Just a Little Longer
Stanford's defense established itself as a juggernaut during the team's remarkable 2012 Rose Bowl run. With so much talent returning on that side of the ball, Saturday's open intrasquad scrimmage wasn't expected to shed much new light on the complexion of the 2013 unit.
"We played about one-tenth of our defense," David Shaw said afterward.
Fans will have to wait until September 7 to see any new wrinkles that Trent Murphy and Co. may have implemented over the offseason. This past weekend, though, it was possible to enjoy a quick glance into the more distant future, one that the likes of Blake Martinez, Noor Davis, and Kevin Palma look to populate at the second level. All of these developing players saw promising action playing with reserve units Saturday.
Besides the fact that Wayne Lyons played all the first team snaps at the cornerback spot opposite Alex Carter, there was nothing new to note from the front line Saturday. David Parry, Henry Anderson, Ben Gardner, and Josh Mauro (who obliterated Kelsey Young with the day's most jarring hit) are established as the defensive line's Big Four, while Murphy, Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley, Blake Lueders, James Vaugters, and Jarek Lancaster comprise the primary nucleus of an absurdly deep linebacker corps.
Despite the fact that Carter and Lyons held a monopoly of first unit action at the corners, expect a full bevy of reinforcements to also actively contribute in the defensive backfield: The staff says a fully healthy Barry Browning is on virtually equal footing with Lyons (he returned an interception to the house Saturday). It's also apparent that coaches are very high on the play of versatile junior Devon Carrington, who filled in for Ed Reynolds (held out for precautionary reasons along with Usua Amanam) on Saturday as the first team free safety and started as the second squad's cornerback.
Carrington, who is 6-foot-1, brings intriguing size to the cornerback position, while 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore Ra'Chard Pippens serves up yet more tantalizing physical potential. Derek Mason has repeatedly told The Bootleg that he's building a defensive backfield deep enough to counter high-snap-frequency spread offense attacks, and he may have ample personnel to make that rugged, layered vision a reality in 2013.
Pippens, who broke up two passes in April's spring game, impressed for the second consecutive public outing. He knocked an end zone jump ball away from Ty Montgomery before taking on bruiser Ryan Hewitt with a successful pass break-up over the middle of the field. If Pippens can begin finding similar success consistently this season, he stands a good chance of entering the four-man cornerback rotation.
"He's coming around," Shaw said. "You never know when that light's going to come on. He's big, he's fast, he's physical, he's strong, and he knows what to do. But we win games on maturity. We win games on guys who don't make mistakes."
As far as error-free avenues go, it appears that Stanford's options at cornerback are only increasing in number. Nickel backs Amanam and Ronnie Harris saw meaningful action at the corner position over the offseason, while freshmen Taijuan Thomas and Chandler Dorrell both opened eyes in third team action Saturday. The staff, though, appears most smitten with the prospect of physically imposing players cracking the rotation at the position, and that's where the upperclassmen Browning, Carrington, and Pippens fit in.
Meanwhile, at safety, Zach Hoffpauir continues to use hard-nosed physicality to make a name for himself behind a beefed-up Jordan Richards on the strong side. Following Drew Madhu's medical retirement, Kyle Olugbode has moved up in the free safety pecking order: He played with the second team alongside Hoffpauir. Chris Gaertner was the third string's free safety, while John Flacco and Calvin Chandler alternated on that unit's strong side.
Excellent pass coverage from Tarpley brought more attention to Stanford's established bodies at the second level, but the big news of the weekend came from Noor Davis, a touted 2012 recruit who was immediately buried on the depth chart at outside linebacker last year. The sophomore made two explosive, physical stops in second-team action from his new inside linebacker position. Both plays signified the improvement Davis has made since struggling to reach prime physical condition last year.
"It was exciting," Shaw said. "He's been on the verge. He's been close. When's the light going to come on so that he plays like that all the time? When he does, he is going to be a heck of a player."
The sophomore Martinez and the senior Joe Hemschoot also fortified the inside behind Skov, Tarpley, and Lancaster, while true freshman Kevin Palma, whose 259-pound frame looks built for the position, saw extensive third team snaps on the inside. Meanwhile, fellow classmate Peter Kalambayi has impressed this fall camp with his natural athleticism.
Palo Alto High School alumnus Kevin Anderson played at outside linebacker with the second team. He saw the field on gameday last year. Former walk-ons Torsten Rotto, Craig Jones, and Sam Shober all enjoyed linebacker action within the three-deep. Rotto cracked the second team.
It's no surprise that sophomore Aziz Shittu is establishing himself as a firm supplement to the Big Four in Mason's projected six-deep rotation along the defensive line. Shittu did, after all, turn down a suggestion to redshirt last season so that he could immediately contribute against high-snap-count offenses and he is, after all, built like a tank.
There still appears to be a dogfight for the sixth and final spot in the defensive line rotation, and that opening is behind the nose tackle Parry. Based on allocation of second-team repetitions, sophomore Ikenna Nwafor is in the lead here, while junior Anthony Hayes is expected to give him a strong push throughout the season after a productive spring. Fellow junior Lance Callihan occasionally rotated in on Saturday as well.
The younger guys, namely sophomores Jordan Watkins and Nate Lohn, appear one further step away from the on-field action, though the coaching staff has lauded both for their physical progress over the offseason. They played with the third team Saturday.
Click Here for The Bootleg's Extensive Offensive Report from Saturday
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!