By Bryan Fischer, CBS Sports Eye On College Football
STANFORD (CBS Sports) — College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in spring practice. So, we take a look at Stanford, which began spring practice this week.
Can the Cardinal keep up the momentum under new coach David Shaw?
Fresh off the best season in school history – punctuated by a 40-12 dismantling of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl – Stanford’s offseason was filled with something rarely associated with the program: drama. After a week of will-he-or-won’t-he declare for the draft, presumed number one pick Andrew Luck stunned everyone by announcing he would stay in school. A day later, after being courted by Michigan and the Miami Dolphins, head coach Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers.
When hiring a new head coach was only the third most interesting thing to happen on campus during the offseason, you realize just how far Stanford football came under Harbaugh. Trying to continue what he build up is Stanford alum David Shaw, who slides into the head coaching role after being the Cardinal’s offensive coordinator the past four years.
What’s his deal? For all the talk about Luck’s role in the offense, Shaw is a believer in a balanced offense for one. Despite not having Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart last season, Stanford still finished second in the Pac-10 in rushing at 214 yards per game. Though most of the backfield returns in 2011, the major storyline of spring practice is finding replacements for three starters on the offensive line, including All-American center Chase Beeler.
“From a personnel standpoint, we have a chance to be very athletic upfront,” Shaw said at his pre-spring press conference. “The question is will those guys be consistent and will they play at the same level as those who they are replacing from last year. Ability-wise, we’ll be fine. This spring we’ll see who is ready to step up and fill those roles. A lot of our success will depend on how we play upfront.”
Offensive line isn’t the only area of concern for the first time head coach. There are still open position battles at linebacker, defensive line, cornerback and backup quarterback. The Cardinal might need five players just to replace all-everything Owen Marecic.
“The best thing about spring practice is the pure competition,” Shaw said. “We have guys coming back who played well for us last year but will be pushed by others ready to make their marks. We’ve recruited very well the last couple of years and we have a lot of players who are ready to compete and fill some roles.
“The next year is always different – different players, different roles, different schemes. You always have to add, delete and change. That’s where we are at right now.”
The first week or two of spring practice will be a bit of a learning experience for the new staff. Shaw named former New York Jets assistant Mike Bloomgren as offensive line coach/run game coordinator and elevated Mike Sanford to running backs coach last Friday. Bringing on coaches just four days before spring practice starts isn’t ideal and is something to keep an eye on but staff continuity elsewhere should help ease the transition.
Defensively, Derek Mason and Jason Tarver will share the defensive coordinator title and attempt to fill the shoes of the highly regarded Vic Fangio. Mason will also coach the secondary and will be responsible for calling plays, while Tarver will also serve as linebackers coach.
The return of Luck, however, is key for building on the success of last year. Shaw shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping Stanford’s offense from dipping too much from last year’s unit that set a school-record for points scored and finished ninth in the nation in scoring. Having the Heisman Trophy front-runner under center tends to help but running backs Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and others will also contribute.
“With Andrew coming back, I’ve felt pretty good going to bed at night,” Shaw said. “I think he is comfortable with me in my role and I’m extremely comfortable with him. We have an established relationship that will only get better.”
With a manageable schedule (Oregon and Notre Dame at home to go along with just four road games) and lots of talent surrounding a future number one pick in the NFL Draft, Shaw could not have asked for a better situation to take over. With a little bit of Luck and a dash of good coaching, don’t expect a drop off from Stanford after using David Shaw’s first spring practice to ease the transition from Jim Harbaugh.
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