Gallery: Five questions surrounding Stanford football
Revisiting last season
The Stanford Cardinal (11-3, 7-2 in Pac-12) are coming off a season that was full of highs and what ifs. They won the Pac-12 for the second consecutive season, but lost in the Rose Bowl to Michigan State. Spring practice is underway and head coach David Shaw is looking to lead Stanford into the new College Football Playoffs, although there are some serious questions to answer before fans can book a trip to AT&T Stadium on Jan. 12, 2015.
How will Stanford replace its defense?
Not only does Stanford lose five defensive starters to graduation or the NFL, but the Cardinal lost their former defensive coordinator Derek Mason to Vanderbilt. All-American Trent Murphy should be supplanted by senior Kevin Anderson or senior Blake Lueders at outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. There’s a battle at middle linebacker between Joe Hemschoot and Blake Martinez to play alongside the incumbent starter A.J. Tarpley. Free safety will be an issue, though, as Stanford didn't expect starter Ed Reynolds to declare for the NFL.
Who will tote the rock?
In recent years it’s been Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, or Tyler Gaffney handling Stanford’s run-based offense. The Cardinal have to replace top running back Taylor, backup Anthony Wilkerson and fullback Ryan Hewitt after graduation. Barry Sanders Jr. and Remound Wright (out for spring game) are in contention to start, but Stanford may use a committee with the inexperience at the position – the returnees had 36 rushes for 178 yards in 2013. Former wide receiver Kelsey Young has shifted to running back this spring to further strengthen a run game that ranked No. 22 nationally with 207.4 yards per game last season.
What will the secondary look like?
The Cardinal return starting corners Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter in addition to strong safety Jordan Richards to make a formidable start to the defensive secondary. The glaring question is who will start at free safety after the departure of Ed Reynolds? Head coach David Shaw did some position changing, as former quarterback Dallas Lloyd and wide receiver Kodi Whitfield moved to safety for the spring. Whitfield is a playmaker with outstanding size at 6-foot-2 and great ball skills – see one-handed touchdown vs. UCLA – to help man the middle against the pass-happy offenses of the Pac-12.
How will the offensive line recover?
With Cameron Fleming and David Yankey headed for the NFL Draft and Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser graduating, the Cardinal will need to replace four of their five starters along the offensive front. Three of the four positions are virtually filled with former five-star prospect Kyle Murphy (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) at right tackle, Joshua Garnett (6-foot-5, 316-pounds) manning left guard and Johnny Caspers (6-foot-4, 301 pounds) at right guard. The lone spot remaining is a struggle between Graham Shuler and Kevin Reihner at center. How will the new starters gel with returning All-Pac-12 left tackle Andrus Peat?
Will the tight end game be more present?
Stanford is tied with UCLA and Wisconsin for the most tight ends currently on NFL rosters. Last year, Cardinal tight ends caught 10 passes for 69 total yards. The team focused more on 6-foot-4, 232-pound wide receiver Devon Cajuste controlling the middle of the field in the pass game. Look for that to change in 2014 with as many as five returning players -- three coming off of redshirt seasons -- seeing time in Stanford's heralded three-tight end sets. In the summer, the nation's No. 1 high school tight end Dalton Schultz will also join the mix, adding further depth and athleticism. If David Shaw thinks that competition brings out the best in players, he should see a better tight end group this fall.