Stanford spring football: Reloading offensive line biggest task of spring for Cardinal

Stephen Dunn

Stanford loses four of five starters from their 2013 offensive line.

Stanford got an early jump on spring practice, getting things started this Monday and they have as many questions surrounding their team as they have had in a long time during the spring. Who can replace Tyler Gaffney at running back might be the most high-profile question they are facing, but I would say that whether or not their young talent on the offensive line can move in as starters seamlessly is probably more important.

The Cardinal lose four of their five starters along the offensive line and stud fullback Ryan Hewitt, but the good news for them is that they have recruited exceptionally well at offensive line under David Shaw and have as good of a track record as anyone in the country at developing offensive linemen. It also doesn't hurt that they have junior Andrus Peat returning at left tackle and looking like a future first round draft pick on the line's most crucial position.

The rest of the starting spots are open, but will most likely be filled by some of the elite prospects that Shaw signed in 2012 (They brought seven total prospects, the bulk of which were 4/5-star guys).

The other tackle spot might be the closest to being closed as 6'7 295, former five-star prospect, junior Kyle Murphy has seen extensive action in his first two seasons in Palo Alto and has the potential to be an All-American. If he can transition quickly to being a starter, the Cardinal could quickly have one of the biggest and best tackle duos in the entire nation, let alone the Pac-12. All bets are on Murphy winning the spot, but Stanford is probably hoping that senior Brendon Austin can transitions to Murphy's former role as the third tackle in the rotation who can play in jumbo packages and give starters breathers.

More former elite recruits are expected to start stepping up this spring at guard. Junior Joshua Garnett was arguably the top guard prospect in the Class of 2012 and has seen extensive action, but has some massive shoes to fill with All-American David Yankey heading to the NFL. It's unlikely that Garnett will be able to instantly fill Yankey's void, but he elite potential and is exactly the kind of big athlete that Stanford has turned into stars up front.

The other guard spot will likely belong to junior Johnny Caspers, who like Murphy and Garnett, has seen a bunch of time as a reserve and in jumbo packages, but now must become a full-time starter. Caspers doesn't have the ceiling that guys like Peat, Murphy and Garnett, but stepped in well when called upon in 2013.

The biggest question mark along the line will be at center, where Khalil Wilkes departs and junior Graham Shuler will likely step in. Shuler has some experience, but not to the extent of the other projected starter, so he may have to fight for the spot the most and make the biggest adjustment as a starter. If he cannot step up, keep an eye on senior Kevin Reihner who saw some time in 2013 and could step in.

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