2013 Stanford spring football primer: Dates, players and more to know

Harry How

The Stanford Cardinal will welcome back Tyler Gaffney as a potential replacement for Stepfan Taylor, but replacing tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo could be a tall order.

The Stanford Cardinal have to feel pretty satisfied with where they stand after their 2012 campaign. Despite losing several first round draft picks last year, including quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal barely missed a beat. After a few early season hiccups in Washington and Notre Dame, Stanford won its final eight games, going 12-2, upsetting Oregon, winning the Pac-12 championship, and finishing off the season with a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Stanford's next task is to keep the winning going, and it's in an ideal position to do so. The Cardinal lose relatively few seniors (although they're important ones) and the nucleus of the Pac-12 championship squad returns, as does the majority of the offensive staff. Their schedule also sets up nicely to start out before finishing with a brutal stretch.

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Spring practice start date:
February 25th

Spring game date, location, TV info: The Cardinal & White Spring Game will take place on Saturday, April 13 at 3 p.m. PT at Stanford Stadium. The game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Network.

Approximate returning starters: Seven on offense and 10 on defense. Despite returning the bulk of their offensive line, the Cardinal are losing critical skill players, particularly tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, along with running back Stepfan Taylor and wide receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal Rashad-Patterson. Tops among the returnees is Kevin Hogan, who emerged from a crowded quarterback scrum to lead the Cardinal over four straight ranked teams before the Rose Bowl.

On defense, the Cardinal lose defensive tackle Terrence Stephens and linebacker Chase Thomas, but return a ton of talent including senior Shayne Skov.

Biggest addition: Stanford doesn't have any early enrollees, but they do have a much more valuable player coming back in running back Tyler Gaffney, who's leaving his minor league baseball career to finish his degree. Gaffney should challenge Anthony Wilkerson and a host of the young running backs for the starting spot with Taylor gone.

Biggest loss: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton left for the Indianapolis Colts. Ertz is a huge loss because of his versatility and the unusual matchup problems he causes with defenses. Toilolo causes similar issues, and of course the Cardinal offense ran primarily through Taylor's legs.

New coaches? Stanford didn't look far to replace Hamilton, hiring offensive line coach and run game coordinator Mike Bloomgreen to take Hamilton's spot. Running backs coach Mike Sanford took over quarterback and wide receivers coaching responsibilities, while Tavita Pritchard moved from being a defensive assistant to taking over as the new running backs coach.

New schemes? The scheme shouldn't change too much; power run followed by play-action will be the recipe for success for the Cardinal next year, as it has been almost every year since their resurgence. However, losing their two tight ends could limit the matchups they're able to exploit and they might have to consider moving to a more traditional balanced attack. Expect to see more unbalanced offensive lines (few teams have more wealth at the position than Stanford) and more of a vertical passing game with Hogan targeting Ty Montgomery, Kelsey Young and Kodi Whitfield.

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