Stanford Football: Jeremy Stewart

We continue our look at Stanford's top-5 impactful recruiting classes of the past decade.

No. 3: 2007

Credit for the 2007 signing class should be spread around. Walt Harris and his staff laid the groundwork for what eventually became Jim Harbaugh's first class, but the baton was first passed to former athletic director Bob Bowlsby in the interim.

The weekend after Harris was fired, Stanford hosted a group of recruits that helped change the program's direction. TE Coby Fleener, WR Doug Baldwin, OLB Thomas Keiser and DL Matt Masifilo -- all of whom are now in the NFL -- were part of that group and later committed after Harbaugh was hired.

Two other players from the class also ended up in the NFL -- FB Owen Marecic and RB Jeremy Stewart, both of whom were unheralded recruits. Of the 10 players that verbally committed after Harbaugh was hired, five went on to the NFL. The only NFL player from the class that committed to Harris was Keiser.

As Harbaugh's first class, the group gets a lot of credit for changing the culture of the program. Marecic, in particular, is a player who embodied the physical brand of football the Cardinal is now know for.

There were two losing seasons after the group arrived, but the Cardinal turned the corner in 2009 with an 8-5 season -- the program's first winning season since 2001. In their fourth year, the class helped Stanford to a 12-1 record, a No. 4 national ranking and a win in the Orange Bowl. For Fleener, Masifilo, Stewart and others who played a fifth year, an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl followed the next season.


No. 4: 2010

No. 5: 2006

Gaffney's return a boost for Cardinal

February, 11, 2013
One of the biggest questions facing Stanford in 2013 was how would it replace so many key offensive players who graduated or left for the NFL following the highly-successful 2012 season.

Enter -- errr -- re-enter Tyler Gaffney, who could prove to be a game-changer for the Cardinal.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireTyler Gaffney is returning to Stanford after a year in minor-league baseball.
Gaffney announced that he'll return to the Cardinal on April 1 after spending one year playing minor league baseball. His college eligibility for baseball is up, but he has one year remaining on his "football clock."

You put an outstanding athlete like Gaffney behind Stanford's offensive line and you have the makings of a 1,000-yard rusher who can take the pressure off of quarterback Kevin Hogan and allow the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense -- which is pound the football.

Gaffney spent the bulk of his career backing up Stepfan Taylor -- and there's no shame in that because Taylor was one of the greatest backs in Stanford history. In three years Gaffney totaled 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, plus three receiving touchdowns. In 2011, he rushed for 449 yards (6.1 average) and seven touchdowns.

With his return, Gaffney gives a fairly inexperienced running back corps an immediate veteran presence and you'd expect he jumps to the top of the list of candidates to replace Taylor. And you have to assume he'll be in pretty good shape, too. After all, he's been a professional athlete for the last year. He'll know the system, since it hasn't changed, so all he has to do is make friends with the new offensive linemen.

Remember, Gaffney was one of the most sought after backs on the West Coast coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego -- turning down offers from USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Utah to come to The Farm. And I'm also a little bias because I've known him since he was a sophomore in high school and I watched him put on one of the greatest rushing performances in California prep history in the California State Championship game (current Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz was pretty darn good in that game, too).

Given the opportunity to be a 15-to-20-carry back, Gaffney could do some damage. In 2011, he only had double-digit carries once. But remember in 2011 Stanford was rotating heavily between Taylor (242 carries), Gaffney (74), Anthony Wilkerson (56), Jeremy Stewart (55) and Andrew Luck (47).

The Cardinal will still likely be by-committee in 2013, more so than they were in 2012 when Taylor carried a league-high 322 times. But the addition of Gaffney is a major boost to a Stanford offense that has plenty of potential and talent, but is lacking in proven playmakers.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 12

August, 16, 2012
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

12. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

2011 numbers: Rushed for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns on 242 carries. Had a healthy 5.5 yards per carry while also catching 27 balls and a pair of touchdowns.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 24.

