Stanford returns 14 starters, including nine on defense, and 42 lettermen in 2004 as they look to take the next step and improve on last year's 4-7 record and compete for a post-season bowl game. The cupboard is certainly not bare for the Cardinal, especially on defense where Stanford has all but two starters back to a unit that was impressive at times during the 2003 campaign. Gone are two starters on the line (DT Amon Gordon, DE Louis Hobson), but 21 letterman and experienced, veteran players abound. Offensively, the Cardinal must replace six starters, including three on the offensive line, but once again young players who got a taste of competition last season return in 2004 as more experienced, savvy players ready to assume their spot as full-time starters.
"We need to be more productive across the board in every facet of our team," says third year head coach Buddy Teevens, "but we have some very solid players in which to build around. I am impressed with this team's work ethic and commitment and their overall desire to be the best they can be. Their training in the off-season was outstanding and their team chemistry was evident, which can only lead to positive results."
On offense, gone are starters Kirk Chambers and Mike Sullivan at tackles, center Drew Caylor, quarterback Chris Lewis, tight end Brett Pierce and flanker Luke Powell. But, five starters are back, including wide receiver Mark Bradford, running back Kenneth Tolon, tight end Alex Smith and offensive guards Jeff Edwards and Ismail Simpson.
"We want to open up the offense," says Teevens, "and be more productive in the passing game and broaden our package. We'll spread the ball around more and utilize the tight end, backs and receivers in our passing attack. It is critical that we become a more productive offensively in terms of points scored and time of possession," said Teevens.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford returns its entire starting group at linebacker (MLB David Bergeron, OLB Jared Newberry, OLB Kevin Schimmelmann) and in the secondary (FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, SS Trevor Hooper, CB trio of Stanley Wilson/Leigh Torrence/T.J. Rushing). DE Will Svitek and NT Babatunde Oshinowo also return to an experienced and veteran defensive unit.
"We have some players on defense who have played a lot of football the past two seasons," said Teevens. "And we expect them to continue to grow and mature and become better football players this season." Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2004 Cardinal:
Now in his third season at Stanford, sophomore Trent Edwards enters the 2004 campaign atop the Cardinal depth chart and poised to take the controls of the Cardinal offense. He started four games last year before injuries forced him from the lineup, paving the way for senior Chris Lewis to start the final six games of the year. Still, Edwards received significant playing time in 2003 and showed why he was the nation's No. 1 prep quarterback recruit coming out of high school. He threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns while coming off the bench in his collegiate debut last year vs. San Jose State in the team's season opener. That performance earned him the starting assignment the following week, and he wasted no time proving that he belonged as he scored the game-winning touchdown in leading Stanford to a win at BYU. "We're looking for our starting quarterback to be accurate in the passing game, a good decision-maker, consistent and protective of the ball," says Teevens. "Trent has a tremendous future with great skills and athleticism. He is the complete player at the quarterback position." Competing with Edwards will be senior Kyle Matter and redshirt freshman T.C. Ostrander. Matter was the Cardinal's No. 3 quarterback a year ago after starting six games in 2001. Ostrander was a highly touted prep quarterback who redshirted the 2003 season. Senior Ryan Eklund and sophomore David Lofton, who was moved to receiver last season but is back at QB, will also battle for playing time in 2004.
Stanford returns all its running backs from last season, including its one-two punch of Kenneth Tolon and J.R. Lemon, who accounted for 989 of Stanford's 1,054 yards rushing in 2003. Tolon, who has rushed for 1,219 yards in his Cardinal career, led the team last season with 522 yards on 150 carries (3.5 ypc) while Lemon carried the ball 118 times for 467 yards and four touchdowns. Each had his day in the spotlight: Tolon gaining 141 yards on 32 carries in Stanford's win over BYU; Lemon gaining 151 and scoring two touchdowns on 34 carries in the Cardinal's victory against Arizona State and his 102-yard effort in the season opening win over San Jose State. Sophomore David Marrero, who had 37 carries as a true freshman last season, is the breakaway threat among the trio and he should see an increased role in the Cardinal offense in 2004. Sophomore Gerald Commissiong and redshirt freshman Jason Evans are also in the mix to earn playing time. At the fullback spot, which was missing from the Cardinal offense in '03, Stanford must rely on three players who have yet to play fullback at Stanford. Sophomore Kris Bonifas enters the season No. 1 at the position, but he did not play last season due to a knee injury and was a reserve linebacker in 2002. Redshirt freshman Emeka Nnoli and junior Capp Culver are also in the picture at fullback, although neither was healthy or played in 2003. "We're looking for the complete back," says Teevens. "We need our backs to run effectively, catch the ball out of the backfield and be more consistent in seeing cuts, protecting the passer and running pass routes."
Luke Powell was Stanford's big play receiver last season and one of the team' top offensive weapons. But, Powell has departed and his spot as the team's go-to guy is up for grabs. The leading candidate to replace Powell is sophomore Mark Bradford (37-587-15.9-3 in 2003), who came on as a true freshman to start eight games and finish as the team's second leading receiver. Bradford, who, along with fellow receiver Evan Moore played on Stanford's nationally ranked basketball team last year, is a special receiver who has the skills and potential to be among the league's best in 2004. Joining Bradford among the top group of receivers are senior Greg Camarillo (18-225), juniors Gerren Crochet (10-126) and Justin McCullum (7-64) and sophomore Moore (8-150), who at 6-7 with athleticism and leaping ability poses a great threat to opposing defenses. Sophomore Marcus McCutcheon, who played free safety last season, has been moved to receiver where he will compete for playing time along with sophomore Chris Ryan and redshirt freshmen Mike Miller and Matt Buchanan.
