Stanford Football: Matt Bentler

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
10:30
AM ET
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

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