Preview 2007 - Cardinal Defense
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need to know:
New defensive coordinator Scott Shafer is scrapping the 3-4 this
year in favor of an attacking 4-3 that is designed to create
more turnovers and more plays for negative yards. The Cardinal
is open to suggestions after finishing last in the Pac-10 in
just about every defensive category in 2006. There are holes,
to be sure, but Shafer will also inherit some exciting young
talent at each unit, such as sophomore tackle Ekom Udofia,
sophomore linebacker Clinton Snyder and junior cornerback Wopamo
Osaisai. Above all else, the defense has to find some answers
against the run after being humiliated for more than 2,500 yards
and nearly five yards a carry a year ago.
Tackles: Clinton Snyder, 83
Sacks: Clinton Snyder, 2
Interceptions: Bo McNally, 2
Star of the
Sophomore LB Clinton Snyder
Player that has to step up and become a star:
Junior LB Pat Maynor
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior CB Wopamo Osaisai
Junior DE Pannel Egboh
three all-star candidates:
1) Osaisai 2) Snyder 3) DE Pannel Egboh
of the defense:
Depth at cornerback
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, safety
Projected Starters: Not unlike it’s counterparts
on the other side of the ball, the Cardinal D-line needs to
begin turning a few years of quality recruits into better
execution on Saturdays. The unit was gutted for more than 200
yards a game on the ground last year and produced the Pac-10’s
lowest sack total. With the team switching from a 3-4 base to a
4-3, developing enough quality linemen to fill out a two-deep
just got a little tougher. Hope can be found in the form of
junior end Pannel Egboh, who’s coming off a solid season
that saw him tie for the team lead with 5.5 tackles for loss.
He has an NFL body at 6-6 and 280 pounds to go along the pass
rushing skills to evolve into an all-league player.
Egboh has substantial upside, but still needs help on the
opposite side from senior Udeme Udofia, a former
linebacker making the switch from end to help the pass rush. A
pure speed rusher at 240 pounds who could struggle in run
defense, he had 39 tackles in 2006, but just one behind the
Udeme’s younger brother, Ekom Udofia, is the team’s best
interior lineman and the likely starter at nose tackle once he
fully recovers from shoulder surgery. An explosive and very
powerful sophomore in the middle, he’s a former can’t-miss
recruit with the ingredients to be the type of impact player
that the line is currently missing.
After seeing considerable action as a true freshman in 2006,
Levirt Griffin is ready to watch his role on the line
expand. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he’s got the size and
acceleration of an end, but will have trouble disengaging from
blocks this fall, especially when forced to become a more
physical run defender. If there was more depth at the position,
Griffin would make a lot more sense on the outside.
Projected Top Reserves: If Udofia’s shoulder acts
up at any point during the season, senior Chris Horn is
more than ready to step into the starting role. A 6-5,
270-pound two-time letterwinner, he was the program’s top
run-stuffing reserve with 27 tackles and four tackles for loss.
A wild card at defensive end this year will be sophomore Erik
Lorig, who, like Horn, came to Stanford as a top tight end
prospect before switching sides of the ball. The move was made
partially out of need and partially because he’s a terrific
all-around athlete with the explosion off the snap to eventually
be a contributor. Lorig is the kind of project that has the
defensive staff cautiously excited about the upcoming season.
Watch Out For… Egboh and Ekom Udofia to begin
attracting the interest of NFL scouts, but the unit as a whole
to be a weak link in the defensive chain again in 2007.
Although the line can’t get any worse from last year and a
four-man front should help, counting on a metamorphosis from
this group is unrealistic.
Strength: Egboh and Ekom Udofia. Put either
player on the USC D-line and he wouldn’t look terribly out of
place. Both have next level size and quickness, but need more
help from the players around them in order to really take off.
Weakness: Stopping the run. The pass rush won’t
be featured in an upcoming Dummies series anytime soon,
but the bigger concern is inside, where the Cardinal was mauled
last fall and lacks the depth needed to stack up in a league
loaded with quality offensive lines.