Senior Alex Smith is not only one of the most prolific tight ends in Stanford history, but he enters the 2004 season as one of the best in the Pac-10 Conference. Smith has caught 51 passes in his career, including 24 for three touchdowns last season, and is one of the team's best weapons. Sophomores Matt Traverso and Patrick Danahy, who both played a reserve role last season and each caught a touchdown pass, are up-and-coming young players who continue to mature and improve, and redshirt freshman Michael Horgan will team with Smith to form a very talented foursome. "The tight end should figure prominently in our offense this season," says Teevens. "We feel we have a good pass receiving group who have athletic abilities we want to utilize as much as possible. We need to be more physical coming off the ball in the running game."
While the Cardinal is still very young on the offensive line, the good news here is that several freshman played in 2003 and head into the 2004 campaign with a year's experience under their belts. Still, of the Cardinal's 13 offensive lineman on its spring roster, six are redshirt freshman, six are sophomores, one is a junior and none are seniors. Gone are tackles Kirk Chambers and Mike Sullivan and center Drew Caylor, but back are a corps of young players with tremendous talent and potential and now significant game experience. Four redshirt freshman saw time in the starting lineup a year ago, including left guard Ismail Simpson, who started all 11 games in '03, and right guard Jeff Edwards, who started eight games a year ago before being knocked out with an injury. Josiah Vinson replaced Edwards in the starting lineup last year for the final three games and Jon Cochran received two starting assignments at right tackle. Junior Brian Head began the year as the team's starting center through the first four games, but was lost for the season due to injury. Head will battle Vinson, redshirt freshman Mikal Brewer and sophomore Tim Mattran for the starting spot at center in '04. Edwards should once again hold down the starting assignment at right guard with redshirt freshman Merlin Brittenham backing him up. Simpson will compete with sophomore David Beall and redshirt freshman Preston Clover at left guard while Cochran and redshirt freshman David Long will battle for the starting spot at right tackle. At left tackle, the Cardinal will look to a pair of redshirt freshman: Amir Malayery and converted defensive tackle Michael Macellari. "We have some guys with varying amounts experience," says Teevens. "And that's a big plus for us this year. As young players, they got to get on the field last year. But, we expect a big surge forward in terms of their performance in 2004."
The only two defensive starters not returning in 2004 are linemen. DT Amon Gordon left Stanford a year early to enter the NFL Draft and three-year letter-winner Louis Hobson at DE. The Cardinal does return its two other starters in DE Will Svitek and NT Babatunde Oshinowo along with six other letter-winners who will make up the corps of Stanford's defensive front. Svitek, junior Julian Jenkins and sophomore Taualai Fonoti, will man one defensive end spot while the other side will have a new face in the starting lineup. Junior Michael Lovelady is the leading candidate to earn the start, but he will be pushed by second-year players Udeme Udofia and Emmanuel Awofadeju, both of whom redshirted the 2003 campaign. Oshinowo came on last season to establish himself as one of the league's best, young nose tackles and he will be counted on this season to be one of the team leaders on the defensive line. Behind Oshinowo are sophomore Nick Frank, who was impressive as a true freshman last year, redshirt freshman David Jackson and sophomore Matt McClernan, who moves over from the offensive line. At the tackle position, fifth-year senior Scott Scharff and junior Casey Carroll, both with significant game experience, will be joined by redshirt freshman Chris Horn in taking over the responsibilities inside. "Putting pressure on the quarterback is one of our points of emphasis this season," said Teevens.
All three starters return in 2004, as well as quality depth, to a linebacking corps that is one of the strengths of the team. Starters Jared Newberry and Kevin Schimmelmann return on the outside with David Bergeron once again manning the middle linebacker spot. Newberry and Bergeron are both honors candidates and two of the team leaders in '04. Junior Jon Alston, one of the team's best at getting to the quarterback, and sophomore Mike Silva will man one OLB spot along with Newberry. Michael Okwo lettered as a true freshman last year and showed signs of his talent and potential. He and Schimmelmann will take care of the other OLB spot. In the middle, Bergeron will be backed up by redshirt freshman Landon Johnson. "We have talent and experience and the linebacker spot," said Teevens. "This is a solid group who we expect to be the core of our defense."
As with the linebackers, Stanford returns its starting unit from a year ago. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, a second-team All-Pac-10 pick last season, is the team's top play-maker and one of the most talented safeties in all of college football. He has led the team in tackles the past two years and established himself as an honors candidate in 2004. At strong safety, sophomore Trevor Hooper returns after starting all 11 games as a redshirt freshman a year ago. Stanford returns its starting trio at cornerback of seniors Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson and junior T.J. Rushing. Behind that trio are junior Nick Silvas and redshirt freshmen Nick Sanchez and Tim Sims. Sophomore Brandon Harrison played strong safety last season as a true freshman, but will be moved to free safety in '04. Juniors Calvin Armstrong and Timi Wusu also look to compete for playing time at free safety. Sophomore Bryan Bentrott and redshirt freshman Peter Grffin will vie for playing time at strong safety.
Two-year starting place-kicker Michael Sgroi is back and will be pushed for the No. 1 job by redshirt freshman Derek Belch. Sgroi has made 16-of-28 field goals the past two seasons and scored 92 points, but Belch is a talented young kicker with tremendous potential. Three-year starting punter Eric Johnson has departed, leaving the job to redshirt freshman Jay Ottovegio. Ottovegio did not play for the Cardinal last season after coming to Stanford as one of the nation's highly touted prep kickers from Florida.