2003 Stanford Football Outlook
July 16, 2003
Talk to second-year head coach Buddy Teevens about the 2003 Cardinal and he'll use words like consistency, strength, durability, endurance, work ethic, productivity and commitment. These are the tenets for the '03 season as the Cardinal attempts to erase the memory of the 2002 season and begin anew in bringing Stanford football back to the national spotlight.
And there's certainly reason for optimism in 2003. Teevens can count on eight returning starters and 21 returning letterman to a defense that has the potential to show vast improvement in '03. Offensively, the Cardinal has talent and experience at the skill positions, but must put together an offensive line that returns just one starter from last year's team.
'I was impressed with the work-ethic our team showed during the off-season,' said Teevens. 'There's no question that this team is committed to doing everything it takes to be a winner.'
Defensively, Stanford's young and inexperienced team of a year ago is now a more seasoned, veteran group consisting of players who saw significant playing time in 2002 and showed continued improvement.
Defensive lineman Amon Gordon and Louis Hobson return up front along with the starting linebacker corps of David Bergeron, Jack Covault and Jon Alston. In the secondary, the Cardinal returns starting corners Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, last year's leading tackler.
'We have a lot of experience coming back on defense,' said Teevens. 'We made progress last year, but now it's time for this group to emerge and play more consistently. With the experience we have, we expect that to happen.'
The Cardinal returns just three starters on offense and will have to rely on a group of young players to mature quickly, especially on the offensive line. Early departures to the NFL by all-conference tackle Kwame Harris - a junior in 2002 - and leading receiver Teyo Johnson - a sophomore a year ago - have hurt the team's depth.
'We have a question on the offensive line due to the limited number of people with playing experience,' said Teevens. 'It's a cohesive group, led by senior Kirk Chambers, but our challenge as a coaching staff will be to bring in some new faces and begin putting the pieces in place.'
'The quarterback position will be very competitive,' said Teevens. 'We do not have a returning player who has a lock on the position. Chris Lewis is the most seasoned of the group, but he will be pushed by Kyle Matter, who gained experience and maturity last season, and Trent Edwards, a very talented redshirt freshman.'
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2003 Cardinal:
Chris Lewis played only five games a year ago due to a rotator cuff injury while redshirt freshman Kyle Matter started the other six and received valuable playing experience. The question in 2003 is will Lewis return to the form that has allowed him to throw for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns, or will Matter continue to grow and mature into the full-time starter? Or, will redshirt freshman Trent Edwards be ready to compete for the starting job? All three options are possible. Whoever winds up in the starting role, one thing is for certain: Stanford must get consistent play out of the quarterback position to improve an offense that, at times, struggled to gain yards and produce points in 2002. 'It's one of the most competitive positions on the team,' he said. 'Chris is healthy again from off-season shoulder surgery and Kyle is physically maturing and learning a great deal from his experiences of last year. Trent showed his athletic ability during the spring and continues to show improvement.' Lewis is tied for seventh on Stanford's career touchdown list and has a chance to move into the all-time top-10 in virtually every passing category if he becomes the starter in '03. Matter completed 116-of-214 for 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns last season while starting six games, including the last five. Adding depth at the QB spot is junior Ryan Eklund, who has been a backup for the Cardinal the past two seasons and redshirt freshman David Lofton. Lofton redshirted the '02 campaign and was moved to wide receiver during the spring, but will begin the '03 season as both a quarterback and wide receiver. 'We need to be more consistent at the quarterback position, protect the football better and improve our accuracy in the passing game, ' said Teevens.
Junior Kenneth Tolon and sophomore J.R. Lemon return as the team's two experienced running backs. Neither has started or been the team's main rushing threat, but both have shown that they have the potential to fill that role. Tolon has rushed for 692 yards and seven touchdowns the past two seasons and his 5.8 yards per carry average during this time is the best on the team. He has two, 100-yard rushing games in his career. A year ago, he was third on the team with 346 yards on the ground while scoring a team-best four rushing touchdowns. Lemon received his first playing experience last season and showed flashes of his talent. 'We need to run the ball more effectively,' said Teevens. 'Both Kenny and J.R. are capable of becoming every down backs, but we need them to show more consistency and durability.' Redshirt freshman Gerald Commissiong, a converted defensive back, is also in the hunt for playing time at running back. At the fullback position, four-year starter Casey Moore has left a void that will be difficult to fill. The trio of returnees looking to earn the number one spot includes senior Cooper Blackhurst, last year's backup, junior Pat Jacobs and sophomore Kris Bonifas.
