STANFORD, California — Stanford coach David Shaw walked over to reporters following Monday's first training camp practice for what has practically become an annual tradition: fielding questions about several key contributors to replace.
Shaw's team has provided emphatic answers in each of his first three seasons. He expects the same this fall.
"I think our guys take a lot of pride in that," Shaw said.
Finding a way to reload — and not just replace — team leaders each year has helped carry the Cardinal to consecutive Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowl berths.
Toby Gerhart, Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck are just a few of the notable names Stanford has seen move on to successful NFL careers in recent years. Running back Tyler Gaffney, linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov and four starters on the offensive line were among this summer's biggest departures.
Losing such talent can take some programs a year or more to recover. At Stanford, the "next man up" mentality so many teams tout has been done enough now that players are confident the transition will again go smoothly.
"Something we've always talked about, but something we've been preaching a lot this year: It's not so much who we are, it's what we are," said senior wide receiver and All-America kick returner Ty Montgomery, who participated in the unpadded practice but will be held out of non-contact drills for now as he comes back from offseason surgery on his right shoulder.
"We're a product of the ones before us, each other and the ones that follow," Montgomery said. "No matter who goes out there, no matter who puts on a Stanford uniform, we're a product of the program. And every guy is going to be a Stanford football player. And that's pretty much it."
Even with a tough schedule that includes road games at Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and Notre Dame, Shaw is optimistic about his team's chances.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan is back for his redshirt junior season and Montgomery and Devon Cajuste anchor a deep and talented receivers group. The tight ends, led by redshirt freshman Austin Hooper, are expected to re-emerge as a part of the offense. And the one returning starter on the line, junior left tackle Andrus Peat, is already being mentioned as a top NFL draft pick next year.
While four of Peat's fellow offensive line starters are gone, their replacements have played significant time in the Cardinal's power package. Coaches believe the unit could even be among the best Stanford has had during its recent run of excellence, which includes four straight seasons with at least 11 wins.
"It's like my children. I look at them, and I can't believe they're three years older," said offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who also coaches the offensive line. "They've been around for three years, now they're the old guys and they're teaching the freshmen and putting their arm around these freshmen. I feel like I'm in a time warp a little bit."
Some of the most important spots to fill will be on defense, where Stanford lost all-conference players in Skov, Murphy, defensive end Ben Gardner and free safety Ed Reynolds. They also were the loudest and most respected voices in the locker room.
Strong safety Jordan Richards and inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley will anchor the defense this season. And just like their predecessors, they will be expected to bring along the underclassmen and continue the unit's winning ways.
"When guys don't get the attention that some people say they don't deserve or do deserve, all it does for these guys on this team is bring everybody closer," Tarpley said. "And you want to work as hard as ever to kind of quiet everybody down."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP