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. First up in our series is a look at some of the areas that narrowly missed our top-five.
No. 6: Who will handle long snapping duties?
The graduation of last season's long snapper, Andrew Fowler, left a massive void at the long snapper position, and Stanford is lacking in proven options. There are currently two long snappers listed on Stanford's roster: true freshman walk-on Reed Miller, who is one of only two walk-ons that will be with the Cardinal at the start of fall camp, and second-year player Austin Tubbs. Tubbs is a fine snapper, but his lack of prototypical long snapper size (Tubbs is listed at 6-foot, 203-pounds on the recently released roster) is a concern. Additionally, although he comes with strong accolades, it might be difficult for the true freshman Miller to thrive at long snapper so early in his collegiate career.
Meanwhile, we hear that Ben Gardner is also a capable, albeit somewhat inconsistent, snapper with superior size, but that his value as a defensive end might supersede any potential contributions as a long snapper. We also hear that two more Cardinal players have recently picked up snapping: offensive lineman Jacob Gowan and linebacker Torsten Rotto. It's not immediately clear how Gowan and Rotto are progressing.
No. 7: How will Stanford use Kelsey Young?
By all accounts, Young, the former Norco High School star, is the type of explosive athlete Stanford has often lacked in recent years. His addition to an offense expected to boast a formidable rushing attack and a dynamic tight end core could help ease the post-Luck era transition.
There is one concern with Young, however. His hands are questionable. Although he might have the skill set to be a dynamic pass-catching threat, drops have plagued Young. The Stanford staff will likely find a way to utilize a weapon as dynamic as Young, but how he'll fit into the Cardinal offense remains somewhat of a mystery.
No. 8: Who will replace Matt Masifilo at defense end?
Although Masifilo's solid and steady play may not have garnered the appreciation it deserved, Stanford is in fairly good shape to cope with his departure. Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro both have game experience, and should probably be considered the leaders to earn a starting job. Although we've heard positive things about both Anderson and Mauro from informed observers, the guess here is that Anderson gets the opening day starting nod.
There are a few wildcards, however. A member of the stellar 2012 defensive line recruiting class (Aziz Shittu, Nathanael Lohn, Ikenna Nwafor and Jordan Watkins) could emerge as a challenger to Anderson and Mauro. It could also be worth keeping an eye on redshirt freshman Charlie Hopkins as the season progresses.
No. 9: Will any tight ends outside of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo emerge as consistent contributors to the offense?
The three tight-end set was one of the staples of Stanford's potent offense in 2011. How much Stanford continues to rely on a three-tight end set in 2012 will obviously depend on whether the Cardinal has the personnel to continue to employ such a formation. Logic would seem to dictate that Ryan Hewitt will be asked to take on a larger role in the passing game, but the emergence of a third true tight end target would help ease the burden on Hewitt and give offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton increased flexibility.
Redshirt sophomore Davis Dudchock played a few snaps in 2011, and seems to be the most likely candidate to be a consistent third tight end option, but there are a few other candidates. Onetime four-star recruit Jemari Roberts recently switched from wide receiver to tight end, which could provide him an opportunity to shed several seasons of disappointing play. True freshman Luke Kaumatule is a huge, physically talented target, but a recent ACL injury and defensive line focus throughout high school could steepen his learning curve. Additionally, several walk-ons could make runs at playing time.
No. 10 What does Gaffney's departure mean to the running back pecking order?
Stepfan Taylor is easily one of the top running backs on the West Coast, but he won't take every carry for Stanford. With Tyler Gaffney's somewhat surprising departure to Major League Baseball, Stanford's depth at running back will be tested.
The talented Anthony Wilkerson, who has shown flashes of greatness in his first two seasons on The Farm, is probably the frontrunner to be Taylor's primary backup. But Ricky Seale, Remound Wright, Kelsey Young, and even true freshman Barry Sanders were all touted recruits in their own right, and could push Wilkerson for playing time.
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