Stanford BEgins Spring Practice Today

Feb. 24, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. - While the calendar shows the first day of spring is still a little more than a month away, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford Cardinal will get an early jump on the 2009 season when it holds the first of an NCAA-allotted 15 spring practice sessions today on Elliott Field.

Stanford's spring starting date is the earliest of all Pac-10 teams, if not the nation.

The Cardinal will once again split up its spring practice schedule, holding the first eight sessions between February 24 and March 8. Stanford will reconvene on April 1 for the beginning of the second spring session, which will culminate with the annual Cardinal and White Spring Game on Monday, April 13.

Harbaugh welcomes back a total of 50 letterwinners from last year's team that finished with a 5-7 overall mark and a 4-5 record in the Pac-10. Included in the mix are 15 players (eight offense and seven defense) who started seven or more games last season.

Harbaugh will use the spring sessions to evaluate players who are in the mix for starting roles in 2009, particularly on defense and at quarterback.

Key competitions on defense involve the secondary, where Corey Gatewood, Quinn Evans, Michael Thomas and Mark Mueller will battle for starting jobs at either cornerback position. Senior Brian Bulcke and sophomore Matt Masifilo will compete for a starting role at defensive tackle and redshirt freshman Alex Debniak figures to push fifth-year senior Will Powers for the starting job at the 'sam' linebacker position.

The most-watched position battle of the spring figures to be at quarterback, where two-year incumbent starter Tavita Pritchard figures to be challenged by redshirt freshman Andrew Luck. Luck has been slowed for the past month while recovering from mononucleosis, but is expected to be on the field for the first spring practice session. Junior Alex Loukas, who last season saw his first significant playing time of his career, will also be in the mix.

'There will be about 100 reps per session which will be divided as evenly as possible,' said Harbaugh. 'It's going to be a good competition and we'll see if we have a definitive starter coming out of the spring.'

One of the biggest developments of the spring is the expected return of Allen Smith to left tackle. Smith was considered one of the Pac-10's most-talented offensive linemen heading into the 2007 season before tearing his patella tendon in the third game of the season against Oregon. He suffered a major setback last spring when he fractured his knee during rehab, which sidelined him for the entire 2008 campaign.

'Allen will be available, but he needs to be ramped up to get to full speed,' said Harbaugh. 'We want to push the envelope without getting him hurt. Our doctors and trainers think he's ready to go.'

The most notable position change heading into spring ball involves sophomore Delano Howell, who will transition from running back to strong safety. Harbaugh makes no bones about Howell's spot on the depth chart.

'He's our starting strong safety from Day 1.'

Toby Gerhart, who broke Stanford's single-season rushing record last year as a junior, will miss spring drills due to his baseball commitments. Gerhart's absence will open the door for junior Jeremy Stewart to get more carries at a position where Harbaugh notes depth is a concern.

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