5 Storylines from Stanford Spring Football: Things to watch before Saturday's Spring Game

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

The Spring Game will hopefully provide some answers to a few questions on Stanford fans' minds

1. Running Back Battle - Kelsey Young has earned the majority of the reps in the second half of spring, with Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders taking on secondary roles, while Remound Wright is out for disciplinary reasons. Young hasn't been used much as a downhill runner in the past - none of the four have significant experience running between the tackles in college - but he's shown some serious big-play ability in the past. It seems likely that no one guy will emerge like Gaffney did a year ago (he was the ballcarrier on 56.6% of the Cardinal's runs), but it'll be interesting to see what kind of shape the offense will take if Young gets something like 33-40% of the carries.

2. Tight Ends Emerging - The early consensus is that the short passing game has returned to the Stanford offense, mostly due to the young tight ends from the 2013 recruiting class. Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper and Greg Taboada have all earned varying degrees of praise, with Cotton probably turning the most heads. All three are big presences - Cotton stands 6-foot-6 - and the more are on the field at any given time, the more options the Stanford offense has. As a group of three, their continued development as pass catchers and blockers can give the Cardinal the hurry-up and short passing options they lacked a year ago.

3. Owusu Adds Depth - With Ty Montgomery out for the spring with both leg and arm injuries (he'll be back for the fall), there was an opportunity for the younger receivers to make their presence felt. That's been achieved by Francis Owusu, who played sparingly a  year ago, but has gotten substantially stronger and bigger since he arrived on the Farm. According to everyone at practice, he's been a force in the red zone and has earned plenty of praise from David Shaw in the process. If he's able to play consistently enough this fall, a four-wide group of Montgomery-Cajuste-Rector-Owusu sounds like a mismatch for any group of Pac-12 defensive backs.

4. Defensive Changes - Replacements for Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds won't come easily, but so far Blake Martinez and Joe Hemschoot have stepped up at inside linebacker, while Kyle Olugbode has entrenched himself at free safety. Their play will be something to watch all season long, of course, but how quickly they plug the gaps will be critical.

5. Reviews of Mr. Burns: "Excellent." - Kevin Hogan hasn't had a spring that has raised either eyebrows or pulses - but that was perhaps to be expected, given that we've seen almost everything he's capable of at this point. On the other hand, Ryan Burns has earned a lot of praise for his work this March and April, partially due the fact that he's essentially an unknown quantity. Given that Evan Crower has missed some time during the second session of spring practice, Burns may have the upper hand on the backup spot this fall - assuming he's capable of handling enough of the playbook.

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