STANFORD -- Stanford opened spring practice Monday with a workout notable for the precipitous temperature drop -- "It felt like spring when we started,'' coach David Shaw said -- and a question that wasn't asked.
For the first time in four years, the Cardinal didn't walk off the field and run smack into those six little words:
How are you going to replace ... ?
(Fill in the blank with Toby Gerhart, Jim Harbaugh or Andrew Luck.)
"People always talk about that stuff when the season ends or going into spring ball: How are you going to replace those guys,'' defensive end Ben Gardner said. "But we never talk about that.
"That's always in the past for us. The culture here doesn't change much. We've got a strong locker room, and the old guys do a great job acclimating the new guys. It's always a seamless transition.''
The transition this winter led to a crisp, energetic workout Monday afternoon -- the first of 15 practices spread over two sessions, culminating with the spring game April 13.
"I'm excited about how we started,'' Shaw said. "It was much better than a year ago on the first day. There was a lot of retention, a lot of energy.''
Stanford has a handful of issues to resolve. Here are three: A show of hands. In addition to the departure of All-American tight end Zach Ertz, the Cardinal lost tight end Levine Toilolo and starting receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson. The quartet only accounted for all 16 of Stanford's touchdown catches by tight ends and receivers. Veteran Ty Montgomery is healthy and a good bet to start at one wideout spot, with Kodi Whitfield, Devon Cajuste and Kelsey Young also contending for playing time. The tight end situation is murky. Sophomore Luke Kaumatule, who played sparingly last season, is the top candidate to fill the void -- and at 260 pounds, he's big enough. Ryan Hewitt, who began his career as a tight end, will stay at fullback, coach David Shaw said. The shuffle up front. Stanford returns four starters on the offensive line but is looking for two new ones. Here's why: David Yankey, who played left tackle last season -- and was named first-team all-conference -- is returning to his natural position at guard. Sophomores Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy are the top candidates to take over at left tackle, protecting quarterback Kevin Hogan's blind side. Khalil Wilkes, who started at left guard last year, is the front-runner to replace departed center Sam Schwartzstein. Backfield in motion. The search to replace Stepfan Taylor, Stanford's career rushing leader, begins this week. Anthony Wilkerson is expected to be the No. 1 tailback, at least until Tyler Gaffney rejoins the team in April. Gaffney rushed for 449 yards in 2011, then spent one unsuccessful season in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization. Barry Sanders, Remound Wright, Jackson Cummings and Ricky Seale will also compete for playing time. Note: Linebacker Shayne Skov will miss the first session of spring practice as part of a "scholastic punishment" for his DUI arrest last winter, Shaw said. Skov is expected back in school, and on the team, for the start of the spring academic quarter in April.
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