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Friday, September 23, 2011
Bye week grades: offensive line

By Kevin Gemmell

Part three of the ongoing report card for the Stanford Cardinal during the bye week.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Grade: B

Summary: No other unit had a brighter spotlight on them during the spring and fall camps than the offensive line. With three starters from last year graduating and just Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro returning, the question wasn’t simply can they replicate a front that led the NCAA in time of possession and pounded out 213.8 rushing yards a game. But can these guys keep quarterback Andrew Luck upright? So far, they have answered the call – for the most part – on both fronts.

At left tackle, Martin is in the conversation for best offensive tackle in college football. On the other end, Cameron Fleming has shown steady improvement as one of three newcomers. DeCastro, a returning all-Pac-10 performer last year is a pure run blocker. Center Sam Schwartzstein and guard David Yankey have grown tremendously from Week 1 till now.

This line is not as good as last year’s. And it probably won’t be. That’s not a knock on them. And it’s not because they don’t have the talent. Rather, that was a special group that had the benefit of playing together for two years. Continuity is key with offensive linemen.

Take the Duke game, for example. The Blue Devils threw delayed blitzes at the Cardinal in the first half – something they hadn’t shown on film. It caught the younger players off guard and took them a half to make adjustments. The next time they see delayed stunts, they’ll be better at it. There are about 17,000 different things they’ll have to experience for the first time as a line before it becomes second nature and they start playing as one group, not five players.

The run blocking has gotten significantly better each week and the line is coming off its best performance in a 37-10 win over Arizona last week. Just ask Stepfan Taylor.

The pass blocking has been good at times, so-so at other times. Andrew Luck has only been put down once (officially twice, see funny Duke fumble for details), but he’s taken a couple of pretty good shots that have made coach David Shaw cringe.

Backups: So far only guard Kevin Danser and tackle Tyler Mabry have appeared in all three games, and guard Matt Bentler and center Khalil Wilkes appeared in the Duke game. Shaw has said repeatedly that he likes the depth at offensive line and thinks he has his two-deep set.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks

Defensive line