Stanford Football: Khalil Wilkes

When the San Francisco 49ers hold their local pro day next Friday, 14 former Stanford football players will be in attendance, according to a source.

From the 2013 Stanford team, the list includes S Devon Carrington, OG Kevin Danser, OT Cameron Fleming, RB Tyler Gaffney, DE Ben Gardner, FB Ryan Hewitt, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds, ILB Shayne Skov, RB Anthony Wilkerson, OL Khalil Wilkes and OG David Yankey.

The entire group was recruited to Stanford when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was the head coach. Fleming and Yankey are the only players not to play in a game for Harbaugh -- they both redshirted in 2010, the coach's final season.

Defensive end Josh Mauro is expected to be there late because he will be returning from a trip to New York, where he will meet with the Giants, according to an NFL source. He will not work out with the 49ers, but met and had lunch with Harbaugh at the NFL combine.

Wide receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson and cornerback Terrence Brown, both of whom did not land on NFL rosters as rookies last season, will also work out. Brown graduated, but left with a year of eligibility remaining and was among the Cincinnati Bengals' first round of cuts during training camp. Patterson was not in a training camp last year.

It is unclear how many will work out. In the past, some of the high-profile draft prospects from Stanford have attended this event in street clothes.

Criteria for the local pro day stipulates the players must have either played at a local college or have a hometown connection to the area. Several players are also expected from San Jose State and California.

Former USC defensive end Morgan Breslin (Walnut Creek Las Lomas), Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick (Danville San Ramon Valley) and San Jose State quarterback David Fales will be among those in attendance, according to sources.

An official list with the complete list of attendees has not been made public. There is usually about 50 players on hand for the event, few of whom have a legitimate chance at being drafted. The event is tailored more for for players looking to earn a camp invitation.

Former Stanford safety Michael Thomas is an example of a player who attended the 49ers local pro day, didn't get drafted, signed as a free agent and then made the team's practice squad. He was eventually added to the Dolphins' 53-man roster after spending nearly two full seasons with the 49ers.

Stanford quarterbacks coach and former player Tavita Pritchard participated at the 49ers' local pro day in 2012. Pritchard, then a defensive assistant at Stanford, had not played football since 2009, but was brought out primarily to throw passes.
The countdown of Stanford's top 5 position battles continues.

One position battle will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 3: Center

Who to watch: Graham Shuler, Kevin Reihner

Outlook: As far as the Stanford offensive line goes, center has been the position with the most turnover in the past few years. Chase Beeler was an All-American in 2010. He gave way to Sam Schwartzstein for two years before Khalil Wilkes started in 2013. The competition to replace Wilkes starts with Shuler and Reihner and should be the most hotly contested of the four vacant starting spots on the line. Shuler was the more highly touted prospect, earning a four-star grade from ESPN, but Reihner has an extra year in the system. Neither have factored into the offensive depth chart during their careers. The backup center in 2013 was Connor McFadden, who ran out of eligibility.

Andrus Peat is the only returning starter on the line at left tackle. Joshua Garnett and Johnny Caspers are widely expected to earn the guard spots and Kyle Murphy will likely end up at right tackle.
The countdown of Stanford's Top 5 position groups with room to improve concludes today.

No. 1: Offensive line

[+] EnlargeAndrus Peat
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsLeft tackle Andrus Peat is Stanford's only returning starter on the offensive line.
Must replace: LG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming

Returning starters: LT Andrus Peat

Players to watch: Kyle Murphy, Joshua Garnett, Johnny Caspers, Graham Shuler, Kevin Reihner, Brendon Austin

Outlook: Stanford's recent success has been closely tied to the play of its offensive line, which makes it kind of strange that the position group also stands as the one with the most room to improve. Thanks to the early departures of Yankey and Fleming, the Cardinal must replace four of their five starters, with only Peat returning to protect quarterback Kevin Hogan's blindside. When the Cardinal signed seven offensive linemen in 2012, coach David Shaw predicted it could go down as one of the best offensive line classes in "modern football history." We'll find out how accurate that statement is in the fall, when all five spots have a chance to be occupied by players from that class. Garnett (guard), Murphy (right tackle) and Caspers (guard) are all heavy favorites to earn starting spots, while Shuler will have to beat out Reihner at center. There will also be competition for the roles in Stanford's multiple-lineman packages that will give regular playing time to at least two other linemen, which was the case for Murphy and Garnett last season.

The countdown
No. 2: Running back
No. 3: Linebacker
No. 4: Defensive line
No. 5: Wide receiver
Stanford coach David Shaw's fourth recruiting class will become official on Wednesday, which means … well, no one is really sure.

Currently, Stanford's class ranks 19th nationally and No. 2 in the Pac-12 behind only Arizona State. If it keeps that spot, it would be the third-best class Stanford has pulled in since ESPN began ranking classes in 2006.

The highest-ranked class in that span came in 2012, when Stanford was No. 12. That ranking also happens to be one spot lower than Stanford's worst finish in the AP Poll in the last four years (No. 11 in 2013).

