College football never ends and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Today, we take a look at the Stanford Cardinal and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring Practice Begins: Feb. 25
Spring Game: April 13
2012 Record: 12-2
Returning starters: 17 (seven offense, 10 defense)
Last year, Stanford notched its third straight 12-win season and won its first Rose Bowl since 1972, all while transitioning from losing the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck. David Shaw's squad looks to be loaded at almost every position in 2013 and, if a few minor issues can be resolved, this is a team that should challenge for the national title.
Four issues For Stanford To resolve this spring
-- Finding a replacement for Stepfan Taylor. The tough, consistent Taylor ended his career as Stanford's all-time leading rusher and now the starting tailback job is wide open. The position gets a boost with the return of Tyler Gaffney, who played minor league baseball last year, but oft-used senior Anthony Wilkerson could grab the reins with a strong spring. Keep an eye out for redshirt freshman Barry Sanders Jr., (son of you-know-who) and super-quick Kelsey Young, who also plays snaps at wide out. If a true starter doesn't emerge, look for a tailback-by-committee to take hold.
-- Who will start at center and left tackle? With All-American left tackle David Yankey moving to his natural position of left guard and center Sam Schwartzstein graduating, there are now two holes to fill on the offensive line. But the Stanford two-deep up front is an embarrassment of riches, with plenty of elite talent to choose from. Look for sophomores Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy to compete for Yankey's vacated left tackle spot. Both are major studs with bright NFL futures, and the Cardinal will be in good shape no matter who wins out. Senior left guard Khalil Wilkes moves to center, and he'll duke it out with last year's backup, Connor McFadden. This is going to wind up as one of college football's best offensive lines, but this spring will help determine its makeup.
-- What about the tight ends? Stanford had the best tight end duo in the country last season in Zach Ertz and Levin Toilolo. Both are gone to the NFL, and now Stanford's tight-end-dependent offensive scheme will need to find some replacements. Sophomore Luke Kaumatule was the third tight end in 2012, though he did not catch a pass. He has huge upside and the kind of build we are used to seeing from Cardinal tight ends at 6-foot-7, 260 pounds. The buzz around Palo Alto is that he's the favorite to start, but Stanford has so many packages on offense, more tight ends will be needed. Davis Dudchock will get a look, as will position switchers Charlie Hopkins and Eddie Plantaric. But if the search for tight ends goes awry, Stanford can always utilize hard-nosed fullback Ryan Hewitt, who has the versatility to play both spots.
-- Kevin Hogan's backup needs a backup. A nine-game starter last year, senior quarterback Josh Nunes will miss the spring with an injury, which should open the door for junior Evan Crower and sophomore Dallas Lloyd to make a move up the depth chart. "I'm looking forward to seeing how he [Crower] responds to a lot of repetitions," said head coach David Shaw. "I'm interested to see what Dallas Lloyd can do in his first spring."