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Football: Cardinal-white spring game to preview the post-Andrew Luck era

In its final performance before the 2012 season, the Stanford football team takes to the field at San Francisco’s historic Kezar Stadium on Saturday in its annual Cardinal-White Spring Game.

While the season is still six months away, the Stanford coaches are hoping that Saturday’s intrasquad contest will help settle several critical position battles before fall training camp, and provide some continuity for the Cardinal heading into the 2012 season.

Senior running back Stepfan Taylor (above) will pace the first team offense in the annual Cardinal-White Spring Game this Saturday. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

Naturally, all eyes are on the quarterback competition, where redshirt junior Josh Nunes and sophomore Brett Nottingham have emerged as the leaders to take over Andrew Luck’s job. The two quarterbacks will split snaps with the first team offense on Saturday, while freshmen Kevin Hogan and Evan Crower will work with the second team offense. Both Nottingham and Nunes have impressed so far in the two spring sessions not only with their physical skills, but also with their ability to use audibles to command the offense in a fashion similar to Luck.

Behind Nunes and Nottingham, several running backs will also have a chance to fight their way into the starting lineup for next season, particularly sophomore Ricky Seale and freshman Kelsey Young. With sophomore Anthony Wilkerson injured and junior Tyler Gaffney taking his talents to the baseball field for the duration of spring, Seale has carried the ball well enough to be the likely successor to Jeremy Stewart as the final piece of the four-back rotation that led the Cardinal to two consecutive BCS bowls. Meanwhile, Young has also carried the ball and worked out of the backfield as a receiver as well, making him a versatile option for the Cardinal offense to exploit, especially with a lack of depth at wide receiver.

Perhaps the most unclear position group this spring is the offensive line, which could remain in flux until the beginning of the 2012 season. While juniors Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes have been battling for the right guard spot and sophomore Cole Underwood has squared off with redshirt freshman Brendon Austin for the all-important left tackle role, any leaders that might emerge from this spring could be overtaken by one of several players among the nation’s best recruiting class of offensive linemen.

On the outside, Stanford will be searching for a starter across from freshman Ty Montgomery, who has been participating in the second session of spring practice while recovering from a hand injury suffered during the first session of spring. Young will square off with Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson, who have been playing with the first team offense all spring.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal defense will be looking for starters along the defensive line and in the backfield, and will once again be without injured star linebacker Shayne Skov, who is still recovering from a knee injury he sustained last September.

Along the line, the replacement for graduating senior Matt Masifilo will likely be either junior Josh Mauro or sophomore Henry Anderson, who both bring 6-foot-6, 275-pound frames to the competition. Both played a small amount in relief of Masifilo and redshirt junior Ben Gardner last season, but the two have played so well this spring that they could possibly overtake Gardner’s spot at a starter.

In the defensive backfield, a rotation of players will look to take over the spots of three departing starters, including freshman Wayne Lyons and sophomore Ed Reynolds, both of whom missed last season with injuries. Lyons looks to be the leader to take over Johnson Bademosi’s spot at cornerback, which was expected out of a player who was rated as the nation’s sixth-best safety coming out of high school just a year ago.

Reynolds, who Shaw said was the spring’s best safety so far, is a surprise contender to take over one of the starting safety spots, as he seemed likely to be buried behind Jordan Richards and Devon Carrington, both of whom saw significant playing time last season while Reynolds was sidelined by a knee injury.

While all of these spots are open, and could continue to change when the nation’s fifth-best recruiting class comes to the Farm this fall, Saturday’s Cardinal-White game in San Francisco could go a long way to tipping off fans—and more importantly, the Cardinal coaching staff—as to which players will be suiting up for the first Stanford squad in the post-Andrew Luck era.

The Cardinal (and White) will take the field at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium at 2 p.m. on Saturday.