The 2013 team was made up of players from the 2009-13 recruiting classes. Here is look back at the starters and how they were graded on their respective signing days:

Offense

  • QB Kevin Hogan, Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga College High: Three stars, No. 51 QB, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable
    : Of Stanford's top four quarterbacks on the depth chart in 2012, Hogan received the lowest grade. Of course, that didn't stop him from unseating four-star starter Josh Nunes (Class of 2009), passing four-star Brett Nottingham (Class of 2010) and beating out Evan Crower, who was also from the Class of 2011, but ranked just ahead of Hogan.
  • [+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLike many other players who signed with Stanford, RB Tyler Gaffner has far exceeded all expectations.
    RB Tyler Gaffney, San Diego Cathedral Catholic High: No. 76 RB, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable
    : Looking back at Gaffney's recruitment profiles is laughable at this point. Some recruiting services pegged him as a fullback coming out of Cathedral Catholic, where he ran for 2,857 yards as a senior and led the school to a state bowl championship. Good luck finding seven running backs better than Gaffney in college football last year, let alone 75 from the Class of 2009.
  • FB Ryan Hewitt, Denver J.K. Mullen High: No. 21 TE, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Switched to fullback early in his career. Was one of two fullbacks at the Senior Bowl.
  • WR Ty Montgomery, Dallas Saint Mark's School: Four stars, No. 35 WR, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 79.
    Notable: One of the few Stanford skill players in recent years to make an impact as a freshman and has developed into one of the conference's top receivers.
  • WR Devon Cajuste, Flushing (N.Y.) Holy Cross High: Three stars, No. 71 TE, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Stanford did not recruit Cajuste to play tight end, which was a main factor in his decision to play for the Cardinal.
  • LT Andrus Peat, Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol High: Five stars, No. 2 OT, Class of 2012. Scouts grade: 85.
    Notable: Peat is the only Stanford player who has a received a five-star grade from ESPN since the star system was implemented in 2010. He is tied with QB Ryan Burns (Class of 2013) with the highest number grade.
  • LG David Yankey, Roswell (Ga.) Centennial High: Three stars, No. 45 OT, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Earned All-American honors at both left tackle and left guard. Projects as a guard in the NFL.
  • C Khalil Wilkes, Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep: No. 18 OG, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Didn't see significant playing time until his fourth year and was named second-team All-Pac-12 after switching to center as a fifth-year senior.
  • RG Kevin Danser, San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep: No. 33 OG, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Started for two years at right guard.
  • RT Cameron Fleming, Houston Cypress Creek High: Three stars, No. 56 OT, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Three-year starter opted to head to the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.
  • TE Charlie Hopkins, Spokane (Wash.) Gonzaga Prep School: Three stars, No. 47 DE, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Transitioned to tight end before the 2013 season.
Defense

  • [+] EnlargeBen Gardner
    Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsBen Gardner wasn't highly recruited -- Stanford was his only FBS offer -- but he became one of the Pac-12's best defensive ends.
    DE Ben Gardner, Mequon (Wis.) Homestead High: Not ranked, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: none.
    Notable: Stanford was Gardner's only FBS offer, but in three years as a starter he was named first-team All-Pac-12 once and second-team All-Pac-12 twice.
  • DE Henry Anderson, College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy: Three stars, No. 120 DE, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Anderson has developed into one of the conference's best defensive ends and has an NFL future.
  • DT David Parry, Marion (Iowa) Linn-Mar High: Not ranked, walked on in 2010. Scouts grade: not ranked.
    Notable: Parry was the lone walk-on starter for Stanford.
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Phoenix Brophy Prep School: No. 163 DE, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 72.
    Notable: Other than Gardner, who wasn't graded, Murphy received the lowest grade of any Stanford scholarship player on the roster in 2013 -- not just among starters. Considering a strong case can be made that Murphy was the best defensive player in college football in 2013, Murphy is the example of why signing day hype shouldn't be taken as gospel.
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Trinity Pawling (N.Y.) School: No. 16 OLB, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Skov lived up to lofty expectations, which were even higher from other recruiting services.
  • ILB A.J. Tarpley, Plymouth (Minn) Wayzata High: Three stars, No. 48 ILB, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Tarpley's profile doesn't read like that of a player who will become a four-year starter on one of the nation's elite defenses, but that's how his career finished.

  • OLB James Vaughters, Tucker (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 2 ILB, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 81.
    Notable: Considered one of the highest-profile recruits Stanford has ever signed. Has played DE, ILB and OLB.
  • CB Alex Carter, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods High: Four stars, No. 11 ATH, Class of 2012: Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Initial analysis of Carter pegged him to play safety.

  • CB Wayne Lyons, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard High: Four stars, No. 7 S, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 81.
    Notable: Along with Vaughters, was one of two Stanford players in the ESPN 150 in his class.
  • S Jordan Richards, Folsom (Calif.) High: Four stars, No. 26 ATH, Class of 2011: Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Analysis of Richards predicted he'd be a wide receiver or cornerback.
  • S Ed Reynolds, Woodberry Forest (Va.) School: Three stars, No. 38 S, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Was ranked behind teammate Devon Carrington (Four stars, No. 11 S) in the same class. Carrington never became a starter.

Yankey's departure not a surprise

January, 13, 2014
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Stanford left guard David Yankey's decision to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft ranks right up there with the least surprising declarations of the offseason.

