Stanford Football: Pep Hamilton

Stanford coach David Shaw's decision to promote Lance Anderson to defensive coordinator should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

If there is anything Shaw has shown in his previous hires, it's that he likes to promote from within and strives to have continuity within the program. Choosing Anderson to replace Derek Mason, who left last week to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, fits the mold established with his initial coordinator hires of Pep Hamilton and Mason and last year's promotion of Mike Bloomgren.

The only coordinator hire that came from outside the program in Shaw's tenure was when he named current Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver the co-coordinator with Mason in 2011. Tarver was at Stanford for just that season, in which Mason still served as the play caller.

Shaw and Anderson are the only coaches who remain from Jim Harbaugh's initial staff at Stanford in 2007. Both made the jump with Harbaugh from the University of San Diego.

In all likelihood, this move was at least a year in the making. Anderson reportedly turned down the chance to become the defensive coordinator at South Florida a year ago under Willie Taggart, another former Harbaugh staff member, to remain at Stanford. It was clear then that Mason would land a head-coaching gig sooner rather than later, which makes it reasonable to assume Shaw and Anderson discussed the possibility that he'd be the eventual replacement.

That's roughly how it played out when Bloomgren was elevated from offensive line coach/run game coordinator when Hamilton took the offensive coordinator job with the Colts. In fact, Shaw and Bloomgren discussed the potential for that to eventually happen before he hired him in 2011.

With Anderson's promotion official, Stanford still has three spots to fill on its staff.

In addition to Mason, Shaw needs to replace Mike Sanford, who left to become Boise State's offensive coordinator, and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski, who will serve as Mason's defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.

Tavita Pritchard shifted from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach immediately after Sanford left, which means the Cardinal is currently without coaches for its running backs, inside linebackers, defensive backs and does not have an official recruiting coordinator.

Q&A: Stanford's Mike Bloomgren

June, 19, 2013
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When Stanford coach David Shaw went looking for an offensive coordinator, he didn't look far, promoting Mike Bloomgren a couple of weeks after Pep Hamilton left for that role with the Indianapolis Colts. No other candidates were interviewed. Bloomgren, who was previously the Cardinal's offensive-line coach and run-game coordinator, took some time this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his expectations for this season (realistic or otherwise), the competition at running back and how his time in the NFL translates to the college game.

What would you like to see out of the offense in your first year as coordinator?

Mike Bloomgren: Well, probably average between eight or nine yards per carry, have zero incompletions and win every game we play.

Well played. What would you realistically like to see?

MB: I just want to see us keep getting better as a football team. I love the steps we've taken. I'm so proud of the way our guys work and how they fight and fight and fight. I want to keep seeing that mentality and hopefully they keep seeing that in the way we play. From an efficiency standpoint, protect the football and do all the things we talk about being the core of this offense.

What goes into game planning at Stanford? I know there were times when coach Shaw would call the plays and Pep would call plays and you'd call the plays. How much collaboration really goes into it?

MB: A lot. It was as segmented of a deal as I've ever been a part of when I first got here. And from what I understand, it was worse before I got here. Last year, it was segmented, but it worked out so freaking good. So much better than I thought possible. The reasons are very simple. We're experts in our field. There wasn't much that surprised me run-game-wise from the fronts and the defensive structure. I felt like I had a good beat on teams. I thought Pep and David and (running-backs coach) Mike Sanford had a good understanding for what the defense was going to do. David was all in on third down. He's so great at calling that. Pep in the red zone has been lights-out the last few years. It's great. It's a different system. The way I understand is it stems from coach Shaw working with Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan and how they did things when they came over to Oakland from Philly together. Jon was involved in calling the plays, but when he wanted to run, he asked coach Callahan. Hopefully I was able to be that for Dave the last few years.

There's so much NFL influence on this coaching staff -- you included from your time with the Jets. How much of the NFL game translates to what you guys want to do?

