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Stanford OL ready to face expectations

8/12/2014

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw hasn't forgotten about a bold proclamation he made on signing day in 2012, when he said the Cardinal's class of offensive linemen "could potentially be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history."

No big deal, just modern football history. That's all.

And he's not backing down.

"People have reminded me of my comments from that class and I stand by them," Shaw said Monday.

That's a head coach doubling down on a group that is still a little more than two weeks from starting its first game together. It's also a group tasked with replacing four starters that are currently in NFL training camps. Shaw didn't sound the least bit worried by what, on the surface, appears like a daunting task as he rattled off how he views each player's potential.

"[Left tackle] Andrus Peat, arguably the best tackle in America right now, [right tackle] Kyle Murphy is going to be one of the best tackles in America," Shaw said. "[Left guard] Josh Garnett, you're going to be talking about him as one of the best guards in America and you're going to be looking [at] Graham Shuler, [who] will be one of the best centers in America in the next few years.

"And I think [right guard] Johnny Caspers is going to surprise a lot of people because he's the guy in the class that nobody really knows about. Johnny Caspers is playing great right now. So you're looking at a group of guys, in my opinion, that are all NFL players. We're going to have an entire line that is NFL guys."

Although, the line's potential NFL pedigree is not exactly a change from the norm. Of the 10 starters that have departed the offensive line since the 2010 season, eight were either drafted or signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams.

When the group makes its first start together against U.C. Davis on Aug. 30, it'll be about four years in the making and a day Shuler is largely responsible for making possible. When it became apparent, early in the recruiting process, that Stanford had a chance to land several prep All-Americans, he became an extension of the coaching staff as far as recruiting was concerned.

The Nashville, Tennessee native made six trips to Stanford between the summer before his senior year and signing day so he could be there when Stanford was hosting other high-profile players.

"I would see what games Andrus was going to -- I would come out when he was going to be here, " Shuler said. "[Safety] Kodi Whitfiled, Kyle Murphy and Josh [Garnett], I would come out when they were going to be here. I just knew it was important for us all to be around each other and build those relationships."

And now?

"It's going to be hard to find us away from each other off the field," said Shuler, who is rooming with Peat during training camp. "It's a brotherhood unlike any position group."

Shaw said he doesn't remember another offensive line, anywhere, that was ever made up of five members from the same class, and the byproduct of that trait has inherent bonuses.

"There's a lot of times where they walk into the room, including Nick Davidson, all six of them walk in just because they've been hanging out, talking to each other," Shaw said. "With an offensive line, that is a strength because you need that group to operate like a cohesive unit and they already have some commonalities, familiarities, and they get along really well so I think that is an advantage."

While the talent is obvious and the potential will make it tough to temper expectations, no one at Stanford is expecting a fully-polished product once the season begins. Peat noted they've made big improvements from the spring, but "there's still work to do."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Peat the No. 9 overall prospect for the 2015 NFL draft, which means Peat would have to pull an Andrew Luck (turning down big money to return for his degree), for the group to return intact again next year. Based on Shaw's opinion of the others, he might not be the only one facing a difficult choose.

However, if Peat and Murphy were both to return, Shaw made another prediction: "If they're both back next year, I don't imagine you'll see two better [tackles] on the same team."