Yankey could have easily justified a jump to the NFL after last season, when he was a consensus All-American and named the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman. Instead, he returned for what most assumed would be one final season on the Farm.

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAfter a 2013 season in which he was named a consensus All-American and the Pac-12's most outstanding offensive lineman, David Yankey is headed for the NFL.
It's a decision the Stanford coaching staff saw coming years in advance. If not for an injury in 2010 -- when he became the first Stanford offensive lineman in 10 years to play as a true freshman -- he'd already be out of eligibility, and it became clear early on in 2011 to offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren that Yankey was destined for the NFL.

There were times that season when Bloomgren, now the offensive coordinator, had trouble finding Yankey on film. It wasn't a bad thing, either. It was because Yankey, in his first year as a starter, played so similarly to junior right guard David DeCastro that it was easy to confuse the two. That's high praise considering DeCastro was a finalist for the Outland Trophy that season and the first offensive guard taken in the 2012 NFL draft (No. 24 overall to Pittsburgh).

How the Cardinal moves on without Yankey appears to be fairly clear cut.

Rising junior Joshua Garnett, who started in place of Yankey at left guard against Washington State and saw regular playing time this season in Stanford's formations that utilized extra linemen, should have an easy transition into the starting lineup. Whether that's at Yankey's left guard spot or at right guard, where Stanford loses Kevin Danser to graduation, remains to be seen.

Johnny Caspers was listed as Danser's primary backup this season and will likely enter spring practice as the favorite to replace him.

The Cardinal will also have to find a new starter at center with Khalil Wilkes out of eligibility and potentially at right tackle as Cam Fleming has yet to announce publicly whether he'll return for his final season of eligibility or enter the NFL draft. The deadline to declare is Wednesday.

Kyle Murphy would likely have the edge over Brendon Austin at right tackle if Fleming leaves, and the center competition will start with Graham Shuler and Kevin Reihner.

Left tackle Andrus Peat, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season, is the only starter guaranteed to return from an offensive line that ranked seventh nationally in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (4.14).

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
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The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.

The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.

Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State

First team offense

QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)

First team defense

DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)

First team specialists

PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC

Second team offense

QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford

Second team defense

DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State

Second team specialists

PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA

RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection

Honorable mention

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.

Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.

California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.

Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.

Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.

Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.

Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.

UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.

USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.

Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.

Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.

Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;

Some notes on the teams:

By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.

By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.

Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.

Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.

All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
Tags:

Stanford Cardinal, Pac-12, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Jordan Richards, Ty Montgomery, Stanford Cardinal, Trent Murphy, Henry Anderson, Tyler Gaffney, David Yankey, Cameron Fleming, Shayne Skov, Oregon Ducks, Khalil Wilkes, A.J. Tarpley, Ben Gardner, Arizona Wildcats, Joe Hemschoot, UCLA Bruins, Josh Mauro, Kevin Danser, USC Trojans, Colorado Buffaloes, Paul Richardson, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, Damante Horton, Keith Price, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Bears, Oregon State Beavers, Sean Mannion, Marqise Lee, Deone Bucannon, Andrus Peat, Alex Carter, Todd Graham, Ed Reynolds, Brandin Cooks, Bishop Sankey, Ka'Deem Carey, Shaq Evans, Sean Parker, River Cracraft, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Dion Bailey, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Taylor Kelly, Xavier Grimble, Chris Young, Will Sutton, Vincenzo D'Amato, Scott Crichton, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Eric Kendricks, Andrew Furney, Marion Grice, Anthony Barr, Alden Darby, Carl Bradford, Cassius Marsh, Chris Coyle, Danny Shelton, Elliott Bosch, Evan Finkenberg, George Uko, Grant Enger, Hayes Pullard, Hroniss Grasu, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Isaac Seumalo, Jake Brendel, Jared Tevis, Leonard Williams, Rashaad Reynolds, Shaq Thompson, Trevor Reilly, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jared Goff, Devon Kennard, Kevin Graf, Nelson Agholor, Tenny Palepoi, Byron Marshall, Deandre Coleman, Mike Criste, Tony Washington, Derrick Malone, Keith McGill, Addison Gillam, Andy Phillips, Cody Kessler, Anthony Jefferson, Dres Anderson, Steven Nelson, Bryce Treggs, Bralon Addison, Jaelen Strong, Scooby Wright, Tom Hackett, Connor Hamlett, Travis Coons, Randall Goforth, Fabian Moreau, Jordan Zumwalt, Myles Jack, Ellis McCarthy, Robert Nelson, Marcus Peters, Soma Vainuku, Hau'oli Kikaha, Alex Redmond, Davon Coleman, De'Marieya Nelson, Devin Fuller, Dexter Charles, Eddie Vanderdoes, Erick Dargan, Gannon Conway, J.R. Tavai, Jamil Douglas, Jason Whittingham, Javorius Allen, Jayon Brown, Kris Albarado, Marcus Martin, Marquis Flowers, Micah Hatchie, Mike Adkins, Nate Phillips, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Ryan Murphy, Sean Covington, Su'a Cravens, Terron Ward, Tevin Hood, Thomas Duarte, Tyler Johnstone, Vyncent Jones, Will Oliver, Zane Gonzales

Q&A: Stanford's Kevin Danser

September, 6, 2013
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Stanford kicks off its season tomorrow night against San Jose State, and offensive lineman Kevin Danser couldn’t be more ready to start his fifth year. Danser, a 6-6, 295-pound guard who prepped at nearby Bellarmine, took some time to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the regional rivalry with the Spartans, the expectations for the Cardinal in 2013 and what the perfect offensive lineman would look like if he got to play Dr. Frankenstein.

