Aug. 4, 2011
This is the ninth installment of a 10-part series that will breakdown Stanford by position as the Cardinal prepare for the start of training camp on Monday, August 8. In this segment, we take a look at Stanford's special teams, where the Cardinal must find a replacement for kicker Nate Whitaker, who earned first team All-Pac-10 honors a year ago.
STANFORD, Calif. -- Creating a standard of excellence on special teams starts with prioritization and commitment. Playmakers help, too.
As was the case throughout the Jim Harbaugh era, special teams play will continue to be a point of emphasis in the Cardinal program.
"In terms of overall performance of the unit, it has less to do with X's and O's than it does with creating a culture and an environment where guys are excited about playing on teams," said special teams coach/recruiting coordinator Brian Polian.
"The head coach makes it a priority. Obviously, Jim always did and David is no different. I know that David will give us all the time we need to prepare. He will emphasize it as a team and that's very important."
Polian is hoping to see improvement in all facets Stanford's special teams play in 2011, and emphasizes the need of seeing the big play element return to the Cardinal's arsenal this season.
"Coming out of last year, in the five main statistical categories, we stayed the same in two, improved in two and decreased a bit in one. Overall, we need to up our level of performance. We did a nice job last season in terms of not allowing big plays but we have to make more big plays ourselves this year."
However, it must offset the loss of Nate Whitaker, who earned first team all-conference honors a year ago after converting 17-of-19 (89.5) of his field-goal tries. His .804 (33-of-41) career field-goal percentage ranks first on Stanford's career list, while his 33 career field goals rank seventh in school history.
"This is a results-based business," said Polian. "Jordan Williamson made tremendous strides for a true freshman in his first spring. We were very pleased with the job he did. Eric Whitaker has some experience and is a little bit older and has seen some stuff Jordan hasn't."
Stanford's most dangerous big play threat - both in the return game and at wide receiver -- is Owusu. He ranks as the school's all-time leader in kickoff returns with a 28.5 yard average and earned second team Walter Camp All-America honors as a sophomore when he averaged 31.5 yards per return, including three returns for touchdowns.
However, injuries limited him to just seven games last season and the Cardinal coaching staff is accessing whether the multi-talented senior should continue to be utilized in both roles.
"When Chris is healthy and he's rolling, he's a difference maker and one of the best in the country," said Polian. "One thing we will have to balance is Chris' value to the team as a receiver in relationship to his value to our football team as a return man."
Amanam (15-321; 21.4 avg.) proved to be a viable option in the return game as a redshirt freshman when Owusu was sidelined, while Terrell (18-219; 12.2 avg.) gave Stanford a much-needed presence as a punt returner, earning honorable mention all-conference marks.
The Cardinal returns two punters - junior Daniel Zychlinski and senior David Green - who both saw action last season. Zychlinski served as Stanford's primary punter for the majority of the season, averaging 41.8 yards in his 24 attempts. Five of Green's eight attempts on the season came over the final three games of the year against Cal (1), Oregon State (1) and Virginia Tech (3) and averaged 43.0 yards per attempt. Stanford's primary punter in 2008 and '09, Green has averaged 40.63 yards (3,820 total) in his 94 career attempts.
"We are not interested in punting by committee," said Polian. "We would like one guy to grab hold of the job and keep it. We are going to go into camp with these guys dead even, give them equal reps and hopefully one guy will take hold of the job."
Stanford will also look to replace the dependable services of long snapper Zach Nolan, a three-year starter at the position, with sixth-year senior Andrew Fowler ranking as the leading candidate for the starting job.