Stanford Football: 5 Spring Practice Keys for the Andrew Luck-Less Cardinal
We interrupt the worldwide outbreak of Linsanity with this important update on Stanford football. The Cardinal begins its 2012 spring practice on February 27. It seems like only yesterday they were just a chip-shot field goal from defeating Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
(By the way, Justin Blackmon sure looked faster than a 4.6 in that game.)
Since then, coach David Shaw has experienced the agony and ecstasy of being a BCS head football coach. His star LB Shayne Skov was arrested for DUI; his co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was hired away by the Raiders; and national signing day was a bonanza, as the Cardinal pulled in a trio of 5-star recruits en route to a class ranked in the top five nationally.
Those 22 recruits won't arrive in Palo Alto until late summer. Turn the page for five key areas for Farm fans to focus on during spring practice.
Who Follows Luck
Andrew Luck had an historic QB career for Stanford, and should be the top choice in the NFL draft (and hey have you heard the rumors that RGIII, although listed at 6'2", may actually be closer to 6 feet even? Can you say, A-n-d-r-e-W-a-r-e?).
Enough about Luck. To paraphrase the great (and apparently bankrupt) Allen Iverson, we're talking about practice. Spring practice.
Brett Nottingham could be the heir apparent to Andrew Luck. After all, he took almost a full game's worth of snaps in 2011, threw a long TD pass to TE Coby Fleener and played high school football with TE Zach Ertz.
Nottingham will be challenged by upperclassmen Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes (who was injured in 2011), along with talented freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan, both of whom were rated among the top 25 HS QBs nationally in 2010.
Stanford's offensive line and backfield should be among the nation's best, such that even an Alex Smith type of "game manager" could lead the Cardinal to a winning season. But another BCS bowl will require more than that.
Nottingham, nicknamed "The Sheriff" by some Farm fans, has his opportunity to seize the reins as Stanford's next great QB.
Beset by a season long series of injuries, the 2011 Stanford defensive backfield was the team's Achilles heel, surrendering over 250 yards per game and intercepting only six passes.
Three starters—safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas and CB Johnson Bademosi—and three backup DBs graduate. The only returning starter is junior CB Terrence Brown, who started nine games, had 32 solo tackles and picked off OSU's Brandon Weeden in the Fiesta Bowl.
While incoming freshmen Alex Carter and Zach Hoffpauir could play this fall, the Cardinal's 2012 spring practice will be critical in determining who will emerge among several returnees with significant game experience.
Candidates to step into starting roles include juniors, CB Usua Amanam and safety Myles Muagututia, both of whom played in all 13 games last season.
Sophomores CB Barry Browning (three 2011 starts) and FS Devon Carrington (12 games played, 20 solo tackles) and freshmen CB Wayne Lyons and Jordan Richards (13 games played) all saw action in 2011 as well, but Browning and Lyons were limited by injuries.
These six returnees will have a little over a month of spring football to prove their ability, and durability, to Coach Shaw and his staff.
Graduating senior WRs Chris Owusu and Griff Whalen combined for over 90 catches, 1,100 yards and six TDs in 2011.
Freshman sensation Ty Mongtomery will return. In the Fiesta Bowl, he torched Oklahoma State for seven catches, 120 yards and a TD bomb and added 48 yards on kick returns.
But who will replace the production of Owusu and Whalen, the former walk-on who became Andrew Luck's favorite target? Four incoming freshmen, led by Kodi Whitfield, could contribute immediately.
Meanwhile, spring practice will focus on juniors Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson, who, aside from Montgomery, are the only other returning WRs who caught a pass in 2011.
Terrell is listed at 5'11", played in all 13 games and had eight receptions, including one TD catch. More recognizable as Stanford's punt returner, Terrell had 18 returns for over 210 yards, including a nifty 26-yard return in the Fiesta Bowl. He made honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a punt returner for the second straight year.
Patterson is a giant at 6'3", 208. A former 4-star recruit from Georgia, Patterson has run track for Stanford and has the size to dominate Pac-12 DBs—which he has yet to do (three receptions in 2011, nine total in his three Stanford seasons).
He'll get another chance to step up during spring practice.
Filling Fleener's Shoes
During the Harbaugh/Shaw era, the tight end position has been showcased in the Stanford offense. The 2011 Cardinal offense was at its most deadly with a three-TE set featuring Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and towering 6'8" Levine Toilolo.
All three were largely uncoverable by opposing LBs or safeties, and Andrew Luck had a knack for finding his TEs for long gains off play action.
Now, Fleener is off to the NFL, projected as one of the top TEs in the upcoming draft. While Stanford's 2012 recruits were arguably the best in school history, there was nary a TE among the 22 recruits.
Which leaves two returning starters and some question marks.
Ertz caught four passes, including a 16-yard TD, in the Fiesta Bowl. He was a favorite target of QB Brett Nottingham during their high school days at Monte Vista HS in California. The two connected on 12 touchdown passes in the 2008 season. It will be interesting to see if they can recapture the magic during spring ball.
Toilolo, like Ertz, averaged over 13 yards per catch in 2011. He may have only scratched the surface of his potential. He's had some injury issues so far at Stanford, and will need to stay healthy in 2012.
Other possible TEs include Ryan Hewitt and Davis Dudchock. Hewitt was originally recruited out of high school as a TE, but starred at FB for the 2011 Cardinal. He blocked well and scored five TDs on passes out of the backfield.
Dudchock saw some action in 2011 but did not have any receptions. A former consensus top 25 high school TE from Alabama, Dudchock can use spring ball as a springboard to a key role in 2012.
The biggest unanswered question for Stanford remains the status of star LB Shayne Skov.
Everyone knows the story. Skov was the physical and emotional leader of the 2010 defense, with a resounding three-sack, 12-tackle performance against Virginia Tech in the 2011 Orange Bowl.
He then blew out his knee at Arizona last September, just three games into the 2011 season.
Just when it looked like he was ready to make a return to the playing field, he was arrested last month on a DUI charge. Since that story first broke on February 6, there's been not a further word on Skov's status from Coach Shaw or the authorities.
The last Stanford athlete to be arrested for DUI was women's basketball guard JJ Hones. She was promptly kicked off the team by coach Tara Vanderveer, allegedly due in part to the DUI being one of multiple transgressions by Hones.
Skov's absence for even part of the 2012 season could be costly. The Cardinal host presumptive conference favorite and aspiring national champion USC in their third game, on September 15.