The San Jose State game obviously isn’t as big of a rivalry as Cal, but being from the Bay Area, do you get the sense that a rivalry exists?

Kevin Danser: Of course. The San Jose State coach (Ron Caragher) is actually a former Bellarmine Bell, so we have that connection. There are a lot of local guys on the team. It’s huge bragging rights as well. You want to beat every team in the Bay Area and this is a great game to kick it off. My brother played for San Jose State so there are also some in-house bragging rights.

Last year, there was so much talk about who is going to replace Andrew Luck, seemingly lost in that shuffle was the fact that you had to replace David DeCastro. Not easy. Did you feel that pressure and what was it like being the guy that had to follow David?

KD: Obviously he was probably the best offensive lineman to ever come through this program. I never felt too much pressure. I came in and did my job. Listened to the coaches, they know what’s best. I just came in everyday and put my blue collar shirt on, put my tunnel worker’s hat on and came to work. I never really felt the pressure.

The line is obviously highly regarded -- some say it might be the best in the country. What are the goals you guys have set for yourselves on the line?

KD: Our goal is to be the best offensive line in the country. We want zero sacks. We want at least four yards per every carry. And convert every situation, every third down. We have high expectations for the line. We like to say we’re the forefront of the offense. It starts up front with us. We start it all off.

2011 was a fairly hyped year. A lot of that had to do with Luck coming back. This year you guys have a lot of expectations as well. How similar or different does this year feel going into the season versus 2011?

KD: I like to say every year is a little different. Obviously that year we had a ton of talent with Andrew, David, Moose (Jonathan Martin), great receivers, great running backs like S.T. (Stepfan Taylor). This year also comes with expectations. Through our training camp, we’ve talked about that and we feel OK about the expectations.

You’re going into your fifth year so you've really seen the evolution of this program. What’s it been like to be a part of that and how have you seen the program change in the last half decade?

KD: It’s been unbelievable watching it change. The thing that sets us apart is competition. Every day you are out there competing. Whether it’s competing for your job against Josh Garnett or competing against a defense that is one of the best in the country. No job, no spot is guaranteed. And that’s what’s really helped this program grow.

You’re majoring in biomechanical engineering. If you were biomechanically engineering the perfect offensive lineman, would he look like David Yankey?

KD: I don’t want to throw Yank under the bus, but if I were biomechanically engineering the perfect offensive lineman he’d look like David DeCastro. That guy was a true specimen. He truly was a student of the game as well. The way he studied it and the way he approached it was unbelievable. In all aspects, he was one of the best linemen I’ve ever seen. But Yankey is up there. I don’t want to sell him short. He’s very good as well. He’s not a guy to sleep on.

You were mentioned for the center job and then David Shaw said you were too good at guard and Khalil Wilkes ends up winning it. What does he bring that Chase (Beeler) and Sam (Schwartzstein) had. What’s the common thread between Stanford centers?

KD: The biggest thing is the experience he brings to the table. He played in 14 games last year. He knows the offense really well. He’s a natural fit. Everyone feels good having him in there. We felt like Khalil brings to the party what we’re looking for and he is of the mold of Chase Beeler or Sam Schwartzstein. We feel good about the way he communicates with us.

Finish this sentence for me. In 2013, Stanford football will be ….?

KD: In 2013, Stanford football will have an epic year.
Unlike last year, there is no quarterback competition at Stanford. But the recently released post-spring depth chart does reveal some potentially interesting developments to eye-ball heading into fall.

Starting on offense -- there are only two running backs listed -- Anthony Wilkerson "or" Tyler Gaffney as the starter. Both are trying to replace three-time 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor, though it's widely believed the Cardinal will take more of a committee approach than they did last year, when Taylor led the Pac-12 with 322 carries. There is plenty of depth, albeit mostly inexperienced, behind Gaffney and Wilkerson.

Also of note offensively is the addition of Kevin Danser on the depth chart at center. He's slated to start at right guard, though there is also an "or" separating Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden and Danser at center. It will be interesting to watch in the fall if Danser continues to get work at center. And if he wins the job, it would allow the Cardinal to insert Josh Garnett into the starting rotation at guard. That would give the Cardinal a starting front of Andrus Peat (LT), David Yankey (LG), Danser (C), Garnett (RG) and Cam Fleming (RT).

With the news of Josh Nunes' retirement yesterday, Evan Crower is locked in as the backup to Kevin Hogan and, for now, Devon Cajuste looks like he'll start opposite Ty Montgomery at receiver.

Fullback Geoff Meinken also announced he'll retire after struggling to return from a knee injury that kept him out of 2012.

At tight end -- Stanford's go-to receiving position the last couple of years -- Luke Kaumatule and Davis Dudchock are separated by an "or." However both will probably get a ton of work in Stanford's two-tight-end sets.

