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2008 Stanford Preview - Offense
Stanford C Alex Fletcher
Stanford C Alex Fletcher
Posted May 20, 2008 2008 Preview - Stanford Cardinal Offense

Stanford Cardinal

Preview 2008 - Cardinal Offense

- 2008 CFN Stanford Preview | 2008 Stanford Offense
- 2008 Stanford Defense | 2008 Stanford Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Stanford Preview | 2006 CFN Stanford Preview 

What you need to know: After engineering gains in almost every statistical category versus the prior year, Jim Harbaugh’s attack has to do more. Far more. There’ll be no shortage of challenges, however, including deciding on a quarterback, rebuilding the receiving corps, and somehow milking more consistency from a beleaguered line. The objective will once again be to attack defenses with an up-tempo system that leans on the pass, yet still strives for balance with a power running game. All eyes will be on the battle behind center, which will introduce a couple of fresh faces, Michigan transfer Jason Forcier and high-profile recruit Andrew Luck.   

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tavita Pritchard
97-194, 1,114 yds, 5 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Anthony Kimble
115 carries, 509 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Richard Sherman
39 catches, 651 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Senior C Alex Fletcher
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LT Ben Muth
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Ryan Whalen
Best pro prospect: Fletcher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fletcher  2) Junior WR Richard Sherman  3) Junior RT Chris Marinelli
Strength of the offense: Tight ends
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line


Projected Starter: Harbaugh plans to open up the competition at quarterback, meaning incumbent, junior Tavita Pritchard, will be hard pressed to retain his starting job. Yes, he delivered the game-winning touchdown pass against USC as an emergency starter, but did little else over the final seven games to secure his place for this year. For the season, he went 97-of-194 for 1,114 yards, five touchdown passes and nine interceptions, showing good quickness when the pocket collapsed. In his defense, the Cardinal offensive line was among the worst in the nation at protecting the quarterback.                     

Projected Top Reserves: In just over a year, Harbaugh has noticeably improved the quarterback depth.  For starters, he brought a Michigan man to The Farm, luring junior Jason Forcier out of Ann Arbor last April. After spending a successful year on the scout team, Forcier is ready to compete for the starting job. One of the top-rated quarterbacks of 2005, his athletic ability and leadership are two things that have been from recent Cardinal offenses. 

Sophomore Alex Loukas will get his first good shot to show why he was a coveted dual-threat recruit two years ago. Like Forcier, he’s more than just a chucker, combining quick feet and a high football IQ in a pocket passers body.            

Watch Out For… Incoming freshman Andrew Luck. Harbaugh believes he has landed a major talent who can be molded into a franchise quarterback. A smooth distributor who does all the little things well, he was a coup for the Cardinal in this latest recruiting class. While it’s unlikely Luck will win the job, it’s worth monitoring whether he can jump one of the veterans on the depth chart.
Strength: Athleticism. While the Cardinal quarterbacks still have plenty to prove in the passing game, all three of the veterans are above average scramblers capable of eluding pressure when the pocket collapses. Playing behind an offensive line that yielded 48 sacks in 2007 makes dodging jail breaks necessary for survival.
Weakness: Inexperience. Although Pritchard earned an unexpected letter a year ago, the Cardinal quarterbacks have collectively accomplished very little. Pritchard still has a lot to prove, Forcier threw three passes in two years at Michigan, and Loukas and Luck have yet to get on the field. Yes, the future looks good at the position, but there’s still work to do.
Outlook: With Forcier and Loukas breathing down his neck, Pritchard will struggle to hold on to the top spot. The competition, however, will be good for everyone involved with more overall production needed from the position. Harbaugh needs a quarterback who can make something out of nothing, especially in an offense that doesn’t pass protect and is thin at receiver.  Advantage Forcier.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

Projected Starters: The inability of senior Anthony Kimble to deliver a breakthrough year isn’t all his fault. For three years he has received little support up front, often taking first contact at or behind the line of scrimmage, and after running for a career-high 509 yards and eight scores in 2007 before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. When healthy and given room to run, Kimble is a 6-1, 210-pounder who can be elusive in the open field and a load for defensive backs to bring down. A converted receiver with 45 career catches, he’s also a nice option in the passing game.  He has NFL skills, even if the Cardinal has a difficult time getting them to the surface.

