Stanford Football: Wayne Lyons

It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.
We finish our list of five predictions for the second half of Stanford's spring practice.

No. 1: Staying the course/depth chart

Much of the commentary that has followed Stanford football over the past four years involves the program's incredible resurgence.

Before Jim Harbaugh and his staff arrived, there was a faction -- a small minority, but it was there -- that believed the school should drop down a level in football. It was a concept that angered David Shaw, and several other fans and alumni of the program, and is now less plausible than a Stanford national title.

Expectations are obviously very different now. With the second session of spring practice set to begin next week, Stanford is set to continue preparations for a run at a third-straight Pac-12 title.

Like any program replacing hoards of talent, there are questions that need to be answered, but nothing about the current state of the program indicates the Cardinal shouldn't be among the best in the conference. They have recruited well, they have a lot of good players returning and the coaching staff has proved its mettle.

If there's anything left to predict, it's that the status quo will remain just that.

And, of course, a potential post-spring depth chart:

Offense

QB: Kevin Hogan
RB: Remound Wright
FB: Lee Ward
WR: Ty Montgomery
WR: Devon Cajuste
TE: Eric Cotton
LT: Andrus Peat
LG: Joshua Garnett
C: Graham Shuler
RG: Johnny Caspers
RT: Kyle Murphy

Defense

DE: Henry Anderson
DT: David Parry
DE: Blake Lueders
OLB: James Vaughters
ILB: A.J. Tarpley
ILB: Blake Martinez
OLB: Kevin Anderson
CB: Alex Carter
CB: Wayne Lyons
S: Jordan Richards
S: Kodi Whitfield

Countdown

No. 2: Running back competition will gain clarity
No. 3:
Hogan takes the next step
No. 4: Backup quarterback competition begins
No. 5: Whitfield will emerge at safety
STANFORD, Calif. -- In the grand scheme of things, a single football practice in March during the course of a college career or season registers near irrelevant. For several Stanford players, it probably didn't seem like that Saturday.

With many jobs up for grabs and the team in pads for the second time since its 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, the day felt like it opened up real competition for next season's starting jobs. It also served as one of three practices this spring open to spectators and the media.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw's team was in pads for the first time since the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
Here are some observations and takeaways from Saturday:

OL already set?: It's clear who is expected to make up the starting offensive line: LT Andrus Peat, LG Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, RG Johnny Caspers and RT Kyle Murphy. Before Saturday, the only spot that seemed potentially up for grabs was at center, but Shuler, not Kevin Reihner, worked almost exclusively with the first group. Shuler, along with Garnett, were the vocal leaders of the group. It wasn't clear if there is an unofficial pecking order yet for the other positions in the team's extra-OL sets.

On Shuler and the center competition, coach David Shaw said: "We're putting the pressure on Graham. He's got all the ability in the world and needs experience and we got to get him ready to go. He's got a chance at one point to be extremely good. One of the best, we believe, around."

Burns missing vital reps: With Ryan Burns suspended for the first spring session for what has been explained only as a "disciplinary issue," starting QB Kevin Hogan and backup Evan Crower split all the reps. It felt like status quo for Hogan, but Crower looked as comfortable as he ever has in a Cardinal uniform.

"All and all, I think we have two guys that are capable starters," Shaw said. "Evan Crower can play football. If it comes to the point where he plays, we're very confident in him."

His message in regards to Burns was strikingly different.

Asked if having just two quarterbacks limits how the team practices, Shaw replied: "Not really. It just means two guys get a bunch of reps. That's the sad part, we have to have our rules, and we have to have our discipline and that's the sad part for a young quarterback that missed these because these are valuable reps that you can't get back. When he does get back, he better be busting his tail because these are vital reps that he's missing."

It was clear Shaw wanted to send a message to Burns on Monday when he publicized the freshman's suspension and made it even more so Saturday.

RB depth: Remound Wright took the first reps with the first team, but there was a lot of rotation with him, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young. Shaw lauded Wright and Seale for their steadiness and smart decision-making and Sanders and Young for their big-play potential.

Not much can be gleaned from one spring practice, but it's clear there isn't a significant talent discrepancy between the four players. Their lack of separation provides a sense that the competition will ultimately be decided by other factors. Shaw gave Wright the edge in pass protection.

"That guy, that's a great pass protector is going to play and play a lot," Shaw said.

