STANFORD – It would be difficult enough for the Stanford offensive line to replace five players with a combined 142 career starts who all transferred after last season. The Cardinal also have to do it while learning a completely different offensive system.
The group of inexperienced underclassmen has spent the offseason getting used to playing with each other as well as adjusting to new coach Troy Taylor’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense, a drastic change from the pro-style offense that Stanford used to run.
“It’s definitely been challenging with the fast pace,” said Lucas Heyer, who came to Stanford in 2022 as the top-ranked recruit in Minnesota. “Just to read defenses and get the calls, it’s tough to think that quickly when you’re a little fatigued as well. Pro style, you’re huddling up and catching your breath between plays.
“This is completely different. As a unit, we really had to buy in this offseason in getting to a different level of shape and I think we did that.”
Heyer and fellow redshirt freshman Jake Maikkula, who was ranked No. 41 among offensive tackles in the Class of 2022 by ESPN, are among the new faces who will be counted on in a unit that was gutted by longtime coach David Shaw’s resignation.
Left tackle Walter Rouse (39 career starts at Stanford) went to Oklahoma, center Drake Nugent (34 starts) went to Michigan, left tackle/left guard Barrett Miller (30 starts) went to Cal, left guard Jake Hornibrook (23 starts) went to Duke, and right tackle Myles Hinton (16 starts) went to Michigan. Even backup center Drake Metcalf transferred to UCF.
The only returning starter is Levi Rogers, and he isn’t even playing the same position – the redshirt junior is now at center after playing at right guard last season.
Stanford added two veteran left tackles from the Ivy League – Alec Bank was a two-year starter at Harvard and Trevor Mayberry was a two-year starter at Penn. But mostly, it’s a group of underclassmen who were recruited to play in a different system.
Taylor said the keys to developing the group were patience and repetition. It also means balancing building up their morale while still preparing them for what they will face in the Pac-12.
“Typically, when you don’t have a lot of experience, you don’t have a lot of confidence, so you try and put them in positions to be successful,” Taylor said. “In the same sense, you want to put them in a pressure cooker. Luckily, we have some really good pass rushers out there, so they’re tested.”
While the tempo and the terminology are different, Heyer said that schematically there are similarities between this year’s system and last year’s system.
“Every program in America is running inside zone, outside zone,” Heyer said. “It’s the same stuff Xs-and-Os wise, just a faster pace.”
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Heyer, who played in one game last year. said the linemen have benefitted from the new defensive system they go up against in practice, since Stanford is blitzing more and employing more pre-snap movement to confuse the offense than last year’s team did. And while it was “really weird” at first to see all the leaders on the offensive line depart after the 2022 season, Heyer knew it would be an opportunity for those who remained.
“It was like a reset,” Heyer said. “New coaches, new everything. No biases or previous opinions by anybody. I saw it as a blank slate.”
Of course, it also meant undergoing a tough strength and conditioning program in order to implement Taylor’s fast-paced offense. If the linemen needed any additional motivation to get through training, it came when the team was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll.
“Our strength coach brought that up the next morning,” Meyer said. “He had some colorful words to say. But we don’t care about that. We’re reloaded, we’re a totally different team, we’re coming to compete, we’re coming to dominate.”