NCF Nation: David DeCastro

Yankey's departure not a surprise

January, 13, 2014
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Stanford left guard David Yankey's decision to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft ranks right up there with the least surprising declarations of the offseason.

Yankey could have easily justified a jump to the NFL after last season, when he was a consensus All-American and named the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman. Instead, he returned for what most assumed would be one final season on the Farm.

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAfter a 2013 season in which he was named a consensus All-American and the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman, David Yankey is headed for the NFL.
It's a decision the Stanford coaching staff saw coming years in advance. If not for an injury in 2010 -- when he became the first Stanford offensive lineman in 10 years to play as a true freshman -- he'd already be out of eligibility, and it became clear early on in 2011 to offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren that Yankey was destined for the NFL.

There were times that season when Bloomgren, now the offensive coordinator, had trouble finding Yankey on film. It wasn't a bad thing, either. It was because Yankey, in his first year as a starter, played so similarly to junior right guard David DeCastro that it was easy to confuse the two. That's high praise considering DeCastro was a finalist for the Outland Trophy that season and the first offensive guard taken in the 2012 NFL draft (No. 24 overall to Pittsburgh).

How the Cardinal moves on without Yankey appears to be fairly clear cut.

Rising junior Joshua Garnett, who started in place of Yankey at left guard against Washington State and saw regular playing time this season in Stanford's formations that utilized extra linemen, should have an easy transition into the starting lineup. Whether that's at Yankey's left guard spot or at right guard, where Stanford loses Kevin Danser to graduation, remains to be seen.

Johnny Caspers was listed as Danser's primary backup this season and will likely enter spring practice as the favorite to replace him.

The Cardinal will also have to find a new starter at center with Khalil Wilkes out of eligibility and potentially at right tackle as Cam Fleming has yet to announce publicly whether he'll return for his final season of eligibility or enter the NFL draft. The deadline to declare is Wednesday.

Kyle Murphy would likely have the edge over Brendon Austin at right tackle if Fleming leaves, and the center competition will start with Graham Shuler and Kevin Reihner.

Left tackle Andrus Peat, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season, is the only starter guaranteed to return from an offensive line that ranked seventh nationally in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (4.14).

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.

Offense

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.

Defense

LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.

Stanford's Oregon problem

November, 16, 2012
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Stanford is 31-5 since the beginning of the 2010 season. The Cardinal have lost three games during that span by a combined 14 points, and two of those were in overtime.

And they lost the other two, both to Oregon, by a combined 44 points.

Stanford has an Oregon problem.

"I think the entire conference has an Oregon problem," Stanford coach David Shaw countered reasonably.

True that. Oregon is on track for its fourth consecutive outright Pac-12 title. As ESPN's Brad Edwards noted this week : "If [the Ducks] can win [the Pac-12 title game] again this season, they will join John McKay's USC teams from 1966 to 1969 as the only groups in the history of that conference to win four consecutive outright titles."

[+] EnlargeJosh Huff, Kenjon Barner
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireOpponents haven't been able to slow down the Ducks' potent offense for four quarters.
So Oregon is historically good.

And Stanford, though on a historically good run for its own program, has been Wile E. Coyote to Oregon's Road Runner.

Stanford (8-2) will get another chance to change that Saturday in Autzen Stadium, with ESPN's "College GameDay" on hand. The stakes, just like the previous two seasons, are big. The winner takes control of the Pac-12 North Division. The Ducks, of course, need to win to remain in the national title chase.

Shaw didn't hold back praising Oregon (10-0) this week. It could be gamesmanship, but Shaw also seems to genuinely appreciate what coach Chip Kelly has built at Oregon. As Shaw said: "Great athletes, great scheme in all three phases."

"They know how to adjust those schemes based on what you are doing, which to me is the biggest key," he said. "You don't see them stopped for long. If you're doing something that is slowing them down, they are going to make a tweak and make you pay for it."

Well-put. That about sums up Oregon.

And yet ... what about Oregon's injury-riddled defense?

"It doesn't matter," Shaw said. "They put young guys in there, they put new guys in there, and those guys go out there and play great."

Maybe. But maybe not.

There are cracks in the Oregon facade, mostly because a number of front-line players on the Ducks' defense -- once a nationally elite unit -- are questionable or out for Saturday.

Safety Avery Patterson is out for the year with a knee injury. You might recall Oregon previously lost All-America safety John Boyett to a knee injury. Defensive tackle Wade Keliikipi also is almost certainly out with a leg injury.

Also banged up and of questionable health on the defense: DE/DT Taylor Hart (foot), DE/OLB Dion Jordan (shoulder), DT Isaac Remington (ankle) and NT Ricky Heimuli (knee). And backup cornerbacks Troy Hill and Dior Mathis didn't play last weekend against California, which is why word coming out of practice this week was that De'Anthony Thomas was taking reps on defense.

That's a lot of banged up high-quality players, particularly on the defensive line. The past two weeks, Oregon has had to rely on three true freshman D-linemen -- Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci -- often playing them at the same time.

