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Stanford Football: The Year of the Linebacker

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Stanford Football: The Year of the Linebacker

A conversation with Jim Rutter from thebootleg.com, Stanford's scout.com page.

 

Tavita Pritchard is in a QB battle with Michigan transfer Jason Forcier.  It seems like it is Pritchard's job to lose.  Does Pritchard benefit from this competition, or does it take away from his reps and hurt his progression from a raw QB to a strong Pac-10 signal caller?

Competition is critical.  Tavita is a great guy, and yes, he helped us knock off USC in crunch time, but has yet to show he can play a complete game and get us wins.  Alex Loukas is definitely in the mix as well, largely because Forcier showed very little in the spring game.  The fall will be interesting.  Freshman Andrew Luck looks like the real deal.  Stranger things have happened…

 

Starting RB Anthony Kimble played solid when healthy last year, rushing for 509 yards on 115 carries, highlighted by over 100 yards against TCU and Oregon.  Who do you see relieving Kimble of carries and emerging as the change of pace back?

Toby Gerhart, if he's healthy and keeps playing football, would be my starter over AK, but they would both see time.  A healthy Gerhart is a 1,000-yard rusher waiting to happen.  Jeremy Stewart is a good "change of pace," but I am pretty excited about incoming freshman Delano Howell, who plays all-out.

We will see in the fall.  You never know about new kids until they strap it on against college players.  Former team member Tyrone McGraw would have helped add some variety, but we can only play with guys on the squad.

 

The Wide Receiver situation appears to be a bright spot on the offense with Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin, and Ryan Whalen all returning.  Sherman looks to be the number one receiver after 581 yards as a freshmen and 651 yards as a sophomore.  Can you talk about the development of the young receivers?

Richard Sherman just needs to mature emotionally and become a leader.  Baldwin shows flashes, but has to take the job.  There is a lot of buzz surrounding the arrival of freshmen Chris Owusu.  Also, watch out for redshirt freshman tight end Coby Fleener.

 

The offensive line for Stanford was the weak link of the team, allowing 48 sacks, which was fourth worst in Division I-A football.

In fairness, we were hit pretty hard with injury in ‘07.  We lost starting OT Allen Smith for the season, who will also miss the 2008 season.  We also lost TE Jim Dray for the season, and his availability in 2008 remains in question.

Honors candidate fifth-year senior Alex Fletcher moves to center.  Gustav Rystedt and Andrew Phillips should be solid at the guards (with OK transfer Chase Beeler working his way into the rotation).  Chris Marinelli is becoming an outstanding right tackle.

The big question mark: Can Ben Muth handle the left tackle position?  Big if, but we are hopeful.  Part of the susceptibility to sacks was having a strong-armed but less than mobile QB in T.C. Ostrander.

It also didn’t help that we ran out of running backs when Gerhart was lost for the season, Kimble was banged up, Stewart got hurt, and we were left with fourth-string Jason Evans, who played awfully well before being lost for the season with a knee injury.  When no one is running the ball, it is easy for teams to attack the QBs, especially ones whose WRs aren’t getting open.

 

With multiple tight end sets, the interior of the line was protected but still struggled.  Given the talent will not significantly change, what can Harbaugh do to succeed offensively despite a group that lacks ability to compete in one on one matchups?

Who says the group lacks one-on-one skill?  I like the guys we will have out there this year better in that respect.  Evan Moore and Mark Bradford are wonderful guys but struggled to get open.

The starting WRs this year will be quicker. The talent is changing—Sherman, Baldwin, Fleener, maybe newcomer Owusu.  We will know in the fall whether either of the Reulands is ready to be a factor.

What can Harbaugh & Co. do?  Take more risks, open things up on offense.  We were about as predictable on offense last year as we were under Walt Harris, which was scary.  I don’t think the staff felt that they had the talent to take chances—a mistake if you ask me.

We scored all of 14.5 points per game in the second half of the season, never scoring more than 21 points…and we were fortunate to win a couple of those games.

 

Pannel Egboh and Ekom Udofia combined for 21 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.  They lead a D-line that does a solid job penetrating into the backfield.  Historically, limited depth has caused inconsistency on the defensive line over the course of games.  What is the depth situation this year, and might it be a less of a drop-off then last year?

Depth is currently the best it has been.  Udofia staying healthy for a season would be nice.  A front four of Lorig, Bulcke, Fua/Udofia, and Egboh with rotation in of guys like Masifilo, Udofia/Fua, and McGillicuddy is all we need if they can stay healthy.  Derek Hall, Levirt Griffin, and Matt Bentler could all help.  It will be intriguing to see if highly-touted Chase Thomas can help at rush DE.

 

Linebacker seems to be the team's most experienced and talented unit.  Clinton Snyder led the way last year with 98 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and eight sacks, and was named to the Bronco Nagurski watch list.

Although undersized, Pat Maynor does a great job reading offensive linemen, allowing him to play on the other end of the line of scrimmage.  He racked up 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.

Rounding out the group on the weak side this year will be Chike Amajoyi.  Another great blitzer, Chike totaled four sacks and 47 tackles last year in a limited role.  Will these talented linebackers be able to solidify Stanford's defense in the same way Penn State's LBs have?

The starting LB corp is a definite strength.  Snyder will be used in a lot of different ways.  Will Powers will be used as well.  Watch for Max Bergen to make some plays in a reserve role.  Amajoyi was a nice surprise as a true freshman.

 

The defensive backs really struggled in 2007, giving up big plays not only in the passing game, but in the running game as the last line of defense.  Stanford was 77th in rush defense and 84th in pass defense.

Wopamo Osaisai returns at corner, possessing great speed.  Bo McNally returns at safety with Austin Yancy.  McNally is on the watch list for the Ronnie Lott Trophy this year with 114 tackles and two picks in 2007.

What can we expect out of this unit considering three starters are returning?  Can this pass defense eliminate the big plays that haunted them in 2007?

TBD—I sure hope so.  It will be a big key to the season.  We will certainly miss Nick Sanchez’s nose for the ball, but he was banged up a lot.  Osaisai should be much improved.  McNally is a playmaker.  Yancy is no lock to start.  Taylor Skaufel gets some of his reps.

CB Kris Evans came on strong at the end of the year.  Corey Gatewood is very fast and is going to be very good.  Mark Mueller is showing improvement and could provide some breathers.

 

Lastly, where will they finish in the Pac-10?  Can Cardinal fans expect a .500 season?

If you promised me a healthy Gerhart, I would say yes.  As it is, I would say we will have to remain relatively injury-free to have a shot at a .500 record.  We have less depth than many schools for a variety of reasons.  We also have to replace all of our specialists from the special teams unit, which isn’t always smooth.

Tough schedule!  The opener vs. OSU is pretty critical.  Our defense will be very good, but the offense is totally unproven when it comes to consistently scoring enough points to win games.

5-7 or even 4-8 wouldn’t be an embarrassment, depending on how close the games are.  6-6 would get us a minor bowl and really help show progress to recruits.  7-5 or better, and we are back in business and will have a monster recruiting class for ’09, which we may have regardless!

I go into every game thinking we can win, but without Cardinal-tinted sunglasses, this team will have to work VERY hard to get six or seven wins, playing only five home games and playing in a tough conference.

The good news is that some of the Pac-10 schools won’t be as good—UCLA, Oregon, OSU, and others may not be quite as good.

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