Defensively, there are only two "ors" on the depth chart. Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro have a good competition going at defensive and Blake Lueders and James Vaughters are undecided at the outside linebacker spot to release Chase Thomas. Though the Cardinal rotate backers and defensive linemen so frequently that "starter" is more of an honorary title.

Worth noting also that Devon Carrington, who has spent his career at safety, is also listed as a backup with Usua Amanam at right cornerback behind Wayne Lyons. Amanam is Stanford's go-to nickelback and Carrington is also backing up Ed Reynolds.

Looking at the specialists, up for grabs is the punter, which could go to either Ben Rhyne or Conrad Ukropina. Montgomery looks set at kick return while it's a four-way race between him, Kodi Whitfield, Keanu Nelson and Barry Sanders to return punts.

You can see the complete depth chart here and interpret it as you see fit.
You might have noticed a theme this week. We kicked off the "Biggest Shoes" series and had two polls (North and South) on replacing departed players. So that means it's now time for your Pac-12 bloggers to weigh in on which two players we believe leave the biggest holes. Given our penchant for quarterbacks, you might find our two choices surprising. Read on.

Ted Miller: I do not know what size 6-foot-3, 320-pound Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's shoes are, but I'd bet they are among the biggest in the Pac-12 -- in more ways than one.

The thing about replacing a dominant interior defensive lineman is that it's difficult to measure what you're losing. An All-America receiver or running back or even cornerback leaves, and you feel fairly comfortable quantifying what is lost and must be replaced. Lotulelei, however, was more than the sum of his stats -- 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and a very important blocked kick.

Lotulelei changed what an offense could do. He changed blocking schemes. He demanded specific attention from an offensive coordinator and a line coach. He made sure the interior of the opposing offensive line -- even if the offense was winning the overall battle -- wanted to ask for its check.

He was a unique presence. An anomaly. A college center could start 48 games in his career and face a guy like him just once. That's why Lotulelei will be a first-round NFL draft pick, even with a heart condition. He could get picked in the top five if a team deems him healthy.

But his shoes are even bigger because Utah, after a disappointing defensive campaign in 2012, is replacing three of four defensive linemen. Moreover, the Utes were unhappy with their linebacker play last fall, even with all the protection Lotulelei provided. Opposing offensive lines, unencumbered by the need to double-team Lotulelei every play, will get a lot more hats on those linebackers in 2013. Not what coach Kyle Whittingham wants.

[+] EnlargeSam Schwartzstein
Charles Baus/CSMCenter Sam Schwartzstein was a huge piece of Stanford's recent offensive success.
The cupboard isn't empty. The Utes are high on Tenny Palepoi, a 305-pound senior who played well as the backup to defensive tackle Dave Kruger last season. And there are other big bodies: LT Tuipulotu, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a 320-pound redshirt freshman, and Viliseni Fauonuku will be in the mix.

Yet the Utes defensive coaches won't even pretend one of those guys will fill Lotulelei's shoes. They are just too big.

Kevin Gemmell: This is a tough one. I've been going through a bunch of players all week long trying to come to a conclusion on which one I wanted to write about (and Lotulelei was already taken). All of them are important -- Matt Barkley, Khaled Holmes, Robert Woods, Jordan Poyer, Travis Long, Markus Wheaton, Brandon Magee, Desmond Trufant, Stepfan Taylor, Johnathan Franklin, Zach Ertz, Dion Jordan and … (insert name I unintentionally omitted and now you feel wildly offended).

There really is no wrong answer here. Each player is a major contributor to his team in his own way. But the one name that kept coming back to me is Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein. I know, not as exciting as Kenjon Barner or glamorous as Matt Scott. But in terms of sheer contributions to the team that will be tough to replace, Schwartzstein has to be in the conversation.

In 2011, he was regarded as having the second-best football mind on the team -- behind only Andrew Luck. And he didn't lose any of that in 2012.

After the quarterback, there is no more important position on Stanford's offense than the center. He makes all of the scheme and protection calls at the line of scrimmage. He even calls plays in the huddle when the Cardinal go into the Wildcat.

Schwartzstein started every game since taking over for All-American Chase Beeler, and twice he blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in Taylor. The Cardinal played 14 games in 2012 and allowed just 20 sacks. In the 12-game regular season, they had allowed a conference-best 17. The year before that? Just 11 in 13 games. I know for a fact that there were zero quarterback-center exchange fumbles in 2011. And none comes to mind in 2012.

Khalil Wilkes, who started almost every game last year at left guard (one start at left tackle) moves over to compete with Conor McFadden for the gig. Maybe the transition from Schwartzstein to one of those guys will go as smoothly as the handoff from Beeler to Schwartzstein. After all, the new center will have one bona-fide All-American at his side and potentially a couple more on the line.

But they won't be the ones making the calls. That falls on the center -- and Schwartzstein was outstanding at it. He was second-team all-conference and honored with the school's leadership award. Not Taylor, not Ertz. Not Shayne Skov nor Ryan Hewitt nor the aforementioned All-American David Yankey. The center … the most crucial position in Stanford's offense that you never hear about.

Tough shoes to fill, indeed.

