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Monday, March 1, 2010
Strong & weak: Stanford

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The first of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

Up first: Stanford (Which leads things off because it starts spring practice Monday afternoon).

Strong: The passing game.

Why it's a strength: Stanford welcomes back sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, who's apparently good-to-go this spring after finger surgery knocked him out of the Sun Bowl, and his top three receivers: Ryan Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener. Luck led the conference in passing efficiency in 2009 and he'll be the offensive point man with the graduation of running back Toby Gerhart. The speedy Owusu, in particular, could be set for a breakthrough.

Weak: The secondary.

Why it's a weakness: The good news is three of four starters and much of the depth is back in the secondary. The bad news is that secondary surrendered 23 touchdown passes in 2009 -- tied for most in the conference -- and ranked eighth overall in the conference against the pass. Oklahoma's Landry Jones passed for 418 yards and three scores in the Sun Bowl. The Cardinal need to upgrade their athleticism in the back half, which might mean the three returning starters shouldn't feel safe. What might help: Stanford only recorded 21 sacks last year. Expect defensive ends Thomas Keiser, a junior, and sophomore Chase Thomas, who was rushed into service when Erik Lorig got hurt, to take another step forward this spring, which should make life less stressful for the defensive backs.