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMike Bloomgren will have a diverse group of running backs at his disposal in his first season as Stanford's offensive coordinator.
MB: It's unbelievable how much translates, in terms of the volume of the system and that it's done in a West Coast terminology. Bill Walsh called plays in this system -- so much of it stems from what he came up with. And it's probably the same system that's used in more than half of the teams in the NFL. That's why our free agents do so well. They are plug-and-play guys. They show up to camp and already know the terminology. The NFL influence is real. It's real on who we are and the mark that's left on this system.

Having already served as the run-game coordinator, how much does that help as you transition into the offensive coordinator job?

MB: Hopefully a lot. I'll be frank with you. I'll still be really involved in the run game and I was an offensive coordinator before at Delta State. Obviously, a smaller level of football, but it's still played on a field that's 100 yards long and the football still had air in it. And then my time in New York with Bill Callahan and Brian Schottenheimer was incredible in helping me understand what goes into make a game plan and calling a game on game day. Plus coach Shaw isn't going anywhere, so we'll continue to have that great communication.

Coach Shaw -- unfairly, as I've written many times -- gets a lot of criticism for being too conservative of a playcaller. What do you bring as a playcaller?

MB: I'm not going to be great at talking about that because I don't think he's conservative at all. He's so well thought-out. People think he's emotionless on the sidelines. But he's not! I think back at some of the calls we had over the last few years. I remember my time with Jimmy Raye in New York, he used to talk about "Diet Coke calls." I asked him one day, "Jimmy, what in the heck are Diet Coke calls?" He said, "You call it, you grab your Diet Coke and take a sip. Sometimes you watch what happens. Sometimes you don't. And you can tell by the crowd whether it's good or bad." We had a bunch of those. The halfback flip against USC to basically end the game. Critical calls on fourth-and-1. The wildcat calls we do. Reverses. I don't see the conservative approach. I don't get it.

What about you?

MB: I hope I bring something that is well thought-out and gives our kids answers. So no matter what we call from the sideline, we'll have programmed the quarterback and the offensive linemen with ways to solve whatever problems they have. We have a solid system. It's more than just being a playcaller on game day. We want our kids to have answers to whatever the defense gives them.

Now that you've been through spring, what's your take on the running backs?

MB: It's an exciting group. We were just watching some of Stepfan (Taylor's) highlights and we were like, "Dang, that guy was good." We won't have a guy that carried the load like Stepfan did the last few years -- especially last season. We've got six guys who could probably start at most schools in America and they are going to share the load. They probably could be every-down backs. But they have specialties. You look at how big Gaff (Tyler Gaffney) is right now, and oh my goodness. The way (Anthony) Wilkerson ran downhill in the Rose Bowl. The zone-running gurus are Ricky Seale and Barry (Sanders) and how they run outside and read things. You see that instinctive cut. The truth is those guys have such a good feel. Remound Wright and Jackson Cummings. If Jackson went to an Ivy League school, he'd probably be the league's all-time leading rusher by now. And he had a great spring. Those guys run the gap schemes, the who-we-are-Stanford-football plays, so well. It's going to be interesting to see where they put themselves after training camp. Who has a defined role? Who is going to snatch a job and say "Hey, I'm the third-down back. I'm going to catch it out of the backfield. I'm going to hit linebackers in their face when they try to pressure our quarterback." Who is going to win that role? Who is going to be the first- and second-down back that gets the most carries that game? And will it change from game to game?

Obviously the passing game has been catered to tight ends the last few years. How much do you need the wide receivers to be more involved?

MB: An absolute ton. Because they can handle it. You watch what Ty Montgomery did this spring and he was absolutely dominant. It's what we hoped to see last year because he was great his freshman year. We need him to not try to be any more than he is. He doesn't have to press. He doesn't have to feel any pressure. Because he is big-time good. He just needs to play his game. If he does that, we could see something that we haven't seen here in a while -- at least as long as I've been here. Then there are other guys with world-class speed. Michael Rector had a great spring. Kelsey Young is dynamic. We don't know what position he plays yet. We just call him a football player.