Making the case for Taylor: It's time to stop calling Taylor one of the most underrated backs in the college football and start calling him one of the top, most complete running backs in the Pac-12. A back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher who was often overlooked because of the guy handing him the ball (that would be Andrew Luck for those with a short memory), Taylor will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense. That should come as no surprise to those who follow the team closely, because he was actually the focal point last year and the year before despite the presence of Luck. He's durable enough to carry the ball 25 to 30 times per game, but that's not how David Shaw uses him. With a rotation of four other backs last year -- and the expectation of a similar approach this year -- Taylor will continue to make the most of his opportunities. Expect, however, a slight increase in his carries in 2012 as the Cardinal break in a new quarterback. The departure of Tyler Gaffney and the graduation of Jeremy Stewart opens up some niche roles for younger backs -- but we'll likely see Taylor carry more of the load, especially early as the new quarterback continues to grow and the pecking order behind Taylor takes shape. A second-team all-conference pick last year, Taylor's receiving skills make him extremely versatile, and he's also Stanford's best blocking back.

No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Stanford mailbag

August, 10, 2012
Friends, it's been way too long since we've done a Stanford mailbag. But don't think I've forgotten about you despite my new Pac-12 responsibilities. You've got questions, I've got David Shaw on speed dial. To the questions.

Tony in Sacramento, Calif., writes: Were you surprised that Tyler Gaffney took the baseball offer rather than returning for another year?

Kevin Gemmell: I was, at first. But then I talked to somebody in the know and after they explained the situation to me, it makes a lot more sense. I'm not an expert on bonus scales when it comes to baseball, but the way it was explained to me, Gaffney threw out a number and the Pirates said, "OK." From what I heard, he was a bit surprised too. But hey, good for him. I've covered Gaffney since he was a sophomore in high school and seen him play both sports. The reality is that he would have had trouble getting the attention needed to play in the NFL having to play behind Stepfan Taylor and also fighting for carries with the other backs in the rotation. Now that he's focused just on baseball, he's got a very legitimate chance of making it to the pros. So, keeping true to baseball form, a tip of the hat and best of luck to Mr. Gaffney.

Brian in San Diego writes: How does the running back rotation shape up with Gaffney and Jeremy Stewart gone?

Kevin Gemmell: Good question, and I talked about this with Shaw earlier in the week. He reminded me that even though Stewart is gone, Anthony Wilkerson still provides some pretty good size at 6-1, 218 pounds. Taylor, of course, is a compact tank at 5-11, 215, so there is some good bulk to go with their speed. I'd expect fullback Ryan Hewitt to pick up a few more of the short-yardage runs. He had a few last year and was very effective, but Stewart was the primary short-yardage back. Then you've got a bunch of guys fighting for carries, Ricky Seale (5-9, 193), Remound Wright (5-9, 205), Barry Sanders (5-9, 191) who are all a little bit on the smaller side. Whichever one of those guys emerges in the pecking order, it should make for a nice change-of-pace from the bigger, bulkier duo of Taylor and Wilkerson.

Ann in Santa Clara, Calif., writes: How effective will Shayne Skov be?

Kevin Gemmell: Tough to say until we see him get a few reps in an actual game situation. I've seen guys bounce back strong from torn knee ligaments, and I've seen other guys play hesitant and nervous. Skov doesn't strike me as one of those hesitant guys. I think he'll attack his playing time like he attacked his rehab. Make no mistake, he is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. I thought Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley were outstanding last year -- and showed that Stanford could survive without Skov. But that doesn't mean they're not better for having him around. Would hope he's up to speed by the USC game though. They'll need all the run-stopping they can get.

Manny in San Jose, Calif., writes: What are your thoughts on Stanford's recruiting class so far?

Kevin Gemmell: It depends on what your measuring stick is. If you want to compare straight up against other Pac-12 schools, I'd say they are looking up at USC, which seems poised to ink the best class in the nation in 2013. But then again, you can't compare Stanford to other schools because they have a different approach. And I don't buy into the "star" rating system, either. Ben Gardner was a two-star for frak's sake. Though they are a national recruiter, their recruiting pool is a lot different than others. They can't just say "we need a running back," and then go out and find the best running back in the country. They need a running back who also has to fit Stanford's requirements. Some years, there are a lot of those. Last year there were a lot of offensive linemen that fit the mold -- and Stanford nabbed them all. But with all that said, I don't see a single iffy player on their commitment list so far. Linebackers, a tight end and a wide receiver legacy. All good gets. Now they just need to make sure they actually get them.

Jon in Stanford, Calif., writes: Can you tell us who is going to be the next Stanford quarterback?

Kevin Gemmell: I could, but then David Shaw wouldn't answer my calls anymore. Enjoy the weekend.

Stanford mailbag

April, 13, 2012
Happy Friday the 13th.

We're back-loaded by a couple of weeks on questions since we had to make sure all of the videos Ted Miller shot during his trip got posted, so apologies for not getting to some of these sooner.

To the questions:

Malcolm in San Jose, Calif., writes: Who were the biggest pro day winners and losers?

Kevin Gemmell: I wouldn't say there were any losers. Any time ESPN comes out and televises the pro day, everyone is a winner. Any time you can get representatives from every NFL team in one spot to showcase your team, it's a good thing. In terms of winners, I would say Coby Fleener was probably the biggest winner. He got to do everything he couldn't at the combine and he did it well. His 40 time was great. He showed outstanding athleticism in the assorted tests and drills and Andrew Luck put him in a position to show off his hops. I also thought Johnson Bademosi had a pretty good pro day. He looked the part physically and might have worked himself into the draft. And, of course, Luck was a winner. He got to show off his arm strength, mobility and pure athleticism. There is only so much you can show in shorts and a T-shirt, but some of the throws he was making -- particularly the ones when he was on the move -- were impressive.

Anderson in San Francisco writes: Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't you one of the people questioning Luck's arm strength? How's the crow taste after watching his 70-yard bomb?

Kevin Gemmell: Consider yourself corrected. But thanks.

Mike in Cupertino, Calif., writes: How many scholarships does Stanford have available for next year's signing? It seems like we've had a few years of 19-22 signees. With only 85 scholarships available and most players staying on campus for five years, how much play does David Shaw and the staff have? I've heard estimates of a class of about 15 being the max we can sign.

Kevin Gemmell: I talked to someone in the athletic department about this, and he essentially said it's a "fluid" number, meaning it's not a number they want to release publicly. But you can do some of the math on your own. There aren't many seniors on the 2012 roster. There will be attrition between now and next February. Guys leaving early, medical retirees or transfers and such equals more scholarships. But rough guess right now it's about half of the class they just signed.

Ally in Stanford, Calif., writes: Any word on whether Shayne Skov has recovered from his injury? How about from his DUI? Has the university issued a statement?

Kevin Gemmell: Skov is still rehabbing, and I would imagine that rehab will take him right up to fall camp. Those kind of knee injuries take a minimum of six months, but more likely nine or 10 months to really heal properly. And then there is the mental aspect. I'm pretty sure it won't be too much of an issue with Skov because he has a linebacker's mentality: Hit first, ask questions later. But he's going to need to get comfortable with full contact again and the first time he hits the ground awkwardly, it's going to be a shock to his system. I've seen some guys completely freak out and they never are quite the same players. But I don't think that will be the case with him. Regarding the DUI, Shaw said he wanted to wait until after spring to make an announcement so it wouldn't distract from the work on the field. Based on some conversations I've had, I wouldn't expect anything more than a two-game suspension, but one game seems likely.

Mark in Alameda, Calif., writes: Predictions for the spring game? Will the offense or defense rule?

Kevin Gemmell: Well, hearing Shaw talk about the defense, it seems like the offensive line is having all kinds of problems blocking the linebackers. I think there might be some coach speak there, because reports are that the running backs look pretty darn good also. I'm sure there will be highlights from both sides of the ball. But during spring games and fall scrimmages, the defense is usually further along than the offense. And when you factor in a quarterback competition vs. a very deep and experienced front seven, I'd expect the defense to come out on top.

Victor in Denver writes: Can you rank the running backs next year?

Kevin Gemmell: I think the only thing we can count on in terms of rankings is that Stepfan Taylor is the No. 1 back -- and with good reason. Behind him is a slew of opportunistic players. Ricky Sealeis making a name for himself during spring ball. I'm partial to Seale since I covered him for three years in high school. With the exception of Reggie Bush, whom I also covered during his prep days, I always said Seale had the best vision of any high school back I've ever seen. He would find the smallest holes, disappear and then re-appear 30 yards down the field. But he lacks the game experience of Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson. And then we have to consider Barry Sanders and what role he could play next season. And Ryan Hewitt will probably see more short-yardage carries with departure of Jeremy Stewart. Hewitt was extremely reliable last year on anything less than three yards and we know how much Shaw and Pep Hamilton love to use the fullback. So I can't give you a solid answer on rankings. I just know they are really deep and really talented.
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.
With the Cardinal kicking off spring ball next week, there will obviously be a lot of focus and attention on position battles. Who will be the quarterback? Who will step up on the offensive line? What about the safeties?

