With the start of fall camp just days away, Cardinal Sports Report will examine five of the pressing questions facing the 2012 Stanford football team. The fourth feature in our series examines the uncertainty surrounding Stanford's offensive line.
No. 5 - Wide Receiver Depth
No. 3 - Safety concerns
For the first time in a long time, Stanford will face serious questions along the offensive line in 2012. Sure, in years past the Cardinal had to deal with replacing the likes of Chase Beeler, Andrew Phillips, Derek Hall, and Chris Marinelli, but never in the Harbaugh/Shaw era has the team had to replace two top NFL draft picks (David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin) - in the same season.
The good news is that several experienced players will return. Fifth year senior Sam Schwartzstein is a solid veteran, and redshirt sophomores David Yankey and Cameron Fleming have the talent and experience to emerge as two of the better linemen in the conference.
But filling the gaps at right guard and left tackle left by DeCastro and Martin won't be easy.
On paper, redshirt junior Kevin Danser is a frontrunner to start in 2012 at Decastro's old right guard position. Danser was actually a fronrunner to start at left guard last season before his bid was at least partially derailed by some offseason bumps and bruises. Nonetheless, Danser has gotten plenty of playing time in various "Jumbo" packages, and is probably the odds-on favorite to at least begin the season as the starter at guard.
Fellow class of 2010 recruit Khalil Wilkes will also be the mix for the position, but if Stanford opts to select an experienced player to fill the guard void, Danser seems like the more logical choice.
The major wildcard at guard is Joshua Garnett. Garnett, who was easily one of the most highly recruited players in the nation for the class of 2012, chose Stanford over Michigan, Notre Dame, and dozens of other schools. Although Garnett has yet to participate in his first college practice, he reportedly has a BCS-level physical makeup. At Monday's Bay Area college football media day, Stanford coach David Shaw said that Garnett was up to 320 pounds and had the physique of a "house."
The guess here is that competition comes to down to Garnett and Danser.
Left tackle, meanwhile, isn't as clear cut.
Among Stanford's returning players Yankey, and to a lesser extent Brendon Austin (although some suspect that Austin may eventually wind up at guard), are probably the best candidates to grab hold of the left tackle spot. Cole Underwood has played some tackle in Stanford's "Jumbo" packages in the past, but we have a hard time seeing him emerge as the Card's left tackle.
Many expect Yankey, who was actually in competition for the right tackle position (with Fleming and Tyler Mabry) in 2011, before finding a home at guard, to be strongly considered for the tackle spot. But, even though he has the ability to play left tackle, a potential position switch would create an additional set of problems. The Cardinal would then be forced to employ two first-time starters at guard, which wouldn't exactly help Stepfan Taylor and co. in the run game.
With that in mind, Stanford could easily call upon another member of its touted 2012 offensive line recruiting class to play early at left tackle. The best bet might be five-star Arizona lineman Andrus Peat.
While fellow five-star Kyle Murphy is also extremely talented and drew rave reviews as a prospect from everyone we've spoken with, Peat seems to be more physically mature at this juncture. While Murphy is listed at well below 300 pounds, Peat is listed at 308 on the Stanford roster, and could easily be closer to 320.
"He has the physical tools to help immediately," Peat's high school coach Tom Joseph told Cardinal Sports Report earlier this summer.
Indeed, we've heard that Peat has the size and has displayed the agility needed to play left tackle in informal workouts. Whether that translates to camp remains to be seen.