What we learned about the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal in spring practice.
Three things we learned in the spring:
1. Defense is ahead of the offense. That shouldn’t be taken as a slight against the offense, either. Stanford’s defense is loaded back to front and set the tone for most of the spring. Replacing defensive coordinator Derek Mason, linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds is daunting, but not reason for panic.
2. Henry Anderson is a potential All-American. He has flown under the radar at times, but Anderson will be among the best defensive ends in the country next season. The fifth-year senior has the size (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) and skill to alter opposing gameplans.
3. Kevin Hogan is ready to lead. With a 10-1 career mark against Top 25 opponents, it’d be easy to argue he arrived ready to lead, but there’s now no question that he's a leader. With a talented group of receivers coming back, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if his passing numbers make a big jump this season.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Who will win the starting jobs on defense? One safety spot and one inside linebacker spot appear to be the biggest question marks going into the summer. Kodi Whitfield still figures to have a good shot at starting next to Jordan Richards at safety after converting from receiver, but Dallas Lloyd, Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir will factor in. At linebacker, Blake Martinez and Joe Hemschoot are the frontrunners to replace Skov.
2. How will the young offensive line come together? Left tackle Andrus Peat is the only full-time starter back, but it’s a unit that won’t be light on talent. The other four players, like Peat, were from the lauded Class of 2012 and need time to gel. There was little rotation among the first team during spring practice as Stanford tries to ready the group. There won’t be much time either, with USC on the schedule in Week 2.
3. Will running-back-by-committee last? Coach David Shaw predicted a committee approach in 2013, but Tyler Gaffney forced his hand and took the lion’s share of the carries. This time, with four players close in skill level, the Cardinal will probably stick with it longer, which will jeopardize the school's six-year streak with a 1,000-yard back.
One way-too-early prediction:
Kelsey Young will lead the team in carries. He arrived at Stanford as a running back, switched to receiver and is now back at his natural position. He and Barry Sanders appeared to be the most dangerous of the backs with the ball in their hands, but they need to improve in pass protection. If Young proves to be a capable blocker, he’ll see the most snaps.