- David Lombardi, College Football
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The four-month period between the end of spring practice and the start of August training camp is a critical stretch for every college football team's offseason development. Here's Stanford's to-do list for the coming months:
Continue beefing up
Lance Anderson's defense is particularly inexperienced along the defensive line. Though the first four months of the offseason have seen the young pieces there make significant strides -- Solomon Thomas has reported a 31-pound strength increase since his arrival on campus less than a year ago -- the time between now and the September 4 season opener at Northwestern remains critical. Thomas and Harrison Phillips both report that they have bulked up to more than 270 pounds, and Stanford hopes the strength gains keep coming -- not only from that duo, but from the rest of the roster's youth as well.
A rash of injuries hindered the Cardinal throughout the spring practice, so the program hopes the next few months will completely square those issues away. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu is looking to fully overcome the serious leg injury that ended his 2014 season, and head coach David Shaw says the senior's rehabilitation is coming along well. Outside linebacker Kevin Anderson is working back from a hand issue, and Ronnie Harris -- the elder statesmen of the secondary -- is also healing from injury. Even Stanford's incoming transfer is on the mend: Brennan Scarlett tore his ACL at Cal last year, so the Cardinal hopes that he's healthy to begin 2015.
Stanford is also working through issues on the other side of the ball. Offensive linemen Brendon Austin, Jesse Burkett, and Nick Davidson missed time during spring practice. The return of that trio should help Stanford figure out the right side of its offensive line, which is in a state of transition after Kyle Murphy's move to left tackle.
Finalize the roster
Nearly two-thirds of Stanford's 2014 defensive starters have exhausted their eligibility, and as many as five players from both sides of the ball might transfer this offseason. This morning saw further developments on this front, as senior fullback Patrick Skov announced his graduate transfer plans to Georgia Tech.
The Cardinal also stand to benefit from at least part of the player shuffle, as Scarlett is set to become the program's first-ever incoming graduate transfer. As we discussed today, though, Stanford's 2015 roster is still not set.
It likely won't be cemented until after June's MLB Draft. Defensive back Zach Hoffpauir, who is playing baseball for the Cardinal, will almost certainly be selected. He will then either sign to play professional baseball or return for a senior season of Stanford football. That choice figures to have a big impact on the Cardinal's young 2015 secondary.
Integrate the freshmen
The extent of their opportunities remains unclear, but it's apparent that at least some of Stanford's true freshmen will have a chance to make an immediate impact. The Cardinal's kicking and punting games both struggled during the spring game, and Shaw confirmed that incoming Jake Bailey -- who plays both positions -- will enter multiple special teams competitions as soon as he sets foot on campus.
Other opportunities remain unclear. Most Stanford freshmen redshirt during their first year on campus, though there might be a chance that tackle Wesley Annan sees first-year action if injury problems continue to create depth issues along the defensive line. Experience, though, tells us Stanford would much rather let its true freshmen strengthen for a year before playing, especially in the trenches.
Wide receiver Trent Irwin, considered by some to be the top 2015 Califfornia recruit at the position, might also have an early shot to contribute alongside Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector, Francis Owusu, and the team's foursome of tight ends.
Playbook, playbook, playbook
Schematic knowledge of the Cardinal's system is the golden ticket to playing time, so the remainder of this offseason represents valuable studying opportunities. Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst have a chance to develop playbook mastery and earn the backup quarterback job. Positional versatility is key for the playing time prospects of Stanford's young defensive backs, and they can use the next several months to explore the different nuances of the cornerback, nickel back, and safety positions.
The mental progress that Cardinal players make between now and August, in fact, might be the most significant factor when it comes to setting the team's first 2015 depth chart.
Offseason a time for the injured to heal and young players to master the playbook.