A new chapter of Stanford Football officially began on Monday as spring practice opened up in Palo Alto. There is reason for optimism heading into the new season as the 2014 campaign ended with three convincing victories, although several key contributors must be replaced. Here are three major things to keep an eye on as spring practice gets underway.
1. Reloading the Defense
During their ascent to one of College Football's elite programs, Stanford has hung its hat on a suffocating defensive unit that prides itself on stopping the run and making plays in the backfield. If the Cardinal plans on once again staking their claim as the bullies of the PAC-12 North and contending for a berth in the College Football Playoff, they cannot afford to take a step back defensively.
Defensive Coordinator Lance Anderson will need to work his magic once again as he loses eight defensive starters from last years top ranked unit. As daunting as that may sound, there is comfort in the fact that Anderson played deep rotations at many positions, especially linebacker. For instance, backup linebacker Peter Kalambayi saw action in all 13 games and won PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Week after a three sack performance at Washington. In addition, reserve linebacker Kevin Palma saw action in 11 games, filling in capably when called upon.
Reloading the defensive line and secondary will be of utmost importance during the spring as only two starters return in those areas. Look for sophomores Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips to help fill the void left by David Parry and Henry Anderson in the trenches, and fellow sophomores Terrence Alexander and Brandon Simmons to become playmakers in the secondary.
2. Backfield Carousel Part Two
Last season - for the first time in nearly a decade - we saw a rushing attack on the Farm that did not feature a workhorse back receiving the lion's share of the carries. Rather, we saw more of a running back by committee that featured Remound Wright, Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders and Christian McCaffrey. Head coach David Shaw has maintained he would prefer to have a clear number one back, yet acknowledged that a player must separate himself from the pack through performance rather than he simply anointing one. Wright finished with the most carries of the group at seasons end and finished the year with nine touchdowns in the final three games, although the ultra-explosive McCaffrey quickly became a fan favorite as the year went on and will assuredly have a prominent role in the offense going forward. The running back pecking order and the usage of McCaffrey will be major storylines throughout spring practice leading up to the spring game on April 11.
3. Kevin Hogan and the Passing Attack
Kevin Hogan was quite the enigma last year as he struggled mightily at times (he failed to amass 200 passing yards on four separate occasions), yet he flourished in the season's final three contests despite being without leading receiver Ty Montgomery. In those final three games, Hogan threw for four touchdown passes and completed 76.4% of his passes.
When Hogan was at his best, he was being decisive with the ball, spreading it around to different parts of the field and different receivers such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector, and Austin Hooper, all of whom return this season. With eight starters coming back on offense, Hogan and Co. will look to pick up where they left off at the end of last season. Keep an eye out for McCaffrey and his role in the passing attack, which grew as he and Hogan continued to mesh as the season went on in 2014. The one thing the offense has going for it: this unit finally faces fewer questions in spring ball than the defense, reversing the trend of the last few seasons.