Luke Powell has caught 83 passes for 1,560 yards (18.8 ypc) and 11 touchdowns in his career and is the unquestioned leader of the Cardinal's wide receiver corps. He played at less than 100 percent last season with an ankle injury, but when healthy he is one of the most dangerous players in college football. Junior-to-be Teyo Johnson, the team's leading receiver last year, departed the Farm for the NFL, leaving with two years of eligibility remaining. A year ago, juniors Greg Camarillo and Nick Sebes and sophomores Grant Mason and Gerren Crochet received playing time in a reserve role. Mason finished fifth on the team with 23 receptions a year ago, but was moved to cornerback during the spring. Camarillo had eight catches, Crochet caught five balls and Sebes missed a month of the season with a knee injury. 'We have players who are capable of becoming major contributors this season,' says Teevens, 'and they will get their opportunity to compete for a starting spot.' Sophomore Justin McCullum and senior Brandon Royster are coming off injuries from a year ago, but are also in the mix to battle for a spot in the rotation. Others competing for playing time include senior Jay Goff and freshman Dan Knickerbocker and Chris Ryan. Stanford recruited a talented group of freshman receivers and some may be ready to compete for playing time in 2003. The group includes Mark Bradford, Evan Moore and Tim Sims. Bradford and Moore were prep All-Americas a year ago, but Moore will redshirt the '03 football season to join the Cardinal men's basketball program.
Stanford found itself thin at the tight end spot in 2002 after starter Brett Pierce was lost for the year in the season opener and true freshman Matt Traverso suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the year. That left Alex Smith as the starter and only experienced tight end on the team. Smith responded brilliantly by catching 30 passes, second best on the team, for 380 yards (12.7 ypc) and two touchdowns while starting the final 10 games of the year. With Pierce, a fifth-year senior and starter in 2001, and Traverso now healthy, Stanford enters the '03 campaign with three quality tight ends. Pierce has caught 26 passes for 299 yards (11.5 ypc) and three touchdowns in his career and was considered one of the best tight ends in the Pac-10 before his injury. Traverso is a talented second-year player who adds quality depth to the tight end position.
Three-year starter Kirk Chambers returns to anchor an offensive line that must rebuild with young players after losing four starters off last year's team. Chambers has started every game at left tackle over the past three years (34 straight) and enters the 2003 season among the best in the Pac-10. The early departure of First-Team All-Pac-10 tackle Kwame Harris to the NFL was a key loss for the Cardinal. Harris, winner of last year's Morris Trophy as the top lineman in the Pac-10, still had one more year of eligibility remaining. Surrounding Chambers will be a cast of young, inexperienced but highly motivated and talented players hungry for their chance to compete for a starting spot. 'We'll need Kirk Chambers to provide great leadership along with solid play up front,' says Teevens. 'There are questions that remain with the offensive line due to the limited number of players with game experience. With so many young faces, one of our primary challenges as a coaching staff will be to develop these young players and get them ready to play.' The only two players with game experience other than Chambers are senior Mike Sullivan and sophomore Brian Head. Senior Drew Caylor, who has started seven games at defensive end in 2001 and '02, was converted to center during the spring. The Cardinal's freshman class a year ago included seven offensive linemen, some of whom will find their way into the starting lineup in 2003. Chambers will start at left tackle with freshman Matt McClernan backing him up. At left guard, redshirt freshmen David Beall and Ismail Simpson will compete for the to spot. Another pair of redshirt freshmen will battle for the starting spot at right guard: Jeff Edwards and Josiah Vinson. Sullivan and redshirt freshman Jon Cochran are the two candidates at right tackle with Caylor, Head and redshirt freshman Tim Mattran competing at center. 'We will rely heavily on last year's freshman class,' says Teevens.
