Team preview: Stanford

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2005 college football season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: August 1, 2005, 9:28 AM ET
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(All information as of July 1, 2005)

COACH AND PROGRAM


One of two Pac-10 programs with a new coach -- Washington's Tyrone Willingham is the other -- Stanford said adieu to Buddy Teevens after three years and just 10 wins. The new man is Walt Harris, who came cross country after eight successful campaigns at Pittsburgh.

In Harris, Stanford has a highly respected coach with an unblemished reputation. He led Pitt to six bowl games, including the Fiesta Bowl last season, and is hopeful to bring the Cardinal to its first postseason game since 2001. Stanford's coach that season was Willingham, who met his own untimely demise at Notre Dame and has returned to his Pac-10 roots.

Harris, a 58-year old native of South San Francisco, was officially introduced as Stanford's coach on Dec. 13, 2004, three weeks before his Pitt team was playing Utah in the Fiesta. Stanford athletics diirector Dr. Ted Leland said at the press conference that "outside of Bill Walsh, Harris was the most experienced and successful head coach that Stanford has hired since Pop Warner in 1924."

Harris signed a five-year contact.

From his first day in Palo Alto, Harris, who doubles as the offensive coordinator, made it clear that the 10 returning starters on offense were by no means guaranteed a similar gig in 2005.

"The slate is clean," Harris said. "There are no assured starters. As a staff, we expect every position to be competitive as we start to teach our system of offense, defense and special teams."

And while few starters were determined, Harris was pleased with the overall performance of his team this spring.

First-year defensive coordinator Tom Hayes, who was at UCLA for nine seasons (1980-88) and has also coached at Oklahoma and Kansas, was excited with what he saw during the 15 spring practices, too.

"The players were very receptive and the spring ran fairly smoothly," Hayes said. "We're going to run a base 3-4, as they did last season. However, obviously, it's not the same system with the same schemes. It's a process implementing a new system and we're doing it on all ends, offense, special teams and defense. But we feel really good about where the on-going process is headed."

The Cardinal finished third in the Pac-10 in scoring defense in 2004, allowing just 21.18 points per game. But the defense lost five starters and several top reserves. Hayes is among the most-respected defensive coordinators in the country, though, and should have his unit among the conference's top half by mid-season.

On offense, Harris will follow in Walsh's blueprint.

"We'll utilize a high percentage West Coast offense," Harris said. "We'll spread the field, use a mix of two backs, I-formation and multiple looks. It will be critical to our success that the quarterback operates in a high percentage manner."

Expectations are by no means through the roof this season. Harris and Hayes have a proven track record and their presence all but guarantees the Cardinal will return to respectability and beyond.

It's just not happening overnight.

QUARTERBACKS


If Harris knew who his starter was after spring drills, he certainly wasn't letting on. Like several Pac-10 programs, Stanford was headed for the fall without knowing who its starting quarterback will be.

The candidates include junior Trent Edwards (6-4, 210) and sophomore T.C. Ostrander (6-3, 210).

Edwards, a highly touted recruit from nearby Los Gatos High School, started the first nine games last season before an injury forced him to the sidelines. He completed 54 percent of his 274 attempts for 1,732 yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Over the last two years, Edwards has started 13 games and played in 17-of-22. His best game of 2004 came in Stanford's 37-10 win over BYU and included 297 yards and three touchdown passes.

Edwards took to the West Coast offense pretty quickly in the spring and completed 15-of-17 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns in the "modified" spring scrimmage.

As for Ostrander, he also was among the nation's top quarterbacks coming out of Atherton, Calif. in 2003. He played six games as a red-shirt freshman last season and completed 44 percent of his 126 attempts for 914 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Ostrander started the last two games against bowl-bound Oregon State and Cal. In the spring game, he was 13-for-19 for 174 yards, two scores and an interception.

After the spring game, Harris spoke highly of both quarterbacks.

"Both Trent and T.C. are very skilled players and it showed," he said. "They both have a lot of work to do, but I'm enthused and excited by their play. They're both good football players and they need to become great executors of our offense. Both of them are young and have talent but have a great deal to learn. They need to continue to work hard throughout the summer and continue to develop."

Harris has said he doesn't want any kind of platoon system and wants to choose a starter before the season opener at Navy on Sept. 10. Still, it would be a surprise if both quarterbacks didn't play this fall.

Based on his understanding of the offense and a solid spring, Edwards appeared to have a slight edge entering August practices. However, whoever has the best grasp of the system would be the likely choice. Harris doesn't want to spend a full season running his offense on a simplistic level.

"This is a quarterback-friendly pass offense," Harris said. "The quarterback has to be successful in a drop-back passing game."