Outlook: As long as the line has problems creating
pressure and getting a push on run plays, the rest of the
defense is going to suffer. Only three teams in the country had
fewer plays for negative yards than Stanford last year, an issue
that has no snap solution in 2007.
Projected Starters: Jim Harbaugh’s top priority at
linebacker in year one will be to decide on a middle
linebacker. The slight frontrunner to replace all-Pac-10
performer Michael Okwo is junior Pat Maynor, who started
nine games last year and contributed 44 tackles and three
tackles for loss. An intense competitor that goes hard on every
play, he’ll rely on his motor and straight-line speed to offset
being one of the smallest players at the position.
If there’s a future star at linebacker for the Cardinal, it’ll
be sophomore Clinton Snyder, who’s coming off a terrific
debut season. As an 11-game starter, he was third on the team
with 83 tackles and added a pair of sacks. At 6-4 and 230
pounds, he’s a thumper with the instincts and quickness to make
plays all over the field.
Snyder is likely to be joined on the outside with Peter
Griffin, a fifth-year senior that began his Stanford career
as a walk-on strong safety. Undersized at 6-1 and 215 pounds,
he moves well in space, but has yet to do much besides make
plays on special teams.
Projected Top Reserves: The depth is pretty good
at linebacker, which should make for some heated competition in
August and beyond. Pressing Maynor in the middle will be
sophomores Tom McAndrew and Will Powers. McAndrew
is an interesting story because last year he was a 6-5,
270-pound end, but this year, he’s right in the mix in the
middle. Now 250 pounds with a mere 10% body fat, he brings a
physical presence to a unit that’s short on intimidation.
Powers has the edge in experience, thanks to four starts in his
freshman season. Built like a strongside linebacker at 6-4 and
235 pounds, he’s currently running third on the depth chart and
needs to show a little more to take the job away from Maynor.
Big Brian Bulcke, a 260-pound sophomore, is going to play
somewhere, likely at defensive end if he gets his wish. Before
being slowed by nagging injuries, he had 14 tackles as a true
freshman in his only start versus Navy.
Outside, Stanford is counting on redshirt freshman Nick
Macaluso and sophomore Fred Campbell to get plenty of
reps this fall. Macaluso, in particular, has really impressed
the coaching staff this off-season. Still somewhat wide-eyed,
he has the speed and drive to make a ton of plays for this
program once he adds some weight and earns more playing time.
Campbell played in nine games as a freshman, earning the start
in the USC game. He covers ground in a hurry, but like Macaluso,
will benefit from more time in the weight room.
Watch Out For… at least six different linebackers
to get starts at one time or another this season. The talent
gap between the first and second unit is marginal, and new
coordinator Scott Shafer is likely to try a few different
combinations before settling on his three best players.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. The Cardinal
linebackers are a bunch of real good athletes that have to go
out this season and prove that they’re also a bunch of good
Weakness: Lack of a true middle linebacker.
Although Harbaugh has no shortage of candidates to choose from,
none look even remotely capable of doing what Okwo did a year
Outlook: There are plenty of good athletes on this
unit and a potentially nice mix of size and speed, but the key
to success in 2007 lies with the underclassmen, like Snyder,
McAndrew and Macaluso making quantum leaps early in their
Projected Starters: Was the Stanford secondary
overlooked last season, or was it just a product of one-sided
games that deterred the opposition from the putting the ball in
the air? We should know better in 2007, as the defense looks to
replace two of its better producers, safeties Brandon Harrison
and Trevor Hooper. To help out at the position, the Cardinal
will be looking to a pair of sophomore imports, former
linebacker Bo McNally to play strong safety, and
converted wide receiver Austin Yancy, who has the edge at
free safety. A big-hitting defender, McNally played well in 12
games last season, making 21 tackles and two picks while scoring
a pivotal touchdown in the program’s lone win of the year.
Yancy caught 16 passes in 2006, and at 6-4 and 200 pounds, has
great size, but could spend most of the year adjusting to a
completely different position.
