By Sam Fisher
Fresh off a 12-2 season capped by the Cardinal’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1972, Stanford football begins its 2013 campaign with spring practice starting Monday.
Though this will be the first time Stanford puts the pads back on since the Cardinal defeated Wisconsin 20-14 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, the team has been conditioning for weeks.
“I asked the guys ‘Are we collectively hungry?’,” Stanford Head Coach David Shaw said about addressing the team before winter conditioning. “Our older guys have answered that question.”
When the first of two spring practice sessions begins next week — Stanford splits its allotted spring practice time between the time before winter quarter’s dead week and the two weeks immediately following spring break — a few players will be forced to watch from the sidelines.
Rising senior cornerback Barry Browning will miss the first session and possibly some or all of the second session because of “optional” back surgery. Browning has bounced in and out of the starting lineup since his freshman year, most recently joining rising junior Wayne Lyons on the second string cornerback unit.
Rising fifth-year senior Josh Nunes will miss all of spring practice because of an undisclosed arm injury. Shaw declined to go into details about how the injury occurred, but he called it “workout-related.” The injury will give rising junior Evan Crower and rising sophomore Dallas Lloyd extra reps in the battle for rising junior Kevin Hogan’s backup spot.
One of the more intriguing battles of the spring will be the competition for left tackle. Rising senior David Yankey was an All-American at left tackle last season, but Shaw is hoping to move Yankey back to his natural position of left guard.
“I need David Yankey at left guard,” Shaw said.
Rising sophomores Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy are the most likely candidates to earn the role of protecting Hogan’s blind side. Shaw mentioned that Murphy could actually push rising senior Cam Fleming out of right tackle. Fleming has started at that right tackle spot for the past two seasons.
The other open competition on the offensive line is the race to replace departing senior captain Sam Schwartzstein at center. Rising senior Conor McFadden — who backed up Schwartzstein in 2012 — rising junior Kevin Reihner, rising sophomore Graham Shuler and rising fifth-year senior Khalil Wilkes — who started at left guard last season — are all very much in the hunt.
Stanford does have some good injury news: rising fifth-year senior fullback Geoff Meinken is healthy after suffering a season-ending knee injury in last year’s spring game. Meinken joins the trio of fullbacks who all return after getting significant time at the position last season — rising fifth-year senior Ryan Hewitt, rising junior Patrick Skov and rising senior Lee Ward.
Many expected Hewitt to move to tight end to help replace the two departing starters, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Shaw hopes the younger guys, including rising sophomore Luke Kaumatule — whom Shaw said was developing nicely — play well enough for Shaw to be able to keep Hewitt at fullback.
Shaw announced that rising senior Eddie Plantaric and rising junior Charlie Hopkins have moved to tight end for spring practice. Both Plantaric and Hopkins entered Stanford as defensive linemen, though Plantaric switched to offensive line last season.
The tailback corps got an unexpected addition last week, when Tyler Gaffney announced his decision to take a year off his professional baseball career in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization to rejoin Stanford football for his senior season. Gaffney joins rising seniors Anthony Wilkerson and Ricky Seale, rising juniors Remound Wright and Kelsey Young — Young plays both wide receiver and running back — and rising sophomore Barry J. Sanders in what looks to be a very different type of “Party In The Backfield.”
Coach Shaw said Friday that he does not plan on switching any of the running backs to different positions a la rising fifth-year senior Usua Amanam’s switch from tailback to nickelback two years ago. Instead, Shaw cited the 2010 running back trio of Wilkerson, Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor that teamed up to replace departing star Toby Gerhart’10.
At the conclusion of spring practice, Stanford football will host the Cardinal & White Spring Game. The game will be held at Stanford Stadium on April 13 at 3 p.m. PT and is open to the public.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher “at” stanford.edu.
Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said the Cardinal’s record this past season was 13-1. The Daily regrets this error.