Aside from the quarterback competition, replacing David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin will be among the most important tasks Stanford will face during fall camp.
The conversation about Stanford's offensive line has to start with the three returning starters: David Yankey, Sam Schwartzstein, and Cameron Fleming.
But the success of the Cardinal's line may ultimately be determined by the team's six incoming true freshmen, a group ranked as the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of Rivals.com.
"We used to joke around with it in the staff meetings for a long time, those same guys on the board and we used to say you know, if we get one tackle we wouldn't get the other," Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren told Cardinal Sports Report. "We always said that you know, they'd never come together. And we all just joked around how great it would be and when they came together, I was like a kid in a candy store. It was unbelievable."
An already strong offensive line class became historic during the final week of the 2012 recruiting cycle. First, Joshua Garnett delivered his verbal commitment to Stanford on January 26. Then, a few days later, Stanford shook up the recruiting world when it received commitments from both Peat and Murphy on signing day.
"I felt really good about Kyle and Andrus but didn't have any guarantees really except for going into signing day knowing that they were both down to a couple and we were one of them," Bloomgren said. "And so when that came together the way it did it was just unbelievable."
Peat, Murphy and Garnett will each have a chance to make an early impact on The Farm. Here's a look at Stanford's offensive line, based on our conversation with Bloomgren after the first practice of Stanford's fall camp.
It seems pretty clear that the Stanford coaching staff would strongly prefer to avoid moving Yankey from left guard to left tackle. That leaves a trio of freshmen -- one redshirt and two true -- in the mix for the job.
"At this juncture you would say Brendon Austin, as long as he can stay healthy, he did some great things in the spring that impressed us and then you have the two freshmen, Andrus and Kyle," Bloomgren said. "And if none of those are doing it to our level, we could move David Yankey out there if we needed to. Yankey could go out there and play tomorrow. It's not what we want to do. I hope it's not what we end up doing, but who knows. If two of those three guards (Kevin Danser, Khalil Wilkes, Josh Garnett) start playing at an incredibly high level and we can't keep them off the field we know that Yankey can play left tackle. In my mind it would not be a perfect world scenario."
Although he might be capable of playing left tackle, moving Cameron Fleming isn't a realistic possibility.
"I would not say that Cam could not play left tackle," Bloomgren said. "I would tell you that we love him at right tackle."
"In my mind it's a last resort. I couldn't see a scenario doing it and the only reason I would say is that now who's going to play right tackle? You open it up there and I just don't want to move somebody just to move them and now I have two new pieces of a puzzle. We feel pretty good about those three pieces we have returning from last year."
Unless he moves to left tackle, David Yankey will start at left guard. He's expected to be among the best offensive linemen in the conference.
"Yankey has turned out to be a really, really good guard," Bloomgren said. "He pulls so well."
Fifth-year senior Schwartzstein has the center position on lock, and has garnered effusive praise from Bloomgren.
"You can talk about what he's done on the field," Bloomgren said. "He's come so far. I remember going out there our first practice in the spring of 2011 and being like, 'Wow, we have to get better at that position.' And gosh, he has. He drove our bus as I always say last year and he got us in the right call and really did a great job communicating things up front, and he's just carried that on. He's been awesome all year stepping into that leadership role and what I mean is he's holding people accountable. He's holding voluntary meetings and letting the guys come and meet with him. He's been absolutely phenomenal as a leader."
Since Wilkes is working at guard full-time, Stanford's doesn't have a set backup center. Bloomgren said that Kevin Reihner, Conor McFadden and Graham Shuler are working at the position.
"That position is completely up in the air," Bloomgren said. "Obviously we were really impressed with how Khalil and Kevin Danser did coming out of the spring, but those positions, man they're wide open."
Bloomgren added that Garnett will also compete for the right guard job.
Barring something unforeseen, Fleming will be Stanford's right tackle.
Where are the freshman playing?
-Andrus Peat is currently working at left tackle.
-Johnny Caspers is at left guard.
-Graham Shuler is at center.
-Kyle Murphy is at right tackle (but could be in the mix for left tackle).
-Nick Davidson is at right tackle.
The team will don shoulder pads for the first time on Wednesday, full pads on Thursday, and begin tackling on Friday.
A few days in pads should give Bloomgren and the rest of Stanford's offensive braintrust a better indication about the state of the position battles.
"These guys are just getting their sea legs under them, learning our language and getting to play a little bit of football on the field," Bloomgren said. "I'm excited to see these guys on Wednesday when we actually have shoulder pads on."
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