Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Stanford Preview |
2009 Stanford Depth
2008 Stanford Preview |
2007 Stanford Preview |
What you need to know:
The Stanford D only knows one mode—attack. With a bunch of
starters back at every level, the Cardinal hopes to bring
pressure whenever possible. While that mindset led to a slew of
sacks a year ago, turnovers were far less frequent, something
co-defensive coordinator Ron Lynn hopes to change. While the
program is solid on the front seven, boasting depth and
potential all-stars, progress will only come if the pass defense
can turn the corner with the help of a bunch of imports from
different positions. The coaching staff has liberally plucked
athletes from various spots on the roster in an attempt to
improve the athleticism and competitiveness of the secondary.
Stanford will be fine against the likes of Washington and
Washington State. The true measuring stick of progress, however,
will come against Oregon, USC, and Cal.
Tackles: Bo McNally, 76
Sacks: Tom Keiser, 6
Interceptions: Bo McNally 4
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Clinton Snyder
Player who has to step up
and become a star: Sophomore CB Michael Thomas
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore S Delano Howell
Best pro prospect:
all-star candidates: 1) Snyder 2) Senior S Bo McNally 3)
Sophomore DE Tom Keiser
Strength of the defense:
Getting pressure, the front seven
Weakness of the defense:
Breakdowns in pass coverage, run defense
DE Pannel Egboh is gone. Everyone else is back on an underrated
defensive line. The cornerstones will be the ends, 6-4,
265-pound senior Erik Lorig and 6-5, 253-pound sophomore
Tom Keiser. Both earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition for
their efforts in 2008. A former can’t-miss tight end prospect,
Lorig has made a seamless transition to the defensive side of
the ball. Athletically-gifted, especially for his size, he had
39 tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks a year ago.
Keiser caught a lot of people by surprise as a redshirt
freshman, making 24 tackles, seven tackles for loss, a team-best
six sacks, and three forced fumbles, despite starting just two
games. A relative unknown coming out of high school, he added
weight in the offseason, work hard to learn the system, and
basically hustled his way to the Freshman All-America squad.
With that first season behind him, he figures to be even more
effective as a sophomore.
Ekom Udofia is back
on the line for his fourth season as a starter. More than just
one of the most experienced Cardinal players, he’s also one of
the biggest, using his 6-2, 322-pound frame to clog running
lanes and occupy multiple blockers. Powerful and quicker than
expected, he’s overcome a series of injuries to carve out a
productive career with the program.
At defensive tackle
will be 6-3, 264-pound sophomore
Matt Masifilo, a former blue-chip recruit, who had 22 tackles and
four starts in his first season of action. From the moment he
arrived from Hawaii, the coaching staff has raved about his
motor, intensity, and quickness off the ball. While a little
undersized for the position, he’ll make a lot of plays for the
defense this fall.
Projected Top Reserves: Depth won’t be an issue for
the Stanford defensive line in 2009. The top reserve at
defensive end figures to be senior
Tom McAndrew, a
veteran of 35 games and three letters with the Cardinal. A
versatile 6-5, 262-pounder, he was productive off the bench as a
junior, making 20 tackles, five tackles for loss, and three
Behind Masifilo is another senior backup, 6-4,
273-pound Brian Bulcke. A real grinder with 31 games and nine career starts on
the resume, he has the quickness to get penetration, notching 18
tackles and four sacks as a part-time starter a year ago.
Once Udofia exhausts his eligibility, 6-2, 307-pound junior
Sione Fua will take
over at nose tackle. An explosive interior lineman, he has the
exceptional quickness and upper body strength to dominate
unprepared opponents. He cut short his Mormon mission last year,
making 17 tackles, six tackles loss, and three sacks in seven
Watch Out For…
Fua. Rust? What rust? Even after sitting out an entire year, he
returned to the Cardinal and immediately started making plays
and commanding multiple blockers. Udofia is the man at the nose,
but if he doesn’t stay on his toes, Fua is capable of zooming
past and becoming a star.
Strength: Creating pressure. Everyone on this line, from
the ends to the nose tackles, is adept at beating blockers with
their quickness and collapsing a pocket. The Cardinal was 11th
nationally in sacks a year ago, getting at least three from
seven different players.
defense. The last three games of 2008 created a sour note
heading into the offseason. 307 yards allowed to Oregon. 282
yards to USC. And 287 yards to Cal. Stanford has considerable
potential as run-stoppers, but has to plug the holes and avoid
these types of egregious lapses.
some quality recruiting and outstanding player development, the
Cardinal boasts its deepest—and most talented—defensive line in
years. It goes two-deep with high-motor athletes, who will get
penetration and make stops behind the line of scrimmage. The
competition being created by this abundance of talent figures to
benefit everyone involved.