Finally, coach Shaw didn't interview anyone else for the offensive coordinator job. Humbling and flattering, I'm sure. But is there some pressure that goes with that?

MB: I don't know. I don't feel the pressure, to be honest. But it is remarkably humbling. When things are in the works you get calls from friends wondering if you'll get the interview. For David to say what he said within the press release was absolutely humbling. I love working for him and continuing to learn this game from him. We're all just trying to get better and be as good as we can be.

Cardinal shuffle coaching staff

January, 29, 2013
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As expected, Stanford head coach David Shaw looked internally to find his new offensive coordinator -- promoting offensive line coach and run game coordinator Mike Bloomgren to the spot vacated by Pep Hamilton.

Bloomgren
This is not only the smart move, it's also the right move. Bloomgren already played a huge part in the play calling and devising the overall game plan. As the run game coordinator, much of what Stanford has accomplished the past two seasons on the ground has been by his design. His promotion ensures continuity within Stanford's pro-style attack that isn't particularly flashy, but coupled with a punishing defense has proven to be quite effective over the past two years.

And you can't argue with Bloomgren's results in both the running game and as a position coach -- working specifically with the interior line. In 2011 -- Bloomgren's first year -- the Cardinal ranked 18th nationally in rushing offense, totaling 210.6 yards per game. That number slipped in 2012 as the Cardinal only averaged 174.3 yards per game (48th nationally). However, part of that can be explained by losing Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Coby Fleener to the NFL. Luck's reputation as an in-game playcaller and what he did for the running game is well known.

This year, under Bloomgren's tutelage, four of the five offensive line starters earned all-league honors. David Yankey was an All-American and the Morris Trophy winner and as a unit they helped Stepfan Taylor to his third-straight 1,000-yard season.

The move makes way for running backs coach Mike Sanford to take on a bigger role in the offense as he assumes the job of quarterbacks and wide receivers coach. Sanford is one of the bright, young offensive minds in the conference, so it will be interesting to see what he does with the passing game next year. The Cardinal lose five of their top six receivers (including backs and tight ends) from the 2012 unit -- so this will no doubt be an area that is heavily scrutinized heading into spring and fall camps.

Sanford's move allows Tavita Pritchard (remember him, USC fans?) to move over from a defensive assistant to running backs coach.

“Tavita Pritchard is one of the brightest young coaches I have ever been around,” said Shaw in a statement released through the school. “He has been phenomenal helping Derek Mason on defense. He was instrumental to the turnaround of our program when he was our starting quarterback and a team leader. I’m excited to have him back on our offense coaching the running backs.”

With continued collaboration in the play calling and game plan between Bloomgren and Shaw -- and we can now assume Sanford will play a larger role as well -- we shouldn't see any real deviation from what the Cardinal want to accomplish on offense in 2013.

Video: Changing playcallers

January, 22, 2013
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With Mark Helfrich in at Oregon and Pep Hamilton out at Stanford, play-calling is going to change for the Pac-12's top two teams.

Pep Hamilton paired with Luck again

January, 20, 2013
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The Stanford Cardinal will have to find themselves a new Andrew Luck Director of Offense after Pep Hamilton, the former Andrew Luck Director of Offense, took the offensive coordinator job in Indianapolis to direct Andrew Luck on offense.

But it's not just Luck who Hamilton will reconnect with -- there's also tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Griff Whalen, who both enjoyed tremendous success under Hamilton at Stanford running the West Coast offense.

From the story:
"It will be a variation of it," Hamilton said when asked about bringing the West Coast offense to Indy. "Short passing game, high completion rate. But I enjoy watching our guys coming off the ball and trying to knock the opponent back. I'm a big believer in the power-running game, I believe that opens it up for your passing game. I want to be flexible schematically in that we find ways to get the ball into playmakers' hands."