Stanford post-spring notes

April, 18, 2012
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David Shaw has said many times that he was spoiled having Andrew Luck at quarterback. Now that Luck is gone, the Stanford head coach is getting back to his roots as a quarterbacks coach -- a position he held with two NFL teams.

Part of that means scaling back the playbook. With Luck, he could let his offensive imagination run wild. Now with a couple of quarterbacks with a total of zero college starts between them competing for the job, it's more about getting back to basics.

"It's really not frustrating, it's just coming back to reality," Shaw said, followed by a big laugh. "That's where I've been most of my career. That's where [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton has been for most of his career.

"I received a nice little shot from Lane Kiffin saying that his quarterback checks plays also -- which is great. That's what most good quarterbacks do. We just had a guy that was on a different level. Now we're just back to what is really the standard for college football. You have to have your quarterback get you out of bad plays and into good plays, which is what we're back to."

Shaw said he won't really know the identity of his offense until he settles the quarterback question -- and also plugs the hole at left tackle vacated by Jonathan Martin.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Cary Edmondson/US Presswire"You have to have your quarterback get you out of bad plays and into good plays," coach David Shaw said of Stanford post Andrew Luck.
"At some point, we'll settle on a quarterback," Shaw said. "At some point, we'll settle on left tackle. It's hard to completely say who you are and what you're going to do until those places are settled."

In other post-spring news:

  • Shaw said he's pleased with the progress of Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes at the right guard position -- though he wasn't ready to name a starter. When tackle Brendon Austin missed time, David Yankey moved from guard to left tackle and Danser and Wilkes played both guard spots.

  • "If nobody on campus takes that left tackle job or if one of the two younger guys [Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy] isn't ready, we could kick Yankey out there and be solid at both guard spots as we groom those young tackles."

  • Just how deep is Stanford at linebacker? Well, Shaw was running off a list of names; Chase Thomas, James Vaughters, Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley, Kevin Anderson, Alex Debniak, Trent Murphy, Joe Hemschoot. Forgetting someone?

  • "What about Jarek Lancaster, coach?"

    "Oh yeah, Jarek is playing great."

    "OK, I didn't hear his name so I wanted to make sure he didn't transfer to Oregon or anything."

    "No no. Please don't wish that upon me."

    The moral of the anecdote is that Stanford is so deep at linebacker that Shaw forgot to mention the guy who led the Cardinal in tackles last season.

  • Shaw also sang the praises of running back Ricky Seale, who had an outstanding spring session.

  • "We just played a spring game without our top three running backs and we found out that our fourth running back is good enough to start at a lot of places," Shaw said.

  • With tight end Coby Fleener headed to the NFL, the Cardinal lose one-third of the Tree Amigos -- the vaunted tight end trio of Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Does that mean the Cardinal will move more toward the wide receivers being the primary receiving option?

  • "I personally don't really care about one group getting the ball over another," Shaw said. "I tell these guys all the time that I don't care who actually plays. It's whoever shows they can consistently make plays. We could easily become a three-or-four wide receiver team if that's the best group of guys and the most consistent and making big plays. Or we could be a two-tight-end team. Or a one tight end team. The offense will be whatever the personnel allows us to be."

Stanford notes: Who replaces Luck?

April, 6, 2012
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford kicked off its second spring session after a three-week break this week, and here are some notes from the Pac-12 blog's visit on Thursday.

  • And the first quarterback of the post-Andrew Luck Era is ... Yeah, right. It's likely going to be either junior Brett Nottingham or senior Josh Nunes, but coach David Shaw said the competition will extend into fall camp. "I want them to finish spring in competition mode. And I want them to start fall camp in competition mode," he said. "I don't want to name a starter the week of the first game. I'd like to do it before that so we can start to settle in." Shaw called the competition "Neck and neck."
  • A recurring theme from the coaches -- Shaw and both coordinators -- is that members of the 2012 recruiting class are going to play in the fall. Several, in fact. Particularly in need areas such as the offensive line and secondary. Yes, those touted frosh O-linemen are going to see immediate action.
  • As for the competition among existing players to replace left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, those spots are still up in the air. Brendon Austin and Cole Underwood are in the mix at LT, and Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser are in a battle for DeCastro's guard spot.
  • Talented sophomore James Vaughters will get on the field, and don't be surprised if he ends up at inside linebacker. At least, that seems to be where defensive coordinator Derek Mason envisions him at present. Part of this appears to be his comfort with Kevin Anderson, who's been playing defensive end, and Alex Debniak backing up outside 'backers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas.
  • By the way, Mason loves his linebacker depth. He said as many as 10 could play in the Cardinal's 3-4 next year.
  • Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro are locked in a tough competition to replace underrated defensive end Matt Masifilo.
  • The Cardinal need to replace both starting safeties. The name that comes up the most is Ed Reynolds, who was out last season with a knee injury. Jordan Richards, Kyle Olugbode and Devon Carrington are in the mix also, but Mason doesn't hesitate to bring up incoming freshmen Drew Madhu and Zach Hoffpauir.
  • It's pretty clear that the not-entirely-unreasonable questioning of whether Stanford can remain an elite team post-Andrew Luck is serving as motivation in the locker room. While the topic is hardly obsessed over, it's also fair to say everyone is aware of the widespread doubts heading into 2012.
So the Stanford Cardinal have to replace a quarterback who is going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. It happens. Almost every year, in fact. Since 2000, nine teams have been where the Cardinal are now, having to replace a quarterback taken No. 1 overall. During that same span, 32 teams have had to replace quarterbacks taken in the first round. While Andrew Luck might be considered in rare company, the Cardinal certainly aren't.

