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. (I've fallen a little behind on this project, so I'll profile two guys today and the last two tomorrow before kickoff.)
Today: David Yankey and Cameron Fleming
David Yankey and Cameron Fleming, members of Jim Harbaugh's 2010 recruiting class, will make their collegiate debuts at left guard and right tackle, respectively, tomorrow. The man who they are tasked with protecting, Heisman candidate Andrew Luck, can take solace in the fact that the two returning starters along the offensive line are all-conference performers. That includes the guy protecting his blindside, Jonathan Martin.
"The good thing is (David) DeCastro and Martin have set the standard for them. They are all prepared and ready to go."
We don't know much about Yankey and Fleming. The duo entered fall camp in a battle for the starting spot at right tackle with Tyler Mabry. When Kevin Danser, who had emerged as the leading candidate to replace Andrew Phillips at left guard, was forced to miss practice and a scrimmage with dehydration, Yankey filled in and impressed. Danser is healthy again, and could see some time against the Spartans. Mabry could also be part a part of the rotation along the offensive line.
Fleming would likely have won the right tackle position even before Danser was sidelined, and as Dave Fowkes wrote, he "has the tackle body, he has the talent, he is young and will be a mainstay for years to come."
Stanford's offensive line is no doubt set up to be very good over the next few years. We'll see how fast the unit comes together in 2011. Newcomers like Yankey and Fleming have a tough act to follow.