This is no rebuilding project now.

In 2012, Luck set NFL rookie records for attempts and yards passing, fell just short of breaking the NFL's rookie marks for completions and TD passes, tied the league's single-season record for most winning drives in the fourth quarter (seven) and produced a league-high nine wins in one-possession games. Plus, the Colts had more combined yards rushing and receiving by rookies than any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

This shouldn't come as a huge shock to Stanford. Hamilton has had his résumé in circulation since late last year when he was rumored for the Alabama offensive coordinator job. He also reportedly interviewed for the Oregon head-coaching job, the New York Jets offensive coordinator position and Virginia Tech's offensive coordinator job.

You have to think Stanford's Mike Bloomgren gets a good, hard look from head coach David Shaw. Bloomgren, who serves as Stanford's run-game coordinator and offensive line coach, is already a huge part of the week-to-week game planning.

The evolution of Kevin Hogan

December, 28, 2012
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Kevin HoganEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan has a chance to have a 5-0 start to his career with a win in the Rose Bowl.
LOS ANGELES -- In a sense, Kevin Hogan caught a break. He didn’t have to be the guy who followed Andrew Luck. Instead, he was the guy who followed the guy who followed Andrew Luck.

And while Josh Nunes helped the Cardinal to a fairly successful, albeit inconsistent 7-2 start, Hogan has stepped in as the starting quarterback and gone 4-0 against four ranked teams and was named the MVP of the Pac-12 championship game. And he's leading his team into the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio against Wisconsin on New Year's Day. Not exactly a terrible start to a career.

“It’s helped him a lot [to sit early in the year],” said Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. “To have an opportunity to get those additional reps -- it’s been amazing to watch his evolution and development over a short time. The one thing, though, that I think is his best attribute is his poise. Nothing is too big for him. He’s very much even-keeled. He never gets too high with the highs and too low with the lows and that’s allowed him to make some big games in big plays.”

Both Nunes and Hogan started their careers 3-0, which hadn’t been done at Stanford since 1991 when Steve Stenstrom took over in the fifth game of the season and won seven straight. But the biggest difference between the two has been the Hogan’s mobility and efficiency in the red zone. Inside the 20 he’s completed 14 of 16 passes with seven touchdowns. He’s also averaging 7.1 yards per carry on his “non-sack” rushes and has picked up 15 first downs.

“Josh made a ton of big plays for us in the SC game as well as the Arizona game,” Hamilton said. “But I asked myself at times, man, if we had the ability to run more bootlegs and really open up the offense against a team like Notre Dame, would the result be different?”

Quiet and unassuming -- much like his predecessor’s predecessor -- the 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman from McLean, Va., has led his team to wins over Oregon State, at Oregon and twice against UCLA. He understands that even though there is a Nunes-buffer between him and Luck, whose credentials need no re-hashing, there will inevitably be comparisons. He meets said comparisons with a good attitude and a bit of self-deprecation.

“I’ve heard it, but I try to stay away from that,” Hogan said. “We’re different players. He’s an amazing player. He’s like an idol. But I wouldn’t want to be compared to him. I don’t think that does him justice.”

Then again, Luck never led his team to a Pac-12 championship. Luck never won at Autzen Stadium. Luck never got his team to the Rose Bowl nor started his career 3-0. But Luck also didn’t have the luxury of watching half a season from the sidelines.

“It was the best case scenario for him as a quarterback to watch Josh and get a sense of what our identity was an offense before he became the starter and understand how important it is for our quarterback to be able to manage the offense,” Hamilton said.

When the quarterback competition started, there were five in the mix. When spring ball ended, head coach David Shaw had declared that Nunes and Brett Nottingham had separated themselves from the pack. And when he announced Nunes as the starter in the fall, there was also a bit of “look out for this Hogan kid.”

The tools were there. The concepts weren’t.

“I think my knowledge of the playbook held me back,” Hogan said. “It’s challenging. The coaches knew I wasn’t ready at the time. Just throughout the season, studying it more and more and knowing what I needed to focus on really helped.”

