Friday, March 2, 2012
Stanford mailbag: QBs on the brain
By Kevin Gemmell
Bob in Omaha writes: [David] Shaw said that the QB competition is open -- but sometimes that's just how coaches talk. You've got to think Brett Nottingham has the lead. How surprised would you be if Nottingham didn't win the job?
Kevin Gemmell: I can't say I'd be too blown away if one of the other guys wins the job. It's not like it's Nottingham and four scrubs who are there to fill out a jersey. These were all legitimate, highly respected high school quarterbacks. Remember, Nottingham was the No. 4 quarterback coming out of spring ball last year and once Josh Nunes got hurt, he beat out Robbie Picazo for the backup job. Shaw speaks highly of Kevin Hogan. I saw Evan Crower play in high school. Kid's good. So no, it wouldn't be totally surprising if someone else wins out. With that said, yes, you have to believe that Nottingham has at least a tiny edge -- not just because he was the backup quarterback last year -- but because he held on to the backup role all season. No doubt, he was pressed by other guys during the course of the year. How much? I honestly can't say because practices were closed, and we don't know how much Nunes' foot injury lingered during the year. But just because you win a job in August doesn't mean you're guaranteed to still have it in November. The fact that Nottingham did is a piece of the puzzle that I think often gets overlooked.
Eric in Bangkok writes: Are we likely to see more three-tight-end stuff in Stanford's future? Or was that a temporary response to a specific context?
Kevin Gemmell: As long as Shaw is the head coach and Pep Hamilton is the offensive coordinator -- I can assure you the three-tight-end package doesn't leave with Coby Fleener. Now, will they run it as frequently as they did last season? Probably not. You adjust the scheme to fit the talents of your team. And when you have a Fleener-type player, you find ways to let him stretch the field. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are great tight ends. But Fleener did some things better than them -- just as they do some things better than Fleener. We saw Ryan Hewitt step up and play more tight end when Ertz went down. Wouldn't be surprised if there are a few packages in place next season with him as the third tight end and Geoff Meinken at fullback. Without Fleener, however, I think you have to start getting the wide receivers more involved in the passing game. Stanford was able to rely on the tight ends because of what that trio could do on the field at the same time. With the dynamics shifting, I think it has to be a priority for the wide receivers to take a more prominent role in the passing attack.
Tom in Menlo Park, Calif.,writes: Hey Kevin, I've seen it mentioned numerous times with respect to Jonathan Martin & David DeCastro's draft prospects that OGs like DeCastro do not typically go in the first round (making it all the more impressive that DeCastro is projected to) whereas it is common for OTs. Can you discuss a bit about the reasons for the greater demand for tackles in terms of NFL team needs and the different skill sets for the two positions?
Kevin Gemmell: As in most things, demand is dictated by supply -- and good offensive tackles are in rarer supply than guards -- especially in the NFL. Once you get to the pro game, the best defensive linemen are typically the faster, more athletic guys on the outside. So you have to have your best athletes on the outside to hold them off. This requires a different type of player -- including physical frame. Guards like DeCastro have to be more explosive for pulling. DeCastro is a born run-blocker. Martin is better in pass protection. That's his physical makeup. Consider their combine measurables. Both checked in at 6-foot-5 -- DeCastro at 316 pounds and Martin at 312. But Martin has almost an inch and a half on DeCastro in reach. He's a longer player, and that's the physical makeup needed for tackles. Guys like Martin and USC's Matt Kalil are immovable objects -- and that's what's needed in the NFL. Plus, it's always easier to give help in a blocking scheme to the inside than it is the outside. You have fullbacks and running backs that can offer assistance on blitzes and centers can double-team on the inside. I'm not saying that guards are inferior players to tackles. Because they aren't. They just have a different frame and skill set required for the position. You hear cornerbacks use the expression "being out on an island." A lot of times it's the same for tackles -- who are out on the island one-on-one against the best pass-rushers. You're more likely to see college tackles move over to guard than vice versa. There are always exceptions, but that's the conventional thinking.
John in Phoenix writes: I attended the same high school as Anthony Wilkerson, so I'd really like to see him do well. I thought he showed signs of brilliance last year in his limited playing time. He looks explosive and powerful and wondered why he didn't get more carries. What do you think his role will be next year with the return of [Tyler] Gaffney and [Stepfan] Taylor, and now with the addition of [Barry] Sanders?
Kevin Gemmell: I think the biggest issue with Wilkerson last season was that he just never really got enough carries in a game to get into a rhythm. He'd have a lot of 1-yard, 2-yard runs in one game and then bust out a 38-yard run the next game. He started as the first guy off the bench to spell Taylor, but Gaffney moved up the food chain -- and a lot of that had to do with the wildcat package. Again, we're not at practices so we can't really judge what's going on behind the scenes. But the coaching staff saw a reason to give more carries to Gaffney. As for next year, it's just a matter of making the most of his opportunities. Shaw has shown he likes to play freshmen running backs, so if Sanders does play, it's going to cut into Wilkersons' carries even more. Taylor, who accounted for almost 50 percent of the carries last year, is going to be the workhorse again. Wilkerson needs to find his niche. For Gaffney, it started as the wildcat guy and grew into a more prominent role. Jeremy Stewart was the short-yardage guy. As long as Wilkerson is tagged as that change-of-pace guy, he's probably not going to see those 10-15 carries each week that would allow him to get into the flow of a game.
Sam in New York writes: Are any of Stanford's incoming recruits enrolled early? Been looking around all over the web but haven't found anything. Interested to know if anyone from this talented class will be playing spring ball.
Kevin Gemmell: Shaw actually isn't a big fan of the early-admission process. Back in December, he talked about a study he and Jim Harbaugh did and they found that high school players entering early really had no significant advantage -- and were in fact more likely to get injured. He'd rather they take the extra six months -- enjoy the high school experience, play a winter or spring sport, and then get on the Stanford training regimen in the summer.
Peter in Nor Cal writes: Hey Kevin, would you take a crack at predicting the state of affairs for Stanford Football 3, 5, and 10 years down the line? What will our record be, who will be coaching, what (if any) bowl will we be in, etc. Thanks for all the reporting on Stanford.
Kevin Gemmell: Boy, where's Carnac the Magnificent when you need him (everyone under the age of 30, start Googling). OK, let's see. Well, three years down the line I'd expect the Cardinal will be looking for another outstanding offensive line class because the bulk of this year's group will be heading to the draft. I'd be shocked if Pep Hamilton and Derek Mason haven't gotten head coaching gigs somewhere in three to five years. I'd imagine Shaw is still the head coach in five years. The lure to return to the NFL might tempt him five years from now -- especially if he's offered an offensive coordinator or head-coaching job. But unless he has back-to-back 0-12 seasons and a heap of NCAA violations, I don't see him ever getting fired. He's an alumnus, he loves the school and the program and if he's still head coach in 2022, I wouldn't be all that surprised. As for records -- well, with this recruiting momentum, I don't see any sub-.500 seasons on the horizon for the next five years. But after that, who knows? One off recruiting class can set a program back half a decade. I think this is a good staff with good recruiters. I see no reason why they don't keep the momentum they've established rolling along. As for future bowl games -- if they can crack a BCS game within five years of the post-Andrew Luck era, I'd say Shaw has done a heck of a job. This year's offensive-line class is going to pay off in recruiting quarterbacks for the next couple of years, so you can expect some of the top QBs -- who also meet the Cardinal academic standards -- will give Stanford a good, long look.