Preview 2007 - Cardinal Offense
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need to know:
Jim Harbaugh wants to attack defenses with an up tempo offense
that’ll feature lots of pre-snap motion and a ball control
element that harkens back to the Bill Walsh days of the West
Coast offense. It worked swimmingly at the University of San
Diego for the past couple of years, but this is Stanford where
ten points and less than 250 yards a game was the norm last
year. The Cardinal is experienced everywhere and pretty deep at
the skill positions, but none of that will matter unless the
offensive line does a complete 180 off last year’s atrocious
Passing: T.C. Ostrander
72-158, 918 yds, 3 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Anthony Kimble
114 carries, 470 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Richard Sherman
34 catches, 581 yds, 3 TD
Star of the
Senior WR Mark Bradford
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RT
Ben Muth or sophomore Chris Marinelli
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Richard Sherman
Best pro prospect: Sherman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bradford 2) Sherman
3) Junior LT Allen Smith
Strength of the offense: Wide receiver
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line
Sure, it hurts losing Trent Edwards to the Buffalo Bills, but
Jim Harbaugh and the Cardinal feel pretty good about the
quarterbacks. Senior T.C. Ostrander is back for a fifth
season after spending the previous four as Edwards’ apprentice.
He started seven games last years and played in 22 overall,
putting up pedestrian numbers that are more indicative of poor
pass protection than poor passing skills. Although he’s an
accurate passer, what’s really impressed the coach is his mental
sharpness, comfort with audibles, and general game management
skills. In a season of change at Stanford, he brings an
important air of stability, and possibly some decent numbers if
given time to set up in the pocket.
Projected Top Reserves: The battle to determine
who’ll be first off the bench this season is a tight one between
sophomore Tavita Pritchard and redshirt freshman Alex
Loukas. The nephew of former Washington State legend Jack
Thompson, Pritchard made a good case for the No. 2 job in the
spring, showing off his arm strength and quick feet. Loukas
will spend the next few seasons trying to live up to the hype of
being one of the highest-rated prep quarterbacks of 2006. While
he’s not ready to be at the controls just yet, his dual-threat
potential in a 6-4, 205-pound frame gives him the look of the
heir apparent under center by next season.
Watch Out For… Ostrander to double the number of
touchdown passes Edwards tossed in 2006. Okay, so he threw just
six last year, but Harbaugh’s presence, and a deep cast of
receivers, will help spark a passing game that pulled up the
rear in the Pac-10 last year.
Strength: Ostrander’s experience and leadership.
In the huddle and on the sidelines, he conducts himself like a
fifth-year senior should.
Weakness: Inexperienced backups. Stanford
quarterbacks just don’t remain upright for an entire season,
which means there’s a good chance that either Pritchard or
Loukas will be pressed into duty before he’s ready.
Outlook: In several ways, Ostrander is the perfect
man for this job. He’s mature enough to handle the uncertainty
of being the Stanford quarterback and relishing the opportunity
to be a leading man in his final season. The backups are
extremely talented, but they need time.
Junior Anthony Kimble is beginning to establish himself
as the leader and premier player of the offense; now all he
needs is a little more help from his offensive line. Although
Kimble led the Cardinal in rushing last season, he could only
manage 470 yards and two scores, rarely getting much running
room before two or three defenders were draped all over him. At
6-1 and 200 pounds, he accelerates well and can make people miss
in the open field. A former receiver, he also displays nice
hands on swing passes. While Kimble has the tools to ignite one
of the nation’s worst rushing attacks, he’ll only go as far as
the front wall will allow him.
It’s taken a long time, but Emeka Nnoli has finally
adjusted to his role as the team’s blocking back and infrequent
ballcarrier. While it may be a far cry from his days as a prep
All-American, it will get the 6-1, 235-pound senior on the field
more than the last four seasons combined. More focused than
ever on becoming a better blocker, Nnoli will also be used as an
occasional receiver out of the backfield.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jason Evans
and sophomore Toby Gerhart will be the primary backups to
Kimble in 2007. A couple of big backs, Evans is most similar to
Kimble in his ability to make big plays in the open field.