However, replacing two offensive linemen taken in the first round -- that's rare. And difficult. Since 1967, only 11 schools have had two offensive linemen drafted in the first round. Rarer still is that only four have had to replace both a guard and a tackle -- the last coming in 2001 when Michigan's Steve Hutchinson and Jeff Backus were drafted back-to-back at Nos. 17 and 18, respectively.



That's the challenge facing the Stanford Cardinal, who kicked off spring ball this week without left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro. Both were in Indianapolis last week for the NFL combine and both are expected to be first-round draft picks. And Stanford's future success hinges as greatly on replacing Martin and DeCastro as it does replacing Luck.

"The competition is going to be high," said Kevin Danser, one of several in line competing for DeCastro's old guard spot. "I don't think anyone is penciled in to be a leader or a favorite. There are a lot of guys that want that spot. And you're filling in for someone great. It's not like a David DeCastro comes around every year. It's going to be tough, but we're all looking forward to competing."

Stanford returns three starters from last year's group: right tackle Cameron Fleming, left guard David Yankey and center Sam Schwartzstein. All three were first-year starters last year and performed very well alongside Martin and DeCastro. And that's the reason head coach David Shaw isn't looking to move any of them from their current spots.

"I think Cameron Fleming and David Yankey have shown some special things where they are," Shaw said. "I learned in Baltimore [as a Ravens assistant] that taking a guy and moving him from where he's comfortable, you're taking one problem and making it two problems. We'll keep Sammy in the middle. We feel really good about those three guys and we'll have a lot of competition between those spots."

Cole Underwood and Brendon Austin appear to be emerging as the top two candidates for left tackle, Shaw said.

"Brendon Austin has had an outstanding winter," Shaw said. "He's up to 300 pounds, moving great. Cole Underwood really started to get a feel and help us at the end of games. Cole is going to be in competition potentially at both of those positions. He's shown potential to kick at tackle and pull as a guard."

[+] EnlargeKevin Danser
Kyle Terada/US PresswireRising senior Kevin Danser will be among those gunning for David DeCastro's old job at right guard.
Underwood, who appeared in three games last season, said he's a better player for having backed up Martin and Fleming last season.

"Moose [Martin] is a do-things-right-all-the-time kind of guy," Underwood said. "He's an extremely hard worker and that's what separated him from tackles all over the country. That's why he's about to be a first-round pick. Be obsessed with the game. Be a workaholic. Technique is key, no matter what size you are or how much you lift. If you don't have technique, it won't help on the field. He was a big technician and he was always striving for perfect technique every rep."

The X-factor is Stanford's heralded offensive-line recruiting class. Shaw upped the ante when he brought in several of the nation's top offensive linemen in one class. It sounded an alarm to the players on the roster that the level of competition had increased significantly.

"You welcome that -- you always want that competition no matter who they bring in," Danser said. "Whether it's the best of the best like this class or anybody else. Whoever they bring in, it comes down to competition. You want a spot? You have to fight for it."

While true freshman traditionally don't contribute immediately on the offensive line, Shaw said not to be surprised if several of them are in the mix right away.

"Yes, absolutely," Shaw said. "I would say possible bordering on probable. As you know, we play more lineman than anybody possibly in the history of football. We're going to play seven or eight linemen in every single game. If those young guys show the ability to help us out, we're going to put them on the field. If they show enough ability to split time or start, we're going to do it. I have no qualms about that. The best guys play. If a guy becomes a starter -- we still have two or three positions open. We really consider about eight guys starters on our offensive line."

That bodes well for players like Danser, Underwood, Austin, Kevin Reihner, Khalil Wilkes and anybody else hoping to block for whoever becomes the next Stanford quarterback. The Cardinal had a lot of success last season with their jumbo package of seven or eight offensive linemen and two or three tight ends. And don't think the players don't appreciate a system that puts the spotlight on the big boys.

"It's extremely effective," Underwood said. "First, it's tough for other teams. I'm sure they turn on film and say, 'This is a monster we've never seen.' And it's good for recruiting. Young guys are looking and saying, 'Hey, they love linemen at Stanford and they show us love.' That's all we all really want, is to be loved a little bit."
The regular season is over, which means grades are due. Here's part three of the ongoing regular-season report card for Stanford.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Grade: A-

Summary: Of all of the position groups, this one probably had the most questions heading into Week 1. With three new starters flanked around returning All-Pac-10 performers Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, there were concerns of whether 1) the running game would be as productive as it was last season and 2) whether quarterback Andrew Luck would remain upright throughout the year.

[+] EnlargeDavid DeCastro
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireAfter another terrific season, guard David DeCastro should be playing on Sundays next year.
Yes, for the most part. And yes, for the most part.