Chances are, most or none of those questions will be answered by the time spring turns to summer. In fact, we might not have some of those answers until kickoff against San Jose State. So rather than speculating, let's take a look at 10 players on the current roster who will be vital to Stanford's success next season. (Trust me, trimming the list to 10 was tough).

  • No. 10, Jordan Williamson, K: What we need to know is if his head is right following the debacle in the desert. No need to re-hash the gory details. We all know how his teammates rallied around him. If he's fully healthy in his leg -- and his mind -- he will be critical to Stanford's success since they are likely to play some closer games next season.
  • No. 9, Trent Murphy, OLB: The other outside linebacker. Chase Thomas is going to draw double-teams, trap blocks and all sorts of creative crack-backs to keep him out of the opponent's backfield. That means Murphy -- who quietly had a very good 2011 with 40 tackles and 6.5 sacks -- should get more one-on-one attention.
  • [+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
    Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREStanford running back Stepfan Taylor will be vital to the success of Stanford next season.
    No. 8, Ty Montgomery, WR: Coming off a fantastic freshman campaign, the pressure is on to see if he can 1) produce over the course of an entire season; 2) produce without Andrew Luck throwing him the ball. There is a lot of inexperience at wide receiver and incoming freshmen that will press him. He can be a stabilizing factor for whoever gets Luck's old gig.
  • No. 7, Terrence Stephens, NT: Under-appreciated for the role he plays on the defensive line, Stephens does the dirty work that lets the linebackers claim all of the glory. He's also a vocal, emotional leader that the defense is going to need with the oft-quoted Michael Thomas graduated and pursuing a professional career.
  • No. 6/No. 6A, Zach Ertz & Levine Toilolo, TEs: (Yes, I'm cheating a bit with two players) Both were security blankets for Luck on third down, dangerous red zone targets and much improved blockers. They'll have to be all of that and more. A new quarterback is likely to check down more often than not, which means the remaining dos Amigos could have big years.
  • No. 5, Wayne Lyons, DB: Coming off a foot injury, Lyons should quickly play his way back into the cornerback rotation -- if not win a starting job outright. He entered with a ton of hype as a true freshman and even though he missed the majority of the season, expectations shouldn't be tempered if this dynamic defender can stay healthy.
  • No. 4, Chase Thomas, OLB: He's the No. 1-rated senior outside linebacker in the country and a terror to quarterbacks and running backs. The next step for him is to do more of the same -- but do it quicker and more consistently. Knowing his work ethic, that shouldn't be a problem. Thomas should have a monster year if he stays healthy and his decision to return should be rewarded with a nice bump in his draft status.
  • No. 3, Sam Schwartzstein, C: David Yankey and Cameron Fleming should continue to improve upon very good first years starting. But Schwartzstein is the guy who makes the line go. He's a tireless worker -- both at the physical and mental aspects of the game -- and should provide a calming presence to whoever takes the snaps from him. He's not a vocal leader -- but neither was David DeCastro. Guys follow guts and brains and Schwartzstein has both.
  • No. 2, Ryan Hewitt, FB: Another player whose efforts often go overlooked. He'll likely see his short-yardage carries increase with the graduation of Jeremy Stewart and as a blocking back -- he's one of the best in the country. He's versatile enough to play tight end (the three-tight-end-sets didn't leave with Coby Fleener) and you have to love a guy that loves contact.
  • No. 1, Stepfan Taylor, RB: The workhorse. Taylor will be the catalyst for Stanford's offense next year. He'll get plenty of reps while the new quarterback develops and should get better reps as the new guy matures. He's the best blocker of the running backs and when he does go out for passes, he's sure-handed and shifty in the open field. He does everything. And in a time of transition, those kind of guys are simply invaluable.

Stanford mailbag

February, 17, 2012
Scott in Redwood City, Calif., writes: Stanford's high admissions standards for the footballers is under-appreciated, I don't think you'll dispute. Especially remarkable to me is the fact that Stanford imposes the exact same labor-intensive admissions process (essays, recommendations, etc.) on football players as any other applicant. Comparing any school in D-I to Stanford in regards to academics is laughable, in my opinion. This used to be merely an interesting side-note (and a handy explanation/excuse). But now, with all this program is accomplishing, I find it remarkable that this topic doesn't get more "run." What gives?

