<
>

Regular-season report card: Offensive line

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.

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.