We’re almost here. Stanford’s season opener is less than a week away, and the starting lineup is pretty much set.
Though much of the hype heading into the season is focused on quarterback Kevin Hogan, left tackle Andrus Peat and wide receiver Ty Montgomery, the Cardinal’s success will also hinge upon contributions from some lesser-known players. With that in mind, here are two players you should keep an eye on when the Stanford offense takes the field against UC-Davis on Saturday:
Right Guard Johnny Caspers: It is hard to overstate how important the right guard position is in the Stanford offense. Most of the best offensive linemen in the game play left tackle, and Stanford certainly has a stud holding down the left edge in Andrus Peat, who could be a top-10 pick in next May’s NFL Draft. With a monster like Peat at left tackle, expect Stanford to favor the left side on its power running plays. On most of those plays, Caspers will pull across the line to lead the way so Stanford will have Peat, enormous left guard Josh Garnett and Caspers blocking at the point of attack, which adds up to 938 pounds without even counting fullback Lee Ward. (He weighs in a a stout 247 pounds.)
When Stanford’s power running was at its best, the Cardinal had Jonathan Martin at left tackle and David DeCastro at right guard, and the best run plays went to the left side. Now no one expects Caspers to be as good as DeCastro, who is quickly becoming an elite guard in the NFL, but Caspers will have to be a powerful blocker in the running game if Stanford is going to be successful.
Pulling is not easy for an offensive lineman, as the 300-pounders have to be fast enough to get across the line quickly, agile enough to block an outside linebacker or defensive back and powerful enough to not get blown up if a bigger linebacker reads the play quickly, so watch Caspers closely to see how he does. If he struggles against UC-Davis, Stanford could have a lot of trouble running the ball against USC.
Wide Receiver Devon Cajuste: In 2013, Devon Cajuste was the brand new toy that Stanford couldn't really figure out how to use just yet. He’s big, he’s fast, he can jump and he showed pretty good hands throughout the year, yet he only caught 28 passes — an average of two per game. Cajuste’s big-play potential was so strong, however, that he averaged an absurd 22.9 yards per reception, a full 57 percent higher than Stanford’s average.
There is no reason why Cajuste can’t become a more consistent presence in 2014. We can expect the yards per reception number to go down a bit, but if Hogan stays calm in the pocket and gives Cajuste the targets he deserves, there is no reason why the reception numbers can’t shoot way up.
If anyone on the Stanford offense is primed to have a true breakout season, it’s Cajuste. In the early part of the season, look to see whether Cajuste is getting more targets from Hogan and what types of routes he is getting those targets on. In 2013, his big-money route was a go or a skinny post down the seams — an old favorite of Zach Ertz when he used to line up outside. Will Cajuste branch out in 2014? By the end of the second game, we’ll have a pretty good idea.
Stay tuned for the players to watch on defense, coming soon.