Lyons to nickel: With Usua Amanam gone, CB Wayne Lyons is in line to be the team's new nickleback. He'll remain a starter at corner, but when the team uses an extra defensive back, he'll slide over and cover the slot. It's similar to how the Cardinal used current Miami Dolphin Michael Thomas, when he moved from safety in 2011, and how the San Francisco 49ers use Carlos Rogers. Thomas, before he left, predicted Lyons would win a Thorpe Award before his career was over. Taijuan Thomas also worked at nickel.

Carter out for spring: Junior CB Alex Carter will miss the spring with a hip injury, but is expected to be ready for fall camp. The silver lining is that it creates more reps for guys like Ronnie Harris and Ra'Chard Pippens, who are trying to break into the rotation in the secondary.

Number changes: Kodi Whitfield's position change from WR to FS meant he could longer share No. 9 with LB James Vaughters. He wore No. 5 Saturday, but it isn't clear if that's a full-time move or trial run. Former QB Dallas Lloyd, who also switched to safety, is still wearing No. 2, which belongs to Lyons.

Three-man competition at ILB: Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot and Noor Davis make up the three-man competition to replace Shayne Skov.

Other notes

  • With David Parry limited, Aziz Shittu played inside defensive ends Henry Anderson and Blake Leuders at tackle with the first defensive unit.
  • Kyle Olugbode took the first reps at safety next to Jordan Richards.
  • Kevin Anderson worked with the first team and remains in position to replace Trent Murphy.
  • Harris and WR Dontonio Jordan both wore yellow noncontact jerseys.
  • David Yankey, Trent Murphy, Cam Fleming, Jarek Lancaster, Sam Schwartzstein and Owen Marecic were part of a small contingent of formers players at practice.
  • Freshman TE Austin Hooper, who is coming off his redshirt, did not attend due to a mandatory academic field trip.
  • Stanford's next open practice is March 8 at 9 a.m. PT. The spring game is on April 12.
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.

Where Stanford needs to get better

January, 2, 2014
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"If only" is a silly game to play while watching a college football game, but it's impossible to avoid. It's the foundation of excuse-making, but perhaps it's sometimes useful for projecting a team forward, imagining what it needs to do to get better.

Take Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, a tough 24-20 loss to Michigan State. You could play the, "If only Stanford hadn't dropped two easy interceptions" and find yourself simply cogitating over straightforward execution. Yeah, "if only" plays that happened had instead happened another way.

A more valuable "if only" is this: If only Stanford had a dangerous pass-catching tight end, as it had during its previous three BCS bowl games.

Sure, pining for personnel that isn't there is equally silly, but it does point to a major reason the Cardinal offense was inconsistent this year.

If Stanford had a reliable tight end, it would have given quarterback Kevin Hogan a place to dump the ball when his receivers were blanketed by A-list cover corners, which was the case against Michigan State. It would have given the Cardinal an option in the intermediate passing game, a guy who could have exploited the Spartans' questionable safeties, who were joining the fight at the line of scrimmage in an effort to outnumber the Cardinal's power running game.

Moreover, it would have made the Cardinal's "jumbo" formation more diverse in terms of potential threats. Instead of using a bunch of backup offensive linemen, Stanford could have included a guy who could give it a dangerous pass option out of that formation.

Every coach in the offseason asks himself what his team needs to do to get better the next season. Know that coach David Shaw is thinking a lot about his tight end position, which it doesn't appear has yet been addressed in recruiting.

Defensive coordinator Derek Mason resisted a couple of "if only" questions after the game, but he clearly saw some things he believes need to improve. While his defense did a good job both stopping the run and rushing the passer, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook, who was outstanding at buying himself time while facing a furious pass rush, consistently found open receivers against the Cardinal secondary.

In what is probably a bit of a surprise, the Michigan State receivers outplayed the Stanford cornerbacks. More than a few folks on the Michigan State side of things said Stanford's reluctance to use press coverage made life easier for receivers who were more athletic than physical. Stanford corners Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons are both talented players who will be back next year, and Mason expects them to take a significant step forward.

"They need to be the two most feared corners in the conference a year from now," Mason said.

Stanford has plenty of talent coming back, but it also has huge holes to fill. There figures to be at least one early NFL defection -- likely All-American offensive guard David Yankey -- to join a strong crew of seniors, led by Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. As Hogan noted after the game, it is "the greatest class in Stanford history."

If Stanford is going to win a third consecutive Pac-12 title in 2014, it will need to do some "if only" based on the 2013 season. The Rose Bowl made clear getting better at tight end and cornerback are two places to consider.