While Stanford's offensive line is not what it was last year with David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, it still is an above-average unit, one that likes to go mano a mano in the trenches. It's certainly much better than the Cal unit that did a fairly good job against the Ducks last weekend.

So the Cardinal may be able to control the football with Stepfan Taylor running the ball, though you can expect Ducks "Stop the Run First" defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti to dare Stanford to throw the ball with redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, who is making his first road start.

But the bigger issue, as usual, is slowing the Ducks' explosive offense, which has gashed Stanford the past two years with big plays -- seven TD plays of 25 or more yards, not including a 40-yard pick-six last season.

Stanford has the nation's No. 1 run defense, but few teams run the ball as well as Oregon. And Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota leads the nation in passing efficiency.

Oregon, particularly playing at home, seems fully capable of outscoring Stanford if the Ducks' defense is having a bad day. A few teams have been able to slow the Ducks for a quarter here or a quarter there. But even then -- boom! -- things go haywire. Stanford has experienced that itself. Twice in the past two years, in fact.

The question then becomes simple for Stanford: Can it somehow make Mariota and the Oregon offense have a bad day for four quarters?

It's the Oregon problem, and it's not easy to solve.
It’s been more than a week since the Indianapolis Colts made Andrew Luck the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of more draft picks (David DeCastro also in the first, Coby Fleener and Jonathan Martinin the second round) and undrafted free agent signings.

One week seems like a long enough moratorium on projecting first-round draft picks. But ESPN.com’s Todd McShay couldn't wait that long. He’s released his way-too-early 2013 first round mock draft Insider on Wednesday and Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is projected to go in the first round to the New York Giants -- No. 31 overall.

Naturally, there is only so much credence we can give to this kind of projection this far in advance. After all, wasn’t Fleener supposed to go in the first round to the Giants?

Skov’s projection is an interesting one. Speaking with a couple of different Stanford coaches over the last couple of weeks, all indications are that Skov’s rehabilitation from a severe knee injury suffered in Week 3 against Arizona is progressing as planned.

Unplanned was his DUI arrest, which will continue to hang over the program until head coach David Shaw acts. For the record, Shaw said he would wait until after spring ball before announcing Skov’s punishment because he didn’t want to take away from the team.

But the bigger question is how Skov will perform once he returns to the field. Skov’s commitment to getting back healthy isn’t a question, nor is the mental aspect of the game. But when he goes to the combine and he starts getting poked and prodded and the injury questions come up, there is just no way to know how teams are going to react. Case-in-point: Washington running back Chris Polk, a pretty darn good back who was projected somewhere between the second and third rounds. But questions about his injured shoulders dropped him completely out of the draft.

And since we're projecting him as a first-round pick for kicks and giggles, would he slip by Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers in the middle 20s (who didn't think Harbaugh would snatch up Fleener?)

If Skov had never been injured (and for the sake of argument, let’s assume he came back for another year) I would feel a lot more confident projecting him as a first round pick. But until we see how he moves on the field and just how sturdy that surgically-repaired knee really is, putting him in the first round seems a little too far out on a limb even for me.
Three consecutive Heisman Trophy runners-up, two consecutive BCS bowl games and final top-10 rankings: Hey, Stanford's special run of football success was fun to watch. It was neat seeing the most academically elite university playing BCS football whipping the big boys.

But we all know it can't possibly last, right? Jim Harbaugh built it and he's gone. Andrew Luck was a once-in-a-generation quarterback, and he's gone. And he took with him three other offensive players among the first 42 selections in the NFL draft over the weekend.

While the Cardinal certainly had more than 15 minutes of fame, it's time for this program to go back to its familiar brainiac territory -- Faulkner, computer chips and advanced algorithms. Leave big-time football the USCs, Alabamas and Ohio States of the nation.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireDavid Shaw expects his team to take on the same tough-guy persona it has in previous years.
Yes, such talk has worked its way across the grid, onto the Farm and into the Stanford locker room.

"We've talked about that," coach David Shaw said. "But we've also talked about that there can't be anything outside of our meeting rooms that motivates us. The motivation has to come from within. It's the only way that it is real. The only way that it is legitimate. But we've heard it. We know where we're ranked. But preseason rankings don't matter. Postseason rankings do."

In other words, the Cardinal believe reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

"They said the same thing when Toby [Gerhart] left and when Harbaugh left," outside linebacker Chase Thomas said. "We're pretty confident. We know what we bring to the table."

Of course, things change. No team can easily replace four elite NFL draft picks from its offense. That's why Stanford may be more about defense in the early going of 2012. Thomas leads a crew of six returning starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's top 30 in both scoring and total defense. The Cardinal's front seven in their 3-4 scheme appears to be particularly strong. Few teams in the nation will be as deep at linebacker, with Thomas and inside linebacker Shayne Skov both rating as potential All-Americans.

