Stanford players attend the first practice of fall camp at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)
Here's a look at Stanford's personnel, position by position. QUARTERBACK: Stanford's season depends, in part, on whether junior Kevin Hogan makes the jump to the top tier of quarterbacks in the Pac-12. He has 29 career touchdown passes and 13 interceptions and has won numerous big games. But Hogan, who can extend plays (and drives) with his mobility, must eliminate the mediocre performances in order for the Cardinal to contend for the national title. Backup Evan Crower has improved his understanding of the offense -- in particular, the running schemes -- but lacks meaningful game experience. RUNNING BACKS: How many returning tailbacks does it take to equal one departed Tyler Gaffney? Stanford enters the season with five runners competing for carries: Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale, Remound Wright and true freshman Christian McCaffrey. All five are at least 20 pounds lighter than Gaffney was last fall. Their challenge isn't merely to duplicate his raw production, it's also to gain the tough yards -- the tough inches -- in critical situations. RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: It wasn't long ago that Stanford struggled to find big-play receivers. This year, it has more than enough to go around. Ty Montgomery (61 catches last year, 15.7 ypc) is one of the best in the Pac-12, but Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Francis Owusu give the Cardinal quality options when Montgomery is covered. (Look for 6-foot-4 Rollins Stallworth in red-zone situations.) Redshirt freshman Austin Hooper, from De La Salle, is expected to lead a rebirth in production from the tight ends.
One of Stanford's strongest units from 2010-12 was its weakest last season. OFFENSIVE LINE: No position group suffered more attrition than this one: Four starters departed, two with eligibility remaining. The lone returning starter -- the anchor of the revamped unit -- is Andrus Peat, one of the top left tackles in the country. He'll team with guard Joshua Garnett to form a 640-pound wall on the left side. Sophomore center Graham Shuler, right guard Johnny Caspers and right tackle Kyle Murphy are the other presumptive starters. How long will it take the quintet to coalesce? DEFENSIVE LINE: The most vulnerable unit defensively with only two established players: nose tackle David Parry and end Henry Anderson. That leaves four vacancies in the rotation. (With the prevalence of no-huddle offenses in the Pac-12, the Cardinal must have a full second line available.) Blake Lueders is a candidate at end, while Aziz Shittu can play inside or outside. The priority, as it has been for years, is stopping the run. LINEBACKERS: It only seems like Stanford lost more than two starters with the departures of Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. In reality, the Cardinal is well positioned with veterans A.J. Tarpley (inside) and James Vaughters (outside). Kevin Anderson of Palo Alto High School takes over for Murphy, while Blake Martinez is one of several players competing for Skov's vacated spot. The Cardinal has talent and depth. It just needs someone to get to the quarterback consistently. DEFENSIVE BACKS: Three starters return to what should be one of the top defensive backfields in the country. Hard-hitting safety Jordan Richards is the leader, while cornerbacks Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter play sound man-to-man coverage. The top candidates for the other safety spot are Kyle Olugbode and converted receiver Kodi Whitfield. No less than five players have been in the mix for the starting nickel back spot, with Ronnie Harris perhaps atop the list. Why is that important? Because Stanford played nickel coverage on 70 percent of its snaps last season. SPECIAL TEAMS: Stanford had the top special teams in the conference last season, and this fall shouldn't be any different. Ty Montgomery is an All-American kickoff returner, Barry Sanders is a breakaway threat on punt returns, while punter Ben Rhyne and kicker Jordan Williamson (18 of 22 field goals last year) are among the best at their jobs in the league. The coverage teams are sound, and the blocking schemes (on returns) are first rate.
Austin Hooper attends football practice at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., on Friday, August 22, 2014. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)