As we fly through the summer months, football rapidly approaches us. The first sign is Pac-12 Media Day on Tuesday. Training camp is a mere couple of weeks away. So while some focus on baseball, others vacation, it is never too early to take a look at Stanford football.
WILL A FRESHMAN START AT LEFT TACKLE? The national media will focus on the quarterback position. But my focus is on the offensive line because if Stanford does not find some offensive line replacements, it will matter less who wins the starting quarterback job because multiple quarterbacks will end up playing.
Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro have moved on to the NFL. Stanford seems good with Kevin Danser moving in at right guard. The coaches also seem determined to keep David Yankey at left guard. So who is left for tackle?
Cole Underwood was the number one option during spring ball. Brendon Austin saw some time as well. But the opening is there for the young freshmen class to come in and earn some playing time. Coaches did nothing during spring ball to dismay that idea. Body-wise, Andrus Peat appears physically ready to step in. Kyle Murphy is another top recruit that will battle for playing time. But the physical transition from high school to college is huge, and that does not even include the mental transition.
If Stanford is going to find success this season, a left tackle must emerge.
WHO WINS THE QB COMPETTION? The left tackle position is number one in my book but that does not mean the quarterback question is not huge. It seems to be neck and neck between Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes. For those that have watched during open practices, Nottingham seems to be the favorite. But the coaches are not publicly buying into that.
Physically there is not that great a difference between the two players. Nottingham may have an edge on some of the measurable, but it appears what the coaches want more than the physical is the mental. Which quarterback can master the offense and play mistake free football. The coaches were spoiled by Andrew Luck and all he could handle. The winner of this quarterback derby is not going to be who can throw it the furthest, it will be who can manage and handle the mental aspects of the offense.
WHO STEPS UP IN THE SECONDARY? The front seven at Stanford could be great with Chase Thomas, Shayne Skove, Terrence Stephens, Ben Gardner to name just a few. But in the secondary, the Cardinal will be looking for at least three new starters. The potential is there for Stanford to be even better this year in the secondary then last year. But the youngsters need to step up and prove it. There is an interesting 4-way battle at cornerback now with Barry Browning, Terrence Brown, Wayne Lyons and Harold Bernard. After a sophomore slump, Browning was getting rave reviews this spring. Brown continues to improve each year and coming off an injury, Lyons is ready to reach his potential.
The safety position has even bigger question marks with Ed Reynolds, Kyle Olugbode, Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards all in the equation.
Of course these eight names don’t include the incoming freshmen. Alex Carter is expected to earn some playing time at corner and Zach Hoffpauir at safety. The talent may be there in the secondary, but for now the defensive backfield is a question.
WHO STEPS UP AT WIDE RECEIVER? This seems to be a question every year. Sophomore Ty Montgomery is clearly the go to wide receiver, but who is next in line? Drew Terrell seems ready to go from special teams performer and fill in to a starter and regular contributor. Will Jamal-Rashad Patterson finally reach his potential? Keanu Nelson looked good in spring. What rookies will participate? With the departure of Coby Fleener they is less depth on a tight end unit that has suffered injuries every year. The wide receivers will need to be a factor even more so this year. Do they have the players?
CAN WILLIAMSON REBOUND? Losing the Fiesta Bowl on a missed field goal was sure tough for the fan base to digest. Imagine being the 19-year old that missed the kick. By all accounts Jordan Williamson took his missed field goal pretty tough. Time heals wounds, his teammates are there for him, the fan base will support him, but in the end, what is going through the youngster’s mind the next time he has an important kick? The margin of error for Stanford will not be great this year. They will need Williamson at his best, physically and mentally.
HOW WILL COACHING STAFF IMPROVE? Former head coach Jim Harbaugh always said the greatest improvement for players always takes place between the first and second year. We will see if that applies to the coaching staff as well. It is not as if the debut season of David Shaw and his staff was bad. But can you imagine a better scenario then stepping into your first season and having Andrew Luck as your quarterback? Luck is gone. Co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is gone. How does Shaw, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and defensive coordinator Derek Mason grow as coaches in the second year of their stewardship will be a key for this year and beyond.