Stanford Faces High Expectations, Tough Schedule
Training camp, typically a time to work through glitches, carries little margin for error this year for Stanford. The double whammy of lofty expectations and a grueling schedule have ratcheted up the pressure.
Ranked No. 7 in the coaches preseason poll and the favorite to win the Pac-12 title, the Cardinal faces an unforgiving first-half lineup.
Kansas State, picked for the middle of the Big 12, is the least challenging assignment. Then comes No. 17 USC, No. 24 UCLA, No. 18 Washington and No. 9 Notre Dame in a five-week span.
The task would be daunting under the best conditions, with a proven offensive line and veteran quarterback.
But a revamped front and first-time starter (junior Ryan Burns or sophomore Keller Chryst) makes the schedule appear Sisyphean.
“No matter who plays,” coach David Shaw said of his quarterbacks, “we have to evaluate every aspect -- not just what they can do but what they’re ready for. And that, to me, is about the other positions.”
Needless to say, the Cardinal must make the most of every practice, every meeting and every film session. Any missteps, wasted sessions or lingering glitches could result in the derailment of Stanford’s conference title hopes and tailback Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman Trophy candidacy before the middle of October.
Here are three issues Stanford must resolve during training camp, which begins Sunday: The spotlight For the first time since the middle of the 2012 season, Stanford needs a quarterback.
Kevin Hogan took his big-game savvy and three conference titles to the NFL, leaving behind a chasm of uncertainty.
Burns and Chryst aren’t short on talent, but they have little experience (10 combined passes), and their grasp of the offense can best be described as evolving.
“It’s who is more ready to play the majority of snaps, and by the end of spring it was impossible to tell,” Shaw said.
Shaw hopes to name a starter midway through training camp but has acknowledged the possibility that both quarterbacks will play in the opening weeks. Holes up front In addition to the departures of all-conference left tackle Kyle Murphy and Outland Trophy-winning left guard Joshua Garnett, Stanford suffered an unexpected blow last winter when starting center Graham Shuler announced his retirement from football to pursue other opportunities.
Three-fifths of the line charged with creating running lanes for McCaffrey and protecting the quarterback will be new.
Casey Tucker started at right tackle last season but could move to the left side if other options -- David Bright is atop that list -- don’t materialize.
Johnny Caspers is entrenched at right guard, unless he’s forced to move to center, that is.
The frontrunner in the middle is Jesse Burkett, while Brandon Fanaika is expected to replace Garnett at left guard. Did we mention holes up front? Sophomore Solomon Thomas is a potentially dominant force, one of the most talented defensive linemen in Cardinal history. Otherwise, the depth chart up front is muddled.
Tackle Harrison Phillips missed most of last season because of a knee injury. The rehabilitation went smoothly, but his effectiveness, especially early in the season, is unknown.
Luke Kaumatule, a nimble 6-foot-7 senior who has played multiple positions during his career, showed promise during spring practice.
Other candidates for the rotation include veteran Jordan Watkins, underclassmen Wesley Annan and Dylan Jackson, and Eric Cotton, a converted tight end.
Stanford navigated the 2015 season with precious little depth on its defensive line. That’s not a risk the Cardinal can afford to take again with a rookie quarterback and brutal schedule. For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner’s College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5716.