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Stanford Spring Preview
Our latest opponent spring football preview takes a look at Stanford. David Shaw and the Cardinal barely missed a beat in 2012 after losing Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, who was the overall number one pick in last year's NFL draft.
The biggest question that would seem to face Shaw and his staff is whether or not they can sustain the success with each passing year that separates Stanford from Jim Harbaugh - who got the ball rolling in Palo Alto before taking over the San Francisco 49ers. We turned to David Fowkes of KGO Radio for insight into Stanford's losses and needs heading into this spring's practices.
The defense loses four starters from last season's Rose Bowl winning team. Nose guard Terrence Stephens, cornerback Terrance Brown and outside linebacker Chase Thomas are all gone. Brown leaves Stanford for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining. His departure caught some in Palo Alto by surprise, but his loss should not result in a dire impact on the defense, because of the depth the Cardinal has at corner after rotating four players at the two spots throughout 2012.
Stephens started the first nine games of 2012, but had to sit the last three games, including the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, due to an NCAA infraction concerning his housing. David Parry started in Stephens' absence and Fowkes expects the starting job to belong to the 6'2, 300 pound former walk-on next season.
"He had a great game in the Rose Bowl," Fowkes said of Parry. "I don't think there's any doubt that he'll be the starter. The competition will clearly be at depth behind him, and there should be some great competition in the second-tier of that defensive line for jobs."
Stanford is versatile in its defensive sets with its nose guards anyway. They used just two defensive linemen against spread teams like Oregon.
The void left by Thomas though is the biggest defensive question mark Stanford has heading into spring practice. Thomas' 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks were the second-most by a Stanford defender last season.
"They're talking about a redshirt freshman, Noor Davis," Fowkes said of the top candidate to fill Thomas' shoes. "He was a very highly recruited outside linebacker last year. They say he's ready to step in. The focus will shift to the other side, where Trent Murphy is returning for his fifth year. He could have left early. He's expected to sort of be 'that standout', but they're going to need someone off the depth chart to step up."
Murphy finished 2012 with 51 tackles and a team-high 10.0 sacks. Depth at outside linebacker will be thin as well, because Alex Debniak, whom Fowkes described as a 'high motor guy', has also graduated.
Stanford's overall defense should not see much drop-off from its stellar 2012 season. A total of 17 of 21 contributors on that side of the ball will be back in 2013.
While the Cardinal has experience in numbers coming back defensively, the same can not be said of the offense. The most glaring departures are at tight end, where 6'6" Zach Ertz and 6'8" Levine Toilolo are both NFL bound.
Ertz led Stanford with 69 receptions, 898 yards and six touchdown catches. Toilolo added 24 catches for 393 yards and four TDs.
"There's a real void at tight end," Fowkes began. "Do a couple of the young guys step-up? Does Ryan Hewitt, who was recruited as a tight end but moved to fullback, get in the rotation at tight end? Do new recruits get in the mix? Tight end is probably the number one question right now."
Stanford also loses receivers Drew Terrell (33 receptions for 463 yards and four touchdowns) and Jamal-Rahad Patterson (16 receptions, 271 yards and two touchdowns).
"Who steps-up in the receiving corps, whether it's a wide receiver or tight end, to me that's the number one question heading into the spring and next season," Fowkes proclaimed.
That is a bold statement, considering Stanford also loses the program's all-time leading rusher - Stepfan Taylor. The Texas native rushed for 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012 and ended his career with 4,212 yards and 70 rushing TDs. He was also a versatile back, who had 94 career receptions for 761 yards and five more touchdowns.
"Normally you would say that's a huge loss, but Stanford lost Toby Gerhart and everyone thought the world was coming to an end," Fowkes explained. "Filling those shoes will be tough, but at the same time they've got some tremendous talent coming up."
Sophomore Kelsey Young, who has played both receiver and running back, Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright, and Barry Sanders (the son of the Hall of Famer) will all be in the mix in the backfield this spring.
The offensive line also loses center Sam Schwartzstein. The other four starters on the offensive line return for 2013.
In addition to the significant skill position losses Stanford has on offense, the Cardinal will also have a new offensive coordinator in 2013. Former "Andrew Luck Director of Offense/Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton has left Stanford to reunite with Andrew Luck as the Indianapolis Colts' Offensive Coordinator.
Cardinal head coach David Shaw has promoted Mike Bloomgren to takeover for Hamilton. Bloomgren spent the last two seasons as Stanford's run-game coordinator and offensive line coach.
"He was the only choice," Shaw said of the decision to promote Bloomgren. "We didn't interview anybody else and we didn't want to interview anybody else."
Shaw also moved Mike Sanford, who coached the running backs last season, to quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, while former QB coach Tavita Pritchard will now coach Stanford's running backs.
Terrell handled Stanford's punt return duties in 2012 and his replacement will be an emphasis this spring. Terrell averaged 12.1 yards on 24 returns, including a touchdown, last season.
Punter Daniel Zychlinski must also be replaced. Zychlinski averaged 43.1 yards on 66 punts. He had seven touchbacks and pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line 26 times. He was also the team's field goal and extra point holder.
Smythe Will Provide Options
If Durham Smythe had to be placed in one of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s recruiting categories, the Texas tight end commit would be classified as “big skill,” but unlike some other “big skill” prospects, Smythe’s position isn’t in much question.
The Belton High School standout was recruited as a tight end and Belton associate head coach and offensive coordinator David Brewer is pretty sure Smythe is going to stay at tight end.
“He’s got the best hands on the team, he runs great routes,” Brewer said of Smythe. “I think Coach Kelly is recruiting him because he’s the type of guy you can do a lot of different formations with and he’s one of those personnel guys you don’t have to take off the field.
“You can put him in tight and he can block. You can leave him in the slot and he can run like a receiver. You can motion him in the backfield and use him the way these guys are using tight ends like you used to do with fullbacks. There are a lot of different things you can do with him.”
Smythe’s frame coupled with his athleticism make him a versatile prospect.
“One of the things that I think stands out about Durham, being 6-6, 230 with the way he still runs real well,” said Brewer. “He ran about a 4.6 in the 40 at 6-6, 220. We could put him down inside to block or run routes. We run some spread formations, where we split him out wide and put him in the slot. He was just as effective doing both.
“He’s a great blocker. He’s got a lot of common football sense, which means when you’re coaching him, you tell him one time and he gets it. If you get in a game and the defense is maybe doing something a little bit different, he sees it and understands it. You can make adjustments and he gets it.”
Smythe’s intelligence and attitude also help him.
“Durham is really smart,” Brewer said. “He’s a student of the game as well as a really good athlete. He’s just a really coachable kid. He absorbs everything you tell him and does it exactly how you tell him. He’s a yes-sir, no-sir kid. He’s got a great attitude.
“He’s never questioned how to do something. He always trusts his coaches and if they say, ‘Block it this way, run the route this way,’ he does it. He doesn’t question it. He wants to absorb everything he can and be the best he can be. He’s a great teammate. His teammates love him to death and he was a great leader for us.”
Smythe still has plenty of room to improve as well.
“He just turned 17 in August, so he’ll walk on Notre Dame’s campus in August and be turning 18. By the time he’s 20 years old, 21, he’s going to be a man. The kid’s got a lot of growing to do.”
McGlinchey Has No Doubt
If all goes according to plan on February 6th , Notre Dame will once again have one of the top offensive line classes for 2013. Hunter Bivin, Colin McGovern, John Montelus, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey all participated in All-American games this year and did very well for themselves ,but one that seems to intrigue a lot of people is the tallest of the bunch, Mike McGlinchey.
The 6-foot-8, 270-pound goliath displayed his dominance at the Semper Fi All-American game and earned rave reviews for his offensive line play. Though he really had a good time participating, McGlinchey admits he was also using the contest as sort of a measuring stick.
“It definitely gives you a chance to see where you're at against some of the top talent in the nation,” he claimed. “I thought I did fairly well and I was pretty successful all week. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into my college career at Notre Dame.”
That career will soon be a reality in about two days and the talented Pennsylvania product cannot wait to add his signature to that letter-of-intent.
“It's definitely going to be a special day on Wednesday to know that I'm finally part of the Notre Dame family,” said McGlinchey. “I'm excited about the whole thing and seeing what the future is going to bring.”
Though many teams around the nation would love to have the future Irish offensive lineman on the roster, he made it clear early on that there's only one place he’d be going in 2013 and that’s South Bend.
“I've been fortunate because teams stop recruiting me after I committed to Notre Dame,” explained McGlinchey. “I really haven't been hounded by too many people and I think it's a part of what I did that nipped that early on. Once I committed to Notre Dame, I sat down and called all the other coaches recruiting me and told them I was stopping the process. I told them I was 100-percent committed to Notre Dame. Once I committed I felt it was my responsibility to put things to an end and that's what I did.”
His decision to end things early was justified in his mind this January when his future head coach decided to drop by Philadelphia to pay the lineman a visit.
“Coach Kelly stopped in for a in-home a couple weeks ago and everything went great,” he shared. “We just sat around and had a good conversation. It wasn't really too much about Notre Dame or football. It was a chance for coach Kelly to get to know me and my family better and for me and my family to get to know coach Kelly better. I really appreciate him taking the time out of his schedule to come see me.”
What type of player can Notre Dame fans expect to see when it's his turn to take the field?
“They're going to get a hard worker and I'm going to try to outwork everybody,” he stated confidently. “I'm going to put myself 110-percent into everything I do at Notre Dame and hopefully make myself better and the team better. I'm just going be the best player I can possibly be and hopefully that'll help the team be successful.”
The Penn Charter standout also has high expectations for the rest of the Irish mob also.
“I expect and hope for great things to come from our class. We're a very unique group and we have a lot of really, really talented players coming in, but most importantly were all a bunch of really great kids. It's a very unique blend and I don't think anybody else in the nation can match us. I think this is going to be a really special class at Notre Dame.”
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