Gerhart, on the other hand, is a 6-1, 230-pound north-south
bruiser in the mold of former Stanford great Brad Muster. He
was second on the team in rushing last year, gaining 375 yards
on 106 carries and catching 15 passes.
Redshirt freshman Sam Weinberger is in the process of
making a successful switch from linebacker to fullback, pushing
Nnoli and establishing himself as the frontrunner for the job in
2008. A 6-2, 230-pound plower, he’s the kind of pile mover that
can benefit the Cardinal running game.
Watch Out For… redshirt freshman Tyrone McGraw.
In a unit dominated by big, strong runners, McGraw is the type
of shifty scatback that can inject a little explosiveness into
the mix. Only 5-9 and 173 pounds, he’s got an extra gear and a
little wiggle that energized the offense at times during the
Strength: Pass-catching. All of the Cardinal
runners are skilled receivers out of the backfield, which
creates a real nice security blanket for T.C. Ostrander,
especially when the quarterback’s protection is breaking down.
Weakness: The offensive line. The Cardinal boasts
a few former prep all-stars at the position, but you sure
wouldn’t know it from the last two years when the team averaged
well under three yards a carry. The line has been routinely
horrendous in run blocking, keeping the backs from ever getting
out of the blocks.
Outlook: Kimble has the potential to be much
better than his numbers, but it’ll be a non-issue if he doesn’t
get a ton more help from his blockers. Although Stanford is
driven by the passing game, finishing 115th on the
ground, as it did in 2006, is a trend that can’t continue.
For a change, can the Stanford receivers actually stay healthy
for an entire season? If so, they stack as deep as any Pac-10
corps, a testament to just how high the ceiling is for this
group in 2007. Jim Harbaugh’s first big victory as the Cardinal
coach was getting seniors Mark Bradford and Evan Moore
to resist the NFL, and return to the amateur ranks for one final
year. Neither was at full strength last year, with Bradford
lasting just more than a game and Moore missing time and
managing just 14 catches for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
Bradford is a polished, 6-2 deep threat with good football speed
and 118 career catches. Moore, on the other hand, is a human
mismatch at 6-7 with the leaping ability to pluck just about any
jump ball out of the air. Recovering from a foot injury of his
own, he’s averaged more than a touchdown every six catches and
just under 17 yards a reception throughout his career.
The best of the Cardinal receivers? It could turn out to be
sophomore Richard Sherman, who stepped in for his elders
last year to lead the team as a freshman with 34 catches for 581
yards and three scores. A wonderfully gifted all-around athlete
at 6-3 and 185 pounds, he’s on the tarmac with stardom as his
Leading a very deep group of tight ends will be sophomore Jim
Dray, yet another long Cardinal target that pulled down 19
receptions in his debut a year ago. More of a receiver than a
blocker at this stage of his career, the 6-5, 240-pounder will
victimize opposing defenses that invest too much to defending
the outside receivers.
Projected Top Reserves: One of the bright spots of
the spring was the emergence of redshirt freshman Stephen
Carr. From an evenly-matched group of receivers of
pass-catchers, he elevated to the No. 4 spot behind Sherman,
flashing uncommon speed for a 6-3, 215-pound player, good hands
and crisp route running.
Junior Kelton Lynn caught 19 balls and started five
games, yet isn’t even on the two-deep; a testament to just how
deep the Cardinal receivers are. A former walk-on with track
speed, he provides valuable depth for a unit that’s needed it
the last few years.
Junior Austin Gunder and sophomore Ben Ladner
won’t catch many balls, but both are better blocking tight ends
than Dray. They’ll battle for the No. 2 position right up until
the opening kickoff. Ladner, in particular, has exhibited a lot
of toughness since making the switch from fullback before the
beginning of the spring session. Stanford is deep at tight end,
and that’s even before factoring in senior Matt Traverso,
a three-year letterman that’s played in 34 career games and is
about to begin his sixth season in Palo Alto.
Watch Out For… Sherman to out perform his more
heralded teammates en route to a breakthrough sophomore season.
While Bradford and Moore are real good, Sherman oozes greatness
every time he runs a pattern.
Strength: Size. On the Farm, they only grow
receivers one size—extra large. Up and down the roster, the
Cardinal is brimming with tall receivers that have the athletic
ability and the hops to embarrass opposing secondaries.
Weakness: Durability. The biggest knock on the
Stanford receivers of late is their inability to last an entire
season without suffering a devastating injury. Just for kicks,
wouldn’t it be fun to see what Bradford, Moore and Sherman can
do if they all get on the field at the same time for games?
Outlook: It’s been beaten to death, but Sherman is
about to become something special and the receivers as a whole
are good enough to breathe life into this offense if a broken
bone or torn ligament doesn’t get in the way.
Projected Starters: The quarterback is a capable
fifth-year senior. The backs are big and fast. The receivers could be
as good as any group in the Pac-10. None of that matters if the
offensive line doesn’t improve exponentially from last year when it
allowed more sacks than any team in the nation and paved the way for the
nation’s 115th-ranked running game. A good starting point
will be junior left tackle Allen Smith, a third-year starter
who’s started 20 straight games and is on the verge of becoming one of
the league’s better all-around linemen. Light on his feet in pass
protection, he also can knock people down on running plays; a rare
dual-threat on this unit.
On the opposite side is junior Ben Muth, who played in a
career-high 10 games in 2006, often struggling badly in pass
protection. At 6-6 and 295 pounds, he has to do a much better job this
year of walling off pass rushers and giving T.C. Ostrander clear
The return of senior Tim Mattran for a sixth season gives a nice
boost at the pivot for the Cardinal line. A six-game starter in 2005,
he missed all of last year with a stress fracture of the right fibula.
Mattran has the experience and the intelligence to be the quarterback of
Mattran will be flanked on the right by junior Alex Fletcher and
to the left by senior Mikal Brewer. After filling in at center
in 2006, the versatile Fletcher is banking on the huge season that has
escaped him in his first two years as a starter. A top recruit in 2004
that’s already started 20 games, he can be nasty on running plays, yet
disappear on passing downs. Brewer’s experience and athleticism give
him an edge at left guard, but junior Gustav Rydstedt, a
converted defensive lineman, is closing the gap. He has plenty to learn
at the new position, but showed enough finesse and tenacity to mount a
challenge in August.
Projected Top Reserves: While Rydstedt is a surprise
provider of depth at guard, junior Bobby Dockter and sophomore
Chris Marinelli have locked down the tackle spots on the second
team. Dockter has played in just three games in three years, making the
switch this season from guard to tackle to better utilize his good
Marinelli has a very bright future with Stanford after starting five
games and earning Pac-10 All-Freshman honors in his first season of
action. At 6-7, he has the long arms needed to seal off the edge and
break the stride of opposing ends. Marinelli will either beat out Muth
in 2007 or be the man on the right side in 2008.
Watch Out For… the influence new line coach Chris Dalman
has in his first season with this underachieving collection of talent.
A former Stanford lineman himself with NFL coaching experience, if he
can get these guys to even approach their potential, he ought to be a
finalist for the Broyles Award.
Strength: Experience. Now that Mattran has been granted a
sixth year of eligibility, this year’s first unit could feature five
players that have started games at one time or another.
Weakness: Pass protection. The Stanford line has a lot of
problems to address, but none more important than keeping the
quarterback from getting obliterated for a fourth consecutive season.
The Cardinal allowed 50 sacks in 2006, which is just the kind of
futility that’ll sink Jim Harbaugh passing game.
Outlook: After last season’s meltdown, the only direction
is up for the offensive line. How far they progress will have a ripple
effect on the rest of the offense. There are no longer any excuses for
a line with so much good individual talent to be so abysmal as a whole.