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Defensive questions to be answered at Spring Game

It’s strange to think that the vaunted Stanford Cardinal defense that has been the driving force behind the success of the last two years might be the unit with the most questions moving forward into the new season. But with Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy — the heart and soul of the 2013 defense — graduating and Ed Reynolds leaving for the NFL Draft, there are many more questions than answers at the moment for the planners of the #PartyInTheBackfield.

(SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley (right) will be one of the leaders of a Stanford defense with questions to answer at Spring Game, particularly in the secondary. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford fans will likely see some of those questions answered on Saturday, when the Cardinal and White Spring Game — the prelude to the highly anticipated 2014-15 season — will take place at Stanford Stadium and give people around the nation a sneak peek at how the team is weathering the losses of some of its most spirited leaders and performers.

While the defense emerged victorious in last year’s edition of the intrasquad scrimmage, the offense will look to have an upper hand this season as it returns a deep and experienced corps at its skill positions from last season, with rising senior quarterback Kevin Hogan returning for his third season helming the unit.

Although the main question on offense for the majority of this offseason was how it would respond to the departure of Tyler Gaffney, who carried the team with his 1,709 yards last season, the successes of the stable of running backs expected to replace him — sophomore Barry Sanders, junior Remound Wright, junior Kelsey Young and senior Ricky Seale — throughout spring practices has largely assuaged that doubt. Although Wright will miss the Spring Game due to a disciplinary issue, Sanders, Seale and Young will likely have numerous opportunities on Saturday to make their cases for increased playing time next season.

Meanwhile, with Stanford returning essentially its entire wide receiving corps from last season and Hogan returning to throw to them after already having had a year to develop his connections with them, the Cardinal passing game will likely be one of the more impressive elements of the Spring Game. With the emergence of freshmen Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada as viable receiving options at tight end during spring practices, the passing game will only get better moving forward as the trio matures.

Given that the most questionable element of the Cardinal defense looks to be the secondary after the losses of not only Reynolds, but also senior defensive backs Usua Amanam and Devon Carrington, it will be up to senior Kyle Olugbode, along with newcomers in sophomores Dallas Lloyd and Kodi Whitfield, to continue solid springs and execute in a game setting. Although Lloyd and Whitfield — the converts from the offense — have drawn positive reviews about their skills and physicality from coaches and teammates alike, they will need to have big days to offset the missing talent of sophomore cornerback Alex Carter, who still has not returned from injury.

The front seven will look to be in good shape even without Skov and Murphy, with senior defensive end Henry Anderson leading a defensive line that will be bolstered by the addition of sophomore Aziz Shittu as a viable candidate in the rotation, taking the pressure off of senior Blake Lueders and sophomore Luke Kaumatule, who are both still working on putting on weight and improving their technique heading into the season.

In the linebacking corps, junior Kevin Anderson and freshman Peter Kalambayi are looking to take a much more significant role in the rotation on the outside, while sophomore Blake Martinez and senior Joe Hemschoot will be among the more experienced inside linebackers taking the place alongside Tarpley up the middle.

For the second season in a row, the game will consist of the offense facing the defense on every drive rather than splitting the team into two squads that would play each other in a mock-up of a real game. The game will start at Stanford Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday with free admission and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027@stanford.edu.

About Do-Hyoung Park

Do-Hyoung Park is the Head Copy Editor at The Stanford Daily. However, his allegiance still lies with the sports section, of which he was at the helm before yielding to a peaceful transition of power to Ashley Westhem. Do-Hyoung is a junior originally from Seoul, South Korea and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota pursuing a major in chemical engineering. To contact him, please email him at dpark027 'at' stanford.edu.