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2009 Stanford Preview - Defense
Stanford S Bo McNally
Stanford S Bo McNally
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 30, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Stanford Cardinal Defense

Stanford Cardinal

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 CFN Stanford Preview | 2009 Stanford Offense
- 2009 Stanford Defense | 2009 Stanford Depth Chart
- 2008 Stanford Preview | 2007 Stanford Preview | 2006 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.            

Returning Leaders
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: Snyder
Top three 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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.

Senior NT 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 sacks.

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 starts.    

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.
Weakness: Run 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.
Outlook: With 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.
Rating: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: 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 passer.  

Projected Top 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 starting spot.

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 that goal..

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.                                  
Strength: Speed 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 Cardinal roster.                      
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: 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 defense.
Rating: 7

Secondary

Projected Starters: 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 recoveries.

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 first place.

Sophomore 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 setbacks.

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.

The 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.
Strength: The 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 Johnson Bademosi lettered a year ago, but may have a hard time getting reps. 
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: When 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.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The graduation of steady Aaron Zagory has opened up a free-for-all at placekicker, involving sophomores Travis Golia, 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 Howell, respectively.

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.    
Strength: 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 field position.
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 requires. 
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.
Rating: 7