The offensive line may be a liability, but Kimble does have the luxury of running behind sophomore FB Owen Marecic. He started all 12 games as a true freshman, earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 honors after probable starter Emeka Nnoli was lost to a hip injury. Marecic loves contact, possessing the selfless mindset needed to be a successful fullback.                              

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Toby Gerhart returns after sitting out all but the opener with a knee injury. A physical north-south runner who doubles as the DH on the baseball team, he ran for a career-high 140 yards on just 12 carries in his only appearance of 2007. 

After Kimble was injured, true freshman Jeremy Stewart moved into the lineup, starting four of the final five games and rushing for 343 yards and two scores. A year older, he’s better prepared to have an even bigger role in the Cardinal running. 

On a roster dominated by 210-pound bruisers, sophomore Tyrone McGraw gives the offense a change-of-pace with his ability to get to the outside and make defenders miss. Just 5-9 and 180 pounds, he impressed in back-to-back games with Washington and Washington State, commanding more touches as the backfield’s best homerun hitter. 

Watch Out For… Kimble to give Stanford its first 1,000-yard rusher since 1991. He’ll need to stay healthy for all 12 games and get more help from his blockers, but Kimble has the ability to give the Cardinal its most consistent ground threat in years. At this time next year, some pro team is going to consider him a draft day bargain.
Strength: Between-the-tackle runners. Kimble, Gerhart, Stewart, and even Marecic have the necessary girth and mentality to soften opposing defenses when the offense needs to move the chains in short yardage.
Weakness: The offensive line. For years, the Cardinal has had one of the nation’s most futile rushing attacks, largely due to what’s happening at the point of attack. The line has been perennially putrid in run blocking, keeping the backs from ever getting out of the blocks.
Outlook: The Cardinal may not be the Pac-10’s worst rushing team this season, but don’t expect a dramatic shift in the recent trend on the ground. Although the back will move the chains against teams like San Jose State and Washington, it’ll be three yards and a cloud of dust against the balance of the schedule.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Now that Mark Bradford and Evan Moore have finally exhausted their eligibility, it’s time for junior Richard Sherman to step up and perform like the leader of the receiving corps. While he’s caught at least 34 balls in each of the last two years, there’s a feeling around the program that he’s nowhere near his full potential. A terrific all-around athlete at 6-3 and 190 pounds, he’ll be the preferred target of whichever quarterback wins the job. 

The line to join Sherman in the lineup is a long one that includes a number of imports from different positions. Doug Baldwin has the most experience, having played in 12 games as a true freshman and catching 11 passes. At just 5-11 and 180 pounds, he makes up for being one of the team’s smaller receivers with good speed and even better leaping ability.

After Jim Dray suffered a serious knee injury, junior Ben Ladner filled the pass-catching void, leading all tight ends with 27 receptions, despite not starting a single game. Now on his third position since coming to Stanford, he showed the quickness and hands that‘ll make this his final destination on the depth chart.       

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Ryan Whalen was one of last year’s rookie eye-openers, going from walk-on to a certain contributor for the next three seasons. Despite only catching one pass, he routinely wowed the staff in practice with his toughness, route running, and sticky hands.  His role is about to mushroom with a starting job within reach. 

To bolster the team’s thinnest position, Harbaugh has relocated redshirt freshman Coby Fleener, sophomore Marcus Rance, and junior Chris Hobbs from tight end, safety, and cornerback, respectively. At 6-6 with a good burst, the Cardinal is hoping to turn Fleener into the second coming of Moore, sans the injury problems.        

When healthy, Dray is the team’s most complete tight end. Unfortunately, last fall’s knee injury was so severe, it’ll keep the junior from taking contact until at least September. He’s already used a redshirt year so he’ll have to play or burn a year of eligibility. 

If Dray takes time getting back on the field, the Cardinal will rely on senior Austin Gunder for a second straight season.  A steady pass-catcher and solid blocker, he started the final six games, catching 10 passes and a pair of touchdowns.       

