If Stanford is to live up to the enormous expectations surrounding the program in David Shaw's first year at the helm, it will take more than strong individual performances by the Cardinal's established stars. We know what to expect from the likes of Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Stepfan Taylor, a healthy Chris Owusu, Shayne Skov, and Delano Howell. (Namely, greatness.)
Over the next 11 days, I'll profile 11 less heralded players whose ability to adjust to larger roles will help make or break the Cardinal's season.
Today: Barry Browning
Previously: Terrence Stephens
The Stanford secondary, which has seldom been a strength of the team in recent history, was quite respectable, and at times dominant, in 2010. The Cardinal allowed 202 passing yards per game and had 18 interceptions, which ranked 35th and 19th, respectively, among FBS teams. The unit struggled against some of the more prolific passing attacks in the conference (I think Matt Barkley just completed another pass to Robert Woods), but played very well in the second half of the season. The Cardinal allowed only five touchdown passes in its last six games. The unit could be even better this season.
Richard Sherman, who had four interceptions, was a major part of the secondary's improvement. The Seattle Seahawks thought so much of the converted wide receiver that they drafted him in the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft. Sherman's left cornerback spot is expected to be filled by Browning, who appeared in all 13 games and started three as a true freshman. The Texas native, whose father played safety at TCU, recorded 15 tackles, including a career-high 4 in the Orange Bowl, and nabbed his first interception against Oregon State. Senior Johnson Bademosi will occupy the other cornerback spot.
"He is athletically incredible, but [we’re also impressed by] his attitude, his confidence and his willingness to constantly get better. He’s got high expectations for himself, and the thing about him is that he’s very good at keeping a level head. He realizes that there’s a lot of growth that’s needed in terms of where he wants to go."
Browning is listed at 6-foot-1, 168 pounds, but he says he's up to 180, which should help him survive the rigors of a full season as a starter. True freshmen Ra'chard Pippens and four-star recruit Wayne Lyons could also see some playing time, but the starting role is Browning's to lose. The Stanford secondary's first true test could come on September 17 at Arizona. The Cardinal visit Woods and the Trojans on October 29. Browning should continue to develop under co-defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who worked closely with the Stanford secondary last season.
Given how much Sherman improved under Mason after only one season at cornerback, it's exciting to imagine Browning, Pippens, Lyons, and converted running back Usua Amanam locking down receivers for the next few years.