Two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford kicks off the 2014 spring practice season today and the official start of a new campaign brings plenty of change on The Farm.
The Cardinal lose 11 starters from the 2013 roster, including All-American linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, safety Ed Reynolds and offensive guard David Yankey.
With plenty of new faces stepping into more prominent roles, head coach David Shaw faces challenges in getting the Cardinal primed for a third straight conference title.
Keep the "Party" Going
Cardinal defensive players dubbed their relentless blitz the "Party in the Backfield," and they were partying hard. Stanford led the nation in sacks in each of the last two seasons.
For opposing quarterbacks, it was less like a party and more akin to a nightmare. Stanford's terrorizing of Pac-12 backfields was the foundation for its defense, but it loses a ton of that production.
Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Shayne Skov and Josh Mauro were responsible for 29 of the Cardinal's 44 sacks in 2013. All are gone, leaving defensive coordinator Lance Anderson searching for replacements.
Anderson needs one of the outside linebackers he worked with as positions coach last season to fill the void the All-American Murphy leaves.
James Vaughters, Kevin Anderson and Blake Lueders may not match Murphy's nation-leading 15 sacks, but one of them could be key in getting the party started anew, with fifth-year seniors Henry Anderson (DE) and David Parry (DT) anchoring the line.
Restock at Running Back
A Cardinal running back has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last six seasons. Tyler Gaffney reached that milestone most recently, accruing 1,709 yards in 2013.
Gaffney's departure leaves Stanford with uncertainty at a position that has been a calling card during the program's ascent to the top tier of college football.
A successor can stake his claim to the vacancy in the spring. Candidates include Ricky Seale, Remound Wright and Barry Sanders Jr.
Shaw has favored employing a clear No. 1 back as opposed to operating by committee, a practice that dates back to his tenure as offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. Stanford last had two ball-carriers rush 100 or more times in a single season in 2008, when Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble carried 210 and 120 times, respectively.
Conversely, it has had backs surpass 300 carries in three of the last five seasons. Thus it's likely Shaw will prepare one of the players vying for the job for a heavy workload. The sooner he can get started on that process, the better.
Kevin Hogan Begins to Take the Next Step
Quarterback Kevin Hogan's performance in the Cardinal's Pac-12 Championship Game rout of Arizona State was perhaps his best since taking over the Stanford offense in November 2012. That Hogan is the version Stanford needs leading it in 2014.
He passed confidently, rifling a few throws to wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste for big gains. He stood tall in the pocket and extended plays against Arizona State's sack-happy defense.
"He's got a big arm," Shaw said in the postgame press conference following the 38-14. "He can make the big throws, and he's got a clear conscience."
The Sun Devils seemingly bring the best out of Hogan, who also rushed for 54 yards on six carries in the Cardinal's 42-24 victory over them in September 2013. While not a prototypical dual-threat quarterback, that facet of his skill set is one that can be developed into an X-factor next season.
Given the run-heavy nature of the Stanford offense, Hogan is unlikely to produce gaudy numbers. However, with almost two seasons of experience and a great corps of wide receivers around him, he can take the next step in becoming a standout Pac-12 quarterback.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.
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