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Chris Owusu. At a position battered by graduation, Owusu is the type of speedy downfield threat who might crack the two-deep as a rookie. He has to bulk up, but he has as much upside and natural ability as anyone but Sherman.
Strength: Tight end. Assuming Dray returns to form, the Cardinal will have three tight ends capable of starting and assisting a receiving corps that’ll be a year-long work-in-progress.
Weakness: Playmakers after Sherman. A year ago, Stanford had three receivers defenses had to worry about, but today, there’s just one. If coordinators commit extra attention to Sherman, it’ll be up to a bunch of young, unproven players to make them pay for it.
Outlook: Unless Sherman or Owusu explodes into an unstoppable force, this will be a sore spot for the Cardinal. Whalen is a terrific story, but if he’s the No. 2 option, it’ll be another sign that depth and big-play ability are going to be scarce. As an alternative, the quarterbacks will spend plenty of time looking for the tight ends underneath.   
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: No matter what happens at quarterback or in the running game, the offense will be grounded if the line can’t make marked improvements everywhere. Two starters are gone from a unit that paved the way for the nation’s 102nd-ranked running game and was 116th in sacks allowed. As if things couldn’t be more dicey, Allen Smith, the Cardinal’s best tackle, fractured his kneecap working out in February and could miss the entire season. 

There is some good news. Alex Fletcher, a member of the All-Pac-10 Second Team, put off the NFL to return for his senior season. A ferocious run blocker with 31 career starts, he’s moving to center for the second time after playing guard in 2007.    

The likely replacement at left tackle is senior Ben Muth, a veteran of 26 games and nine starts after Smith was injured last September. He’s had issues in pass protection, a major concern now that he’ll be protecting the quarterback’s blindside. 

On the opposite side is junior Chris Marinelli, who started 12 games in 2007 and was named honorable mention All-Pac-10. At 6-7, the former high school tight end has the wingspan and light feet to continue emerging during the second half of his career.          

After backing up both guards and earning a letter as a freshman, Andrew Phillips is poised to move into the starting rotation. One of the gems of the 2006 class, the 6-5, 295-pounder has the strength and toughness to become an asset in the running game. 

After making a successful shift from the defensive line, there’s hope junior Gustav Rydstedt can lock down a starting assignment. Still learning the position, his footwork and tenacity have been pleasant surprises to the coaching staff.       

Projected Top Reserves: Depth was a concern for line coach Chris Dalman before Smith was injured. Now, it’s a crisis. The Cardinal is especially thin at tackle, where any more casualties will put the unit in a precarious position. Junior Matt Kopa is the lone backup with any experience, earning letters in each of the last two seasons. A former can’t-miss defensive lineman prospect, he looks the part at 6-6 and 285 pounds, but he needs more seasoning and fewer injuries to be a weekly factor. 

If Stanford decides to move Fletcher back to guard, sophomore Bert McBride will assume the starting job at center. Quick off the snap and capable of also playing guard, he earned valuable experience as Tim Mattran’s understudy. 

If there’s a need at guard, the Cardinal can turn to McBride or, it hopes, sophomore Chase Beeler, a transfer from Oklahoma who also plays the pivot. Coveted by numerous Big 12 schools two years ago, he plays smart and could wind up being a heist for Harbaugh.     

Watch Out For… Beeler’s progress. With his versatility and understanding of the game, it’s only a matter of time before he’s logging important minutes. The only concern right now is that Beeler might get shoved around at just 276 pounds.
Strength: Fletcher. More than just the best blocker on the roster, he can intimidate opponents and incite teammates around him. By making him the quarterback of the line, he’ll have an even bigger voice to light a flame under the rest of the unit.
Weakness: Pass protection. The Cardinal has been awful at keeping the quarterback upright, a problem that worsened when Smith was lost for an extended period of time. If there isn’t consistent pass protection, the offense will continue to struggle.
Outlook: Although hope can be found in individuals, such as Fletcher, Marinelli, and Phillips, as a whole, this unit will continue to be the Achilles’ heel of the offense. If Muth can’t make handle the promotion at left tackle, opposing ends will habitually blow up Harbaugh’s offensive gameplan.
Rating: 6



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