Kevin Gemmell: No doubt, the admissions process is brutal. Just ask some of the commits who didn't end up gaining admission and were left scrambling to find a spot days before signing day. I asked head coach David Shaw about that specifically in our post-recruiting day Q&A and he gave, I thought, was a pretty candid answer. But I'm not sure how much more "run" you can give it. Stanford is a great academic institution. It's tough to get into. Now the Cardinal play good football to boot. What more is there to say?

Jorge in San Francisco writes: With the hoopla and depth surrounding next season's crew of Tunnel Workers O-lineman, could Stanford be a better running team than last year? We lose top talent in Moose [Jonathan Martin] and [David] DeCastro, but perhaps we may be able to run 7 or even 8 (!) lineman formations? The RBs are probably improved too. Going out on a limb, we may even match up better with Oregon next year with an increased focus on the running game. On the other hand, the O-line will be young and we lose Andrew Luck's pre-snap run-audibles and passing threat.

KG: First, great question. Second, I think you answered it with the last sentence. No matter how much Shaw tried to stress how important Luck was to the running game, I don't think it was ever really appreciated outside of the Pac-12. Now, that's not to say that Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton can't call plays -- because they can and they're very good at it. When you look at the line, you love having Sam Schwartzstein back at center. No one understands the offense better than him -- except for Luck. And now he's gone. Cameron Fleming and David Yankey should be even better next year. I'd imagine we'll see more of Kevin Danser on the line and I'm really curious to see which of the new linemen can contribute right away. Guards traditionally see playing time sooner than tackles, but there is nothing traditional about this group coming in. I think we'll continue to see Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney get better. You lose the goal-line back in Jeremy Stewart, though fullback Ryan Hewitt was equally effective in short-yardage situations last year. And then there's the question of Barry Sanders and whether he sees time. As for the Oregon question, hang on, because you're about to fall off that limb. No matter how you slice it, losing Andrew Luck never helps you match up better against anyone.

Amber in Saratoga, Calif., writes: I was shocked at your statement: "Skov has neither the history nor the offense to warrant that severe of a punishment." How could you consider a DUI not that serious of an offense?

KG: Amber, first, I was in no way was downplaying the severity of a DUI. The point was that Shayne Skov didn't have a history of misconduct and that as far as we know this was his first slip-up. And I still don't think he should be kicked off the team, as opposed to Washington State linebacker C.J. Mizell, which is where the comparison came from. I certainly don't condone his actions and clearly neither does Shaw. Punishment is warranted. But blackballing him from the team would be too severe. Others disagree and think he should be booted. I don't buy that. And neither do I buy the "it could have been worse" argument. Of course it could have been worse. But it wasn't. So let this be a lesson to Skov, his teammates and valuable teaching moment for Shaw. I expect Skov to be a model citizen for the rest of his days at Stanford and Shaw to handle the situation justly and without prejudice.

Tony in Fresno, Calif., writes: Does David Shaw hire someone to be another co-defensive coordinator, or does Derek Mason take the job all to himself?

KG: Personally, I like the idea of one coordinator handling the pass defense and another handling the front end -- which was Jason Tarver's job. It probably happens more than we think on other teams, it's just that one guy usually gets the title. Whether the new coach gets the title or not, it was clear that Stanford's weekly defensive scheme was built on a collaborative effort and that won't change. More important I think is finding a coach well-versed in the 3-4. Tarver's knowledge was beyond vast. That's why he's now an NFL coordinator.

Fiesta Bowl: Best and worst

January, 12, 2012
The rest of the blogs are recapping the best and worst of the conference bowl season. There's only one game to look at for Stanford. And even though most fans probably don't want to revisit the Fiesta Bowl, it's still worth busting out a bag of Tostitos and taking a look back at the highs and lows.

Best overall performance (offense): Stepfan Taylor certainly deserves a look for his 177 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. But Andrew Luck's swan song was just superb. Yes, he had the one interception. But outside of that, his performance was outstanding, 27-of-31 for 347 yards and two touchdowns. It was the big game we expected from him in a big game -- including 15-for-15 on Stanford's scoring drives and 4-for-4 on the final drive in regulation.

Best overall performance (defense): I thought linebacker Jarek Lancaster, who was already having a great season, took a huge step forward. His open-field tackling was clutch and he led the team with seven solo tackles.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Stewart, Ty Montgomery
Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireJeremy Stewart, left, played a little defense to keep teammate Ty Montgomery from bringing out this kick.
Best unconfirmed report: Rumor has it a reporter tried to approach Jordan Williamson in the locker room after the game. Naturally, the kicker wasn't feeling chatty. Allegedly, a Stanford offensive lineman who will remain nameless made sure the kicker wouldn't be bothered. We all have jobs to do, but there are limits when dealing with college kids. Nice to see teammates stick up for each other.

