This is the fifth in a series reviewing Pac-12 spring football camps. Today, Stanford.
Starters returning – 13 (6 on offense, 7 on defense), plus two kickers.
Refresher on 2011 – Behind Heisman Trophy finalist Andrew Luck, Cardinal flattened its first seven opponents by an average of 36 points. Then it scraped by USC in three overtimes, and two games later, fell victim to Oregon’s speed in a 53-30 defeat. Stanford landed a second Pac-12 team in a BCS bowl by making the Fiesta, where down the stretch, coach David Shaw put his faith in kicker Jordan Williamson instead of Luck, and it backfired in an overtime defeat. Behind Luck, who threw for 37 TDs and completed 71 percent, the Cardinal scored 561 points to break the school record for the third straight year. Five players were named to various All-America teams, four of them now bound for the NFL – Luck, offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin and tight end Coby Fleener (LB Chase Thomas returns). Shaw was named coach of the year in the Pac-12, and Stanford (11-2) finished No. 7 in the two major polls.
Coaching changes – Pete Alamar takes over as special-teams coordinator, a role he had two seasons at Fresno State, and prior to that, for seven years at Cal. David Kotulski, a 31-year coaching vet, takes over ILBs after a six-year run as defensive coordinator at Lehigh.
Major spring concerns – Overriding question was who will replace the once-in-a-generation Luck . . . OL departures of DeCastro and Martin were key issues . . . development of wideouts is important on a team that went without much playmaking at that spot in 2011.
Developments – Post-Luck era will be contested by two 6-4, 215-pound candidates, Californians Brett Nottingham – who threw only eight passes as a backup in 2011 – and Josh Nunes, with the competition expected to continue until well into fall camp. Many believe Nottingham is the more gifted, with a better arm, and will win out . . . the gulf between the leftovers and Luck is illustrated by these numbers: Stanford led the nation last year in fewest tackles for loss sustained per game (3.15), and in 2010 and 2011, Luck engineered third-down-conversion percentages of 57.6 and 52.6 (1st and 3rd nationally) . . . Cardinal trying to establish a better balance between wide receiver and tight end production, after a season in which TEs Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo combined for 20 TD catches (Ertz and Toilolo return) . . . rising soph Cameron Fleming and senior Sam Schwartzstein have two of the OL positions locked up, and OG Kevin Danser likely takes one, but two touted five-star recruits, Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, will threaten for time in the fall. . . two who had strong springs were RB/WR Kelsey Young and OLB/DE Kevin Anderson. Of Anderson, Shaw told the San Jose Mercury-News, “We don’t think he’ll be good, we think he’ll be special.” . . . LB Shayne Skov sat out drills as he recovers from a September knee injury, but is doing other workouts. He may sit, however, for a game or two because of a DUI . . . Cardinal will no doubt lean on big back Stepfan Taylor (1,330 yards) while breaking in a new QB.
Spring game – White team (Stanford defense) won over the Cardinal (offense), 37-29, in a complicated scoring system. Nunes played with the No. 1 offense but completed only 11 of 29 passes for 167 yards, while Nottingham was 12 of 19 for 118. The pass rush was formidable, with eight sacks. Said Shaw, referring to the quarterbacks: “I don’t care what the numbers say, that position didn’t play well enough for us to win.”
2012 schedule – Stanford opens with three straight home games, the last of which is the first real test against conference favorite USC. There are only three home games after Sept. 15, and with road tests at Washington, Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon, a realistic goal may be to try to avoid a dramatic dropoff from the past two years.