Stanford's power run game took a step back in 2012 following the departure of two of the best linemen in program history (Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro) to the NFL, but the future of the offensive line is as bright as, well, roses.
With veterans like David Yankey, Cameron Fleming and Kevin Danser expected to return, and as arguably the best offensive line recruiting class in recent college football history continues to mature, the Card's line should be among the best in the nation in 2013.
Cardinal Sports Report caught up with the unit's architect, coach Mike Bloomgren at Rose Bowl media day to discuss the position this year and moving forward.
Cardinal Sports Report: Down here at the Rose Bowl, kind of an interesting path for you coming from the NFL. What did you think of the Rose bowl growing up. How much attention did you pay to it?
Mike Bloomgren: Much more than just when I was in New York (with the Jets). You have to talk about when I was a kid. I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and at that time in the '80's and '90's, they weren't BCS bowls at the time, but they were going to the Sugar and the Orange and the Fiesta. One bowl they never went to was the Rose Bowl. So then I get done playing and I get a chance to work at Florida State, and all you ever heard people talk about, including my family members, was the "Granddaddy of Them All". This was the one. You go to Alabama as a graduate assistant, and in the fight song it's "Remember the Rose Bowl, we'll win then." So you talk about this game, it's so surreal for me to be here, honestly. I've talked to the guys about that a lot, how much it means to me just as the football junkie fan that I am. This thing has certainly not disappointed so far. It's been really first-class, it's been great for the guys, a lot of fun.
CSR: With the offensive line, is there a little bit of a pride hearing so much about Wisconsin's offensive line all week, Montee Ball, a motivating factor at all?
MB: I hope not. Because I hope what we're going to do is do what we've done all year and worry about us, worry about how good we can get and we're pretty proud of our own runner in Stepfan Taylor and all the other guys we put back there, so I hope we just focus on us and winning each play.
CSR: Can you talk about the progression of you starting five offensive linemen this year from that opener to now?
MB: Well, David Yankey's improvement is pretty evident. He's sitting up there on that stage (at media day) and won the Morris Trophy. We thought he would be an unbelievable guard this year. We knew he was our security blanket at tackle if those young guys didn't develop. Just with the volume in our offense those guys weren't ready to start game one, so he started out there at left tackle. Khalil Wilkes stepped in at left guard and has really improved. Khalil Wilkes has had his best week of practice in this last week, so he's come and he's getting better. Sammy Schwartzstein has been everything we've hoped he'd be in terms of driving the bus, being that unbelievable leader for us in the room, on the field, and just that great voice. At right guard, Kevin Danser, that's such a great story to me because Kevin has worked his way into being such a good guard. Second-team all-conference, probably deserve first-team in my opinion anyway, and just so proud of some of the things he does and the level he's taken his game to. Cameron Fleming -- all he does is block people in games.
Can you talk about the three young guys, Murphy, Garnett and Peat, where they're each at in their respective development?
MB: Both of those tackles, when you talk about Kyle he's played actually a ton of plays for us, probably 30 plays a game when you count his work at tackle and how he's been our jumbo tight end. Andrus has probably played 20 snaps a game, and the thing with Andrus is he keeps ascending. He keeps getting better and better and better as he gets more comfortable in the system and he's better and better and better and feeling more comfortable until he goes to one-on-one pass pro and goes against Chase and (Trent) Murphy every day. You know, and that's a tough draw and we just all told him the other day like hey man, it gets no worse than this, or better than this, depending on how you look at it, because it's helping you every day you do it.
Josh Garnett, man, what a good kid. The guy came into games and had these specific roles to essentially be an assassin. He took the nose guard from ND and ran him off the screen on a down block. He's played fullback, he's played this and that and man, he's just done a great job. I'm so impressed with where those guys are, and not just those three, but the other three that redshirted, they're so fun to watch. The nice thing about bowl teams is getting that extra spring practice and it's been so valuable for all six of those freshmen.
CSR: Have you started to think about how in the world you're going to play all of these guys next year?
MB: (Laughing) Yeah, we have. And what a great problem. The nice thing is this game is pure, something Coach Hamilton always says. It's a pure game and we're going to let it sort itself on the field in spring football and then again in training camp. We'll play those best five. We'll find a way to do it just like we do every year, and if we have to play specific people in specific roles like we did this year, I don't know if any offensive line has ever done as much of that as we did this year.
Can you talk about Johnny Caspers, Nick Davidson and Graham Shuler, you mentioned the bowl practices helping, but where they're all at?
MB: The first day of bowl practices was just unbelievable for Nick Davidson. I think he's been dying to get a chance to show us and have us coach him again and really focus in on him and he played so well, so physical, and I think he was just so anxious for that opportunity. Johnny was much of the same. Johnny's a kid who's put on a lot of weight, he's in the 280's now, a scrappy kid from Chicago. And then Graham Shuler, what Graham Shuler has been doing in practice, one-on-ones for a center is not a fun deal against our nose guards, but he's just been putting his hands on them and finding a way. Graham just has to continue to get bigger. He needs more mass, and as that comes… I think the Beef Bowl at Lawry's probably helped him. He's probably at least over 270 now.
CSR: Graham's working center, Johnny left guard or right guard and Nick at tackle?
MB: Johnny's left guard predominantly, Nick is left tackle.