Best moment for me: Talking with Cameron Fleming's mother, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel stationed in the Mideast, about her efforts to make it back for the game. Very cool.

Funniest moment: Who didn't laugh when Jeremy Stewart laid out Ty Montgomery after he tried to take a kickoff from deep in the end zone?

Best postgame quote (it wasn't exactly a sitcom-writers' room after the game): Tight end Coby Fleener, who missed the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. "Well, I'm standing up, so I've got that going for me."

Worst feeling in the world: Knowing exactly what Justin Blackmon is going to do, then watching him do it eight times for 186 yards and three scores.

Worst time for the Wildcat to go wrong: Two plays, -4 yards.

Best forgotten performance: With all of the Luck/Taylor talk, easy to forget that Montgomery -- when he wasn't getting laid out by teammates -- caught seven balls for 120 yards and a score. Only he and Blackmon crossed the 100-yard receiving mark. And when your name is mentioned with a two-time Biletnikoff winner, you're in pretty good company.

Stanford mailbag

January, 9, 2012
Happy Monday. Let's take some questions (or respond to declarative statements).

Adam in Dallas, Texas, writes: DAVID SHAW WAS THE WRONG HIRE!

Kevin Gemmell: Whoa there, cowboy. First, ease up on the all caps. Second, I TOTALLY DISAGREE! Shaw was the perfect hire. First, he's a Stanford grad with deep ties to the program through his father and prior coaches. Second, he was the offensive coordinator for all of Andrew Luck's career. Did you really want to bring in a new head coach with potentially a new offensive system for Luck's final year? Third, so far, he appears to be able to recruit extremely well. Just for kicks, let's look at some of the coaches who were on the move last year or interviewed for the job. Chris Petersen was never really interested. Greg Roman or Vic Fangio? Maybe. But would either of them have done a better job this season? I can't see either one of them doing anything much differently. Brady Hoke was a non-name that turned into a big name last year, and as a former San Diego State beat writer, I heard whisperings about his name at Stanford, but know for a fact he wouldn't have taken the job. The point is, you say he's the wrong guy, but who would have been the right guy? This year was all about getting the most out of Luck and getting back to a BCS bowl game. Shaw did that. Five years from now if the Cardinal are coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons, you can serve me up some crow with Tabasco and I'll dive right in without a bib. But don't throw out an all-caps message after an 11-2 season that also notched Shaw the Pac-12 Coach of the Year without suggesting another name.

Brian in Palo Alto writes: Kevin, what do you see as the biggest off-season needs for the Cardinal?

Kevin Gemmell: I would say that just as important as hammering out the quarterback issue, Stanford needs to really improve on tackling in the secondary. I haven't been shy about touting the futures of Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards. But they are really going to have to step it up next season because there is no Delano Howell coming back from injury and no Michael Thomas to rally the troops and hold the secondary together. Wayne Lyons should be back from injury, which will help soften the blow of losing Johnson Bademosi and Corey Gatewood. With Chase Thomas announcing over the weekend that he's coming back, the front seven should be outstanding again. But behind the front seven, the Cardinal are going to need to do a better job putting hats on receivers.

Taylor in Portland, Ore. writes: What can we expect out of Barry Sanders in his first year?

Kevin Gemmell: First off, wait until it's official. From what I understand, he has to clear admissions first and then officially go through the signing day pomp and circumstance. Once that happens, I wouldn't expect a 1,500-yard season just yet. Stepfan Taylor will continue to be the primary back, though I wouldn't be shocked to see Sanders get a decent amount of carries. Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Jeremy Stewart all saw playing time as true freshmen. He has a lot to learn about this system -- specifically reading gaps and pass protection, something that is going to be paramount next season with a new starting quarterback and new left tackle. If he shows in practice he can handle it, we should see him get some carries next season.

