Stanford's most improved player

January, 20, 2012
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Looking for the most improved player on Stanford's football team didn't take long. Especially when you consider the circumstances that brought David Yankey to the starting lineup in training camp.

At 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, he has a tackle's body. And he was very much in the mix for the starting right tackle spot before the season started. But the decision was made about three weeks before the first game of the year to move the redshirt freshman from tackle to guard -- a position he had never played in his life.

Now, 13 starts later, Yankey is a veteran.

"There were a lot of mistakes early on," Yankey said. "But through the season as I started to get more adjusted to the role, I got better at pulling and played better overall."

He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention and freshman All-America honors by Yahoo for his efforts in helping Stanford to the nation's 18th-ranked rushing offense at 210.6 yards per game. Stanford was also seventh nationally in sacks allowed.

"Having never played guard before, I didn't really have a reaction when coach asked me to switch," Yankey said. "They said I had enough versatility to play guard, so I just did what I could to help out the team."

In Stanford's gap-scheme running attack, the guards do a great deal of pulling. That was new to Yankey, who leaned heavily on guard David DeCastro, an Outland Trophy finalist who is expected to go in the first round of the NFL draft.

"Watching him play is incredible," Yankey said of DeCastro. "He's a beast. That's the only way to describe him. He has awesome hands and feet, his technique is amazing. And I'll pick his brain all the time. He has so much knowledge and he's such a great player."

With three new starters on the offensive line heading into the season, there were some question marks about the unit. Yankey said he and fellow new starters Sam Schwartzstain and Cameron Fleming were aware of the questions, but never let them deter them. He credited running game coordinator Mike Bloomgren for getting the line up to speed and helping them adjust quickly as a unit.

With DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin leaving for the NFL, the Cardinal will again have to fill some spots on the line. Yankey said if another position switch is called for, he's ready to make the move. He no longer considers himself just a tackle or just a guard.

"I'm politically correct about it," Yankey said. "I'm an offensive lineman.

"We'll figure everything out in the spring and in training camp and see who's better at playing where. It's about finding the right combination that can protect the quarterback and run the football the way we want to."

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