Makowsky: A look at football’s turnover

April 11, 2011, 1:45 a.m.

One of the little secrets obscured by a returning Heisman finalist and a presumptive preseason top-10 ranking is that the turnover within the Stanford football program has been tremendous. Half of last year’s starters will not return. It makes for an exciting if not uncertain off-season: Stanford has been stockpiling young talent, but many of those players lack significant (if any) game experience. The culmination of spring ball with Saturday’s “game” at Kezar allows a chance to evaluate the current state of the position battles.

Shall we?

Back-up Quarterback
Replacing: Alex Loukas
Candidates: Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes

What was once a completely open competition has become a two-man race. Brett Nottingham still needs more conditioning, and Darren Daniel appears to have made a full transition to wide receiver. David Olson isn’t in the picture. Picazo and Nunes, both redshirt freshmen, have divergent tales: Picazo was a walk-on, while Nunes was a four-star recruit. Both head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton give the edge to Nunes, but it’s close, and Picazo shined brightly in the final open practice and the spring game. The knock on Picazo has long been his arm strength, but he was rifling passes across the field on Saturday.
Verdict: To Be Decided

 

Fullback
Replacing: Owen Marecic
Candidates: Ryan Hewitt, Geoff Meinken and Lee Ward

Cue the obligatory statement about no one being able to replace Marecic. Hewitt has emerged as one of the more essential talents on the Cardinal team–“versatility” is the term generally used to describe him, and with good reason. A tight-end recruit, he has developed his lead blocking while demonstrating an ability to catch passes both out of the backfield and split wide. He’s even taken a few hand-offs, and is the leader in the clubhouse. Meinken, a recruited defensive end, is a bit more of a bull than Hewitt and is also developing his pass-catching abilities. Ward appears to be the most traditional fullback of the bunch, but Hewitt and Meinken make snaps hard to come by.
Verdict: Hewitt will have top billing, but all should get chances.

 

Wide Receiver
Replacing: Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen
Candidates: Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Griff Whalen, David Terrell and Darren Daniel

Baldwin and Ryan Whalen started the entirety of last season, but Baldwin was largely in that position because of Chris Owusu’s chronic injuries; when Owusu is healthy, as he should be for the fall, he is a starter. Griff Whalen (no relation) is the most ideal No. 2 WR on the roster, and Patterson, a hyped recruit who has taken a few years to master the system, has come on strong in the absence of Owusu during spring practices, demonstrating dynamic ability. Daniel is still in the process of transitioning, but he has the height and running savvy coaches salivate over. Terrell has playmaker ability.
Verdict: Those should be the top five WRs come fall, with Owusu and Whalen starting and Patterson in the No. 3 role. Daniel’s progression is a must-watch.

 

Right Tackle
Replacing: Derek Hall
Candidates: Tyler Mabry, Cameron Fleming and David Yankey

Mabry is the elder statesman of the group and has been spending most of his time with the first team, but the other contenders have gotten reps there, too, and Fleming has the ideal tackle’s frame, while Yankey played as a true freshman. This is far too close to call and much like the right-tackle battle last season, will go into summer camp.
Verdict: To Be Decided

 

Left Guard
Replacing: Andrew Phillips
Candidates: Kevin Danser

Game over. Barring injury, Danser will be the starter.
Verdict: Danser

 

Center
Replacing: Chase Beeler
Candidates: Khalil Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein

Schwartzstein appears to have taken a bit of a lead, but it’s by no means a done deal. Wilkes switched jerseys at halftime to play with the first team during the spring game. This could still swing either way.
Verdict: To Be Decided

 

Defensive End
Replacing: Brian Bulcke
Candidates: Ben Gardner

See: Left Guard.
Verdict: Gardner

 

Nose Tackle
Replacing: Sione Fua
Candidates: Terrence Stephens, David Parry and Henry Anderson

Stephens entered spring ball as the leader, but both Parry and Anderson showed enough during the practice sessions to make it contentious, and during the final open practice, reps were split pretty evenly. But Stephens took almost all of the first team snaps during the spring game and is the only player on scholarship who fits the profile of a true nose tackle.
Verdict: Stephens should win the job, with Anderson seeing time at both tackle and end.

 

Outside Linebacker
Replacing: Tom Keiser
Candidates: Alex Debniak, Trent Murphy and Blake Lueders

At the beginning of spring practice, Shaw expressed a desire for Lueders to win a starting role, but he spent most of his time running with the second team. Both Debniak and Murphy have spent time with the first team but have battled injuries throughout their early careers. Debniak is a more prototypical linebacker, while Murphy is a gigantic specimen who would project to a 4-3 DE; both have played with their hands on the ground. With Chase Thomas sitting out the spring game, Murphy and Debniak each got extended playing time, but as it stands, Debniak appears to have a slight upper hand. Incoming freshman James Vaughters may get a look, too, but the climb is steep.
Verdict: To Be Decided

 

Inside Linebacker
Replacing: Owen Marecic
Candidates: Max Bergen, Jarek Lancaster and AJ Tarpley

Bergen led the Cardinal in tackling for a short time last season as the starter in Shayne Skov’s brief absence. Lancaster has been a special teams maven for Stanford, and Tarpley was one of the Cardinal’s top performers during the spring game–the true freshman demonstrated a nose for the ball and an ability to cover a significant amount of ground. Vaughters, a top recruit, will be in consideration here in addition to the outside.
Verdict: It’s Bergen’s spot to lose, but not entirely determined.

 

Cornerback
Replacing: Richard Sherman
Candidates: Barry Browning

Browning started three games as a true freshman and has won Shaw’s praise for his continued progression throughout spring practice. There’s little to say that he’ll be supplanted. One wrinkle: Usua Amanam, the converted running back, has been beating the learning curve and, with his athleticism, has a tremendous ceiling. It’s not likely that he’ll win a starting gig, but he’ll be a factor.
Verdict: Browning

 

Kicker
Replacing: Nate Whitaker
Candidates: Jordan Williamson and Eric Whitaker

Williamson has spent more time with the first team, but Shaw has not named a starter, and Whitaker hit the only field goal attempt of the spring game and has a slight experience edge.
Verdict: To Be Decided

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