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2008 Stanford Preview - Defense
Stanford DE Pannel Egboh
Stanford DE Pannel Egboh
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Stanford Cardinal Defense

Stanford Cardinal

Preview 2008 - Defense


- 2008 CFN Stanford Preview | 2008 Stanford Offense
- 2008 Stanford Defense | 2008 Stanford Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Stanford Preview | 2006 CFN Stanford Preview 

What you need to know: Scott Shafer is now coaching at Michigan, but don’t expect new co-defensive coordinator Ron Lynn to change a lot from the attacking defense that was so successful at getting into the backfield and creating turnovers in 2007. The Cardinal retains much of the personnel responsible for a No. 5 national ranking in tackles for loss and second place Pac-10 finish in sacks. Although the front seven is loaded with players capable of harassing the quarterback, Stanford’s ability to turn the linebackers and safeties loose will depend on the play of a shaky pass defense coming off a rough season. Besides shoring up the secondary, Lynn needs to develop more depth at defensive tackle if the run defense is going to take a positive step.               

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Bo McNally, 114
Sacks: Clinton Snyder, 8
Interceptions: Bo McNally, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Clinton Snyder
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Ekom Udofia
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Chike Amajoyi
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Pannel Egboh
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Snyder 2) Egboh 3) Junior S Bo McNally
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Cardinal returns five letterman to the defensive line, led by a couple of All-Pac-10 candidates, senior DE Pannel Egboh and junior DT Ekom Udofia. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, Egboh already has an NFL frame to go along with next level pass rushing skills. No slouch in run defense, he had 49 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks, saving his best effort for Stanford’s shocking upset over USC. 

Udofia is the defense’s best interior lineman, a powerful force with a sudden burst off the snap.  He has, however, struggled to tap all of his potential, requiring shoulder surgery two years ago and fracturing his fibula midway through last season. Still, he’s on the cusp of having a breakthrough season worthy of his skill set. 

Juniors Erik Lorig and Levirt Griffin will battle it out for the right to start at defensive end, with the loser still playing an enormous role as a reserve. Lorig’s a former blue-chip tight end recruit who’s coming into his own on the defensive line. A terrific athlete at 6-4 and 257 pounds, he was second among Cardinal linemen with 37 tackles, adding 7.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. 

Griffin’s about 15 pounds heavier than Lorig, and thick enough to move inside, something he did often in 2007. He started six games after Udofia was hurt, collecting 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. While Lorig is the better pass rusher, Griffin is harder to move off the ball on running downs. 

Junior Brian Bulcke has the most experience of the remaining tackles, but is only 269 pounds and missed spring to recover from shoulder surgery. 

Although he’s an important part of the line, he’s also vulnerable to getting passed by redshirt freshman Matt Masifilo, the gem of Stanford’s 2007 class. The staff loves his drive, intensity, and quickness off the snap. Bulcke vs. Masifilo is setting up as one of the hottest competitions of the summer.      

Projected Top Reserves: Whether it’s Lorig or Griffin in the starting lineup, both will play extensively at a position that has few other reliable options. Ditto Bulcke and Masifilo, who could be interchangeable parts of the rotation on the inside. To bolster the depth at tackle, Stanford is moving redshirt freshman Matt Bentler, a former guard, to defense. At 6-5 and 292 pounds, he’s already one of the biggest players at the position, and has the frame to add more weight. 

Sophomore Derek Hall has the quick feet and long arms to be a success at tackle, but, like Bentler, still has a lot to learn before becoming an integral part of the defensive front.               

Watch Out For… Sophomore NT Sione Fua. Stanford has a glaring problem at tackle that Fua might be able to address. A former four-star recruit who had 16 tackles as a freshman in 2006, he’s cutting short his Mormon mission and returning to the team this fall.
Strength: The ends. There isn’t a whole lot of depth, but Egboh has the upside of an All-American and Lorig will keep getting better as a pass rusher now that he’s settling in at his new position.
Weakness: The tackles. Assuming he’s 100%, Udofia is a nice place to start, but after him, the Cardinal is chock full of inexperience and concerns about depth.
Outlook: Although there are enough good athletes to get penetration, there will be problems stopping physical teams that commit to a no-nonsense running attack. If the Cardinal is going to avoid getting pushed around in the trenches, it’ll need Fua to shake off the rust and either Bentler or Hall to mature in a hurry.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters: While uncertainty plagues most areas of the two-deep, the Cardinal is well-stocked at linebacker. The headliner is 6-4, 230-pound Clinton Snyder, a high energy junior who’s well on his way to being one of the best at his position in the Pac-10. Versatile and instinctive, he flourished in last year’s attacking defense, racking up 96 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, a team-high eight sacks, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. His anonymity outside the league has a short shelf life. 

From the outside, senior Pat Maynor has distinguished himself as a leader and one of the defensive playmakers. In his second full season as a regular, he overcame safety size with a hot motor, great closing speed, and a nose for the ball, collecting 88 tackles, a team-best 16.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks. 

If Snyder shifts back to strongside, sophomore Nick Macaluso will take over in the middle, where he started six games and picked up 23 tackles. He has the size and run-stopping skills coveted in inside linebackers, two reasons why the coaches believe he has a great future at Stanford.       

Projected Top Reserves: Depending on who plays in the middle, there might be an opening in the starting lineup for sophomore Chike Amajoyi, who showed late last year that he needs to be on the field. Pressed into action as a true freshman, he delivered 47 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks, and three fumble recoveries. A running back until just before the start of the season, Amajoyi picked up his new position in a snap, using his jets and lateral quickness to make plays everywhere. 