What we learned about Stanford

January, 3, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here's five things we learned about the Stanford Cardinal in the wake of Monday's 41-38 overtime loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl.
  1. A rare glimpse: During the season, Stanford has a closed locker room policy. But the BCS mandates them to open the locker room for postgame interviews. There was a side of the players we don't get to see -- specifically Andrew Luck. After his media responsibilities, he went locker to locker hugging each of his teammates and thanking them for the season. It was wonderful moment between college teammates that those outside of the inner circle rarely get to witness. I share it, because we usually only see "game-day" Luck or "news conference" Luck. And while it was ultimately a bittersweet moment, it was a special one that was neat to see.
  2. Taylor can carry the load: With three of five starting offensive lineman returning next season and three of the four-headed rushing attack also back (though Jeremy Stewart's role was often understated but incredibly important) the Cardinal should continue to put up good numbers on the ground in the coming seasons. Stepfan Taylor showed he can be an almost-every-down back if he has to be -- carrying 35 times for a career-high 177 yards and two touchdowns. It was an off night for Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, just five carries for three net yards between them, but with Stewart's 65 and Taylor's big night, all four weren't needed.
  3. Lancaster, stud: Linebacker Jarek Lancaster played, minute-for-minute, probably the best football game of his career. He was flying all over the field and was tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Critical, however, were three open-field tackles -- something that had plagued the Cardinal (and still did Monday night) throughout the season. Lancaster took the one-on-one challenge and was sensational. With him, A.J. Tarpley and Shayne Skov returning next season, the Cardinal have a very good problem at inside linebacker.
  4. Every decision has a consequence: David Shaw is paid an insane amount of money (it's not public record, but I guarantee it's more than a college football blogger) to make some extremely difficult decisions. If Jordan Williamson had nailed the 35-yarder at the end of regulation, no one would question his decision to kick the game-winner. Ah, but regular readers of this blog know I abhor "what-ifs." The fact is Shaw made the decision he thought was best. It turned out to be the wrong one, and he's going to endure the fallout that comes from that. I see both sides. But my gut says OSU was on its heels and with the best run-blocking lineman in the country in David DeCastro, I would have pulled that big haas aside in one of the timeouts and said "make a hole that I can tow a 737 through." You know DeCastro would of. Plenty of spots along the way where the Cardinal could have prevented it from coming down to the final play. But what-ifs are worthless, and Shaw & Co. will learn from this experience.
  5. Time heals all wounds. Well, most of them: A good friend of mine in sports radio once said that sports are the most important, unimportant thing in the world. That always stuck with me. This game will go down in Stanford lore as one of the best , and worst, in school history. But I think the players and coaches will tell you, and I'm sure most will agree, that it's the journey, not the destination, that makes it all worthwhile.

Stanford lunchtime links

January, 3, 2012
Bad news on the doorstep ... Fiesta Bowl fallout.

Halftime: Stanford 21, OSU 21

January, 2, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Some first-half thoughts from the Fiesta Bowl.

Turning point: On fourth-and-4 at the Stanford 32, Brandon Weeden hit Justin Blackmon for 23 yards with less than a minute in the half, setting up first-and-goal. On third-and-goal at the 2, Weeden took it in himself to knot the score at 21-21. It was Weeden's first career rushing touchdown.

Stat of the half: After only 13 three-and-out drives all season, the Cardinal already have two in the first half.

Best player for Stanford: Linebacker Jarek Lancaster is having a fantastic game. He’s made several open-field tackles -- including two on critical third downs -- and been in on several others.

Best player for Oklahoma State: Blackmon became the first wide receiver to gain more than 100 yards on the Cardinal this season. Through the first 30 minutes, he has four catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

Best tackle of a teammate: Jeremy Stewart taking down Ty Montgomery on a kickoff that Montgomery thought about taking 5 yards deep out of the end zone. As Montgomery approached the line, Stewart brought him down. The form was questionable and it might have been helmet-to-helmet, but no flag was thrown.

Best fan-made sign in the stands: “Superman wears Andrew Luck socks.”

2Q: Stanford 14, OSU 14

January, 2, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- That's a little more like it. Both teams put together scoring drives that match their personalities.

The Cardinal went 87 yards on seven plays, using 4 minutes, 30 seconds of clock to cap the drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Stewart.

Oklahoma State answered with a four-play, 84-yard drive that took up just 1:11, ending with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Justin Blackmon.

The pair teamed up again on a 67-yard touchdown pass to tie the score.

Blackmon already has 110 receiving yards -- marking the first time this season the Cardinal has allowed a receiver to gain more than 100 yards.

About six minutes left in the quarter and OSU has regained the momentum after falling behind by two scores.