And now he’s had an additional month to get more familiar with the playbook, the process and the overall concepts. No player in college football may have benefited more from the time off between the end of the season and the bowl game than Hogan.

“It’s been big,” Hogan said. “It’s really allowed me more time to study film and be a better manger of the game.”

Stanford and Shaw: A good marriage

December, 19, 2012
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Second-year head coach David Shaw has repeatedly said he views Stanford as his destination job. After he signed what was termed a "long-term contract extension" Wednesday, perhaps more folks will believe him.

Of course, Stanford didn't provide any details about just what "long-term" means, or about how much Shaw is being paid, because it is a private school that likes keeping secrets. If it were a 10-year deal worth, say, $30 million we could conclude both parties -- Shaw and institution -- are fully invested in each other.

But even without the details, this feels like a reasonably solid gesture of mutual affection.

Shaw played for Stanford. He loves the place. He's also a family guy who's living in a great place to raise one (if you can afford it). He's got a good thing going, both on the field and with recruiting.

On the field? Stanford finished 11-2, won the Pac-12 title and is preparing for its first Rose Bowl in 13 years. It's won 11 games for the third consecutive season, which it has never done before. Stanford is one of just four teams from AQ conferences to win 34 or more games over the last three seasons, joining Oregon (35), LSU (34) and Alabama (34) in an exclusive club, though Stanford's SAT averages are a bit higher than that troika.

The Cardinal’s .872 winning percentage since 2010 is tied for third-best among FBS teams during that stretch.

Not too shabby, which is why Shaw, the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, is a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award.

When Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season, some wondered if Shaw could maintain the Cardinal's unexpected rise in the Pac-12. Whereas Harbaugh was edgy and eccentric, Shaw was polished and articulate. And, perhaps, some might have fretted, a bit too mellow.

Yep, Shaw is a smooth dude. But he's 4-2 against USC, Notre Dame and Oregon and playing in another BCS bowl game with a team that appears to have a bright future.

Again, not too shabby.

We will humbly offer up a suggestion to both Shaw and Stanford, though we suspect Shaw is well ahead of us here: Take care of the Cardinal's nine assistant coaches. These guys deserve raises, too.

We've repeatedly lauded defensive coordinator Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Both are strong head coaching candidates. But the entire staff, from veterans such as defensive line coach Randy Hart to youngsters like running backs coach Mike Sanford, have participated in creating an outstanding team culture.

And by "team culture," what we really mean is a team that is on the cusp of a third consecutive final top-10 ranking.

 

Instant analysis: Stanford 50, Duke 13

September, 8, 2012
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Thanks to a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by Drew Terrell following the first series of the game, the Stanford offense didn't take a snap without the lead as the Cardinal cruised to a 50-13 win. Here are a few highlights from the Cardinal's impressive victory:

It was over when: Duke failed to recover an onside kick to begin the second half. Stanford capitalized with a quick touchdown drive -- capped by a 19-yard pass from Josh Nunes to Terrell -- to go up 30-3.

Game ball goes to: Safety Ed Reynolds already has as many interceptions this season (three) as team leader Michael Thomas did all of last year. He had two picks against Duke, the first of which he returned 78 yards for a touchdown.

Stat of the game: Four yards rushing for Duke in the first half. Stanford forced the Blue Devils to be one-dimensional from the start, which had a trickle down effect on their passing game. Duke settled for quick passes to the perimeter, which played into Stanford's strength on defense.

Unsung hero: Shayne Skov. Coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Skov might not have shown up in the box score like he's been known to do (four tackles, one pass breakup), but his presence added a noticeable swagger to the defense -- something it lacked against San Jose State.

What it means: Stanford will still be big underdogs next week when it hosts No. 2 USC, but the prognosis for the rest of the season looks much better than it did after its closer-than-anticipated win against San Jose State in the season opener. By building a big early lead, coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were able to keep a lid on portions of the offense that'll be available against the Trojans.

Week 1 questions worth asking

August, 31, 2012
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It's Week 1, Game 1. And while most people aren't expecting tonight's opener against San Jose State to produce too much drama, there are still some questions surrounding the Cardinal, who enter the game ranked No. 21 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the coaches' poll.

  1. How will Josh Nunes respond? Not to the fact that he is now Stanford's starting quarterback, but to a negative play. And he's going to make some. Even Andrew Luck -- his predecessor -- wasn't perfect in any game last season and Nunes won't be either. There might be an interception, or a missed read or a missed opportunity to a wide open receiver. What about tipped passes? Luck had a few of those that went for picks last year. How will Nunes respond the first time something doesn't go his way?
  2. [+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
    AP Photo/Paul SakumaJosh Nunes replaces Andrew Luck as the Cardinal's starting quarterback.
    Running back rotation? We know Stepfan Taylor is going to get his carries -- probably more (at least early on) than he did last season. Wouldn't be shocked if he breaks 120 yards tonight. And, per the depth chart, Anthony Wilkerson will be the first guy off the bench in relief of Taylor. I'm curious to see who the Nos. 3 and 4 backs will be. Remound Wright or Ricky Seale?
  3. Vanilla? Assuming the Cardinal are the superior team to San Jose State, and we're going to work under that assumption for now, the question is how much do David Shaw and Pep Hamilton open up the playbook? We know they don't want to put too much on film early -- especially with USC looming just a couple of weeks away -- but I'm sure they also want to test drive Nunes and see what he can do.
  4. Which freshman makes an impact? Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy are locked in a battle for the starting tackle spot. But it could be Alex Carter who breathes life into a revamped secondary. A lot of people are also wondering if we're going to see Barry Sanders this season.
  5. What will the offense look like? We know what Stanford wants to do -- and what they are probably going to do. But what will it look like? Will they pull out the three-tight end sets that worked so famously last season? With the versatile Ryan Hewitt out with an ankle injury (he saw some spot duty as a tight end last year in some formations) you wonder how multiple will the Cardinal be in Week 1? And that takes us back to question No. 3, do they even need to be multiple in Week 1?

In case you haven't heard, some news on the Stanford front with an anonymous donor endowing Stanford's offensive coordinator position with Andrew Luck's name. Here's a snippet from the news story:

Through an anonymous donation, Stanford has ensured that former quarterback Andrew Luck's legacy will live on at the university by endowing Luck's name to the offensive coordinator position.

The position will now be formally known as the Andrew Luck Director of Offense.

"It is a huge tribute," Luck said in a statement issued by Stanford. "To have anything endowed in my name is a complete honor. I feel very fortunate to have come to Stanford, and I have always enjoyed representing the university. The offensive coordinators I've had here helped me not only in football, but also to grow so much as a person. To be a part of that leadership and position is a very proud legacy for me."

Pep Hamilton is Stanford's offensive coordinator. He replaced David Shaw, who was named coach following Jim Harbaugh's departure to the NFL.

"It is a tremendous honor to hold this position and to be associated with an outstanding young man like Andrew Luck, who means so much to Stanford football and the Stanford community," Hamilton said. "I will do everything in my power to proudly continue the tradition of creative and exciting offensive football at Stanford."

Only a handful of head coaching positions at private schools are endowed. For example, at Stanford, Shaw's position is endowed and is known as the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. Also, all 85 Stanford football scholarships are endowed.

You can read the rest of the news story here.
Three consecutive Heisman Trophy runners-up, two consecutive BCS bowl games and final top-10 rankings: Hey, Stanford's special run of football success was fun to watch. It was neat seeing the most academically elite university playing BCS football whipping the big boys.

But we all know it can't possibly last, right? Jim Harbaugh built it and he's gone. Andrew Luck was a once-in-a-generation quarterback, and he's gone. And he took with him three other offensive players among the first 42 selections in the NFL draft over the weekend.