But what about that offense? The competition to replace Luck wasn't resolved this spring, with neither Josh Nunes nor Brett Nottingham demonstrating much consistency. And whoever wins the job won't have tackle Jonathan Martin protecting his blind side, or guard David DeCastro grinding defensive linemen into hamburger, or tight end Coby Fleener sprinting open down the middle with his 6-foot-6 self.

"We will continue our commitment to controlling the line of scrimmage," coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "We're going to run power. I don't see us changing much. If anything, if we have a few more opportunities to run power, we'll do that."

That means leaning on running back Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for 2,770 yards and 27 TDs over the previous three seasons, and a deep stable of backs. That means leaning on a tight end combination -- Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- that is as good as any in the nation, even without Fleener.

Receiver and offensive line? Those two spots remain questions, though the line will welcome back three starters.

Existing talent, however, doesn't tell the whole story of Stanford's potential for sustaining success. The incoming recruiting class is a significant chapter. Rivals ranked it fifth in the nation, Scout seventh and ESPN Recruiting 12th. No team in the nation came close to collecting as many elite offensive linemen: guard Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup), Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) and offensive tackle Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente).

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kyle Terada/US Presswire Replacing Andrew Luck will challenge Stanford.
Shaw isn't afraid to play the young guys, either. True freshmen will get opportunities on both sides of the ball, including the offensive line.

"There's a reason why we recruited a couple of big-timers at those positions," he said. "They will have an opportunity to play if not start at the left tackle position."

Instead of going away, Stanford may well have found a perfect formula that Harbaugh generated and Shaw has refined. Stanford has a lot to sell a certain type of athlete, one who is equal parts brains and brawn. Despite what many folks think about young athletes, there are plenty who want to challenge themselves intellectually before playing football on Sundays.

"This is a special place that attracts a certain kind of person," said Shaw, a former Stanford player himself. "The GPAs in this recruiting class are high, even positions where they are not always high. Our lowest receiver GPA is a 3.4. Not regular GPA, core GPA. These guys are good students and tough kids."

But how fast are they? A 3.4 is nice, but what about 4.4? The one thing that has held Stanford back is a lack of elite speed all over the field, particularly in the secondary and at receiver. Shaw said they "are getting closer" in terms of speed, but he also admitted that the Cardinal -- just like every other Pac-12 program -- have a bit of an Oregon problem. They are 23-1 versus everyone else over the past two seasons, outscoring those foes 1,024-405. Against the Ducks, Stanford is 0-2, outscored 105-61.

Does Stanford have an "Oregon problem?"

"That's a great question," Shaw said. "I'd like to have a survey on your website if anybody has some ideas. Chip [Kelly] does a phenomenal job."

While Shaw is said this in a good-humored way, it's clear that he and his coaches have spent plenty of time thinking about the Ducks. They recall beating them 51-42 in 2009, particularly how they handled the ebbs and flows of momentum. They know it's about preventing big plays and not wasting opportunities on offense. They know it's about tempo, a pitched battle of contrasting styles. Oregon wants to play fast and slash you. Stanford wants to slow things down and pound you.

At least one insider believes Stanford will sustain its recent run of success.

"Absolutely. Hopefully they do better than we did," Luck said. "I think there are a lot of great players here, starting at the top with the coaching staff. Great players, great recruiting classes. They will only continue to get better."

As for what Stanford will be in 2012, its first season of the post-Luck era, Shaw thinks his team will have the same tough-guy persona. But it'll be angrier.

"We're going to go right at people and hit them in the mouth," he said. "And it helps to feel like you're disrespected."
The inevitable is now official. Former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is an Indianapolis Colt.

Commissioner Roger Goodell had announced the 2012 NFL draft was open and Luck was on the phone with the Colts no more than 15 seconds later.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Jerry Lai/US PresswireAndrew Luck is the fourth Stanford quarterback to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
He got big hugs from head coach David Shaw and teammate Coby Fleener as he made his way to center stage.

"It was everything I thought it would be," Luck told ESPN's Suzy Kolber about the experience of being picked No. 1 overall. "I feel so blessed, so fortunate to be in this situation. I can't wait to start with the Colts."

And what can Indianapolis fans expect from Luck following a 2-14 season?

"Hope for the best," Luck said. "We'll come in and work hard. I know there are a lot of great guys in the locker room already. I feel so honored and so grateful to be able to represent this city now and be part of a team."

Luck becomes the fourth Stanford quarterback selected No. 1 overall, joining Bobby Garrett (1954), Jim Plunkett (1971) and John Elway (1983). Stanford is the only school that has produced four quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall.

