2010 Stanford Preview – Offense
Stanford WR Ryan Whalen
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Stanford Cardinal Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Yes, All-American RB Toby Gerhart has
graduated. No, the Cardinal offense isn't about to
seize up and revert back to 2007. While you don't
get better by losing a player of Gerhart's caliber,
Stanford will simply shift its focus, entrusting a
much larger portion of the attack to QB Andrew Luck.
The sophomore was a complement in his first year,
but has the next-level talent and receivers Chris
Owusu and Ryan Whalen to shred Pac-10 defenses. Yup,
he's going to be that good. It also helps that the
Cardinal brings back all but one starter from an
offensive line that put up a wall around the pocket
in 2009. The big question, of course, is who
replaces Gerhart to give the offense balance. First
dibs go to last year's backup, Stepfan Taylor, who
showed promise as a rookie, rushing for 303 yards
and two scores on 56 carries.
Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Andrew Luck
Passing: Andrew Luck
162-288, 2,575 yds, 13 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: Andrew Luck
61 carries, 354 yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Whalen
57 catches, 926 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Stepfan Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RG David DeCastro
Best pro prospect: Luck
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior C Chase Beeler 2) Luck, 3) Junior WR Chris Owusu
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, power runners, the receivers, the offensive line, pass protection, third down conversions, red zone scoring
Weakness of the offense: Proven workhorse, depth
Projected Starter: It took just a single year for 6-4, 234-pound sophomore Andrew Luck to become one of the hottest commodities at quarterback. And not just in the Pac-10. If he builds on his debut, the NFL is going to tempt him with first round projections at some point in December. One of the signature recruits of the Jim Harbaugh era, he failed to disappoint as a rookie, leading the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and connecting on 162-of-288 passes for 2,573 yards, 13 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Plus, for a hurler with a next-level arm, he also flashed tremendous athletic ability, scrambling for 354 yards and two scores. The son of former pro quarterback Oliver Luck, he's the total package in terms of intangibles, sporting unparalleled poise and intelligence for such a young player. With RB Toby Gerhart now a Minnesota Viking, Luck is about to become the focal point of the Cardinal offense.
Projected Top Reserves: The graduation of Tavita Pritchard is going to leave the Cardinal very young off the bench. A couple of redshirt freshmen locked horns in the spring for the right to back up Luck. Josh Nunes was one of the top-rated quarterback recruits of 2009, fielding offers from the likes of Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, and Cal. A polished, 6-4, 216-pound hurler, he can make all the throws and has a good awareness and feel for the pocket.
From the same class, though not nearly as heralded, is 6-3, 224-pound Robbie Picazo , who joined the program as a walk-on. While he doesn't have the arm strength as the competition, he throws an accurate ball, and has a lot of the intangibles needed to survive in this race. The underdog here, he'll improve his chances if he can quicken his release.
Watch Out For … for 6-4, 222-pound junior Alex Loukas to maintain a working knowledge of the offense. Yes, he's been spending more time at safety these days, but if Luck goes down, the staff might be tempted to call upon the veteran, depending on the development of the freshmen.
Strength: Luck. Jim Harbaugh plus Luck is going to equal one of the most prolific passing games in America. After putting down the ground floor and performing as a complement to Toby Gerhart, the sophomore is on the Pac-10 tarmac and preparing for a high-profile lift-off.
Weakness: Proven backups. This is the only concern at quarterback, one that could alter the trajectory of the Cardinal's season if Luck is injured. While Nunes and even incoming freshman Brett Nottingham have great futures, the coaches hope to only see them in lopsided games.
Outlook: These are exciting times in Palo Alto, largely because of the emergence of Luck under center. He has the right coach, the right receivers, and the right circumstances to dwarf last year's numbers and become a household name nationally. Is this his swan song on the Farm? Cardinal fans will accept it if he lives up to expectations and gets the program to Pasadena.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Projected Starters: The decision of Toby Gerhart to not seek another year of eligibility leaves a gaping hole at running back for the Cardinal. While there's no simple solution, it's a good thing the program broke the seal on 5-11, 213-pound sophomore Stepfan Taylor. The backup in his first year out of high school, he finished third on the team with 303 yards and two touchdowns on 56 carries. A determined runner, who'll do most of his damage on the inside, he still has enough acceleration to bust through the first line of defense and beat defensive backs to the end zone. Provided Gerhart doesn't become the measuring stick, he has a tremendous future on the Farm.
The ultimate throwback, 6-1, 237-pound senior Owen Marecic is one of the Pac-10's most underrated players. A rugged, no-nonsense blocker, he's earned honorable mention all-conference the last three seasons for his ability to open up holes for the running game. Though infrequent, he made the most of last year's 16 touchdowns, carrying eight times for 15 yards and four scores, and catching eight passes for 132 yards and another score. Oh, he's also a special teams ace and the favorite to start at middle linebacker.