Matchups to watch: Stanford at ASU

December, 7, 2013
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Here are five matchups to watch in the Pac-12 Championship:

Stanford LG David Yankey vs. Arizona State DT Will Sutton: The conference's two-time Defensive Player of the Year (Sutton) and best offensive lineman (Yankey) both play on the interior and will spend a bulk of the game heading at one another. Yankey, a junior, has yet to decide on his NFL future, while Sutton will spend his Sundays next year getting paid. In the first go-round, Yankey and the Stanford offensive line neutralized Sutton, but he came on strong later in the year.

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTy Montgomery caught two touchdown passes the first time these teams met.
Stanford WR Ty Montgomery vs. Arizona State CB Robert Nelson: Montgomery rebounded from an injury-plagued sophomore season to become one of the nation's most dynamic players. A second-team All-Pac-12 selection at receiver, Montgomery will see plenty of Nelson, a first-team all-conference pick in his first season as a full-time starter.

Stanford OLB Trent Murphy vs. Arizona State LT Evan Finkenberg: There were two surprises for Stanford coach David Shaw on the All-Pac-12 team: Sutton over Murphy and the omission of Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat from the first team. Murphy, who leads the nation with 13 sacks, will have a chance to justify those minor gripes as he'll spend a lot of the day trying to get past Finkenberg -- one of the players selected in favor of
Peat.

Stanford CBs Wayne Lyons/Alex Carter vs. Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong: Stanford doesn't generally assign a corner to shadow the opposing team's best corner, which means Lyons and Carter both will see time on the standout junior college transfer. Strong had at least three catches in every game this year, including 12 for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first game against Stanford.

Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason vs. Arizona State coach Todd Graham: Graham's high-powered offense and Mason's hard-nosed defense are the signature units for each team. In the first meeting, Stanford shut out Arizona State in the first half before the Sun Devils made the necessary adjustments to score four second-half touchdowns. Those 28 second-half points rank as the most points Stanford has allowed in an entire game this season, while the Sun Devils have been held to less than 30 on just one other occasion this year.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Week 14 helmet stickers

December, 1, 2013
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Handing out helmet stickers for Stanford's 27-20 win over Notre Dame:

CB Wayne Lyons: After getting burned for a touchdown in the third quarter, Lyons responded with interceptions on Notre Dame's final two drives to seal the win for Stanford. His first pick extended Stanford's takeaway streak to 36 games.

RB Tyler Gaffney: Gaffney ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries to lead the Stanford offense which averaged 5.1 yards a rush. Gaffney, who seemingly got stronger as the game went along, ran for over 100 yards in eight of the 12 regular-season games, including six of the last seven.

LB Shayne Skov: Skov did a good job rushing Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees and forced Rees to get rid of the ball much quicker than he would have liked. Skov finished with a sack and two official quarterback hurries.
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.

Thoughts on the depth chart

August, 27, 2012
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Stanford coach David Shaw released his first depth chart of the season in anticipation of Friday's matchup with San Jose State. We all know that depth charts -- especially with a team that can play up to nine offensive linemen in a game -- can be pretty flimsy. But there are still a few things of note.

Some thoughts:

Offense
  • It looks like we're probably going to see Andrus Peat and/or Kyle Murphy at some point at left tackle. David Yankey is listed as the starter, but he's also listed as the starter at left guard. Best guess is the frosh get some quality time the first two weeks.
  • Kevin Danser appears to have secured the spot for now at right guard. He was one of those extra linemen last year that saw a lot of time.
  • Levine Toilolo or Zach Ertz are listed as starters at tight end. That's not a commentary on one or the other. Both will start and both are fantastic.
  • Brett Nottingham, as expected, is listed as the backup quarterback. Though Shaw has said he'll need to fight to keep that spot behind starter Josh Nunes.
  • Fullback Ryan Hewitt isn't listed on the two-deep, but talking with someone in the know, this is just a reflection of his ankle injury. He'll likely be a game-time decision, though resting it for another week wouldn't be a terrible thing. UPDATED at 12:07 PT: Shaw said Hewitt will be out for the San Jose State game... so that settles that. Better to have him well rested, get some looks against Duke and be 100 percent for the USC game.
Defense
  • Henry Anderson looks to be the new starter on the defensive line. You may recall his fleet-footed fumble return against San Jose State last year.
  • Interesting to see James Vaughters as the starter ahead of Jarek Lancaster -- last year's team leader in tackles -- starting alongside A.J. Tarpley. Curious to see what happens when Shayne Skov comes back, whether it will be Skov and Vaughters, or Skov and Tarpley. Lots of good rotation at the position, though.
  • Terrence Brown and Barry Browning are listed ahead of Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons, respectively. Wonder how long it will be before we see those flip-flopped -- or if we even will this season.
Special Teams
  • Ty Montgomery will handle kick returns and Drew Terrell -- quietly one of the best in the conference last year -- will handle punt returns.
  • The Cardinal finally have a new long snapper. It felt like Andrew Fowler had been playing college football since the Clinton Administration, so keep an eye on Reed Miller.
  • Jordan Williamson returns as kicker, though, like last year, I wouldn't be shocked to see some competition when it comes to kickoffs.
Not sure if anyone caught this in Ted Miller's Pac-12 lunch links last week, but it's worth taking a look at.

