The tremors from fifth-year senior and defensive captain Ben Gardner’s season-ending injury reverberated around the practice field this week as a banged-up team and defensive line attempted to move forward without Gardner.
“Ben’s going to be out at every practice,” said head coach David Shaw. “He’s still a team captain and still wants to be a leader, so he’s going to be around and helping the guys.”
Gardner’s presence and coaching on the sideline could be a massive boost for the guys who stand to earn more playing time in his absence. Senior defensive end Blake Lueders, who recently converted from outside linebacker, figures to be one of the key contributors at the now-vacated starting defensive end spot.
“It’s definitely different; I’m still not completely comfortable [at defensive end],” Lueders said. “Being head up on a tackle and having the possibility of a tight end blocking you or the tackle or the guard, it can be a little different from outside linebacker…It’s definitely been a transition, but the more practices I’ve had, the more comfortable I’ve been getting.”
Although it will be difficult to replicate Gardner’s performance on the field, the Card hopes that Lueders, along with sophomore defensive end Luke Kaumatule, who was recently converted from tight end, and several other players, can use the increased playing time to showcase their own skills.
“Luke Kaumatule has a lot of potential. The sky’s really the limit for him,” Lueders said. “It’s a tough transition for him, switching from tight end to defensive line, having to learn a whole new playbook and different techniques. He’s really come a long way and I think he will contribute more and more this season.”
Kaumatule is just one of the younger players who has made an impact in practice and could begin to see more of the field. Other sophomore standouts have included wide receiver Kodi Whitfield, running back Barry Sanders and defensive end Jordan Watkins.
Shaw said Sanders had a very good day at practice Tuesday and that Watkins was progressing very well. Shaw did say, however, that he wasn’t sure if Watkins had quite reached a point where he was ready to contribute in a game yet.
Whitfield’s emergence and the possible return of injured junior wide receiver Devon Cajuste would really help an offense that struggled moving and controlling possession of the football last Saturday against Oregon State. The Cardinal only had the ball for around 22 minutes during the game.
“[We need to] get first downs and move the chains,” said junior quarterback Kevin Hogan. “We need to be efficient on first and second downs to stay out of third-and-long situations.”
One of the lasting memories from last year’s matchup with Oregon was Hogan scrambling, diving and stretching for the end zone for a touchdown that put the Cardinal up 7-0 in the second quarter. This year Hogan again plans to run, if given the chance.
“If the opportunity is there I’ll definitely use my legs,” Hogan said. “I think that is something that has worked well the past couple weeks–getting an extra couple of yards on scrambles. Oregon flies around [up front] and covers well downfield, so if the opportunity is there I’ll use my legs.”
Stanford and Oregon will meet on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 6 p.m. in a matchup with major Pac-12 Championship Game implications and even possible BCS National Championship Game implications.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.