While the Cardinal certainly had more than 15 minutes of fame, it's time for this program to go back to its familiar brainiac territory -- Faulkner, computer chips and advanced algorithms. Leave big-time football the USCs, Alabamas and Ohio States of the nation.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireDavid Shaw expects his team to take on the same tough-guy persona it has in previous years.
Yes, such talk has worked its way across the grid, onto the Farm and into the Stanford locker room.

"We've talked about that," coach David Shaw said. "But we've also talked about that there can't be anything outside of our meeting rooms that motivates us. The motivation has to come from within. It's the only way that it is real. The only way that it is legitimate. But we've heard it. We know where we're ranked. But preseason rankings don't matter. Postseason rankings do."

In other words, the Cardinal believe reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

"They said the same thing when Toby [Gerhart] left and when Harbaugh left," outside linebacker Chase Thomas said. "We're pretty confident. We know what we bring to the table."

Of course, things change. No team can easily replace four elite NFL draft picks from its offense. That's why Stanford may be more about defense in the early going of 2012. Thomas leads a crew of six returning starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's top 30 in both scoring and total defense. The Cardinal's front seven in their 3-4 scheme appears to be particularly strong. Few teams in the nation will be as deep at linebacker, with Thomas and inside linebacker Shayne Skov both rating as potential All-Americans.

But what about that offense? The competition to replace Luck wasn't resolved this spring, with neither Josh Nunes nor Brett Nottingham demonstrating much consistency. And whoever wins the job won't have tackle Jonathan Martin protecting his blind side, or guard David DeCastro grinding defensive linemen into hamburger, or tight end Coby Fleener sprinting open down the middle with his 6-foot-6 self.

"We will continue our commitment to controlling the line of scrimmage," coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "We're going to run power. I don't see us changing much. If anything, if we have a few more opportunities to run power, we'll do that."

That means leaning on running back Stepfan Taylor, who has rushed for 2,770 yards and 27 TDs over the previous three seasons, and a deep stable of backs. That means leaning on a tight end combination -- Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- that is as good as any in the nation, even without Fleener.

Receiver and offensive line? Those two spots remain questions, though the line will welcome back three starters.

Existing talent, however, doesn't tell the whole story of Stanford's potential for sustaining success. The incoming recruiting class is a significant chapter. Rivals ranked it fifth in the nation, Scout seventh and ESPN Recruiting 12th. No team in the nation came close to collecting as many elite offensive linemen: guard Joshua Garnett (Puyallup, Wash./Puyallup), Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol) and offensive tackle Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente).

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kyle Terada/US Presswire Replacing Andrew Luck will challenge Stanford.
Shaw isn't afraid to play the young guys, either. True freshmen will get opportunities on both sides of the ball, including the offensive line.

"There's a reason why we recruited a couple of big-timers at those positions," he said. "They will have an opportunity to play if not start at the left tackle position."

Instead of going away, Stanford may well have found a perfect formula that Harbaugh generated and Shaw has refined. Stanford has a lot to sell a certain type of athlete, one who is equal parts brains and brawn. Despite what many folks think about young athletes, there are plenty who want to challenge themselves intellectually before playing football on Sundays.

"This is a special place that attracts a certain kind of person," said Shaw, a former Stanford player himself. "The GPAs in this recruiting class are high, even positions where they are not always high. Our lowest receiver GPA is a 3.4. Not regular GPA, core GPA. These guys are good students and tough kids."

But how fast are they? A 3.4 is nice, but what about 4.4? The one thing that has held Stanford back is a lack of elite speed all over the field, particularly in the secondary and at receiver. Shaw said they "are getting closer" in terms of speed, but he also admitted that the Cardinal -- just like every other Pac-12 program -- have a bit of an Oregon problem. They are 23-1 versus everyone else over the past two seasons, outscoring those foes 1,024-405. Against the Ducks, Stanford is 0-2, outscored 105-61.