Senior Kyle Matter (6-2, 195) was impressive in six starts in 2002, with 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns, but a shoulder injury has probably ended his quarterback days. He even worked out at wide receiver during the spring. Matter should return as the team's holder, though, and in 2004, rushed for an 11-yard touchdown on a fake field goal against national champion USC.

Redshirt freshman Garrett Moore (6-3, 195) will likely replace Matter at No. 3 on the depth chart.

RUNNING BACKS


The Cardinal returns just about everyone at this position from last season, including its leading rusher and a host of backups. Is that good or bad? Considering Stanford ranked 114th in rushing yards out of 117 Division I-A teams last year, that question is debatable.

And while a poor running game is never completely the ball carrier's fault, 82 yards a game just isn't going to open up the passing lanes enough in any offense, never mind a complex West Coast.

"We're looking for backs who can make first downs, run north and south and make people miss," Harris said. "We also need our backs to have pass catching ability and taking care of the football is critical, too. Turnovers are the most devastating plays that happen in a football game and it is vital our backs do a great job keeping control of the ball."

Stanford lost just five fumbles last season. Harris wouldn't complain if the Cardinal matched that total again in 2005.

Senior J.R. Lemon (6-1, 225) came to Stanford five years ago among its top tailback recruits ever. And while he led the Cardinal with 440 yards and six touchdowns in 2004, he hasn't come close to realizing his potential. His career numbers include 992 yards and 13 touchdowns on 241 carries (4.1-yard average).

He has shown flashes, however, including an 82-yard touchdown dash against USC last fall. It marked the sixth-longest touchdown run in school history. And there was Stanford's 27-13 victory over Washington in which Lemon went for 162 yards and three scores on just 19 carries.

Lemon is the lone Stanford back with the speed to bust long runs and turn the corner. The staff is hopeful Lemon takes that leap this season from inconsistent performer to 1,000-yard rusher. He's the clear starter entering camp.

Sophomore Ray Jones (6-0, 210) played as a freshman in 2004 and gained 87 yards on 34 carries. He also scored a touchdown at Arizona State, a three-run scamper in the fourth quarter. Jones gained 4,000 yards and scored 73 touchdowns as a prep player in Columbus, Ohio. He's Lemon's likely backup.

Others on the depth chart include junior David Marrero (5-10, 190) who could become a threat as a third-down back. He actually split out some in 2004 and caught seven passes for 57 yards. Marrero, who has breakaway speed, also returns punts.

Senior Kris Bonifas (6-1, 235) is the likely starter at fullback, while sophomore Emeka Nnoli (6-1, 230) and junior Nick Frank (6-2, 275) should also vie for playing time. Frank has been a reserve nose tackle the last two seasons.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS


While Stanford graduated its best receiver, tight end Alex Smith, it does return a strong crew of wide-outs and some nice depth at end.

The top three wide receivers, at least in terms of production, return from a season ago and the surprise of the spring was a fifth-year senior that little was expected of. And since an abundance of wide-outs are needed to run a successful West Coast, this could be Stanford's strongest position on offense and maybe, on either side of the ball.

After Smith, junior Evan Moore (6-7, 235) was the team's leading receiver in 2004 with 39 receptions for 616 yards (15.8 yards per catch) and a team-high six touchdowns. A huge, inviting target for any quarterback, Moore actually played on the varsity basketball team in 2003-04 and returned as a sophomore before deciding to concentrate his efforts on football.

Moore caught four touchdown passes in Stanford's first three games last season and could really enjoy a breakout season of 60-70 catches in Harris' West Coast attack.

The likely starter opposite Moore is junior Mark Bradford (6-2, 190). He has started 19-of-22 games at Stanford and set freshman team records in 2003 with 37 receptions, 587 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, he had 34 grabs for 482 yards and caught at least one pass in all 11 games.

After three injury-plagued years, senior Justin McCullum (6-4, 220) finally stayed healthy in 2004 and contributed 26 catches for 376 yards and a touchdown. He's a quality No. 3 option in this pass-friendly offense.

The surprise of the spring was senior Gerron Crochet (6-0, 170). A sprinter on the Stanford track team, Crochet had just 18 receptions over his three seasons on the football team. By the end of spring practice, the coaching staff actually had him listed first on the depth chart and while that may not stick, he not only caught an 18-yard touchdown pass in the spring game, he also ran for a 62-yard score off a reverse. He could well blossom in the new offense.

Others on the depth chart include senior Marcus McCutcheon (6-0, 200), who played cornerback his first two seasons and also returns kicks, and a slew of redshirt freshmen.

At tight end, Smith is impossible to replace. But with him playing on Sundays this autumn, his starting position should fall to either junior Patrick Danahy (6-5, 240) or sophomore Michael Horgan (6-6, 240).

