This, of course, is where it all begins. There was concern in some corners due to the departures of All-America guard David DeCastro and All-Conference left tackle Jonathan Martin, and there were some growing pains early on, but it was business as usual for the offensive line by midway through the season. Here's what I wrote in last August's preview of this group:
At a certain point, college football observers will come to understand what card-carrying members of Mighty Card Nation already know. Stanford University produces Supreme Court Justices, Nobel Prize winners, and offensive linemen. When one group leaves, there will always be two or three players waiting to step in and fill the void. Because they've been admitted to the University, they will have the intellectual capacity to master the intracies of the position. Because of the coaching they receive, they will be prepared the first time they set foot on the field. Because the system often calls not only for a rotation of linemen, but also an entire herd of them in various power and hulk formations, they will be experienced.
At Stanford University, the offensive line is not rebuilt. It is reloaded. Today, tomorrow, and always.
Just as we've seen in the last two seasons, it took a few games for this new unit to come together, and they never became quite as cohesive as we've seen in the past. Part of the reason for this was the quality of the next wave of linemen. True freshmen Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, and Josh Garnett all found playing time. Murphy and Garnett often came in when extra linemen were needed for the Hulk Package, but Peat saw a fairly significant amount of time at left tackle in standard formations, allowing Yankey to slide over to his more natural left guard position and relegating Wilkes to the bench.
Yankey was the star of this group, earning All-America and All Pac-12 honors and winning the Morris Award for the conference's top offensive lineman as voted on by the league's defensive linemen. Schwartzstein and Danser were named to the second team, and Fleming received honorable mention.
Stanford rushed for only 2,253 yards in 2012, more than 500 yards less than in 2011 and its lowest total since 2007, but it wouldn't be fair to lay that all on the offensive line. With the early inconsistency at the quarterback position, the five linemen (plus a tight end or two) were often asked to block against eight or even nine defenders geared towards stopping the run. Once the offense became more balanced, the running game flourished.
2012 Grade: B+
2013 Outlook: A
Notes on 2013:
Only Schwartzstein will have exhausted his eligibility at the end of this season, so there will be few decisions for the coaching staff to make regarding this unit. I think we can expect to see Wilkes -- or possibly freshman Graham Shuler -- take over at center, a move that would allow Yankey to move back to left guard where he'll be able to pull like a beast. That opens up the left tackle position for Andrus Peat, where he'll likely start for the next 42 games. This will be the best offensive line in the conference and one of the best in the country. Sound familiar?