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2007 Stanford Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 31, 2007


Preview 2007 Stanford Cardinal Defense Preview

 

Stanford Cardinal

Preview 2007 - Cardinal Defense


- 2007 Stanford Preview | 2007 Stanford Offense Preview
-
2007 Stanford Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Stanford Preview 

What you 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.             

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Clinton Snyder, 83
Sacks: Clinton Snyder, 2
Interceptions: Bo McNally, 2

Star of the defense: 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
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Pannel Egboh
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Osaisai 2) Snyder 3) DE Pannel Egboh
S
trength of the defense: Depth at cornerback
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, safety

Defensive Line

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 line.

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.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

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 football players.
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 ago.
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 Cardinal careers.
Rating: 6.5

Secondary

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 teams.
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.
Rating
: 6

Special 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.                     
Rating: 5

  

Related Stories
2007 Stanford Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 30, 2007
2007 Stanford Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 30, 2007
2007 Stanford Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 30, 2007








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