Not many college football teams in the nation can lose an offensive guard and tackle to the first two rounds of the NFL Draft and still boast a robust offensive line. Stanford is one of the few teams that can.
The Cardinal can thank some newly arrived and much-hyped freshmen for that. Heralded as the focal point of the best recruiting class in school history, the Stanford freshman offensive linemen have more than lived up to expectations thus far in preseason camp.
Of the six offensive linemen that the Cardinal landed on Signing Day in February, three—tackles Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy and guard Joshua Garnett—were five-star recruits. All three have dazzled the coaching staff with their towering physiques and raw talents since they’ve arrived on the Farm.
Peat, who was offered scholarships from 38 different colleges before choosing Stanford, is competing with his classmate Murphy, redshirt sophomore Cole Underwood and redshirt freshman Brendon Austin for the starting role at left tackle.
“The word is freakish,” head coach David Shaw described. “You should not be that tall and that young and move the way that [Peat] does.”
The agility of the 6-foot-7, 308-pound freshman has equally impressed offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren, who commented that Peat’s footwork is “unbelievable” and that his future is “so bright.” Talents aside, the freshman lineman group faces a tall order in every practice, having to block the likes of linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov.
“It’s pretty much a family here. The upperclassmen have been helping me a lot.” Peat said. “Going against guys like Chase Thomas, it’s really helping me get better. It’s going to be a great offensive line once we all develop and work with coach Bloomgren. He’s one of the best in the business.”
True freshman Kyle Murphy, ranked the third best offensive lineman of his class by Rivals.com, joins Peat in the race that determines who will protect the quarterback’s blind side. Weighing in at 275 pounds, Murphy might not be the biggest lineman on the field, but his versatile ability to play at both right and left guard has raised his value even more. Bloomgren noted that despite Murphy’s smaller size, he has been “really impressive” and doing a “fine job” of playing against the defensive linemen in practice.
“With young players, we try not to make them play both sides of the ball,” Shaw said. “There are right-handed stance, left-handed stance, different calls and different plays. I don’t know if we’ve had a freshman offensive lineman who’s been able to play both sides without making a lot of mental errors. But for [Murphy], it hasn’t fazed him.”
Shaw further commented that both Murphy and Peat have definitely “asserted themselves,” and this week will be “huge” in determining whether they’re starters or not. Not to be outdone, offensive guard Joshua Garnett, widely considered the top recruit coming out of the state of Washington, has done his own share of wowing the coaching staff. Garnett is competing with juniors Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes for the starting spot at right guard.
“Josh is very close,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if he’ll start, but if he continues on his progress right now, he’s going to have a chance to help us out and play this year.”
With the overwhelming freshman talent, it might be easy to overlook the upperclassmen playing in the trenches. But that would be a critical mistake considering that fifth-year senior Sam Schwartzstein and redshirt sophomores David Yankey and Cameron Fleming—all starters last season on an offensive line that gave up just 11 sacks in total—are returning.
Standout center Schwartzstein, who was elected by his teammates as one of the three captains this past weekend, has especially made his leadership presence felt. The fifth-year senior started in all 13 games last season after sitting behind All-American Chase Beeler, one of the greatest centers in school history. Schwartzstein’s invaluable experience and guidance of the younger players have earned him the nickname “Coach Sammy.”
“All spring and all summer, [Schwartzstein] had player-on-player meetings with guys on Saturdays,” Bloomgren said. “What he did in the weight room with coach [Shannon] Turley was unbelievable in terms of leading the guys, and wow, he’s just been awesome on the field for us.”
Schwartzstein is a major component in the blend of veteran experience and youthful talent that will provide the necessary depth to the roster.
“The best thing about it is that we can play eight, maybe even nine, offensive linemen per game, looking at the guys we have,” Shaw said. “That’s great for the guys who don’t start; it gives them a chance to rotate in and play.”
The two most important tasks for the Cardinal offensive line are clear: to bulldoze the way for elusive halfbacks Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson and to protect newly named starting quarterback Josh Nunes at all costs. Even with David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin gone, this season’s talented core of offensive linemen isn’t likely to disappoint as it continues its role as the anchor of the Stanford offense.
Previous installments in The Stanford Daily’s 2012 football preview series: