Right now the football is so close you can taste it. The Rose Bowl was so long ago that you probably don't remember who won the game (well, maybe you do), and you need something to get you through these last seventy-two hours before Stanford finally kicks off the 2014 season against UC-Davis.
And so I give you Stanford's Week 1 depth chart.
Most of what we see is exactly what we would've expected last spring (in fact, it isn't far from what I predicted two summers ago), but there are at least nine points worth discussing. If you click on the chart below, it should expand so you can follow along.
- Casey Tucker is listed as the backup at left tackle. Tucker was one of the most coveted offensive linemen in the nation when he signed with the Cardinal last spring, but few would've expected him to make an appearance on any depth chart this season, let alone opening day's. His presence here speaks volumes about his ability and makes one wonder if he might be the next great Tunnel Worker.
- The tight ends are back! After suffering through a season without a dependable tight end threat, quarterback Kevin Hogan might finally have the luxury of an intermediate passing game. (The Stanford offense actually employs two different tight ends. The F tight end is often split out wide as a hybrid wide receiver, and the Y tight end is the more traditional run-blocking tight end who lines up alongside the offensive linemen.) Eric Cotton (F) and Austin Hooper (Y) could transform the Stanford passing game this fall, but their youth offers even more hope for the future when Dalton Schultz is added to the mix.
- Look at the blank line beneath Kevin Hogan and Eric Crower at the quarterback position. Ryan Burns hasn't even earned a mention, which is stunning, given his overwhelming physical tools. Many observers felt he would have surpassed Crower by now, but Shaw has said multiple times this summer that he doesn't see a way that Burns could overtake Crower and claim the backup spot. His omission from this depth chart sends a powerful message. Here's my prediction: Ryan Burns will never throw a meaningful pass in a Stanford uniform.
- This was the year that Barry J. Sanders was supposed to take the world by storm, but we see him here still bunched with the second teir of running backs. Kelsey Young has drawn rave reviews this summer, and it looks like I'll finally get my wish and see 10-15 carries for Young. Don't worry, though. We'll see a fair amount of Barry J, as well.
- Ty Montgomery wasn't expected back for this opening weekend, and there was some concern that he wouldn't be ready for USC in Week 2, but his recovery has exceeded all expectations. David Shaw has been typically effusive in his praise for Montgomery, and observers have described him as even bigger and faster than last season. Stanford will start Montgomery at 6'2" and 220 on one side and Devon Cajuste at 6'4" and 229 on the other. If your son happens to play defensive back in the Pac-12, pray for him.
- Aziz Shittu is probably one of the five Stanford players I'm most looking forward to watching this season, but even though he appears in two slots on this chart, it was announced on Wednesday that he won't play due to a toe injury. This won't be a problem on Saturday, but he'll certainly need to be healthy a week from now for USC.
- When you consider the linebacker talent that has left the program over the past three years, it's amazing that the cupboard seems so fully stocked. A.J. Tarpley's experience will be invaluable on the inside, but I'm most excited about James Vaughters, who will be terrorizing quarterbacks and running backs from his outside position. Also, it will be interesting to watch the development of Noor Davis and Peter Kalambayi, youngsters who could develop into all-conference players over the next few years.
- I can't wait to watch this unit play on Saturday, and I can't wait to watch them develop over the course of the season under the tutelage of new coach Duane Akina, one of the most respected defensive backs coaches in America. Many have said that Wayne Lyons looks poised to play the best football of his career, and Alex Carter, the last true freshman to start for Stanford, will be a force on the other side. When you add strong safety Jordan Richards and the rest who will rotate through the safety position, you get a defensive backfield that will be stifling.
- When I interviewed Shaw a few weeks back, he made it clear that he didn't believe in protecting his top players. Specifically, he assured me that Montgomery would be returning kicks as soon as he was healthy enough to play. The chart shows that Shaw will be using three of his most important offensive players on kick and punt returns. Crazy? Possibly. Potentially electric? Most definitely.