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2009 Stanford Preview - Offense
Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard
Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 30, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Stanford Cardinal Offense

Stanford Cardinal

Preview 2009 - Cardinal Offense

- 2009 CFN Stanford Preview | 2009 Stanford Offense
- 2009 Stanford Defense | 2009 Stanford Depth Chart
- 2008 Stanford Preview | 2007 Stanford Preview | 2006 Stanford Preview 

What you need to know: Since when did Stanford become Michigan during the Bo Schembechler days? Sure, head coach Jim Harbaugh spent his college years in Ann Arbor, but no one could have imagined his Cardinal teams would be led by a power ground game, while struggling to mount a consistent passing attack. No, Harbaugh hasn’t changed his philosophy or his desire to attack with an up-tempo style. He’s just playing to his personnel, which is heavy on north-south runners, fullbacks, and tight ends. The big picture, however, includes resuscitating an aerial game that ranked 103rd nationally last year. Will that big picture include redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck in 2009? If his spring performance counts for anything, you bet.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tavita Pritchard
147-254, 1,633 yds, 10 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Toby Gerhart
210 carries, 1,136 yds, 15 TD
Receiving: Ryan Whalen
41 catches, 506 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Toby Gerhart
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore WR Chris Owusu
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck
Best pro prospect: Gerhart
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gerhart  2) Junior RT Chris Marinelli  3) Junior FB Owen Marecic
Strength of the offense: Power running game, tight ends
Weakness of the offense: No sure-thing at quarterback, the passing game, playmakers


Quarterbacks


Projected Starter
: Although nothing is set in stone, or will be until August, redshirt freshman Andrew Luck was clearly in the driver’s seat coming out of spring practice. The headliner of the 2008 recruiting class, he emerged in March and April, closing out the session by going 19-of-26 for 383 yards and five touchdowns in the Cardinal and White game. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he’s much bigger and stronger than when he arrived from Stratford (Tex.) High School. He also has the arm strength and the touch to make all of the throws, which has been missing for years in this offense. Mentally and emotionally ready for this challenge, he’ll try to close the deal in the summer.  

Projected Top Reserves: The incumbent at the position is 6-4, 215-pound senior Tavita Pritchard, a two-year starter under center. Easily the most experienced of the quarterbacks, that’s where the advantage ends in the battle with Luck. He’s been a marginal performer over the last two seasons, known best for throwing the game-winning pass in the stunning 2007 upset of USC. He made strides as a junior, but not enough, finishing 147-of-254 for 1,633 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. When the pocket breaks down, he has the quick feet to escape pressure and make something out of nothing.

Third-string junior Alex Loukas tore his ACL at the end of March, and is not expected back until after the season begins. While considered a longshot to win the starting job, it never hurts having a fourth-year player on the bench in the event of an emergency. A 6-4, 223-pound student of the game, he took snaps in eight games last year, bringing a mobile element to the position.

Watch Out For… Luck. He’s the most gifted passer on the Farm, but is he ready for this promotion in just his second season? After the eye-popping effort in the spring, he’ll have to start getting used to more attention and media scrutiny, especially when practice resumes in August.
Strength: Arm strength. All three of the quarterbacks stand 6-4, with enough pop in their arms to challenge defensive backs on deep routes. If it winds up being Luck behind center, he has exceptional zip on his passes, getting the ball to his receiver before it can be deflected away.
Weakness: Proven passers. Sure, the future appears bright, but what about right now? The returning starter ranked 89th nationally in passing efficiency. The likely starter has never taken a snap at this level. And the third-stringer is rehabbing an ACL tear. That’s hardly a recipe to instill confidence in the passing game.
Outlook: For the first time in a few years, there’s reason for excitement at quarterback in Palo Alto. Harbaugh has been waiting for the right moment to get one of his hand-picked recruits at the controls of the offense. If Luck continues to mature over the next couple of months, that time just might be upon us.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: When senior Toby Gerhart rumbled for 140 yards on just 12 carries in his lone appearance of 2007, who knew it was a precursor of things to come? The 6-1, 237-pound wrecking ball returned with a vengeance from season-ending knee surgery, finishing third in the Pac-10 with 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns on 210 carries. A physical, north-south runner in the John Riggins mold, he has good balance and does an outstanding job of picking up yards after contact. When the Cardinal needs a first down or a touchdown, he’s a load to bring to the ground.