Does Stanford have an "Oregon problem?"

"That's a great question," Shaw said. "I'd like to have a survey on your website if anybody has some ideas. Chip [Kelly] does a phenomenal job."

While Shaw is said this in a good-humored way, it's clear that he and his coaches have spent plenty of time thinking about the Ducks. They recall beating them 51-42 in 2009, particularly how they handled the ebbs and flows of momentum. They know it's about preventing big plays and not wasting opportunities on offense. They know it's about tempo, a pitched battle of contrasting styles. Oregon wants to play fast and slash you. Stanford wants to slow things down and pound you.

At least one insider believes Stanford will sustain its recent run of success.

"Absolutely. Hopefully they do better than we did," Luck said. "I think there are a lot of great players here, starting at the top with the coaching staff. Great players, great recruiting classes. They will only continue to get better."

As for what Stanford will be in 2012, its first season of the post-Luck era, Shaw thinks his team will have the same tough-guy persona. But it'll be angrier.

"We're going to go right at people and hit them in the mouth," he said. "And it helps to feel like you're disrespected."

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 mailbag

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
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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.

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.
It was 33 days ago today that Stanford head coach David Shaw said it would be "safe to assume" that recruiting a quarterback for the 2013 class would be a priority.

Over the weekend, assumption turned to fact.

The Cardinal picked up a commitment Saturday from Ryan Burns of Ashburn, Va. -- a 6-foot-5, 220-pound pro-style prototype who looks the part with pads on, and without.

Commitments this early -- especially from top-flight players like Burns, who is on the ESPNU 150 watch list for 2013 -- come with a double-edged sword. On one hand, you feel pretty good about locking up a player who is projected to be one of the best in the country at his position. But that also means you have to work to keep him. No doubt, other programs will be swooping in over the next 11 months to try to lure him away.

At the same time, he could turn out to be one of Stanford's strongest cheerleaders, which was the case with outside linebacker Noor Davis, who committed to Stanford last May and worked tirelessly to bring in more talent to bolster the 2012 class.

"I think every program in the nation always has one or two guys who commit early and is determined to help build the class," Shaw said in a signing-day Q&A.

It sounds like Burns is pretty solid with his commitment though, telling Mike Farrell of Rivals.com that neither Andrew Luck's departure, nor the outstanding offensive line class the Cardinal picked up in 2012, had an impact on his decision.
I would have picked Stanford regardless of how the previous [quarterback] did, but I had a really good time meeting him last summer.

Burns on the offensive line class:
It is a big bonus, but I would have picked them regardless.

The news comes as the current Cardinal squad is in the thick of a quarterback competition to replace Luck. Stanford started the first of two spring sessions last week with an emphasis on base offense and defense. Shaw said he doesn't expect to have a quarterback named until close to the start of the season, but hopes he'll have at least a pecking order in mind by the time Stanford wraps up spring drills.

Brett Nottingham, Luck's understudy last season, and Josh Nunes took the majority of snaps in an 11-on-11 drill, according to Tom Fitzgerald of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Nottingham said his game "wasn't that sharp. Lots of things to clean up, but it's still relatively early in spring ball."

Shaw described Nottingham and Nunes as "not great, but solid."

The two are competing with Robbie Picazo, Kevin Hogan and Evan Crower to replace Luck, who graduated with most of Stanford's passing records and is all but inked in as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Burns is the second Cardinal commit to the 2013 class -- and also the second from Virginia. Linebacker Doug Randolph (Woodberry Forest), also on the ESPNU 150 watch list, committed to Stanford in June of 2011. Last year's Stanford media guide lists offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as the primary recruiter in Virginia. The Cardinal appear to have a pretty good grasp of the region, having just signed defensive back Alex Carter (Ashburn, Va.) in the 2012 class. Carter, who Shaw called a "lock-down corner" was 111th on the 2012 ESPNU 150 list.

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