Mighty Hank, a friend of the Stanford blog who does a great job with Go Mighty Card, projected a potential depth chart for Stanford in 2014 -- the first year college football will have its four-team playoff system.

Here's his projections:
  • Quarterback: Brett Nottingham, RS Sr.
  • Running backs: Kelsey Young, Sr.; Barry J. Sanders, Jr.; Remound Wright, Sr.
  • Wide receivers: Ty Montgomery, Sr.; Kodi Whitfield, Jr.; Francis Owusu, So.
  • Offensive line: Andrus Peat, Jr; Josh Garnett, Jr.; Kyle Murphy, Jr.; Nick Davidson, Jr.; Graham Shuler, Jr.
  • Defensive line: Aziz Shittu, Jr.; Jordan Watkins, Jr.; Luke Kaumatule, Jr.
  • Linebackers: AJ Tarpley, RS Sr.; James Vaughters, Sr.; Noor Davis, Jr.
  • Defensive backs: Wayne Lyons, RS Sr.; Alex Carter, Jr.; Zach Hoffpauir, Jr.

As Hank points out, there really is no way to fully project what the team is going to look like two seasons from now. But here is my first thought: nasty!

Owusu is the only player mentioned from the 2013 class. It will be interesting to see where players like QB Ryan Burns, ILB Isaac Savaiinaea and OLB Doug Randolph factor in.

A little more from Hank:
With the experience of a three-year starter at quarterback in Nottingham, a possible Heisman candidate in Sanders, and the best offensive line in the country, the offense promises to be dominant. Defensively, the front seven will have the strength to stifle the best running backs the Pac-12 has to offer, even if Vaughters has already made the leap to the NFL, and the defensive backfield will be skilled enough to do more than just keep up. All three levels of the defense could be at or near the top of the conference.

The offensive line is what stands out most to me. It's one thing to project what kind of impact Peat or Murphy could make in the 2012 season -- where the Cardinal are still trying to plug a couple of holes on the line. It's another to imagine them -- with a couple of years experience -- starting alongside other big-time recruits from the 2012 class. This group won't all come up together, but will likely see some spot starts along the way.

Then you put Sanders behind them and you have a powerful, explosive running game that is the envy of every B1G program. And if some of the 2013 guys are as advertised, the defense will be SEC worthy.

Of course, when you look at the recruiting classes USC and Oregon have brought in the last two years and the projected 2013 classes of the Trojans, Ducks and Washington, it's clear that this won't exactly be an easy road for the Cardinal. Expect the Pac-12 to ultra-competitive in 2014 with Stanford right in the mix.

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

June, 19, 2012
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following year, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others, have to bounce back from an injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2012.

Monday we took a look at six players from the South Division. Today our focus shifts to the North.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
AP Photo/George NikitinZach Maynard led the Golden Bears to a 7-6 record last season.
Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: Is there any quarterback in the conference more maligned than the guy in Berkeley? No doubt, he hit a low point midway through last season with a three-game stretch against USC, Utah and UCLA where he had one touchdown to seven interceptions. His completion percentage was one of the lowest in the conference last year (57 percent). But all accounts are that he had a solid spring and gained a stronger control of the offense. He has pieces in place this year -- an A-list receiver, a solid running game, a very good defense behind him -- so if he's going to silence his critics, this will be his best chance.

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: On the surface, the obvious pick here is Kenjon Barner with the oh-so-obligatory "can he be the featured back" question. Let's go ahead and address that right now. Yes, he can. There, that was easy. Huff, however, has yet to really show what he's capable of. Last year he was partly hampered by injury (31 catches, 430 yards, two touchdowns) and Lavasier Tuinei was the preferred target. No doubt, the potential is there (see how he made Stanford defenders look silly on his 59-yard touchdown catch). Huff's status remains up in the air pending next month's trial for a DUI citation, so we'll have to see how that plays out. The Ducks have so much offensive potency that they don't need him to be great. But wouldn't it be a whole lot better if he was?