Danahy has been a goal-line favorite, with three of his four career receptions going for touchdowns. He can block and catch and could surprise. Horgan saw limited action in 2004 but the staff thinks he's ready for more action.

OFFENSIVE LINE


Stanford returns all 16 offensive linemen that were on its roster in 2004. Obviously that includes the five starters from a year ago, but as Harris said, no positions are guaranteed. Harris does admit, however, the importance of the line in his West Coast offense.

"Our entire offense is based on the guys up front," Harris said. "We need to be able to ruin the ball to be successful and it was nice seeing a couple of big runs in the spring game."

The returning starters include senior center Brian Head (6-4, 295), junior tackles Jon Cochran (6-6, 315) and Jeff Edwards (6-7, 290) and junior guards Ismail Simpson (6-4, 290) and Josiah Vinson (6-4, 310).

The Cardinal allowed 30 sacks in 11 games last season.

Cochran, the left tackle, started all 11 games in 2004 and played in 10-of-11 in 2003. In the new offense, he'll be especially important in protecting the quarterback's backside. His backups include juniors Tim Mattran (6-5, 295), who earned his first letter in 2004, and Michael Macellari (6-5, 290), a converted defensive tackle.

Red-shirt freshman Ben Muth (6-6, 285), a prep All-American, could also see action. Simpson is the only Stanford lineman to start the last 22 games and plays strong left guard, while Head is a three-year starter who has battled injuries at center.

Vinson started 10 games in 2004 at right guard, while Edwards is a three-year starter who needs to continue his improvement in run blocking for this unit to be successful. Other backups include redshirt freshmen Bobby Dockter (6-5, 290) and Alex Fletcher (6-4, 290), both highly touted coming out of high school, and sophomores Amir Malayery (6-4, 275) and Merlin Brittenham (6-4, 280).

Despite its strength in numbers, this group has to play better this season, in both pass and especially run situations, if Stanford has any chance at making a drastic improvement from a season ago.

KICKERS


Senior Michael Sgroi (5-11, 200) returns for a fourth campaign as Stanford's place-kicker and is on pace to depart Stanford with his name etched into the record books.

He has made 32-of-52 career field goals and 66-of-69 extra points. His best season came in 2004, when Sgroi converted 16-of-24 field goals and 22-of-23 extra points for a team-leading 70 points.

He's already sixth on Stanford's career field goal list and is rapidly approaching the career top ten in points and PATs. His kickoffs are also solid.

Junior Derek Belch (6-0, 185) was the backup kicker and punter last year and while he'll likely start next year, Sgroi is too experienced for Belch to pass him on the depth chart.

DEFENSIVE LINE


While Stanford is going to stay with a base 3-4 defense, its schemes and formations are going to look quite a bit different than a year ago. Hayes, a respected defensive mind, was thrilled with his defense's performance this spring but acknowledges the unit lacks depth.

"Most teams in the country -- never mind us -- struggles with depth," Hayes said. "You're lucky to go one-and-a-half deep with a guy backing up two positions, never mind going two-deep. We need to find role players, whether it is for goal line or nickel packages or whatever. We need to find players that can help us succeed and that expect to handle their job."

The key to Hayes' defense is up front.

"I've always believed, in my 30 years of coaching, that it all gets started on the defensive line," Hayes said. "You have to create pressure or the rest of it becomes very difficult. Our down linemen are experienced and should really be a help to us."

The three expected starting defensive linemen are fifth-year seniors, including two that started all 11 games in 2004.

The anchor of the unit should be Babatunde Oshinowo (6-2, 320) at nose tackle. He was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 2004 behind 41 tackles, 5.5 for loss and 3.5 quarterback sacks. Over the last three seasons, Oshinowo has accounted for 89 tackles, 19.5 for loss and 10.5 sacks. A three-year starter, he could easily gain second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2005.

At defensive end is Julian Jenkins (6-4, 260). He has played in 31 of Stanford's 33 games since taking the field as a true freshman in 2002 and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 accolades in 2004 with 47 tackles, eight for loss and 5.5 sacks. The latter two numbers led the team. He has the potential to really create some havoc this fall, especially on those occasions when he isn't double-teamed.

The third starter should be Casey Carroll (6-2, 280). He has also played in 31-of-33 games since joining the team in 2002 and should finally get his chance to start this season. He had 12 tackles, a sack and an interception in 2004.

The reserves include junior Matt McClernan (6-5, 285), sophomores David Jackson (6-5, 285) and Chris Horn (6-5, 260) and redshirt freshman Pannel Egboh (6-6, 240).