Projected Top Reserves: Even if he's unable to threaten Taylor for the starting nod, 6-0, 219-pound senior Jeremy Stewart is going to serve a valuable purpose as the veteran of the backups. A letterwinner in each of the last three years, he ran 17 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, but was limited by injuries to just five games. A hard-working, downhill runner, he can pick up the tough yards and has proven to be a capable every-down back when the opportunity has presented itself in the past.
Like Taylor, 6-0, 216-pound Tyler Gaffney comes out of the 2009 recruiting class and lettered in his debut. Built more like a fullback, he appeared in 12 games on offense and special teams, carrying the ball 22 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. An in-line runner, with deceptive quickness, he'll bring shades of Gerhart for his ability to break tackles in the open field.
The final member of the 2009 running back trio is 5-10, 180-pound redshirt freshman Usua Amanam, the only one who didn't suit up in 2009. In stark contrast to the backs surrounding him, he has big-play ability to go along with the quickness and change-of-direction moves to make people whiff. His unique skill set could create opportunities, especially on third down.
Watch Out For … a tailback-by-committee to be utilized until a feature runner emerges. While Taylor has the edge at this point, it's not as if he's padlocked the job, meaning Stewart, Gaffney, and Amanam will have a chance to narrow the divide in the summer.
Strength: In-line power backs. Taylor, Stewart, Gaffney, and even Marecic are a collection of bruisers, with the required size, power, and mentality to batter opposing teams between the tackles. None of the quartet is south of 213 pounds, giving the Cardinal plenty of options to soften defenses, especially in short yardage.
Weakness: A change-of-pace. Unless Amanam commands a bigger role, this is basically a one-dimensional ground game, without a lot of pop in the open field. Stanford can use a gamebreaker capable of bouncing outside the tackles and making defenses his speed and explosiveness.
Outlook: The Cardinal is rebuilding out of the backfield, but by how much depends on the evolution of the young kids. Taylor showed the potential to be a future workhorse, learning on the fly and blossoming as a rookie. There's no easy way to recover from the loss of Gerhart, but Stanford has recruited the position well enough to gradually pick up the pieces over time.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Stanford might not have the best starting pair of receivers in America, but the numbers could say otherwise by the end of the year. The homerun hitter of the pair is 6-2, 202-pound junior Chris Owusu, one of the most explosive players you've never seen play. Fully recovered from a torn MCL suffered before the 2008 opener, he set the table with 37 receptions for 682 yards and five touchdowns to go along with a bunch of gamebreaking plays on special teams. His combination of size, speed, and open-field quickness is a tough assignment for opposing defensive backs, especially as he continues to hone his skills as a wideout.
Over on the opposite will be 6-2, 207-pound senior Ryan Whalen, who has soared past expectations since arriving on campus four years ago as a walk-on. The team's leading receiver for a second straight season, he caught 57 passes for 926 yards and four touchdowns. While not on par with Owusu in terms of straight-line speed, he more than compensates by catching everything thrown in his direction and running sharp routes. Oh, and before slapping him with the possession receiver label, get a load of last year's 16.2 yards per catch, which was the product of a well-coached receiver, who'll pick up yards after the catch.
Jim Dray may be off to the NFL, but Stanford still feels confident about its situation at tight end. Junior Coby Fleener has been bucking for a promotion for the last two seasons, catching a career-best 21 balls for 266 yards and a touchdown in 2009. While not a road-grader as a blocker, at 6-6 and 240 pounds, he runs well and presents all kinds of match up problems for linebackers. The Cardinal has always made good use of this position, which could equal a breakthrough season for No. 82.
Projected Top Reserves: The drop-off from the starters to the reserves is precipitous, making the race for No. 3 an important one. Firmly in the mix will be 5-11, 190-pound Doug Baldwin, easily the most experienced of the contenders. He's lettered in each of the last three seasons, even starting nine games in 2008, but missed most of 2009 with injuries. He has big-play potential, boasting seven career plays of at least 35 yards, and will be utilized in a number of different spots and formations on the field.
In 6-3, 217-pound sophomore Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Stanford feels its harboring a future star at wide receiver. The staff went all the way to Georgia to sign him, landing a terrific athlete with good size and an enormous catch radius. He only caught one pass in 11 games, but figures to have a much more prominent role as a downfield threat and one of the eventual successors on the outside.