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: The beauty of football is that it's not a stat-driven, individual game. A wide receiver can be a great blocker or decoy and never get the statistical credit, but his teammates and coaches know his contributions. With that said, if Wheaton wants to be counted among the elite wide receivers in the conference -- and he absolutely should be -- he'll need to have more than just one receiving touchdown, which was the case in 2011. The fact that Oregon State's running game should be better helps, and Sean Mannion's continued growth is also a plus. He's an underappreciated talent around the conference who's out to prove he belongs in the conversation with the league's elite receivers.

Wayne Lyons, DB, Stanford: When your coach says you'll be up for the nation's top defensive back award by the time your career is through -- before you've put together a complete season -- that's his way of not-so-discreetly applying pressure. David Shaw expects big things out of Lyons -- and the highly touted defensive back will have to deliver. He's fully recovered from a foot injury he suffered last fall that nagged him for two games before shutting it down for the year. Stanford's secondary was dreadfully exposed against Oregon and Oklahoma State. The pressure is on Lyons to produce immediately (say, Week 3 against USC?).

Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: And Baylor just scored again ... Haha. Didn't we all have a nice little chuckle at that one on Dec. 30. Well, the joke was stale by New Year's Eve. However, the lasting image of what Baylor's offense did to Washington is still very much fresh. The Huskies defense got an overhaul in the offseason -- and it's up to a veteran like Trufant to give the unit more punch and less punch line. Not easy, considering the Huskies allowed a whopping 35.9 points per game last year. But Trufant isn't alone in his efforts. He has good support in the secondary with safeties Justin Glenn and Sean Parker (the three combined for 207 tackles last season) and Trufant added a pair of picks. He's a very good defender who is going to have to become a great defender in 2012 to not only prove he can play at the next level, but to show it's time to stop cracking wise about Washington's D.

Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: Outside of new head coach Mike Leach, no name coming out of Pullman, Wash., this spring has been uttered more than Jeff Tuel. A prototypical NFL quarterback with the arm and the arsenal to boot, all of the pieces are in place for Tuel to have a big season. But injuries have prevented him from reaching his true potential. This offense, which puts the quarterback center stage like no other, should go a long way in helping him reach it. He's picked it up quickly, which should come as no surprise. But there are still Connor Halliday advocates ready to take their shots at Tuel. He's got to prove he deserves to be the guy. Provo, Utah, seems like a good place to start.
Happy Friday. First, thanks for the kind words last week. I'm recovering nicely with the love of a good woman, a rambunctious 10-month-old boy and my trusty beagle at my side. The Kevin/Kevina jokes were pretty good and 51tj gets a tip of the cap for his Andrew Luck reference-hacking skills. Well played, sir.

On to this week's questions.

Adam in Newark, Calif., writes: Thanks for the Q&A with Wayne Lyons. But do you think one player can make that much of a difference on defense?

Kevin Gemmell: I actually think cornerback is the one true position where one player can make a massive difference. If Lyons establishes himself as a lock-down corner, that takes away half of the field in the passing game. But that's a big if, and we probably won't see that next year. He said it himself in the Q&A -- he doesn't have a film resume yet. He's going to have to grind this year and earn that name. He's probably going to be challenged a lot this season. How he responds to those challenges will dictate how he's treated by offensive coordinators over the next few seasons. So to come full circle, yes, I believe one player can make all of the difference. But if Lyons is said player, it won't happen until later in his career.


Michael in New York City writes: Kevin, this speaks for itself. First Nike ad for Mr. Luck. I've only watched it 17 times.

Kevin Gemmell: I watched it a couple of times. I always hated the pun off his name. It's so 2009. I'm sure he rolled his eyes a couple of times, too, after reading the script and they probably told him to just do it. But nevertheless, it's a cool spot.


Reed in Mercer Island, Wash., writes: I'm a Husky fan, that wishes Stanford would go back to being average. I'm curious if you have an opinion on how Andrew Luck will react to the NFL pass rush? I have "great respect" for him as an athlete and he seems like a really humble kid. My only question on him is that he has never dealt with a pass rush. He played behind fantastic lines at Stanford all three years and barely got his uniform dirty.

