STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Stanford's offensive line was in the middle of a meeting during spring practices earlier this year when a few large visitors walked into the room.
Current NFL linemen Jonathan Martin and David Yankey and former team captain Sam Schwartzstein popped in with a couple of other past players to give a surprise history lesson. They educated the new crop of Cardinal linemen about the responsibility they were inheriting and issued them a challenge.
"They told us they laid so much ground work for us, but we had the opportunity to take that to the next step, to keep progressing, to keep it moving forward," redshirt sophomore center Graham Shuler said.
While most offensive lines toil in anonymity, Stanford's has gained national attention during the program's recent run of success, which includes winning the past two Pac-12 titles. The unit, dubbed the Tunnel Workers Union, has been the bulldozer in front of a power running game and the anchor behind a pro-style passing attack.
With four new starters next to one of the country's top left tackles in Andrus Peat, the unit is in the early stages of another reconstruction. The new-look line will face its first major test Saturday when the 13th-ranked Cardinal (1-0) host Leonard Williams and No. 14 Southern California (1-0) in a much-anticipated Pac-12 tilt.
"The challenge this week is prominent," said Stanford coach David Shaw, who has remained steadfast in his belief that the offensive line will continue to meet its high standard this season.
Shaw said on Signing Day in February 2012 that his five current starters — Peat, left guard Joshua Garnett, Shuler, right guard Johnny Caspers and right tackle Kyle Murphy — had the potential to "be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history." He has stuck by that statement since, saying during training camp that the O-line could be as good or better than any he had during his first three years as coach.
But the group had its share of struggles in the opener, including a false start, holding and clipping penalties in the first half of a 45-0 rout of an overmatched UC Davis team. Kevin Hogan also was sacked once.
"Nowhere near our best," Peat said.
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