Other Pac-12 players:

  • Despite a trade, the Minnesota Vikings still got the man they were targeting all along, USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Cleveland traded up to the No. 3 spot where the Browns took Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Kalil went to the Vikings with the No. 4 pick. He becomes the 76th first round draft pick in USC history and the 22nd USC Trojan offensive lineman drafted in the first round. He's the highest drafted USC lineman since Tony Boselli (1995, second overall).
  • Then, there was a long, somewhat surprising lull for the conference. Stanford guard David DeCastro, whom most mock drafts had going in the teens, slipped down to No. 24 where the Pittsburgh Steelers got some pretty good value with the No. 1 guard in the draft. DeCastro was the third offensive lineman taken after Kalil and Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who went one pick earlier at No. 23 to the Detroit Lions.
  • Between the picks of Kalil and DeCastro, there were 13 defensive players taken to just six offensive. That run on defense benefited USC defensive end Nick Perry, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers at No. 28. He'll join former Trojan Clay Matthews in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. Perry was considered a first/second-round tweener but lands in a pretty good spot.
  • With just those four being taken, Fleener and Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin are still on the board. Both were considered potential first round picks -- but Martin's stock had been sliding over the last few weeks while Fleener's star was on the rise. Once thought to be a pipe dream a couple of weeks ago, might we see the Luck-to-Fleener connection in Indianapolis after all?

Stanford notes: Who replaces Luck?

April, 6, 2012
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford kicked off its second spring session after a three-week break this week, and here are some notes from the Pac-12 blog's visit on Thursday.

  • And the first quarterback of the post-Andrew Luck Era is ... Yeah, right. It's likely going to be either junior Brett Nottingham or senior Josh Nunes, but coach David Shaw said the competition will extend into fall camp. "I want them to finish spring in competition mode. And I want them to start fall camp in competition mode," he said. "I don't want to name a starter the week of the first game. I'd like to do it before that so we can start to settle in." Shaw called the competition "Neck and neck."
  • A recurring theme from the coaches -- Shaw and both coordinators -- is that members of the 2012 recruiting class are going to play in the fall. Several, in fact. Particularly in need areas such as the offensive line and secondary. Yes, those touted frosh O-linemen are going to see immediate action.
  • As for the competition among existing players to replace left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, those spots are still up in the air. Brendon Austin and Cole Underwood are in the mix at LT, and Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser are in a battle for DeCastro's guard spot.
  • Talented sophomore James Vaughters will get on the field, and don't be surprised if he ends up at inside linebacker. At least, that seems to be where defensive coordinator Derek Mason envisions him at present. Part of this appears to be his comfort with Kevin Anderson, who's been playing defensive end, and Alex Debniak backing up outside 'backers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas.
  • By the way, Mason loves his linebacker depth. He said as many as 10 could play in the Cardinal's 3-4 next year.
  • Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro are locked in a tough competition to replace underrated defensive end Matt Masifilo.
  • The Cardinal need to replace both starting safeties. The name that comes up the most is Ed Reynolds, who was out last season with a knee injury. Jordan Richards, Kyle Olugbode and Devon Carrington are in the mix also, but Mason doesn't hesitate to bring up incoming freshmen Drew Madhu and Zach Hoffpauir.
  • It's pretty clear that the not-entirely-unreasonable questioning of whether Stanford can remain an elite team post-Andrew Luck is serving as motivation in the locker room. While the topic is hardly obsessed over, it's also fair to say everyone is aware of the widespread doubts heading into 2012.

As flattering as the prospect may seem, David DeCastro knows ESPN isn't coming out to Stanford's pro day just to broadcast him running offensive-line drills. He knows the score. He knows most of the attention will be trained on quarterback Andrew Luck.

But don't be surprised if the burly offensive guard gets more face time than any other Stanford player. Besides doing his individual workouts, he'll also be making a temporary move to center to snap for Luck.

You can watch the Cardinal's pro day at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern on ESPN3. Besides Luck and DeCastro, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and tight end Coby Fleener will also be featured. Luck, DeCastro and Fleener are expected to be the first players taken at their positions, and Martin is projected anywhere between the second and fourth offensive tackle on the board.

"It's pretty crazy, because we couldn't even get a game televised a couple of years ago," DeCastro said. "That pretty much sums it up. Now they are televising our pro day. Crazy. The program has come a long way. If we can get it televised every year, that would be great."

A lot of eyes will be on Luck, who didn't throw at last month's NFL combine. He's expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Indianapolis Colts in next month's NFL draft. Yesterday, Baylor's Robert Griffin III held his pro day in Waco, Texas. While some think there is a chance the Colts could roll the dice with Griffin, he's widely regarded as No. 2 quarterback behind Luck.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Andrew Luck and David DeCastro
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on Andrew Luck, left, during Stanford's pro day, which means David DeCastro, right, will get plenty of looks too.
Here's an interesting take from ESPN's Mel Kiper Insider on quarterbacks not throwing at the combine.
Last year, as you recall, Cam Newton's pro day was quite a big deal, because the top quarterbacks no longer throw at the combine, instead waiting for a more familiar setting, with targets they are used to working with. I don't mind that process. If you're considered this good, why not take advantage of the comfort level you've earned as you go through the process. These guys get nit-picked more than ever, so it's hard to blame them for taking control of something as significant as many consider these pro days.

