STANFORD -- Defensive end Henry Anderson has been around Stanford long enough to remember when training camp was all about how the Cardinal planned to replace running back Toby Gerhart.

A year later, Anderson heard the same chatter about Jim Harbaugh's absence.

Then Andrew Luck's.

Then Zach Ertz's ...

"No matter who the player is we need to replace, we have capable guys," Anderson, a fifth-year senior, said Monday after Stanford's first practice of the season.

"It's not like we're throwing guys out there who aren't ready to play. There's no doubt in my mind the defense can be better than last year and the team can be better than last year."

For that to be the case -- for Stanford to not only win the Pac-12 but also reach the inaugural College Football Playoff -- the Cardinal must successfully replace a bevy of all-conference talents on offense and defense, including linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov.

Time is running short for a process that began in January. The season opener against UC Davis is Aug. 30. Then comes the Week 2 showdown with USC.

"The guys take a lot of pride in not having a drop-off," coach David Shaw said.

But Shaw's response to a question about the pass rush -- "It's Day 1 without pads on; it is what it is" -- could be applied to every facet of the team.

Here are four issues the Cardinal must resolve during camp:


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  • Lines of communication.

    The offensive line -- the unit at the heart of the Cardinal's power running game -- returns just one starter, Andrus Peat, one of the top left tackles in the nation.

    Spring practice provided significant clarity, with Joshua Garnett taking over at left guard and Kyle Murphy establishing himself at right tackle. In addition, Graham Shuler became the heavy favorite to start at center and Johnny Caspers at right guard.

    Shaw believes this is the most talented line of his coaching tenure, but cohesion is critical up front. How long will it take four first-time starters to coalesce into a unit that functions as one?

    The deadline is Sept. 6, when USC All-American Leonard Williams pays a visit.

  • Tailback rotation.

    Tyler Gaffney accounted for 59 percent of Stanford's rushing yards and 70 percent of its rushing touchdowns last season.

    The considerable void left by his departure creates an opportunity for the four veteran tailbacks left behind: Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale and Remound Wright.

    Wright, the most experienced member of the quartet with a whopping 20 carries last fall, was suspended for the second half of spring practice and lost ground relative to his competitors.

    The best bet: Stanford starts 2014 just as it started 2013, with a tailback-by-committee approach. Remember, Gaffney didn't take control of the position until October, and that turned out OK.

    "If one guy gets more of the lion's share, that means he's earned it, and that will be great," Shaw said.

  • Looking for leaders.

    Stanford not only lost four all-conference defensive players in Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds but also four immensely respected voices in the locker room.

    Safety Jordan Richards and inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley possess the experience and personality to fill the vacuum left by Skov and Co., and both began to assume the role in the offseason. Who else will step forward? And how quickly?

    "We caution them: 'Don't try to be Shayne Skov, don't try to be somebody else,' " Shaw said. "Lead with your own personality."

  • Depth in the trenches.

    The Cardinal was so thin on the defensive line midway through last season that it brought in reinforcements in the form of outside linebacker Blake Lueders and tight end Luke Kaumatule.

    The departures of Gardner and Josh Mauro have left Stanford searching for options once again.

    Anderson is one of the top ends in the Pac-12, and David Parry emerged last season as a force in the middle. But help is needed at the other end and throughout the second unit.

    The options include Lueders, Kaumatule, Aziz Shittu, Ikenna Nwafor, Jordan Watkins and possibly true freshman Solomon Thomas.

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports.