For the first time in over three years, the Stanford football team will take the field without Andrew Luck on the roster — but when the Cardinal’s spring practice opens on Monday afternoon, the QB position won’t be the only thing on head coach David Shaw’s agenda.
With 11 starters departing from the Cardinal’s back-to-back BCS bowl teams, Shaw said he’s just hoping to get a few hints this spring of what team will take the field come August.
“I think every spring has got to be about the same thing: you’ve got to find out what kind of a team that you’re becoming,” Shaw said on Thursday. “You don’t find out what kind of team you are in spring; you get clues as to where you’re leaning.”
The first and most important order of business will certainly be figuring out just who will replace the two-time Heisman runner-up. Shaw said that the Cardinal would have an open competition to choose Luck’s heir, and that Stanford’s next starting quarterback would come from a group of five players: juniors Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo, sophomore Brett Nottingham and freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan.
When asked if he had a favorite to win the job, Shaw said that he did indeed have a leader in the clubhouse.
“Absolutely, and it changes every 15 minutes,” he quipped. “Every time we go on the field, somebody does something better than somebody else.”
While Nottingham was the primary backup to Luck last season, Shaw said his goal was to get all five quarterbacks equal practice reps during this first spring session, which extends until March 10.
“We’re going to try [to give equal reps] this first session; we want this to be competitive, we want to get every guy a shot, but it’s hard to do it like this forever,” Shaw said. “We’ll do a lot of split periods when there are two team periods going on at the same time. That’s a way to get more guys reps at the same time, so we’re able to get more guys competitive reps on both sides of the line.”
Shaw also mentioned that he had set out clear criteria to the five quarterbacks for ways to distinguish themselves.
“They don’t need to worry about if they’re going with the ones or the twos, they need to worry about their performance,” he said. “They need to worry about executing the offense, completing passes, reading the defense, making sure they’ve got the right run checks, managing the pocket — those are things that they’re responsible for.”
While plenty of eyes will be focused on the five-way duel under center, there will also be a couple of players conspicuously absent — including junior linebacker Shayne Skov, who will miss all of spring practice due to a knee injury in the fall.
“He was never going to participate in spring physically,” Shaw said, taking care to point out that Skov’s absence from spring practice was not be related to his DUI arrest on Jan. 29.
“He’s not an average football player and he never has been. So his rehab and his attention to detail in his rehab can’t be average. The conversation we had was that he’s getting ready to dominate, he’s not getting ready to play. That’s just the mentality — that he’s got to attack this rehab. We’re going to be smart, we need him to be healthy and ready to go to play at the level that we need him to play at.”
Freshman linebacker Patrick Skov, the younger brother of Shayne, will also miss the first part of spring with a foot injury. Freshman defensive end Kevin Anderson and sophomore guard Dillon Bonnel will also miss the Cardinal’s first spring session.
While making up for losses will be the major storyline on the Farm this spring, the Cardinal will also have to adapt to two coaching additions: new special teams coach Pete Alamar and an inside linebackers coach, whom Shaw said he would hire in the upcoming weeks. Alamar, who spent the last two years coaching Fresno State’s special teams, was officially introduced as the successor to Brian Polian on Friday.
But while the Cardinal is indeed a team in transition, Shaw also took care to mention that he and the rest of the coaching staff felt prepared to take on the task ahead of them.
“We’re more prepared [this year], partially because we were settling a lot of things schematically [last year],” Shaw said. “Now having both coordinators an entire season and having the same ones getting ready for spring, there’s less [tweaking]. The overall scheme of what we’re doing is set, so we’re just more cohesive going into this spring than we were last spring.”