Even after an off-year by his standards, 6-4, 231-pound
Clinton Snyder will enter his senior season as one of the Pac-10’s
top linebackers. In fact, after seeing his production plummet to
58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and three forced
fumbles, he’ll be more motivated than ever to impress NFL
scouts. A high-octane, instinctive player from middle
linebacker, he explodes on impact and is the team’s best pass
rusher from this spot on the field. He finishes well and is the
playmaker of the defense.
Flanking Snyder will be 6-0,
233-pound Chike Amajoyi
and 6-4, 244-pound
Will Powers at weakside and strongside, respectively. After
playing well as a spot starter in his first two years, Amajoyi
gets his first chance to be an every-down player. He had 51
tackles and a pair of tackles for loss in 2008, but made far
fewer trips into opposing backfields than in his debut season.
The most athletic of the linebackers, he flashes great lateral
quickness and change of direction.
Powers has the
difficult task of succeeding Pat Maynor, one of the program’s
best defensive players a year ago. A versatile veteran of 35
games and six starts, he won’t be intimidated by an increase in
his playing time. A big, physical player, he’ll be an asset on
running downs, but won’t be much of a threat at rushing the
Reserves: Behind Snyder in the middle is 6-3, 242-pound
junior Nick Macaluso, who has started 12 of the 15 games he’s played in
over the last two seasons. In fact, he was in the lineup for
five games last year before breaking his hand and finishing with
just 20 tackles and four tackles for loss. He understands the
game well and has terrific instincts, especially when sniffing
out running plays. He’s one of the three best linebackers on the
team, but unless he or Snyder moves, he’ll be blocked from a
Lurking just behind Powers at strongside
is sophomore Alex Debniak, one of just eight true freshman to get on the field
last fall, making four stops. Unlike Powers, he has exceptional
speed to go along with a frenetic playing style that’ll fit well
with this system. Stanford wants to bring pressure from the
second level, and Debniak has the right skill set to deliver on
Watch Out For… true freshman
Shayne Skov. Yeah,
there’s a bit of a logjam at the position, but Skov just might
be talented enough to pass on a redshirt and play right away.
The rare 6-3, 220-pounder who can move like a safety, he’s a
future cornerstone of the Cardinal D.
and athletic ability. With a couple of exceptions, the
linebackers are high-intensity guys, who get to the ball quickly
and give away absolutely nothing in size or strength. In terms
of overall athleticism, this unit stacks up well with any on the
Proven depth on the outside. While the Cardinal is well-stocked
in the middle, it’s a little light in proven backups on the
outside. While Debniak and
Max Bergen have nice futures, neither has had to make a big play in
a big game this early in his career.
Although Maynor will be missed, this remains an athletic corps
of linebackers that will support in run defense and provide a
nice kick to the pass rush. Collectively, they move well and
have the size to stand up to linemen who wander outside the box.
The more Macaluso gets on the field, the better it is for the
The defensive backfield will feature a ton of veterans and
familiar faces. The job of the coaching staff is to massage this
jigsaw puzzle into an optimal two-deep. One of the few
certainties in the secondary is that 6-0, 210-pound senior
Bo McNally will be
back for his third season as the starting free safety. One of
the team captains and the leading tackler the last two seasons,
he’s an aggressive defender with a knack for making the big
play. Last season, for instance, he had 76 tackles, six tackles
for loss, two sacks, four interceptions, and a couple of fumble
The front-runner at strong safety wasn’t even
playing defense at this time last year. Sophomore
Delano Howell, a
converted running back, appears to be making a smooth transition
to the other side of the ball. Before spraining his knee in
April, the 5-11, 195-pounder was downright dominant, displaying
the speed and toughness that prompted the relocation in the
Michael Thomas just
keeps getting better and better as he pushes toward nabbing one
of the openings at cornerback. The nickel back in his rookie
year, he performed well, making 39 tackles and appearing in
every game. A former option quarterback in high school, he has
good size at 6-0 and 188 pounds, bringing much-needed speed and
explosiveness to the secondary.
While not set in stone,
5-11, 191-pound Corey
Gatewood has the upper hand at the other cornerback spot.
Another gifted all-around athlete with ties to the offense, he’s
capable of becoming a mainstay once he improves his technique
and overall cover skills. He only played in two games in 2008,
so the offseason will be particularly critical for the junior.
Projected Top Reserves: While 6-0, 191-pound senior
Kris Evans will have
to work to regain his old starting job, he has way too much
experience not to have some role in the secondary. Lightning
fast and a veteran with three letters, he had 67 tackles, five
tackles for loss, and two picks. Although catch-up speed isn’t a
problem, he’d like to be doing a lot less catching up to
receivers this fall.
In an effort to improve the unit’s
overall athleticism, former star receiver
Richard Sherman has
been moved to cornerback. A 6-2, 199-pound leaper with great
ball skills, he’ll climb up the depth chart quickly if he can
pick up the defense and make the adjustment without any
Behind McNally at free safety is 6-2, 198-pound
sophomore Sean Wiser, who started eight games and made 60 tackles in his first
season of action. A converted wide receiver, he brings good pop
to the defensive backfield, and expects to be even more
comfortable in his second year at the position.
Cardinal is thrilled to be getting back junior
Austin Yancy, who missed the entire 2008 season with a hamstring
injury. At 6-4 and 217 pounds, he possesses a tremendous
combination of size, speed, and toughness. A 12-game starter at
strong safety in 2007, he had 49 tackles and was just beginning
to get comfortable with his role on the defense.
Watch Out For…
changes in the depth chart. The competition is so tight at every
position that the two-deep is going to be fluid right up until
the opener. With so many experienced and interchangeable parts
at safety and cornerback, the staff will have a hard time
keeping everyone in the mix this fall.
safeties. Now that Howell is making a successful move from
running back and Yancy is healthy again, Stanford now has an
abundance of quality safeties, who will pack a punch. Heck,
Tyler Skaufel and
lettered a year ago, but may have a hard time getting reps.
Coverage skills. This has been a problem for years in Palo Alto.
The Cardinal gives up too much ground in pass defense, often
lacking the skill to match up with the league’s better
receivers. Can converts, like Thomas, Gatewood, Sherman, address
those issues? They’ll have to, or else Stanford will again have
one of the nation’s poorer pass efficiency defenses.
the majority of your defensive backs played different positions
two years ago, it’s cause for concern. The Cardinal secondary is
a work-in-progress, attempting to turn some really good athletes
into really good pass defenders. Unless the underclassmen can
collectively exceed expectations, Stanford will again struggle
against the better passing teams.
The graduation of steady Aaron Zagory has opened up a
free-for-all at placekicker, involving sophomores
David Green, and
Nate Whitaker. Golia was a part-time kickoff specialist a year ago,
showing good decent leg drive. While Green was one of the top
kicking prospects of 2007, back surgery has slowed his
development. If he can recapture his form, he has the right
mechanics and demeanor to be a successful kicker in the Pac-10.
Whitaker has the least experience and appears to be the longshot
of the trio.
While Green didn’t get a chance to attempt
field goals or extra points a year, he did stay limber as the
team’s punter. However, finishing No.7 in the Pac-10 with a
39.9-yard average is no way to build distance on 6-3, 222-pound
redshirt freshman Daniel
Zychlinski. One of the top prep punters of 2008, Stanford
went all the way to Tampa, Fla. To get his signature.
The favorites to handle punt returns and kickoff returns are
junior Doug Baldwin
and sophomore Delano
Watch Out For…
the competition at placekicker. Half of Stanford’s 2008 games
were decided by eight points or fewer. If the right kicker
emerges out of the logjam, it could be the difference between
another five-win season or a spot in the postseason.
Howell. He showed impressive explosiveness as a true freshman,
finishing second in the Pac-10 with an average of just under 26
yards on nine kickoff returns. Yeah, it was a limited sampling,
but he has the athleticism to provide a consistent boost in
Weakness: Uncertainty at kicker. While a decent option
should emerge out of Golia, Green, and Whitaker, what if one
doesn’t? Zagory connected on 14-of-17 field goal attempts in
2008, a degree of accuracy that this unpredictable offense
Outlook: If a
capable placekicker emerges, the Cardinal should be fine on
special teams. The return game is in good hands, the coverage
units took a step forward last fall, and no one in the Pac-10
was better at net punting.