Kevin Gemmell: I think the answer lies in the question. He handled the pass rush extremely well in college and that's why he rarely got his uniform dirty. He has an excellent release, gets rid of the ball quickly and often has the ball in the air before the receiver turns on the break. That's what he's going to have to do in the NFL. There were times when I saw him get rattled -- the Oregon game comes to mind. But for all of the physical tools Luck has, it's really his cerebral game that is outstanding. He spent his entire college career working with David Shaw, who cut his teeth training quarterbacks to avoid the pass rush in the AFC North. You can't get much better preparation than that. He'll take his licks, but I'd expect when he's a bit more NFL seasoned, he'll handle it all extremely well.


Stacey in San Jose, Calif., writes: Kevin, if you were an NFL general manager and had to choose between Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, who would you take?

Kevin Gemmell: Ugh ... putting me on the spot, Stacey. And Matt Kalil is unavailable? I've always held the belief that if I was going to build a team from the ground up, I'd start by 1) protecting my quarterback and 2) getting to the other guy's quarterback. That's where the game is won and lost, in my humble opinion. There seem to be some questions surfacing about Martin of late. Is he a left tackle? Is he a right tackle? Does he have the frame for left tackle? I think so. But right now, DeCastro seems more like the sure-thing pick. You know exactly what you're getting with him -- a bulldozing interior lineman who is also outstanding in pass protection. Both are great guys and I really enjoyed getting to know them. But there are fewer questions with DeCastro at this point.


Enjoy the hoops this weekend. My bracket has already found its way to the fireplace.

Q&A: Stanford's Wayne Lyons

March, 14, 2012
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Wayne Lyons, Stanford's highly-touted cornerback, never really got a chance to show what he could do in his true freshman campaign. The week before the season-opener against San Jose State, he broke a bone in his foot, but still played against the Spartans and the following week against Duke before shutting it down for the season.

Now, following surgery that placed a screw in his foot, the cornerback says he is 100 percent (some reports say 75, others 85) and poised to have the big year that eluded him.

How are you feeling?

Wayne Lyons: I'm feeling great. 100 percent. It feels great to get back out there. It was a struggling sitting out the entire season on the sidelines. In high school you play every game and then you make it to the next step in college and you can't play because injuries stop you. It's heartbreaking in a way. But I made it through and I'm happy to be back out there.

How tough was it to watch from the sideline and watch the team have the kind of season it did?

WL: Part of me was upset, but I took everything into consideration and learned everything I could while watching on the sideline. I was looking at every play, every break and closing in on what I can learn to better myself for next year. I just learned as much as I could.

Like what? What did you learn?

WL: How to read the quarterback and the mechanics of a quarterback. How to read different drop steps and different formations and how to pick up different alignments and assignments and position on the field -- having an overall awareness of where to be on the field.

There is so much talk about Stanford's front seven for next season. Is the secondary feeling the pressure to match those guys?

WL: There is pressure, but there's not. It kind of goes both ways. We work together so well and we complement each other. We're going to be an exciting defense next year. Our defensive line is going to attack and pressure, the linebackers are going to make their tackles and the secondary will handle the passing game so we'll all come together and make great plays.

Last year the defense only had seven interceptions, and only three came from cornerbacks. I assume that's a point of emphasis this spring?

WL: Yes. We definitely need to catch more balls. That's something that Coach [Derek] Mason stressed. We need to attack more balls. That's one thing we're working on is catching interceptions and creating turnovers.

Coach [David] Shaw told reporters he expects you to be up for the nation's best cornerback award at some point in your career. No pressure, right?

WL: Ah, man. There's no pressure. It's an honor that he thinks so highly of me, but personally I have to prove myself. It's great he said that about me, but I feel like I have to perform on the field and prove myself to be a great player. I need my film to talk. I need my film to dictate who I am. Words can't tell who a player is. Only film can tell the kind of player I am.

What are some of your personal goals for the next season?

WL: My freshman goal was to be a freshman All-American. That's what I'm striving for again since I'll be a redshirt freshman.

When you look at the defensive back rotation, it's going to be a very young secondary. Is there something to be said for having a young group that is hungry to make plays?

WL: Definitely. Nobody has a name yet. I don't have a name. Jordan [Richards] doesn't have a name. DC [Devon Carrington] doesn't have a name. Terrence Brown -- he started to make a name last year -- but almost everyone who is going to be out there is trying to make a name for themselves and prove who they are and what they can do on the field. There is a lot to prove this year.
With the Cardinal kicking off spring ball next week, there will obviously be a lot of focus and attention on position battles. Who will be the quarterback? Who will step up on the offensive line? What about the safeties?

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

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

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