The Cardinal returns two starters and experienced players to a defensive line that has speed and athleticism and the potential to be a very solid group in 2003. Junior Amon Gordon and senior Louis Hobson both started at defensive end in 2002, but Gordon, at 6-3 and 285, was moved inside to a tackle position during the spring. Returning letter-winners Will Svitek, a junior, and sophomore Julian Jenkins spent time in the starting lineup a year ago and their continued improvement will play a key role in Stanford's success up front. Gordon, who started seven games at defensive end in '02, has five sacks and 12 tackles for loss in his career while Hobson, who started eight games last season, is the team' s leading returning tackler on the defensive line. Svitek started the first three games of last year at end before being moved to tight end due to Stanford's injury-depleted TE corps. Jenkins, a true freshman in 2002, started one and became a valuable reserve as one of two true freshman to earn a letter a year ago. Sophomore Michael Lovelady and redshirt freshman Taualai Fonoti, a converted linebacker, add depth at defensive end and will be in the hunt for playing time in 2003. Inside, the Cardinal must replace starting tackle Matt Leonard and nose tackle Trey Freeman. Junior Scott Scharff and sophomore Casey Carroll lettered a year ago at tackle and will compete for the starting spot in 2003 along with Gordon. Sophomore Babatunde Oshinowo was impressive in a reserve role last year at nose tackle and is the leading contender to start in '03. Carroll and senior Ian Shelswell will add depth to the NT position. 'We need to generate a greater pass rush and have more consistent play along the defensive line,' says Teevens. 'Our inside guys have to play at a higher level. We have some players at the end positions who have tremendous athletic potential and it will be crucial for them to continue to improve and heighten their play.'
The Cardinal returns its top six linebackers from a year ago and will begin the 2003 campaign with an experienced, season corps from which to choose. Both outside linebacker positions and the middle linebacker spot will be very competitive. For the record, Stanford returns all three starters in OLBs Jon Alston and David Bergeron and MLB Jake Covault. However, all six returnees spent time in the starting lineup last year. Make no mistake, sophomore Michael Craven, junior Jared Newberry and senior Brian Gaffney will be in the hunt for starting roles in 2003. 'We have some depth and experience at the linebacker positions,' says Teevens. 'A year ago, they were a young, inexperienced group. Now, we expect them to play like seasoned veterans.' Covault, the only senior in the group along with Brian Gaffney, led the linebacking corps with 52 tackles last season while starting nine games at MLB. Gaffney started the final two games of the year, finishing with 27 tackles. Bergeron, now a junior, was Stanford's starting OLB in 10 games last season. He will be moved to MLB for the '03 campaign. At the outside positions, the battle for the two starting spots is likely to be among Alston, Craven and Newberry. Alston started five games last year as a redshirt freshman and finished with 30 tackles and two tackles for loss. Craven started the first four games of the '02 season. He finished the year with 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception return for a touchdown. Newberry, a starter in three games, had 45 total stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Also in the hunt for playing time, both on defense and on special teams, are sophomore Capp Culver and redshirt freshmen Mike Silva and sophomore Kevin Schimmelmann, a converted safety. 'We need greater consistency and play-making capability from our linebackers,' says Teevens.
Three starters are back in 2003, including corners Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson, and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, but a question remains at the other safety position. Wilson and Torrence, both juniors, started all 11 games last year while redshirt freshman T.J. Rushing came off the bench as the team's third corner. Grant Mason, the team's third leading receiver last season, was moved to cornerback during the spring and proved that he will be a contributor in '03. That provides the Cardinal with four solid players from which to build. Torrence had three interceptions, five pass breakups and 38 total tackles last year, Wilson had two interceptions, six pass break ups and 32 tackles while Rushing had two INTs, 21 tackles and four tackles for loss. Atogwe, who started all 11 games at strong safety a year ago, led the team in tackles last year with 71 and was Stanford's most active player on defense. He also chipped in with three interceptions, one fumble recovery, three forced fumbles, four pass break ups, one sack and one tackle for loss in starting all 11 games. He was moved to free safety during the spring. 'We expect to perform at a higher level in 2003,' said Teevens. 'With three starters back, we have a more experienced, veteran group who continued to make progress last year.' The starting role at strong safety will be a battle between sophomores Timi Wusu, and redshirt freshman Trevor Hooper. Wusu played a reserve role last year, earning a letter mainly as a special teams player, while Hooper redshirted the season. Another redshirt freshman who will compete for playing time at safety is Marcus McCutcheon. Adding depth in the secondary will be Sophomores Calvin Armstrong and Nick Silvas and redshirt freshman Bryan Bentrott.
Both starting kickers return from last season, including P Eric Johnson and PK Michael Sgroi. Johnson, now a senior, has been the team's top punter the past two years. He averaged 39.8 yards on 58 punts last season and has a 38.1 career punting averaged. In his first season as the team's number one place-kicker, Sgroi connected on nine-of-15 field goals and 23-of-24 PATs despite suffering from a back injury most of the season. 'Eric has continued to improve as a punter, but we're looking for more consistency in 2003,' says Teevens. 'Sgroi has been through an off-season rehabilitation program to strengthen his back and we'll need him at full health to become more of a weapon.