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Stanford releases depth chart for season opener against Northwestern

Senior Johnny Caspers (right) has been named the Cardinal's starting right guard ahead of the team's first game against Northwestern. (STEPHEN BRASHEAR/isiphoto.com)

Stanford football released its depth chart for the Northwestern game on Monday night, clearing up the results of a few position battles but leaving most of the more significant battles undecided.

At least for the time being, senior Johnny Caspers has won the starting job at right guard, while sophomore Casey Tucker beat out an injured Nick Davidson to earn the starting job at right tackle. Senior Conrad Ukropina is also confirmed to be the Cardinal’s starting kicker.

However, the races for backup quarterback, cornerback, inside linebacker and punter will likely be clarified further through the Cardinal’s first few games, with no single player listed at any of those positions.

The most interesting development on the new depth chart is a shake-up at both starting wide receiver spots, where fifth-year senior Rollins Stallworth is listed ahead of senior Michael Rector at one spot and junior Francis Owusu has moved into a tie with fifth-year senior Devon Cajuste at the other.

It remains to be seen whether Rector’s move down the depth chart has anything to do with his recent suspension for unspecified disciplinary reasons and whether the wide receiver will play at all against Northwestern. Cajuste may reportedly still be dealing with the aftereffects of an injury, which may have influenced Owusu’s move up the depth chart.

The only freshmen listed on Stanford’s two-deep are safeties Justin Reid and Ben Edwards, backup nickelback Quenton Meeks and punter/kickoff specialist Jake Bailey. All four will likely see significant action this season due to Stanford’s lack of proven depth in the secondary and on special teams.

Quarterbacks

Kevin Hogan (5Sr.) / Ryan Burns (Jr.) OR Keller Chryst (So.)

Hogan being firmly entrenched at starter has always been a done deal, but it’s surprising that the backup quarterback situation still hasn’t been resolved at this late stage. Shaw has confirmed that whoever does eventually win the backup job will see a non-trivial number of snaps under center this season in order to prepare him to take over for Hogan once Stanford transitions at quarterback next year.

Running backs

Christian McCaffrey (So.) / Remound Wright (5Sr.) / Barry Sanders (Sr.)

McCaffrey is the starter and will definitely get the majority of the workload out of the backfield. However, his versatility will allow Stanford to often split him out wide as well, opening the door for Sanders to see a decent number of touches. Wright should also get a lot of touches in short-yardage and goal-line situations after he was incredibly successful in that role at the end of last season. If training camp was any indication, true freshmen Cameron Scarlett and Bryce Love could also factor into the picture in specialized packages.

Fullback

Daniel Marx (So.) / Chris Harrell (Sr.)

No team around the country develops fullbacks quite like Stanford, with two of the Cardinal’s former stalwarts at the position (Ryan Hewitt and Lee Ward) making big impacts for their NFL teams so far. Marx figures to be next on that list as the unquestioned next man up. With Patrick Skov gone to Georgia Tech, depth could be a question, but reports out of camp are that both tight ends Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada have been working out at the position as well. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see a cameo from Reagan Williams, one of the Cardinal’s newest recruits at the position.

Wide receivers

Rollins Stallworth (5Sr.) / Michael Rector (Sr.) / Isaiah Brandt-Sims (So.)
Francis Owusu (Jr.) OR Devon Cajuste (5Sr.) / Dontonio Jordan (Sr.)

As mentioned above, Stallworth seems to be the primary beneficiary of Rector’s mystery-shrouded suspension, with the former walk-on jumping past Rector in the depth chart to become the only confirmed first-string wideout. Owusu was always likely to see a significant part in Stanford’s offense this season, but he’ll likely see a comparatively larger chunk of the snaps against Northwestern sharing first-string duties with Cajuste. It will be interesting to see if and how Stanford decides to work true freshman playmaker Trenton Irwin into the fray.

Tight ends

Austin Hooper (Jr.) / Greg Taboada (Jr.)
Dalton Schultz (So.) / Greg Taboada (Jr.)

Noticeably missing from the two-deep is junior Eric Cotton, who was the third of the new-generation “Tree Amigos” tight end group that was recruited in the 2013 class. Dalton Schultz, who was reportedly one of the best route-runners on the team as a true freshman last year, will finally get a chance to play a major role in Stanford’s offense, and although Taboada and Cotton will likely see time in certain packages and in Stanford’s three- and four-tight-end looks, Hooper and Schultz seem to have separated themselves from the pack and will be the next major players at the position to keep the “Tight End U” legacy going.

Offensive line

LT: Kyle Murphy (Sr.) / David Bright (Jr.)
LG: Joshua Garnett (Sr.) / Brandon Fanaika (So.)
C: Graham Shuler (Sr.) / Jesse Burkett (So.)
RG: Johnny Caspers (Sr.) / Brendon Austin (5Sr.)
RT: Casey Tucker (So.) / Nick Davidson (Sr.)

