Spring is both beautiful and awful.
Like bright flowers drenched in that miserable yellow sheen of pollen, spring football gives us a hint of what we want covered with the awful realization that the season is still months away.
For the defending Rose Bowl champion Stanford Cardinal, spring is less dramatic than last year - there's no quarterback competition - but there is no shortage of storylines. Today, let's play 20 questions with the Stanford Cardinal before the Spring Game - starting with the first 10 questions about the offense. In another post, we'll tackle the last 10 questions, all aimed at the defense.
Coaching staff: 1. How will the offense look without Pep Hamilton's input? The answer to this question is probably not a big secret: it'll look exactly the same. Stanford ran the ball 58% of the time last season, and I expect that ratio to basically be the same. Mike Bloomgren made his name as a run game expert, and the Cardinal will still grind opponents' bones to make their bread this season.
Quarterback: 2. How good can Kevin Hogan be? Hogan showed shades of a young Andrew Luck last season, flashing a big time arm when his team needed him (Oregon) and an ability to keep drives going with his feet even when he was off (Wisconsin). Now, we'll have to see how he's grown into the offense as the incumbent starter. He earned his first snaps as just a runner and a change-of-pace player, but he'll have the opportunity to command more of the offense on his own and to take a few more shots down the field. It'll be fascinating to see what hints the spring game shows about Hogan's growth as a player.
3. Who will be the backup quarterback? Josh Nunes has missed the entire spring with a shoulder injury, so Evan Crower and Dallas Lloyd have been staking their claim to the second spot under center. Ideally the backup quarterback only sees garbage time all season, but with Nunes hurt and Brett Nottingham transferred to Columbia, this group of QBs is extremely inexperienced, and all practice reps help.
Running back: 4. Can Anthony Wilkerson be a feature back? Wilkerson's got the size and strength to be a good between the tackles runner, but his career high in carries in a season is 89. That's a long way from Stepfan Taylor's 322 carries last season. If he's able to handle the majority of the carries, that's a good thing. It always helps to have a lead dog in your backfield.
5. What is Tyler Gaffney going to bring to the backfield? Gaffney's return made for splashy headlines - and he's an awfully good player - but he still hasn't played football in a year. Personally, I expect him to play more and more as the season goes along, but the spring game should provide a hint about what the coaches think of Gaffney's spot in the backfield.
6. Is Barry J. Sanders the next great Stanford running back? Sanders is easily the most exciting unknown quantity on the team because of his name. For better or for worse, that's the way it's always going to be for him. But watching his high school highlights again and seeing him make kids look foolish (and catching a lot of passes out of the backfield) makes me really curious to see what he can provide as a runner. Perhaps this year he gets worked into the backfield rotation and then earns the primary role next season. Again, the spring game should provide a little hint of what's to come.
Offensive line: 7. What's the effect of everyone switching positions? Last year's line was excellent, but it did lack the continuity that past Stanford offensive lines have had. Last year saw a lot of shuffling and switching, with David Yankey being the best example. Yankey became basically a utility lineman/roving weapon of defensive destruction. Watch his highlight tape from last year and note where he is on the field on every snap.
This year, the line looks like this, and will probably stay that way the whole year:
Now, Peat and Yankey are set where they need to be and Wilkes steps in at center, so there will likely be an adjustment period to the new positions. However, it's reasonable to expect that the ceiling for this line has to be higher because there will be less position switching in-game and game-to-game. Based on the fact that Yankey was an All-American and the 6-foot-7, 310-pound Peat has received nothing but explosive praise this spring, it might not be too long before we start asking another question: Is this the best offensive line in the country?
Wide receiver: 8. Can anybody step out outside? Last year, the wide receivers were basically ghosts. Nobody was a consistent threat on the outside. This year, that needs to change - or there will be serious problems ahead. Ty Montgomery needs to rebound after a down season, but after that, a whole cast of characters has their chance to play their way into the lineup. Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and others will be players to watch.
X-factor: 9. What will Kelsey Young's role be in 2013? The dynamic runner was used as an wrinkle in the offense on on occasion last season, but he's just too dynamic and too good to be an added gimmick in the offense. I'd really like to see Young's role on offense expand dramatically this season, and I'd like to see him catch some passes as well. How often he touches the ball could be a big factor in how good this offense is.
Tight end: 10. Is Luke Kaumatule the answer? The Hawaiian is 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, and has been another recipient of high praise this spring as he's been deemed the next great Stanford tight end. He's best known for throwing the last block before Zach Ertz game-winning touchdown against USC (see the 4:49 mark of the video below), but if he can help fill the void that Ertz and Levine Toilolo leave behind as a receiver, it stands to reason that he'll be one of Hogan's favorite receivers in 2013.