Cardinal runners thrive on competition

December, 28, 2011
Taylor & Gaffney & WilkersonUS PresswireStepfan Taylor (33), Anthony Wilkerson (32) and Tyler Gaffney (25) each give Stanford something a little different in the running game.
(Cue the Jan Brady voice) Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck!

It's all that anyone outside of the Bay Area talks about when the topic of Stanford football passes the lips.

Yeah, he's good. Really good. But he's certainly not the be-all, end-all when it comes to the Stanford offense. Lost in the Luck hyperbole is an incredibly efficient and potent rushing attack that more often than not takes a backseat to No. 12.

The Cardinal's run game will have to be at its best on Jan. 2 when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. There are yards to be had against a Cowboys rush defense that ranks 83rd nationally and yields 180 yards per game.

The greatest victim of this overshadowing is running back Stepfan Taylor, whom head coach David Shaw has called one of the most underrated running backs in the nation on more than one occasion.

"I think he plays 7 yards behind one of the best players in Stanford school history," Shaw told reporters after practice last week. "I think that's why he's underrated."

Taylor is the perfect mixture of speed, power and balance. He plays more compact than his 5-foot-11, 210-pound frame and often drags opponents for extra yards. For the second straight year, Taylor has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, netting 1,153 this season to go with eight touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry. And he's done it rotating with three other backs plus a fullback who usually gets a few carries each game.

"We have a short-yardage, goal-line back that gets a lot of touchdowns [Jeremy Stewart], but Stepfan still has been effective in the red zone and catching passes," Shaw said. "He just does everything well. Does everything right. I'm sure at some point he'll get his just due.

"But at the same time, he doesn't care. He has fun. He loves playing. He recognizes that we have Tyler Gaffney and these other guys that can play, too. I think he just loves playing with his teammates."

Taylor, along with Gaffney, Stewart, Anthony Wilkerson and -- at least a couple of times each week -- fullback Ryan Hewitt make up a rushing attack that produces almost 208 yards per game and ranks 22nd nationally.

"We all pretty much do different things," said Taylor, the most well-rounded of the backs and the strongest pass-blocker. "They like to use us, and we all deserve to be on the field. They find ways to get all of us involved. Stewie has the power; Wilk has the speed off the edge. The coaches find ways to put us in the best spots."

Like all of the aforementioned backs, Gaffney was "the guy" coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego. So going to a running-back-by-committee wasn't easy to swallow. It's still not.

"It takes some adjustment, and I wouldn't say I like it," said Gaffney, who averages a team-high 6.4 yards per carry among players with at least 11 total carries. "You can't like it as a running back. You want the ball. You want to help the team as much as possible. There is a rhythm to the game where you feel how fast the flow is of the defense, whether they are real aggressive or playing back. You don't get to feel that rhythm because I'll be in for two or three plays and then out for 10. Or I'll be in for 10 and then out for three. You never really know how much you are going to play or when you're going to play. You are just waiting on the sideline for your number to be called."

And that breeds competition. Taylor knows Gaffney is lobbying for carries. Gaffney knows Wilkerson is lobbying for carries. Short-yardage specialist Stewart knows Hewitt could get the call on third-and-short.

"If you're not playing well, there is going to be a guy stepping up who will," Gaffney said. "You have to bring your A-game every carry and every play. I wouldn't say we're breathing down each other's necks, but for lack of a better term, that's what it is. You have a feeling that if you have a couple of bad runs, you might not be going back in, and they might let the other guy ride it out."

So, you have a brilliant quarterback who checks his running backs into the best play against the best defense, and you have four backs clawing at one another for carries. All that's missing is the best run-blocking offensive lineman in the country with a nasty attitude to boot. Oh yeah, Stanford has that, too.

"Football is a physical sport, and the point is to move the other guy," said guard David DeCastro, widely regarded as the most NFL-ready interior lineman in the country. "There is no magic pill you take that makes us run the ball well. It's practice and repetition and hard work. You're trying to push the other guy backwards. That's football."

The running back quartet has combined for 26 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards on the ground this season. And, yes, even Luck has to get a lot of the credit for the success of the running game.

Shaw has spoken extensively about what Luck does pre-snap and how he coordinates the running game. So when lining up, do the running backs see the same things as Luck?

"I don't think anybody sees what he sees," Gaffney said. "When he puts us in a play, 99 times out of 100 we're in agreement that it is going to be our most successful rep."



Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30