Some Questions to Think About as Stanford Opens Fall Camp

Aug. 6, 2009

Stanford has shown marked improvement over the last two seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Cardinal seem poised to return to the bowl picture after seven straight losing seasons. As the Cardinal ready to open fall camp on Monday in preparation for the 2009 season, poses some questions and comments surrounding Stanford with the season-opener at Washington State now less than a month away:

How quickly will Andrew Luck take to the starting quarterback role?Consensus is the former five-star recruit has all of the talent and potential to follow in the long line of great Stanford quarterbacks. In addition to being immensely talented, Luck is also a very quick study and has already demonstrated excellent leadership skills. There are sure to be some natural bumps in the road that will be blamed on youth, but Luck's upside is huge.

What about Tavita Pritchard?While Luck emerged as the starter at the conclusion of spring drills, Pritchard remains very much a leader on this team. His experience as a 19-game starter will be invaluable to Luck's development this season. In the ebb and flow of any Pac-10 season, having two talented signal callers is a must.

How will the wide receiver position evolve?There were times last year Stanford had only three wide receivers at its disposal--Ryan Whalen, Doug Baldwin and Warren Reuland. The Cardinal enter fall camp with as many as 12 wideouts eager to make their marks on the depth chart. After catching just one pass as a freshman, Whalen took on a larger role in the passing game last year and finished with a team-high 41 receptions. Baldwin has shown flashes of being a big play threat while Reuland carved a niche for himself as the season progressed. Stanford should benefit greatly from a healthy Chris Owusu being available for the entire season after showing signs of his enormous potential in limited time last year. Stanford's ability to establish quality depth at this position could be contingent on the development of three talented freshmen: Jamal Rashad-Patterson, Jemari Roberts and Drew Terrell. The Cardinal is also eager to get a look at walk-ons Brad Busby and Sam Knapp.

Who will emerge from the log jam at tight end?Tight end might be Stanford's deepest unit, with three options for the starting role in senior Jim Dray, sophomore Coby Fleener and junior Konrad Reuland. Dray is listed atop the depth chart to start camp, while Fleener continues to impress coaches with his speed, athleticism and added strength. Reuland, who began his collegiate career at Notre Dame, is physically impressive. Stanford also signed four of the top tight end prospects in the nation in Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, Ryan Hewitt and Jordan Najvar.

Who backs up Toby Gerhart at running back?Most likely Jeremy Stewart, who was the workhorse of spring camp while Gerhart concentrated on baseball. While Gerhart was setting Stanford's single-season rushing record last year, senior Anthony Kimble quietly amassed 717 yards of his own. Together, Gerhart and Kimble distinguished themselves as the most productive running back tandem in school history. Gerhart will get the majority of the touches, obviously, but Stanford is counting on Stewart to take on a larger role this season.

How will the offensive line recover from the losses of stalwarts Ben Muth and Alex Fletcher?Muth and Fletcher left holes to fill at left tackle and center, respectively. However, the Cardinal feels as good about this unit as any on the team heading into fall camp. Stanford returns four players -- Chris Marinelli, Chase Beeler, Andrew Phillips and Matt Kopa -- who have combined to make 52 career starts, with Marinelli leading the way with 26. In addition, redshirt freshman David DeCastro has been penciled in as the starter at right guard and Martin will be given every opportunity to take over the left tackle duties.

Who takes over the kicking duties from Aaron Zagory?Of Stanford's personnel losses from last season, Zagory might be the most difficult to replace immediately. He made 14-of-17 field goal tries last year and his career percentage of .733 (22-for-30) ranks as the best in school history. Eric Whitaker and Travis Golia will compete for the starting job, with Whitaker perhaps having the edge in experience after handling kicking duties at Notre Dame during the 2007 season.

How will the linebacker rotation shake down?After playing the 'sam' linebacker position last season, veteran Clinton Snyder returns to the 'mike' position for his final year. Coaches feel the move will better utilize the fifth-year senior's speed and range. Keep in mind, he finished with 96 total tackles, eight sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss playing mostly at 'mike' two years ago. The other two linebacker spots will be the most hotly contested position battles of camp, as junior Chike Amajoyi will be pushed by redshirt freshman Max Bergen at the 'will' linebacker position while fifth-year senior Will Powers and sophomore Alex Debniak are in a dead heat for the 'sam' position. Highly-touted freshmen Shayne Skov will push for immediate playing time, as well. Talented walk-on Brent Etiz and Devin Guillory might also work their way into the fold.

Will Allen Smith be available at the start of training camp?No. However, Stanford is not ruling out the possibility of Smith returning to the field at some point during the season. A veteran of 23 games and 20 starts on the offensive line, Smith sat out all of last season while he was recovering from a torn patella tendon and a fractured knee cap suffered early in the 2007 season. Smith was making notable progress during spring drills before re-fracturing the same kneecap on April 1. If Smith is able to return at all this season, it will be an added bonus and will cap one of the most courageous comebacks in recent memory.

How will the secondary shape up?There are more moving parts in the secondary than any other unit on the team. Stanford seems loaded with options to fill a variety of positions at either cornerback or safety positions in order to strengthen a pass defense that allowed 226.7 yards a game last year. Fifth-year senior Bo McNally looks to be a lock at free safety while sophomore Delano Howell, who was recruited to Stanford as running back, transitioned to strong safety during the spring and was immediately moved to the top of the depth chart, which shows the level of confidence the Cardinal coaches have in this young player. The biggest surprise in the secondary might be Richard Sherman. After an injury-plagued 2008 season, Sherman text-messaged Coach Harbaugh to let him know he wanted to transition from wide receiver to cornerback. Although admittedly skeptical about the move, Harbaugh reluctantly agreed and by the end of the spring, Sherman was arguably the team's best cornerback. His size (6-3) and speed will be an asset and Harbaugh feels he might be the team's most physical corner right now. Senior Kris Evans, a 12-game starter a year ago, was limited in spring ball due to an assortment of injuries. Evans' absence opened the door for sophomore Michael Thomas and redshirt freshman Harold Bernard to open some eyes. Corey Gatewood, who played in just one game last year, will figure in the picture, as well, along with Taylor Skaufel and Sean Wiser.

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