The legendary offensive line recruiting class of 2012 welcomes sophomore Casey Tucker to the fray to complete what should be a vastly improved line from last season and one of the best in the conference. Murphy sliding over to Hogan’s blind side should be a more-than-adequate replacement for the departed Andrus Peat, and the interior of the line, which struggled last season, should be improved if the end of 2014 was any indication. The Northwestern game should be a good litmus test, as the Wildcats have traditionally been strong in the front seven. The game should also provide more clarity as to which linemen will be subbed in with eligible numbers in Stanford’s heavy packages.

Defensive line

DE: Solomon Thomas (So.) OR Brennan Scarlett (5Sr.)
DT: Harrison Phillips (So.) / Aziz Shittu (Sr.) OR Solomon Thomas (So.)
DE: Aziz Shittu (Sr.) / Jordan Watkins (Sr.)

There’s an undeniable wealth of talent on this defensive line, but the lack of depth could prove to be a concern for the Cardinal down the stretch. An injury would force either Nate Lohn or Torsten Rotto into the rotation. The biggest thing of note here is Harrison Phillips winning the starting nose tackle job outright, with many having expected senior Aziz Shittu to take over for the departed David Parry. However, the other options in the rotation offer significant flexibility, and given the nature of Pac-12 offenses, Stanford likely won’t spend the majority of its time in the base 3-4 defense anyway.

Linebackers

OLB: Peter Kalambayi (Jr.) / Joey Alfieri (So.)
ILB: Blake Martinez (Sr.) / Craig Jones (Sr.)
ILB: Kevin Palma (Jr.) OR Jordan Perez (So.)
OLB: Kevin Anderson (5Sr.) / Mike Tyler (Jr.)

The inside linebacker spot alongside Blake Martinez is still an open contest between Kevin Palma and Jordan Perez, but the starters in the other three slots are essentially set in stone with three of Stanford’s most productive defenders from last season returning to anchor the unit. It likely won’t matter who wins the job, as both guys will see lots of snaps as the season goes on no matter what. Palma is one of the best physically-developed players on the team. Talented backups like Joey Alfieri and Mike Tyler should also get increased exposure this season to bolster the unit’s depth. The wild card in this position group is senior Luke Kaumatule, who weighs in north of 270 pounds and could play a hybrid defensive line-outside linebacker position in certain looks.

Defensive backs

CB: Alijah Holder (So.) OR Alameen Murphy (So.)
FS: Kodi Whitfield (Sr.) / Justin Reid (Fr.)
SS: Dallas Lloyd (Sr.) / Brandon Simmons (So.) OR Ben Edwards (Fr.)
CB: Ronnie Harris (5Sr.) / Ra’Chard Pippens (5Sr.)
NB: Terrence Alexander (So.) / Quenton Meeks (Fr.)

No huge surprises among the starters, although it’s surprising that neither Holder nor Murphy has separated himself from the other enough to be named the starter alongside Harris at cornerback. It also seems that Shaw and position coach Duane Akina aren’t going to hesitate to play true freshmen in a position group that was ravaged by departures at the end of 2014, particularly with the most talented defensive backs recruiting class in history set to make an impact. Reid, Edwards and Meeks should see plenty of action if this two-deep holds up. Taijuan Thomas is noticeably missing from the depth chart.

Specialists

K: Conrad Ukropina (Sr.) / Jake Bailey (Fr.)
P: Jake Bailey (Fr.) OR Alex Robinson (Jr.)
KO: Jake Bailey (Fr.) OR Conrad Ukropina (Sr.)
KR: Christian McCaffrey (So.) / Barry Sanders (Sr.)
PR: Christian McCaffrey (So.) / Barry Sanders (Sr.)
LS: Reed Miller (Sr.) / Torsten Rotto (5Sr.)
SS: C.J. Keller (So.) / Reed Miller (Sr.)
HLD: Dallas Lloyd (Sr.)

Although Ukropina doesn’t have a proven track record, special teams coach Pete Alamar is confident that Ukropina can be the next man up for Stanford at kicker, and although Conrad’s kickoffs left much to be desired two years ago, freshman Jake Bailey is said to have a dynamite leg and should compete for the kickoffs job immediately. The same long/short-snapping duo from last season returns, and Dallas Lloyd, who was the backup holder last year, will take over for Ben Rhyne as part of the battery. He should be one of very few non-quarterback or punter holders in the country. Barry Sanders provides depth at returner, and even behind him, Stanford has many guys (like Kodi Whitfield) who can also return kicks and punt adequately.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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