There were drop-offs in both categories, but only slightly. After averaging 213 rushing yards per game last season, the Cardinal ran for an average of 207.9 this year. Last year's line yielded six sacks, this year's nine (eight if you don't count Luck running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage against Duke).

So the bar was set considerably high for Sam Schwartzstein (center), David Yankey (guard) and Cameron Fleming (tackle) to fill the shoes of last year's group. Injuries started to take their toll on the line toward the second half of the season. But overall, it was a very good season for the boys up front.

Martin and DeCastro -- more than likely on their way to playing on Sundays next season -- were fantastic, per usual. Martin is one of the top two or three left tackles in the country and DeCastro is the best interior lineman in college football.

Much credit goes to Schwartzstein for his keen understanding of the offense. Players often credit him for being the most knowledgeable player besides Luck. Plus, I can't recall a single quarterback-center exchange issue this season. It's an un-kept stat that gets overlooked far too often.

Fleming and Yankey didn't come along quite as fast as Schwartzstein, but by the season's midpoint -- until Fleming missed some time with an injury -- they were hitting on all cylinders as a unit.

This group wasn't as good as last year's. But given the three new starters, I think it's more than fair to say they exceeded expectations.

Backups: Stanford's offensive line backups are pretty much just that -- backups. With their jumbo packages, it's not unusual to see Tyler Mabry (who filled in for the injured Fleming) and Kevin Danser along with other five on some plays. With Mabry and Matt Bentler both graduating, it will be interesting to see what the line looks like next season -- specifically if Danser moves over from left to right guard to replace DeCastro and if backup center Khalil Wilkes makes a position change. A new left tackle to go with a new quarterback could get dicey.

Bye week grades: offensive line

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
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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

Meet the man in the middle

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- The relationship between a quarterback and his center is a ... well ... an intimate one. Obviously, physical closeness is part of the job requirement. But so is mental cohesiveness.

Faith. Trust.

[+] EnlargeSam Schwartzstein
AP Photo/Paul SakumaStanford center Sam Schwartzstein, right, and quarterback Andrew Luck, center, have quickly developed a rapport this season.
And for the past two years, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck had one of the best in the business initiating every play for him. But Chase Beeler, the first team All-American, is gone, now a member of the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad.

These days, Luck is putting his faith in someone new. Sam Schwartzstein, a a 6-foot-3, 290-pound Texan from Southlake who appears to have the moxie needed for the gig. He also has the humility.

"Filling the spot of Chase Beeler is a challenge," Schwartzstein said. "He was an All-American and one of the smartest people to ever come through Stanford as a player and a person. But I've got great guys on either side of me. The pressure isn't all on me to do it alone. There are a lot of intelligent guys on the line with me."

Luck, who hails from Houston, already has a great rapport with his new center since both are Lone Stars at heart. Even if their hometowns are separated by a five-hour drive. They immediately bonded over Texas high school football, which both insist is the best in the nation.

But on the field, there is going to be an adjustment period.

"It's a relationship that takes time and game experience to grow," Luck said. "That's what was so great with Chase. We were on the same page 100 percent. But Sam is smart. Football smart. He works real hard to make sure he's on the page with everyone.

"... He's got a great sense of humor. He keeps it light when it needs to be kept light. When it's time to get serious, he puts his best foot forward."

If that's the case, he must have put both feet forward in Week 1 against San Jose State, because Schwartzstein earned rave reviews from head coach David Shaw.

"He was outstanding. Off the charts," Shaw said. "We expected him to play well and he surpassed our expectations."

The initial blocking calls start with the center. From there, the guards and tackles communicate. But everything is initiated by the man in the middle.

So it all comes down to Schwartzstein to make the proper protection call to safeguard the presumptive No. 1 NFL draft pick. And so far, Shaw says he's batting 1.000.

"He made them all right, even when the front wasn't what we expected," Shaw said. "... It's nice when Sammy can say 'this guy was here and this guy was here.' It shows us he has that vision to see the middle and to know and be able to make adjustments. That's huge to coaches.

"For him to have that command -- to be so certain -- and hit all of his targets, he hit everyone he was supposed to block and he blocked them well."

That's as high a praise as one can hope to receive after making their first career start. Schwartzstein, however, didn't echo his coach's opinion.

"I wasn't very satisfied with it," he said. "We had some things schematically that we wanted to do and I think there are a few plays I'd like to have back. But no regrets. We'll try to make everything perfect this week. You can't ever be satisfied, because each week you can always get better."

He knows what's at stake. He also knows that praise can be fleeting. He entered camp this fall locked in a tight race with Khalil Wilkes for the starting job. He wants to justify the coaching staff's confidence in him.

Schwartzstein is one of three new starting offensive linemen this season. Only tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro return from a unit that was considered one of the best in the country the previous two seasons. That's a lot of responsibility considering who they are protecting. Along with David Yankey and Cameron Fleming, Schwartzstein acknowledges that they are the pups packed between a couple of returning first-team Pac-10 performers.

But pups grow up fast.

"I feel like we're getting close to where we want to be continuity-wise," Schwartzstein said. "But it's going to take some time. We're all working together and watching film together. It's a process. No one knows exactly when we'll be on the same page. Hopefully, it's sooner than later."

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