The offense is well-stocked at tight end, with the return of 6-6, 267-pound senior Konrad Reuland, a long-time veteran of three letters who caught six passes for 142 yards in 2009. A one-time transfer from Notre Dame, he has the in-line blocking skills to support the running game and the long gait to be a seam-buster as a receiver. Despite his complimentary role, he'll get an opportunity to at least workout for NFL scouts next year.
Watch Out For … redshirt freshman Levine Toilolo . At 6-8 and 244 pounds, he's just too extreme not to be used in some capacity, especially on jump balls. He played well in the offseason, and could cut into the touches of some of the other tight ends.
Strength: The one-two punch at wide receiver. In Owusu and Whalen, Stanford has a lot more than just last year's returning starters. It's got two all-star caliber performers, who complement each other well, are on the same page with the quarterback, and combined for 94 receptions for 1,608 yards, and nine touchdowns.
Weakness: Depth at wide receiver. After Baldwin, the Cardinal is going to be counting on kids and journeymen to step up and broaden the depth chart. While Patterson has a very high ceiling, he's the exception in an otherwise ordinary collection of backups.
Outlook: The Stanford receivers have come a long way since this time last season. Owusu is explosive, Whalen plays the position like a pro, and the tight ends are deep and dangerous. They've also all had a full season playing with Andrew Luck, which will make for a very potent passing attack.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Almost as encouraging as the return of QB Andrew Luck is getting back four-fifths of a line that dominated throughout 2009. The anchor at the pivot for a third consecutive season will be 6-3, 277-pound senior Chase Beeler , a second team All-Pac-10 selection in 2009. While not built like a road-grader, he's a skilled technician as a blocker and moves exceptionally well. Plus, at a position that requires experience and intellect, he's ideally suited to be the cerebral leader of this crew.
Protecting the blindside of Andrew Luck for a second straight season will be 6-6, 301-pound sophomore Jonathan Martin. A starter in all but two games of his debut, he earned Freshman All-American honors and honorable mention All-Pac-10. Considering his inexperience at the time, he did an outstanding job of sealing the edge for a front wall that finished No. 2 nationally in sacks allowed.
The lone vacancy along the offensive line is at right tackle, where 6-5, 307-pound senior Derek Hall is bucking to fill the void. Now in his fifth year with the program, the converted defensive lineman has the know-how and feel for the system to win this job. He also has the necessary upper body strength and uses his hands well, a must when trying to contain the league's faster edge rushers.
On the inside, 6-5, 306-pound senior Andrew Phillips is back to hold down left guard for one more season. Entering his third year as a starter, he's evolved as a physical, blue-collar blocker and one of the unheralded cogs of the running game. Tough and physical at the point of attack, he's the type of lineman, who will hold his ground and drive defenders back a few yards.
Like Martin at left tackle, 6-5, 313-pound sophomore David DeCastro did more than play as a rookie. He exceeded lofty expectations by starting every game and also earning Freshman All-American and All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition. As solid as rock and quick with both his feet and head, he is equally adept at getting to the second level in run blocking as he is in pass protection. On a very good line, he might have the highest ceiling as an individual.
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Hall at right tackle will be 6-7, 296-pound junior Tyler Mabry, a letterman in each of the last two seasons. Although yet to break through and earn significant time, he has the arm length and overall size to win the job in the summer if he continues to sharpen his technique in pass protection.
If nothing else, 6-3, 310-pound senior James McGillicuddy is a fighter and an example of perseverance for the younger kids to follow. Now in his sixth year with the program, he missed three full seasons to a knee injury before finally being cleared to play in 2008. A grinder, with an unbelievable work ethic, he provides some bulk and veteran leadership at the guard spots.
Watch Out For … DeCastro to begin evolving into one of the league's better guards. Physically and intellectually, he has it all. And he's just getting started with his career. With a full season of experience now behind him, he's ready to surpass honorable mention All-Pac-10, with proper promoting and education of voters.
Strength: Pass protection. Stanford didn't just allow only seven sacks in 13 games. It did so with two freshmen starters up front and a freshman under center. It's a key one, but with just a single starter needing to be replaced, the Cardinal will be every bit as protective of the pocket this fall.
Weakness: The uncertainty at right tackle. The Cardinal isn't just trying to plug in a new starter on the right side. It's auditioning successors to All-Pac-10 first teamer Chris Marinelli. Out of Hall and Mabry, Stanford needs to make sure there are no weak links on this unit.
Outlook: Under the careful watch of assistant Tim Drevno, this group did a magnificent job a year ago. Instead of facing a likely uphill climb, the Cardinal soared to unexpected heights, sealing off the pocket and helping Toby Gerhart to the Doak Walker Award. With most of that group back, Stanford will again be in the hunt for the Pac-10's premier offensive line.
Unit Rating: 8
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