LINEBACKERS


The Cardinal returns two of its four linebackers from a season ago, including the team's best player in senior Jon Alston (6-1, 215). An All-Pac-10 candidate, Alston started at outside linebacker in 2004 and finished with 61 tackles, 14 for loss, 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. He was among the conference leaders in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles and is on a very short list of the Pac-10's best returning pass rushers. Some of his season highs in 2004 included 14 tackles and four sacks against Oregon State and five tackles for loss against UCLA.

He didn't practice this spring after arthroscopic knee surgery but should be 100 percent for two-a-days in August.

"Jon is very fast and while he's not as big as some other outside linebackers, he makes plays," Hayes said. "Watching some film of him, it's hard to appreciate just how fast he is on the outside."

Alston enters 2005 with 20 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks over his career. His backups include senior Timi Wusu (6-3, 210), a converted safety, and redshirt freshman John Solder (6-8, 220).

The other outside linebacker spot was up for grabs entering fall camp, with senior Taualai Fonoti (6-2, 250) and sophomores Emmanuel Awofadejo (6-4, 240) and Udeme Udofia (6-4, 235) all in the running.

At inside linebacker, Stanford returns a starter and five letter winners.

Senior Kevin Schimmelmann (6-3, 228) started nine games last year before an injury forced him out of the final two. He has played free and strong safety and both linebacker positions at Stanford and in his first year as a starter, in 2004, had 58 tackles. His season-high of 10 came against USC.

The fourth and final starting linebacker spot should be shared by juniors Michael Okwo (6-0, 215) and Mike Silva (6-3, 225) and redshirt freshman Tim Maynor (6-2, 208). Okwo might be the favorite, but he's valuable in other areas. In 2004, Okwo earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors as a special teams player. He started the last two games with Schimmelmann out and was impressive.

DEFENSIVE BACKS


The secondary could really end up being the downfall of this team. It returns just one starter.

Hayes said he's concentrating more on his unit than worrying about what type of schemes Stanford's conference opponents may have run in the past.

"It's two-fold, really, but I'm more concerned with us than the opponent," Hayes said. "I mean, we're going to be looking at film and preparing game plans, but I know the Pac-10, having coached with UCLA and it's more important that we're ready as a defense to win games than drilling them with information on what play might be run four months down the road."

The lone returning starter is junior strong safety Brandon Harrison (6-2, 205), who finished 2004 with 45 tackles, 2.5 for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, a blocked kick and an interception. And while he's solid, the rest of the secondary is unknown at best.

Harrison will be supported by junior Bryan Bentrott (6-1, 180) and sophomore Peter Griffin (6-0, 195).

At free safety, juniors Trevor Hooper (6-1, 205) and David Lofton (6-4, 210) are expected to compete throughout the preseason for the starting gig, but either way, both should see plenty of action. Hooper was the starting strong safety in 2003, while Hooper was recruited as a quarterback.

Senior T.J. Rushing (5-11, 175) is the only experienced cornerback on the roster. He's also one of the nation's best kick returners.

Last year, Rushing had 36 tackles, six for loss and two sacks as mostly a nickel back. As evidenced by his numbers, Rushing is adept on the blitz and isn't afraid of contact. He's a lock for one of the two starting cornerback gigs.

A trio of players will battle for the second cornerback starting nod, including senior Calvin Armstrong (6-1, 195), sophomore Tim Sims (6-0, 180) and redshirt freshman Carlos McFall (6-0, 195).

Armstrong is the favorite and most experienced, having played in 22 career games. He's also a fine special teams player.

PUNTERS


In 2004, Jay Ottovegia (6-0, 190) became the first freshman in school history to average at least 40 yards per punt (41.3). His longest launch of the season was 59 yards, and he landed 20 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Ottovegia was chosen a second-team All-Freshmen All-American for his efforts.

Belch provides a quality back-up.

Sophomore Brent Newhouse (6-4, 225) was the team's long snapper on both punts and kicks as a redshirt freshman and is expected to reprise the role this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS


Rushing was the consensus preseason choice as the Pac-10's top kick returner, quite a tribute considering USC junior Reggie Bush also brings back kickoffs. Rushing was the All-Pac-10 kick returner in 2004.

A year ago Rushing brought back 23 kicks for 653 yards, a 28.4 average. That included an electrifying 99-yard touchdown return vs. BYU.

McCutcheon also returns kicks and averaged 23.8 yards on 10 efforts.

The punt returns are handled by Marrero, who averaged 8.3 yards with a long of 64 among his 27 returns last season.

As far as the coverage teams go, the kickoff squad was solid, holding opponents to less than 20 yards, but the punting unit struggled, allowing 13.2 yards per return.

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