The unexpected star of the secondary is junior corner Wopamo
Osaisai, a genuine playmaker with terrific ball skills and a
bright future over the next two seasons. In just a half season
as a starter, he led the team in pass breakups and pitched in on
run defense with 52 tackles. Osaisai was also named Pac-10
Special Teams Player of the Year, specializing as an outside
cover man on punt returns. Joining him will be senior Nick
Sanchez, a veteran who was slowed throughout 2006 with
injuries. When his hamstring isn’t barking, he showed his
potential as a sophomore, making 71 stops and picking off a pair
of passes. A healthy Sanchez would give a nice boost to this
young group of defensive backs.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior cornerback Tim
Sims brings 20 games of experience to the second string.
When Sanchez went down in 2006, Sims stepped in and led the
corners with 54 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. While he’s
the smallest of the defensive backs at 5-11 and 190 pounds, he
plays a whole lot bigger, especially in run defense.
The depth at corner has allowed Carlos McFall to switch
to free safety, a more natural position for the junior. More of
an enforcer than a finesse player, he’s bulked up to 210 pounds
in the hopes of making a run at the top job.
Watch Out For… Osaisai to blossom into a top
corner in 2007. After scratching the surface of his potential
as a part-time starter, he has the speed and natural instincts
at cornerback to contend for all-league on defense and special
Strength: The corners. With Osaisai, Sanchez and
Sims, the Cardinal basically has three starters for two jobs, a
real luxury for a defense that’s attempting to regroup for 2007.
Weakness: The safeties. As if losing three key
seniors at a position wasn’t bad enough, Stanford has been
forced to three players from other positions to fill the void.
They’ll survive against the run, but when forced to cover,
opposing quarterbacks will have a field day.
Outlook: There’s hope at cornerback, but the
safeties are a work-in-progress, and unless the front seven
generates more of a pass rush, the Cardinal will succumb to the
league’s better passing teams.
Projected Starters: The big special teams news
this off-season was that, for now, senior Derek Belch has
beaten out last year’s leading scorer, junior Aaron Zagory,
for the placekicking job. Belch squandered his chance to win
the job last season, but regained his consistency to go with an
already strong leg. Despite being in his final season, he has
only attempted one field goal in his Cardinal career.
Unlike the kickers, senior Jay Ottovegio is about to
begin his fourth year as the program’s punter. While booming
punts have never been his forte, he’s quite skilled at getting
hang time, forcing fair catches and pinning opponents inside
their own 20.
After finishing ninth last year in the Pac-10 in both kickoff
and punt returns, the Cardinal will be looking for any spark in
the return game. That could come from exciting redshirt
freshman Tyrone McGraw, who’ll be joining Jason Evans
on kickoffs in 2007. Evans averaged a mediocre 21.8 yards a
return a year ago. Things were even more futile on the punt
team, where sophomore Chris Hobbs averaged a measly 5.6
yards a touch in his first year.
Projected Top Reserves: Zagory is a little more
accurate than Belch, but has much less leg strength, a big
concern regarding his future with the program. As the starter
last season, he connected on only 8-of-13 field goals, never
delivered beyond 37 yards and missed a couple of extra points.
Although he made huge strides between 2005 and 2006, similar
growth may be needed in order to win that job back.
Watch Out For… freshman kicker David Green.
The wild card at kicker is clearly the future at the position.
Around the program, there’s hope he’ll also be the kicker of
now. Regarded by many as the nation’s premier kicking prospect,
he has a great left leg, terrific mechanics and the poise to run
away with this job in August.
Strength: Ottovegio. Yeah, the pickings are real
slim here, but Ottovegio is the kind of directional punter that
can be the best friend to a feeble defense that needs every
field position advantage it can get.
Weakness: The return game. Maybe they’ve spent
too much time watching the Cardinal offense, but the team’s
returners almost never found a seam and broke off a
momentum-building return in 2006. Stanford also allowed two
blocked punts and two blocked field goals a year ago.
Outlook: The presence of Ottovegio is the only
thing that gets the Stanford special teams unit close to
average. It could get a big lift, however, if Green asserts
himself in the summer and ends the debate over who’ll be kicking
field goals this fall.