With the departures of David Yankey, Khalil Wilkes, Kevin Danser and Cameron Fleming from Stanford’s offensive line, the Cardinal will essentially be undergoing a full changing of the guard up front, with four new starters being plugged in to replace the outgoing veterans and to join sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat.
Don’t expect a big drop in production, though, because the four sophomores that will be stepping into those positions — left guard Joshua Garnett, center Graham Shuler, right guard Johnny Caspers and right tackle Kyle Murphy — were some of the top high-school linemen in the country who arrived at the Farm as part of Stanford’s monster 2012 recruiting class.
“We’ve been sitting around for two or so years, just waiting for this opportunity,” Shuler said. “Kyle, Josh and I have had the opportunity to play in a couple of ‘big-people’ personnel groupings, but at the same time, we’ve really wanted to get to drive this ship and let it be ours.”
While Shuler and Caspers have not seen as much game action, Garnett saw a lot of playing time last year as Stanford’s primary “ogre” back — an extra lineman set back from the line of scrimmage behind the regular linemen — in some of the heavier “jumbo” packages from Stanford’s offensive line, which also frequently included Murphy as an extra tackle. Moving into starting roles, however, presents a much larger challenge than entering every three or four snaps to play as supplementary linemen.
“You prepare a ton when you’re in those jumbo positions, and you’ve got to understand seven, eight, maybe 15 plays,” Shuler said. “But when you have to grasp and totally understand and manage and make all of the calls at this level, as demanding as this is, it takes an exponentially greater amount of effort and time.”
“We’ve all got to step into a little more of a leadership role,” Murphy added. “We’d always let [the departing veterans] lead; they were the older guys, they were the experienced guys that really drove our ship and drove our offense. So now it’s our turn to say, ‘Come on guys, let’s go,’ and be some of the leaders on our offensive line.”
While head coach David Shaw is confident in the physical abilities of his young linemen, he believes that they still need more work “knowledge-wise” in understanding the nuances of the positions at the increased pressure of the collegiate level. Although the linemen will be entering their third season on the Farm, they have not yet had to make adjustment calls or apply the skills that they have learned for a significant amount of time.
“This is going to be our fourth time installing some of these plays…I feel like a lot of the playbook memorization is over,” Garnett said. “It’s time to apply it now.”
“We all understand the plays,” Murphy added. “The biggest thing is, we’re [preparing] against our defense. They can do so many things. We’ve got great defensive coaches, so the biggest thing is adjustments. A lot of the time they might shift right before the play or the linebackers might move around. So we’ve just got to be able to get on top of that and we’ve been getting better and better every practice.”
And understandably, they are ready to step into their new, expanded roles, having been preparing behind the scenes for the last two seasons.
“As fun as it looked, blocking safeties and corners for myself and Murph last year and Graham a little bit isn’t as fun as it looks,” Garnett said. “I think mixing it up with fatter guys inside makes it a lot more fun and we can use a lot more of the tools that we got recruited to use. That’s what we’re meant to do, so it’s definitely easier to come in and do that and I think it’s a lot more fun, too.”
Shaw also mentioned that several players had been having ankle problems during practices, including sophomore wide receiver Michael Rector, who is questionable for this Saturday’s open practice. While none of the players’ injuries are particularly serious — Shaw clarified that none of them had more serious high-ankle problems and that they were “garden-variety ankle sprains” — they still present a slight setback for the Cardinal as it negotiates its early-spring practices.
In addition, Shaw spoke positively about the progression of safeties Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd, who both converted from offense to defense before the start of spring ball. Whitfield and Lloyd have been adjusting smoothly and have been dealing with the more physical elements of playing the position well, not having to practice separately from the regular safeties. Shaw was particularly impressed with Whitfield’s grasp of the techniques of the safety position.
Stanford will have another open practice, its second of the spring, this Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.