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: Sam Schwartzstein
Throughout the offseason, Schwartzstein and Khalil Wilkes have been competing for the starting center position vacated by Chase Beeler, who dug large holes for Toby Gerhart and Stepfan Taylor as an original member of the Tunnel Workers Local 88, gave us "character and cruelty," and was named a First Team All-America last season. It's a tall task to be sure.
With a little more than week to go before the season opener against San Jose State, the Cardinal coaching staff says that the starting role is Schwartzstein's to lose. New offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren added this about the redshirt junior:
"He's really been our bus driver out there."
Schwartzstein and Wilkes, a redshirt sophomore, both appeared in six games last season. This year, one of them, and it appears it will be Schwartzstein, will anchor an offensive line that features veterans David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin and two fellow first-year starters. Cameron Fleming is the favorite to win the right tackle job, while Kevin Danser is expected to start at left guard if he fully recovers from the dehydration that kept him out of last Sunday's scrimmage. If Danser isn't able to go, David Yankey would likely start in his place.
Schwartzstein, considered one of the team comedians, is listed at 6-3, 284; Beeler was 6-3, 285. Stanford fans are hoping the similarities don't end there. In addition to clearing holes for Stanford's running game, Beeler's unit helped keep pass rushers away from Andrew Luck. The dominant offensive line has been the engine that has kept the Cardinal offense running -- and passing -- smoothly in recent years.
You can make the case that there are bigger questions along the defensive line or in the wide receiver corps, but I think the offensive line's ability to come together is the most important factor in determining Stanford's success this season. Schwartzstein will be front and center, driving the bus.