For those who think losing Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro from the defensive line isn't punishing enough, consider the hit that Stanford's linebacker corps is taking: Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, and Jarek Lancaster have all exhausted their eligibility.
And with that, the Farm Boys lose their leading individual tacklers from all four years of the current BCS streak (Lancaster led the team in 2011; while Skov topped the list in the other three seasons) and the nation's leading sack master (Murphy topped all active college football players in that category).
The silver lining: inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who flew under the radar in a 2013 season that featured nearly 100 individual tackles, will be back for his fifth year. Kevin Anderson's play on the outside blossomed down the stretch of this past season. The Cardinal may now be dependent on No. 48's continued development if they intend to avoid a drastic drop-off at Murphy's position.
Stanford still does have talent at linebacker, and they'll likely do their best to effectively mix and match it to attain the greatest success on the outside this season. James Vaughters should be a fixture at the position in his senior year (time really does fly), while Anderson will be counted on to continue developing into his six-foot-four inch frame on the opposite end. The Cardinal has permanently moved Joe Hemschoot from the inside to the outside. On top of a standard linebacker role, the quick, explosive hitter may again see action in the "big nickel" role, which is Stanford's solution to maintaining a sturdy anti-run defense even on passing downs.
Moving to the inside, Tarpley is obviously the stalwart, but the Cardinal clearly made it a point to work Blake Martinez into the mix this past season. At the very least, the junior won't be thrust into Skov's old spot cold turkey, but there's no denying that he has gargantuan shoes to fill as the heir apparent to one of the true greats of program history.
Time for the Next Step
Though their continued development is instrumental to the Farm Boys' future defensive outlook, Anderson and Martinez are relatively known commodities. The star-studded list of departures means there is also younger talent that will have the opportunity to make waves in 2014, and this should provide for intriguing observations this spring.
Can formerly touted recruit Noor Davis take the next step to compete for serious playing time at inside linebacker? The clock is ticking for the soon-to-be junior, as Kevin Palma will also certainly look to make a move in the competition as he closes his first year on campus. Walk-ons Craig Jones and Sam Yules round out the corps of inside 'backers.
On the outside, freshmen Peter Kalambayi and Mike Tyler have drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff. They're talented pass rushers, and both have had enough time on The Farm for significant physical changes to take root. David Shaw will certainly be thrilled if these youngsters can thrust their way into the serious playing time mix at a position that also features former walk-ons Torsten Rotto and Sam Shober.
A Strong Group of Signees
Stanford's current freshman linebackers would be best suited to make solid moves up the depth chart now simply because of the quality of the incoming class right behind them. Explosive talents Joey Alfieri, Bobby Okereke, and Jordan Perez, who signed with Stanford two weeks ago, all sizzle on tape. Their versatility should keep the competitive pressure on this linebacker unit come fall.
There's certainly an eye-opening inflow of talent here. For 2014 to be a true defensive success, though, Stanford must find a way to bridge the gap between the past greats and the future studs. That will be the grand challenge of this coming season, one that will determine whether or not a defense that's been excellent for consecutive years can keep this program performing at an elite level. The key variable will be player development, so new inside linebackers coach Peter Hansen will immediately be thrust into a key role next to defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, who works with the outside 'backers.
Stanford Moving Forward: Quarterback (Pt. 1)
Stanford Moving Forward: Running Back (Pt. 2)
Stanford Moving Forward: Wide Receiver/Tight End (Pt. 3)
Stanford Moving Forward: Offensive Line (Pt. 4)
Stanford Moving Forward: Defensive Line (Pt. 5)
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)!