Creating space for Gerhart in the running game is 6-1, 241-pound junior Owen Marecic, one of the game’s better fullbacks. A tough, no-nonsense blocker, he’s earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition in each of his first two seasons. He didn’t log a single carry a year ago, yet was one of the unsung heroes of Stanford’s improbable No. 19 national ranking in rushing.

Projected Top Reserves: The top backup in the running game is 6-0, 218-pound junior Jeremy Stewart, a capable every-down back if the need arises. A physical downhill runner, he’s lettered in each of his first two seasons, rushing a total of 119 times for 440 yards and two scores. While his playing time decreased as Gerhart emerged, he’s hoping to fill the role left by the graduating Anthony Kimble.

Rounding out the depth chart is 5-11, 190-pound senior Blaise Johnson, a career backup, who’s played on both sides of the ball and made most of his appearances on special teams. An emergency player only, he’ll be vulnerable to the wave of young backs in this latest recruiting class.   

Watch Out For… the incoming freshmen. There’s an opening on the depth chart behind Stewart, which might be filled by one of the recruits from the 2009 recruiting class. There’s a very good chance Tyler Gaffney, Usua Amanam, and Stepfan Taylor, or both will avoid a redshirt season this fall.                                   
Strength: Between-the-tackles runners. Gerhart, Stewart, and even Marecic have the necessary girth, power, and mentality to bludgeon opposing defenses when the Cardinal needs to move the chains in short yardage. Look for plenty of missed tackles as opponents fail to wrap up Gerhart, when he busts past the first line of defense.                                        
Weakness: A change-of-pace. Gerhart was the all-star, but Kimble was also very valuable, rushing for 717 yards and averaging six yards a carry. He was the playmaker of the Pac-10’s No. 2 ground game, an element of the attack which looks as if it’ll be missing this fall.
Outlook: The Cardinal came a very long way on the ground in 2008, a trend it hopes to continue this season. As long as Gerhart and Marecic are on the field, Stanford will boast one of the more physical attacks in the country. It will, however, need someone to pick up some of the production of Kimble, who had an underrated career with the program.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: While Stanford’s top two receivers return, that does not mean the offense feels secure at the position. A lot of work still needs to be done here. Junior Ryan Whalen led the program a year ago with 41 receptions for 508 yards and a touchdown. Although the 6-2, 203-pound former walk-on doesn’t have the speed to blow by defenders, he catches everything in sight, runs tight routes, and uses his size well to shield defenders in the middle of the field.

Joining Whalen is 5-11, 189-pound junior Doug Baldwin, the big-play threat of the duo. He’s had a hand in seven career plays of at least 35 yards, busting loose catching passes, taking handoffs, and returning kicks. A starter for the first time last year, he had 23 receptions for 332 yards and four touchdowns, while running four times for 81 yards and a score.

In the competitive situation at tight end, 6-5, 253-pound senior Jim Dray is attempting to complete his recovery from a serious knee injury by winning the starting job. Although a once-promising career was derailed by two surgeries in 2007, he persevered through extensive rehab to make it back last year and even start five games. Prior to the injury, he’d shown signs as a freshman of becoming an elite pass-catcher at the position.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the priorities this year is to get sophomore Chris Owusu more involved with the passing game. Although his rookie season was sidetracked by a torn MCL just before the opener, he recovered in time to play in five games and turn heads on the coaching staff. At 6-2 and 199 pounds, he’s the best combination of size and speed on the unit, playing light out and at full strength throughout the spring session.

A year after playing in nine games and catching three passes, sophomore Warren Reuland is currently slated to back up Whalen on the outside. A former high school basketball player, he has the 6-5, 207-pound frame and leaping ability to go up and snatch balls out of the air. Unlike many players his size, he’s a fluid athlete and skilled route-runner.

Sophomore Coby Fleener is, well, a tweener, a 6-6, 241-pound tight end with the speed and moves of a receiver. Think former Cardinal Evan Moore without all the injury problems. While he’s not going to wow anyone with his blocking skills at this stage, he will stretch a secondary, catching 13 balls for 176 yards in his debut.

