Stanford Football: 5 Spring Practice Positional Battles to Watch
5 Spring Positional Battles Worth Watching
Coming off a Pac-12 title and its second-consecutive Rose Bowl appearance, the Stanford Cardinal football team has a lot to prove in 2014.
Before they can worry about the regular season and winning games, though, the Cardinal must fill the numerous voids left this offseason by graduations and departures to the NFL.
On the offensive side of the ball, Stanford lost four of its five starting offensive lineman, leaving left tackle Andrus Peat as the only returning starter. That mean’s they have to find four new starters for an offense that thrived on shoving the football down opponents’ throats. It also means they’ll have to find four new starters to keep starting quarterback Kevin Hogan protected from the vicious pass rushes of the Pac-12.
The Cardinal will also be looking for a new running back after Tyler Gaffney’s eligibility ran out. Even the fullback spot will need to be reloaded after Ryan Hewitt graduated.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinal will be looking to replace several key starters, including Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Josh Mauro and Ed Reynolds. The depth chart is solid along the defensive line and in the linebacking unit, but concerns on the backend of the defense could cause some problems early in 2014.
One way or another, it’s going to a long spring for Stanford as they look for ways to replace all of the production that left campus after an outstanding 2013 campaign.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five positional battles that will rage on throughout spring training for the Cardinal.
The battle to replace Khalil Wilkes as the starting center could end up being one of the tightest throughout spring practice. The two candidates, senior Kevin Reihner and junior Graham Shuler, have yet to see significant snaps for the Cardinal. While Shuler was the higher-rated prospect coming out of high school, Reihner has more experience with the offense and better size. It’s hard to gauge who will win this competition considering their inexperience, but early indications have Shuler coming away victorious.
It’s not going to be easy for Stanford to replace the production they got from Murphy, who tallied 32.5 sacks during his time in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have James Vaughters entrenched on one side, but will look to either junior Kevin Anderson or senior Blake Lueders to fill the void that Murphy left in his wake. Both put up similar production in 2013, but Anderson showed more playmaking ability – see Rose Bowl pick-six. Lueders is expected to see the field in 2014, but will likely have to settle for backup duties.
While not as meaningful as some of the other battles, it’s still important for the Cardinal to find their backup quarterback. The assumed No. 2 is senior Evan Crower, who has backed up Hogan for the last year and a half. Crower, however, is facing stiff competition from redshirt freshman Ryan Burns. Unfortunately for Burns, he’s missing the first half of spring practices for “disciplinary reasons,” which could cost him an opportunity to overtake Crower. Incoming freshman Keller Chryst is a long-short to earn the job, and will likely redshirt during his first year on campus.
There aren’t any concerns at strong safety with Jordan Richards returning, but free safety is one of the biggest question marks on the roster. After the early departure of Reynolds and the graduation of a couple others, the Cardinal are searching far and wide for options. Former quarterback Dallas Lloyd and wide receiver Kodi Whitfield both switched positions to battle with Zach Hoffpauir and Kyle Olugbode for the starting job. Whitfield and Hoffpauir are considered the top candidates to win the competition, but anything can happen considering the uncertainty surrounding the situation.
The most intriguing battle of spring practice will provide Barry Sanders Jr. with his first opportunity to secure a significant role in the Stanford offense. Before he does that, though, he’ll have to outperform upperclassmen Remound Wright and Ricky Seale. Wright, a junior, saw the most action last season, picking up 102 yards on 20 carries. Sanders managed 42 yards on five carries, and also saw action as a punt returner. Seale, a senior, appears to be the odd man out, but could change his fortune with a strong spring. Chances are Stanford will take a running-back-by-committee approach in 2014, but someone could emerge as the featured back in spring. Here’s to hoping Sanders can live up to the hype.