Fleming is slated to start at right tackle again this season, but sophomore Kyle Murphy, another true freshman contributor for the Cardinal in 2012, will push him for playing time. Murphy played both offensive line and “jumbo tight end” last year, and he’ll be primed to step in for Fleming next season, if not before.
The Stanford offensive line will be young, but unlike many other talented young players, many of the Cardinal’s already have a year of experience, either as starters or backups. Even in a conference with so many solid returners, it’s rare to have an offensive line with the talent, experience and depth Stanford has coming into 2013.