Watch Out For… Owusu. He’s young and still a little raw, but the upside and ability are there for him to eventually be the playmaker of this group. The coaching staff plans to move him around in an effort to get him in space, an indication he’s on the brink of a breakout year.               
Strength: Tight end. Dray is healthy again, looking to recapture his pre-injury form. Fleener is a bona fide playmaker at the position. And 6-6, 252-pound junior Konrad Reuland, one of the nation’s top-rated tight end recruits of 2006, has sat out the necessary time after transferring from Notre Dame. 
Weakness: Big plays. Baldwin had a few last season, but the Cardinal receivers did most of their work in the middle of the field and about 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage. While the quarterbacks share some of the blame, it’s incumbent upon the outside guys to make more plays over the top in 2009. 
Outlook: By Pac-10 standards, this remains an average group lacking scary talent, especially on the perimeter. Owusu is an exception, who bears a close watch as the season develops. If strong-armed Andrew Luck gets the nod at quarterback, all of the receivers and tight ends stand to benefit.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The immediate priority of the line will be to develop replacements for C Alex Fletcher and LT Ben Muth, a couple of All-Pac-10 performers. Slated to take over at left tackle is 6-6, 297-pound Matt Kopa, a versatile fifth-year senior, who’s earned playing time at defensive tackle, defensive end, left guard and right tackle. He started five games a year ago, but shifting to the left side will really test his pass protection skills.

Over on the right side is the team’s most consistent blocker, 6-7, 298-pound senior Chris Marinelli, a rock with 28 career starts on his resume. After earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors the last two seasons, he’s planning to break through and impress NFL scouts, who might look to convert him into a guard.

Although he won’t be handed the job, the favorite to replace Fletcher at the pivot is 6-3, 276-pound junior Chase Beeler, a decorated high school player and Oklahoma transfer. While not very big, he moves extremely well and has an outstanding feel for the position. At a position where experience and intellect really matter, he’s liable to flourish at center after starting seven games at guard for the Cardinal in 2008.

Lining up at left guard is 6-5, 294-pound junior Andrew Phillips, a starter in all but the Oregon game a year ago. One of the headliners of the 2006 recruiting class, he’s very tough and physical at the point of contact, a plus for the improving Cardinal ground game.

The baby of the bunch up front is 6-5, 307-pound redshirt freshman David DeCastro, who has played his way into the regular rotation at right guard. Quick with his feet and his head, he moves extremely well and is flexible for such a big interior lineman. Because of his maturity and preparation, there’s a real good likelihood he won’t perform like a first-time starter this season.

Projected Top Reserves: Poor Allen Smith. Just when it looked like the 6-4, 296-pound senior tackle was going to make it back from a torn patella tendon that cost him most of the last two seasons, he re-injured the same knee on April 1. And just when he was pushing for an expanded role. It has yet to be determined how much time this latest injury is going to cost him.

Battling Beeler for the starting job at center is 6-3, 303-pound junior Bert McBride, Fletcher’s backup a year ago. Very quick off the snap and capable of also playing guard, he’s an important part of the rotation even if he doesn’t land the start.

In the unlikely event that DeCastro can’t handle the job, junior Derek Hall is preparing as if he’ll be on the field at a moment’s notice. Now in his fourth year with the program, he’s a converted defensive lineman coming off his first letter with the offense. At 6-5 and 311 pounds, he has the necessary bulk and upper body strength to create space for the backs.   

Watch Out For… Kopa. He’s the key to this line, the player being counted on to replace Muth and protect the backside of the quarterback. If that quarterback happens to be redshirt freshman Andrew Luck, it’s absolutely imperative that he isn’t forced to improvise on every other passing down. Kopa has a chance to play his way into the NFL Draft with a strong year.           
Strength: Run blocking. This group has 12 games worth of tape from a year ago in which it routinely got a push up front, allowing Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble combine for almost 2,000 yards combined on the ground. It’s a physical and imposing unit that averages about 6-5 and 300 pounds.
Weakness: Pass protection. Yes, the Cardinal made noticeable strides in this area last year, but it needs to get it done for a second straight season…and without two of its best blockers, Fletcher and Muth, who are off the NFL.
Outlook: Veteran coach Chris Dalman did a nice job with this crew before stepping down after the season. The job of keeping the momentum going now belongs to Tim Drevno. Losing all-stars at the two most important positions on the line, left tackle and center, signals an uphill climb in repeating the results of 2008.
Rating: 7