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Stanford has some holes to fill

2/8/2012

It takes a quarterback to know when a quarterback will be missed. So it's no surprise that when looking at the teams with the biggest voids to fill, ESPN's Brock Huard started with schools losing elite quarterbacks. Stanford is among the top five schools that Huard examined as having the biggest offseason holesInsider.

Huard on Stanford:

Stanford might be losing the most prolific quarterback in the program's history in Andrew Luck -- which is saying something, given that John Elway and Jim Plunkett once grazed on The Farm -- but the Cardinal clearly are not losing their ground-and-pound identity. Signing three of the top offensive line prospects in the country will pay dividends in the long term, but filling the enormous shoes of Luck and three other probable first-round picks in this year's draft (OG David DeCastro, OT Jonathan Martin and TE Coby Fleener) will be a mighty task for coach David Shaw.

As a fan, player and now analyst who has been immersed in the Pac-10, now Pac-12, for more than three decades, watching what Jim Harbaugh did to reverse the fortunes of the Stanford program was remarkable. He changed the culture, provided an edge and energy desperately needed on the gridiron, and did so with the help of a once-in-a-generation quarterback who was both brainiac and maniac.

Huard is right on by identifying more than just Luck who is gone. And I'll go a step further and say that losing Delano Howell and Michael Thomas at the safety positions could be just as difficult to overcome. The Cardinal have a lot of good athletes who could step in at the safety spots -- Jordan Richards and Devon Carrington both saw extended action this season. But both are still very raw and lack the experience the outgoing duo possessed.

Having that outstanding front seven should give the secondary a little cover -- at least in the first couple of games -- for the new starters to get acclimated.

I'm also curious -- and sort of excited -- to see who plays the Fleener role in the three-tight-end formations. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo both bring different skill sets to the position, but neither has the burst of speed that Fleener brought going over the middle on those deep routes. Following the Notre Dame victory, Shaw said that he and his staff have been searching the country for a tight end who can do what Fleener can do. Not surprising, he said they haven't found anyone. I'm expecting Ertz and Toilolo to have very productive seasons -- particularly since they are the veterans of the receiving corps.

Perhaps with the ongoing development of Ty Montgomery and some of the incoming talent at wide receiver, the Cardinal won't have to rely as much on a tight end for a deep-threat option. But knowing Shaw's penchant for tight ends, you have to figure they'll continue to play a major role in the receiving game.