Although junior Will Powers isn’t much of a threat to the starters, he gives the unit a veteran presence and a sizable, 242-pound linebacker to clog lanes in run defense. Capable of playing outside or inside, he had some problems adjusting to middle linebacker after the Cardinal made the switch to the 4-3. 

Once guys like Snyder, Maynor, and Powers are gone, redshirt freshman Johnathan Frink will join Amajoyi as a mainstay of this group. At 6-2 and 224 pounds, he’s an explosive middle linebacker and an all-around dynamic athlete.     

Watch Out For… more blitzing from this group. There’s a new defensive coordinator in town, but that won’t stop Lynn from turning loose Snyder, Maynor, and Amajoyi, which worked wonders for the Stanford pass rush a year ago.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. All of the Cardinal linebackers are high-effort guys who get to the ball in a hurry and give away nothing in size or strength. In terms of overall athleticism, this group measures up with any on the roster.
Weakness: Experience in the middle. Fred Campbell was to be the successor to Michael Okwo, but a fractured vertebrae ended his playing career before it started. The onus is on a pair of underclassmen, Macaluso and Frink, to handle the job, or else Snyder might have to slide over from strongside.
Outlook: Led by Snyder, this is a terrific collection of talent that returns its five best players from last season. If Macaluso shows he’s ready in the middle, Snyder and Maynor will roam the field freely, wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.
Rating: 7.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: The secondary returns seven letterwinners from a year ago, including four defensive backs with starting experience. Junior Kris Evans and senior Wopamo Osaisai split time at one cornerback spot, but with Tim Sims and Nick Sanchez graduating, both are being counted on to be in the every day lineup. The fleet-footed Evans took playing time away from Osaisai in November, starting the final four games and performing well on a unit that allowed just two touchdown passes over that span. 

Osaisai, on the other hand, was a disappointment, yielding enough big plays to lose his starting job late in the year. One of the Pac-10’s best special teams players as an outside cover man on punt returns, he has the instincts and playmaking skills to have a rebound in his final season.

Juniors Bo McNally and Austin Yancy are back at safety after starting all 12 games a year ago. McNally led the team with 114 tackles and had a couple of interceptions, earning honorable mention recognition on the All-Pac-10 team. A converted linebacker at 6-0 and 208 pounds, he’s a thumper at free safety and one of the emotional leaders of the defense. 

In 2006, Yancy caught 16 passes as one of the Cardinal’s up-an-coming receivers. Last year, he was making a gradual transition to strong safety, collecting 49 tackles and breaking up five passes in his first year on defense. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he has the size and speed to excel in the secondary, but still has a lot of learning to do, especially in the area of pass coverage.        

Projected Top Reserves: The defensive staff is thrilled to have sophomore CB Corey Gatewood back on its side of the ball. An emergency fill-in at running back as a freshman, he has the speed, hops, and ball skills as a former high school receiver to eventually be a very effective corner. 

Taylor Skaufel lettered as a freshman, making 35 tackles and contributing on special teams, making him the most experienced of the backup safeties. Lacking ideal size for the position, he’s a scrapper who wraps up well and plays fundamentally sound in run defense.        

Watch Out For… Osaisai to bounce back from a sub par junior season. Although he takes a few too many chances and can get burned from time-to-time, he also has the ball skills and athletic ability to pick off a half dozen passes and take a couple back for scores.
Strength: The safeties. A weak link a year ago, Stanford brings back both starters and a key reserve who played extensively in his rookie season. McNally and Yancy were new to the position in 2007, but will be second-year starters.
Weakness: Depth at cornerback. Losing Sanchez and Sims leaves the Cardinal dangerously thin at one of the most important spots on the defense. Although Gatewood is going to be a player, it’d be premature to expect that to happen so soon.                  
Outlook: The secondary will only be as good as the amount of pressure the front seven can create. While it’ll be just fine in run defense, if opposing quarterbacks get enough time to throw, they’ll tear through a group that’s vulnerable on the deep routes and questionable at cornerback.                 
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The Cardinal is facing the challenge of replacing all-time leading punter Jay Ottovegio and last year’s kicker, Derek Belch. Ouch. Redshirt freshman David Green might be the answer at both positions, but first he has to make a full recovery from back surgery.  Considered one of the premier kicking prospects of 2007, he has the leg strength, mechanics, and demeanor to be the team’s leading scorer for the next four seasons. 

Green’s competition at kicker will come from senior Aaron Zagory, a starter in 2006 who struggled badly with his consistency and distance. 

At punter, Alex Loukas, who’s better known for his work under center, is taking his cuts in practice to add depth to a weak position.

Sophomore Doug Baldwin and junior Chris Hobbs are back after leading the team in kick returns and punt returns, respectively, in 2007. 

Watch Out For… incoming freshman punter Daniel Zychlinski. Harbaugh knew he needed to upgrade the situation at this position, going all the way to Tampa to land Zychlinski. One of the nation’s top 10 punters in high school, the 6-3, 215-pounder averaged more than 40 yards last year and also has experience kicking field goals.
Strength: Green. No, he hasn’t played a game yet, and his back is a concern, but Green has the leg and the poise in clutch situations to evolve into one of the league’s better placekickers.
Weakness: Punting. Ottovegio’s departure leaves the Cardinal with a gaping hole at the position that might be filled by a true freshman or the backup quarterback.
Outlook: There’s uncertainty everywhere, and the return game isn’t anything special. If this is going to be anything more than a liability, it’ll be up to a pair of freshman, Green and Zychlinski, to carry it to stability.
Rating: 5