But today isn't going to be all about Luck. It's the payoff for many of the players who helped grow the program.

"That's got to be one of the things I'm most proud of in my time at Stanford is helping turn the program around from a 1-11 season the year before I got there to two straight BCS games," Fleener said. "It's one of those things where it took a lot of work from the guys in the offseason and the coaches and the staff, and I'm happy to see Stanford football is on the right track.

"Hopefully this publicity is going to help the program, even in a small way. Anything we can do to help the program is great. We're all going to be Stanford fans for life."

Head coach David Shaw often praised this class of fourth- and fifth-year seniors for buying into the program he and former head coach Jim Harbaugh were pitching. He thinks the legacy they leave will help keep Stanford atop the national rankings for years to come.

"We don't just want smart guys that know how to play football," Shaw said. "We want great football players. We want guys to come here that want to play in the NFL, that want to be first-round draft picks. We want them to have that desire. We also want those guys to excel outside of football. When you've got a class of guys like this who can garner this much attention, it's awesome. And as you can see from the way we've been recruiting the last couple of years, [televised pro days] hopefully will be a regular occurrence for us."

There are also several other Stanford players who weren't invited to the combine, but will work out at the pro day. Because of the attention Luck attracts, many are considering this their combine.

And for those who did participate in the combine, it's one last chance to show what they can do before the draft.

"I'm excited," DeCastro said. "I'm feeling great. I'm in shape, lifting hard. Working out has never been an issue for me. I love training. I love getting that lift and getting those endorphins going."
Some good news for fans of Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu. Evan Silva of NBC sports reported yesterday that Owusu has been medically cleared to continue his football career.

For many, the lasting image of Owusu's Stanford career will be a thumbs up as he was carted into an ambulance on the field at Oregon State. It was his second concussion of the season, his third in a 13-month span and one of the most chilling sights of the 2011 college football season.

[+] EnlargeChris Owusu
Chris Morrison/US PresswireChris Owusu has been cleared "to play football now" by a doctor with the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee.
Others, at least those who noticed, watched him play the final snap of the regular season finale against Notre Dame after missing the previous two games -- a subtle, yet classy gesture by head coach David Shaw to get Owusu on the field one last time on Senior Night.

But it now appears that Owusu is moving forward. No doubt, he's received the best medical advice -- the article states Owusu was looked over by an NFL doctor. And in this concussion-conscious world, chances are a doctor wouldn't clear a potential player if he didn't pass the strict tests with flying colors.
From the article:

Per [Owusu's agent], Owusu has been symptom free since November 6 of 2011, one day after his last concussion. A doctor with the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee has diagnosed Owusu as “perfectly normal” and cleared Owusu “to play football now.” The doctor also determined that Owusu is not at greater risk of concussions due to his history.

Up until his injuries, Owusu had been having an average season at best. On several occasions, Shaw stated that he had hoped Owusu would be more productive. He finished the 2011 season with 35 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a couple of drops that led to interceptions.

In 2010, he saw action in only seven games because of assorted injuries.

Owusu has been training at the Stanford campus along with Michael Thomas, Coby Fleener, Johnson Bademosi and Griff Whalen. He'll join Fleener, Jonathan Martin, Delano Howell, Andrew Luck and David DeCastro at the NFL combine in Indianapolis later this month.

You can guarantee when he gets there, he's going to have a massive "Fragile" stigma that he's going to have to work off. Owusu has the speed to impress and his return skills make him more marketable. But just because a doctor says his melon isn't busted, doesn't mean that some teams won't be wary about taking a flyer on him. And that could hurt his draft stock.

The few times I spoke with Owusu this year, I really enjoyed them. He was charismatic, funny and always had something good to say about someone else on the team, even when the story was about him. There's something to be said for not letting anything get in the way of following a dream. Here's hoping the doctors -- and Owusu -- are making the right call.
Stanford's recent success just about Andrew Luck? That's just silly talk.

If ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay is on target with his mock 2012 NFL draft, plenty of evidence to the contrary will be produced on draft day. Insider
McShay projects that Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick, of course, but he also projects that Luck will be joined by three teammates in the first round.

How many other teams will produce that many first-round picks? One: National champion Alabama.

The Pac-12 has seven first-round picks in McShay's mock draft.

Here's how McShay sees things, with some comments included.

1. Andrew Luck, QB Stanford (Indianapolis Colts)

2. Matt Kalil, OT, USC (St. Louis Rams)

13. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford (Arizona Cardinals)
This might seem a bit high for a guard, but DeCastro was the most dominant interior offensive lineman in the nation in 2011 and has a chance to develop into one of the elite NFL players at his position. Offensive tackle is also a need area, but DeCastro is a much better overall player than the top available tackle. Cornerback could also be a consideration, but both Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) carry off-field baggage.

18. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford (San Diego Chargers)

20. Nick Perry, DE, USC (Tennessee Titans)
The Titans have three defensive ends set to become free agents and need a dynamic pass-rusher to complement Derrick Morgan. While Perry is raw, he has good initial burst and natural pass-rush skills. Cornerback, safety and offensive line are also need areas, but Perry makes the most sense in this situation.

26. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford (Houston Texans)
The Texans would rather get a wideout here to complement Andre Johnson, but Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery would be reaches at this point. A difference-maker at tight end would help, though, and Fleener is a reliable target with toughness, a competitive nature and underrated speed/athleticism. He could draw some attention to the middle away from Johnson, and with a deep wideout class Houston could find a quality receiver in the next couple of rounds.

29. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State (Baltimore Ravens)
Burfict is a physical freak with tremendous athleticism and explosive power. He's a top-20 talent, but questions about his discipline on and off the field are hurting his stock. However, Burfict could contribute immediately and would benefit greatly from the leadership and guidance of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. And you have to wonder whether the Ravens would press their luck and take another player with character flags after bringing cornerback Jimmy Smith into the fold last year.

Here's McShay's player rankings. Insider

Here's Kiper's Big Board. Insider

And here's Kiper's top-five by position, Insider which is chock full of Pac-12 players.

Most interesting: Kiper ranks former Arizona State's Brock Osweiler No. 3 among the quarterbacks, ahead of former Arizona's Nick Foles, who is fifth. Luck, of course, is No. 1 and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is No. 2.

If Osweiler ends up getting picked on the first day -- first two rounds -- it certainly will validate his surprising decision to enter the NFL draft.
Michael Thomas is not one of them. He's one of those.

The former Stanford safety is one of those players spurned by the postseason bowl games and combines. Not one of them, the ones who get all of the draftnik attention and are perceived to be the next crop of elite NFL talent.

Thomas would be lying if he said that didn't bother him. And it should. Anyone who has spent 30 seconds with him knows he's a competitive guy.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
Kyle Terada/US PresswireMichael Thomas will try to draw the attention of NFL scouts during Stanford's pro day workout.
"It was frustrating at first, waiting for invitations that didn't come," Thomas said. "Especially when you feel like you are on par with some of those guys who are going. I feel like I can compete with the best of the best. But you can only play the hand you're dealt. So I'm training hard. But I was disappointed that I didn't at least get the opportunity to showcase myself."

Instead, he's relying on his game film from 2011 as his résumé. On that film, scouts will see 66 tackles -- 41 solo -- three interceptions and a 62-yard pick-six against Washington. They'll see a savvy, four-year player sitting underneath on a slant route and then taking it back with a good burst of speed. They'll see good ball instincts, a team-high eight passes broken up, smart angles and above average tackling.

But what they won't see is the size. At 5-11, 185 pounds, Thomas might have a heart and a brain for the NFL, but his physique is working against him.

"The feedback I've gotten so far is that I'm an interesting prospect," Thomas said. "But because of the height, that's going to affect me in a negative way."

But Thomas has something a lot of other NFL hopefuls don't have; a pro day that includes one of the best quarterback prospects in more than a decade in Andrew Luck; three probable first-round picks with Luck and offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro; and a possible fourth in tight end Coby Fleener.

"My pro day is going to be my Super Bowl," Thomas said. "That's a good thing for guys like me because you know everyone is going to be at our pro day because of Andrew and those other guys. Hopefully it will be a great opportunity for me to improve my stock and draft status. If not, I'll hopefully be a priority free agent."

And if Thomas has to claw his way into the league, he said he's OK doing that. At least for a little while. He's given himself a timetable of about three or four years to put everything he has into making it as an NFL player.

Unlike a lot of prospects who like a change of scenery after the season and go to other parts of the country to train, Thomas is staying on campus. The sociology major will have a Stanford degree at the end of the year, and in the meantime he's working out with teammates Fleener, wide receivers Chris Owusu and Griff Whalen and defensive back Johnson Bademosi in preparation for the March 22 pro day.

"I've had a lot of success with our offseason training program here," Thomas said. "I feel like I've always gotten faster and stronger working with those guys.

"I'm open to taking whatever route I can to accomplish my goals. If I don't make an active roster after a few years, I'll hang it up and try to figure out life after that. I've thought about coaching and I'll always have my Stanford connections."
Every team needs to hit every position group each recruiting season, but there are always priorities. It's not just positions where starters are lost or going to be seniors, it's about addressing weaknesses where a true freshman might be a better answer than a returning player.

Up next is the North Division.

California
QB
: Zach Maynard will be a senior, and it says something about the depth behind him that he never lost his job during his midseason swoon.
WR: Keenan Allen is back, but that's it in terms of returning production and experience.
S: Three of the top four safeties from 2011 are gone.

Oregon
Skill:
In Chip Kelly's offense, you can never have enough fast guys. Sure, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff are back, but there's a lot of youth and uncertainty after that at running back and wide receiver.
TE: His name is David Paulson, but he's gone. Colt Lyerla was a productive backup -- at least in terms of finding the end zone -- but after him things are uncertain. Tight end is one of the most underrated positions in the Ducks offense, so having more than one Kelly trusts is significant.
S: Eddie Pleasant is gone and John Boyett is a senior. Avery Patterson, Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson are next in line, but the young talent isn't as certain as it is at corner.

Oregon State
OL:
Oregon State lost three starters from a line that led the worst rushing attack in the conference and surrendered 27 sacks. Quarterback Sean Mannion has potential, but he needs time. And a running game.
DT: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. 'Nuff said.
LB: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. Almost enough said. Cameron Collins is gone, and all the contributors on the two-deep will be seniors, other than junior Michael Doctor.

Stanford
WR
: Perhaps the weakest position for the Cardinal in 2011, this need is augmented by the loss of Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu and the lack of up-and-comers other than sophomore Ty Montgomery.
DB: Three of four starters are gone, including both safeties. In the Cardinal's two losses -- to Oregon and Oklahoma State -- an absence of top-end athleticism in the back half was exploited.
OL: Three starters are back, but the losses are huge: Tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. And backup tackle Tyler Mabry and backup guard Matt Bentler also are gone. If coach David Shaw intends to remain a physical, downhill running team -- and he does -- he'll need to continuously stock up on linemen who can get the job done.

Washington
DB:
Lots of guys are back in the secondary, but the Huskies gave up 284.6 yards passing per game, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12. They couldn't cover anybody and often seemed out of position. So new blood might help.
DL: (See if you can notice a theme here that ignores questions at wide receiver and running back). Two starters are gone from a line that consistently underperformed based on preseason expectations.
LB: Second-team All-Pac-12 middle linebacker Cort Dennison is the only one of the eight men on the depth chart who won't be back, but he was the team's only consistent linebacker.

Washington State
DL:
Three of four starters are back, but all three will be seniors.
OL: Three starters are back, but to make the next step on offense, the Cougars need to run the ball better. They ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. And that might reduce a conference-high 3.3 sacks per game. Mike Leach's quick-hit offense also might help.
RB: 170-pound sophomore Rickey Galvin is back, as is senior Carl Winston, but the backs need to share responsibility for a 3.1-yards-per-carry average, worst in the conference (of course, losing 237 yards to sacks doesn't help).

The 2011 Pac-12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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Our All-Pac-12 bowl team has two quarterbacks and a position we made up. And it wasn't easy to pick the defense, because many of the conference defenses underwhelmed during a 2-5 bowl run.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireEven Andrew Luck would admire Washington QB Keith Price's seven-touchdown effort in the Alamo Bowl.
Offense
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
: Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
QB II Keith Price, Washington: It's impossible to leave Price or Luck out. Price completed 23 of 37 passes for 438 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. He also rushed for 39 yards and three scores. Those numbers typically would eclipse what Luck did, but Baylor might have the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor rushed for 177 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: Robinson caught 13 passes for 241 yards with a TD in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
WR Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon: Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two scores in the Rose Bowl victory.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Ertz caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal's Rose Bowl loss.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The unanimous All-American dominated Oklahoma State's D-linemen in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal rushed for 243 yards.
OL Mark Asper, Oregon: Asper is the senior cornerstone of a line that led the way for 345 yards rushing in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah: The senior tackle helped RB John White gain 115 tough yards against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: The Ducks freshman center made all the right line calls against Wisconsin.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: The Huskies gained 620 yards and didn't allow a sack in the loss to Baylor.
Freak: Our special position for De'Anthony Thomas, who scored TDs on runs of 91 and 64 yards in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Black Mamba also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kickoffs for 125 yards.

K: Giorgio Tavecchio, California: Tavecchio capped a strong senior season with a 47-yard field goal in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas.
RET: Rashad Ross, Arizona State: Ross returned the third-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a TD against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Defense
DL Josh Shirley, Washington
: While it's difficult to recognize anyone from the Huskies defense against Baylor, Shirley did sack Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, three times.
DL Trevor Guyton, California: Guyton had five tackles, with two coming for losses, and a sack in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: The Utes DT had six tackles and a fumble recovery and generally blew up the middle of the Georgia Tech line in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory. He was named Most Valuable Lineman.
LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt had 10 tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in the Bruins' loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon: The Ducks LB had five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, with a sack and a key interception in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win. He was named Defensive MVP.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: The Ducks LB had 13 tackles, including two for a loss, and a critical fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl victory.
LB Mychal Kendricks, California: Kendricks had 10 tackles, including 1.5 for losses, in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Mitchell had five tackles in the Rose Bowl, but his most important contribution was forcing a Wisconsin fumble on the Ducks 27-yard line with four minutes left in the game. Perhaps even more important than that, he inspired coach Chip Kelly to jump up and down in a wonderful -- and slightly goofy -- show of spontaneous emotion (search YouTube for "Chip Kelly jumping").
DB Clint Floyd, Arizona State: Floyd had seven tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception in the Sun Devils' loss to Boise State.
DB John Boyett, Oregon: Boyett had a bowl-high 17 tackles and half a sack in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin.
DB Marc Anthony, California: Anthony had four tackles, one coming for a loss, and two pass breakups against Texas.

P Sean Sellwood, Utah: Sellwood averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

LaMichael James to enter draft

January, 6, 2012
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As expected, Oregon junior running back LaMichael James will enter the NFL draft.

James' decision was first reported by The Oregonian on Dec. 15.

James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner, will finish his career as the best player in Oregon history and one of the best running backs in Pac-12 history. His 5,082 career yards rushing and 53 TDs rank second all-time in the conference. He was the first running back to eclipse 1,500 yards rushing three consecutive years.

His obvious replacement would be talented junior backup Kenjon Barner, but Barner also is considering entering the NFL draft.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Here is the list of Pac-12 players who have opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, ASU
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Matt Kalil, LT, USC
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler is expected to shortly announce that he also will enter the draft.

Larger questions loom for Stanford

January, 3, 2012
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Andrew LuckChris Morrison/US PresswireAndrew Luck's Stanford career ends in a disappointing overtime loss to Oklahoma State.
This one is going to sting for a long, long time. There is no 24-hour rule here, no chance to put this one behind you and focus on the next opponent. All there is is time to think, stew, marinate in a myriad of how-did-it-all-go-wrongs.

There are two ways the Stanford Cardinal can move on from a 41-38 overtime loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. They can slide back into Pac-12 mediocrity now that quarterback Andrew Luck and an amazing cast of seniors are leaving. Or they can learn from this loss and come back with a chip on their Luck-less, shoulder.

“We’re going to be back,” said a choked up defensive end Ben Gardner. “We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to be back next year with a vengeance and we’re going to be a strong program for years to come.”

That’s what the big boys do -- the established programs that season after season are in the top-10 conversation. They learn to take the sweet with the sour. And this group hasn’t had to swallow much sour over the past few years. A loss like this can numb the taste buds or accelerate the desire to get back to the sweet.

“If you dwell on the loss, you never get better,” said nose tackle Terrence Stephens. “If you keep dwelling on what went wrong, you’ll never be able to focus on what to do right.”

There will be questions. In the immediate future, most of them will swirl around a redshirt freshman kicker. Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a 35-yarder as time expired that would have given the Cardinal their second straight BCS bowl victory. He also missed a 41-yard field goal on Stanford’s opening possession and a 43-yard kick in overtime. Williamson did not address the media after the game.

There will be questions that head coach David Shaw played it too conservative on the final drive in regulation that set up Williamson’s miss – a straight shot up the middle that hooked left. Maybe. It’s worth noting, however, that Williamson was 6-of-7 this season on kicks between 30 and 39 yards.

But bigger questions loom after the missed-kicks fallout settles. Like finding Luck’s replacement; like filling holes on the offensive line for the NFL-bound Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro; like replacing veteran safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell; whether outside linebacker Chase Thomas leaves school or returns for another season.

Whatever the answers, Stephens believes the Cardinal will be just fine.

“That’s the best part of our program,” Stephens said. “We hold the word resilient very high. You have to be resilient in everything you do. You come back and you fight and you get better. That’s been the attitude since I got here and it will be the attitude far after I leave. I think that’s something the players instill in the other players.”

There’s no doubt that the departing players leave the program in much better shape than when they came in -- several of whom committed following (even during) Stanford’s 1-11 season.

Luck thinks the future of the program is in good hands.

“I think just keep getting better, put your head down and keep working,” he said. “A lot has been written about the seniors and the senior class and regardless of which guys stay and which guys leave, there are really good football players here. Obviously, you want to improve every year. But I think a very solid foundation has been laid with coach Shaw at the helm. I see a very bright future for the program.”

Still, it’s tough to see that through the haze of missed field goals, missed opportunities, missed tackles and Justin Blackmon's jet wash. The Oklahoma State wide receiver torched the Cardinal for 186 yards and three touchdowns on eight catches.

“He took advantage of our mistakes and that’s something that any good player will do,” said Michael Thomas. “You can’t afford to make mistakes against that guy. One missed tackle and he takes it to the house. Missed communication in coverage and you leave the best player on the team wide open. Just guys not taking advantage of the opportunities they had, but give credit to him. He made the plays and he exposed us when we made mistakes.”

Lost in the mix will be an amazing performance by Luck -- who was 27-of-31 for 347 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- and a fantastic performance by the rushing attack. Stepfan Taylor pounded out 186 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns.

“There’s an old saying that adversity reveals character,” Shaw said. “… Two real good teams come down to a few plays, not just that one (the field goal at the end of regulation) but a few plays that we could have all done something a little bit better.

“I have a lot of confidence in the guys we have in our locker room as individuals, but also what we’re capable of together; get through this together and coming back, fighting back strong and hard.”

Shaw and his players are saying all of the right things. Now the ball is in their court for the next seven months to back it up.

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