The Stanford Cardinal had one of the most successful seasons in school history in 2012, finishing among the nation’s Top 10 with a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
While many factors contributed to this success, particularly the emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback halfway through the season, the true strength of the squad was its elite defense. In fact, the Cardinal’s defensive numbers were right up there with the SEC powerhouses.
Stanford finished fifth in the nation in rushing defense, led the nation in sacks with 57, and held the ever-potent Oregon offense to 14 points. Not only did the team have a ton of defensive talent, but they also had the depth necessary to stay fresh.
This year should be no different. With nine players with starting experience returning, the Cardinal have plenty of talent, leadership, and depth across the board, especially on that exceptional front seven.
The Cardinal run a base 3-4 defense, meaning there are three defensive linemen on the field at one time. The starters at end will be Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson, two very skilled and underrated players, while junior David Parry will take over at nose tackle.
Behind these three, however, is even more talent. Despite the production of Anderson, he is still being pushed by senior Josh Mauro for his starting spot at end. And while Parry should be the new starter at nose, don’t be surprised to see redshirt freshman Ikenna Nwafor make a case for that job as well.
At linebacker, David Shaw received some great news when stud inside linebacker Shayne Skov announced that he’d return for his fifth year. Joining Skov as returning starters are A.J. Tarpley and Trent Murphy. These three could all earn all-conference honors in 2013.
Replacing Chase Thomas on the outside will be a battle James Vaughters or Blake Lueders, the loser of which will be an outstanding reserve off of the bench. Backing up Skov and Tarpley on the inside is yet another senior stud, Jarek Lancaster, who has plent of experience despite his backup role.
The secondary, though not quite as elite as the front seven, still has plenty of talent. At safety, the emergence of Ed
Reynolds next to Jordan Richards gave the Cardinal one of the best duos at the position in the conference. At cornerback, Stanford has two former blue chip recruits in Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons, who should both make a lot of noise in 2013.
Once again, the dropoff in talent on the depth chart behind these players is minimal, showing the depth of the Cardinal defense. Usua Amanam is an exceptional nickel back who has a knack for being near the ball. Seniors Barry Browning and Devon Carrington have also had their fair share of experience, and will provide a lot of talent off of the bench.
Look for Stanford to maintain its elite defensive status in 2013, as the team has more depth and talent on defense than almost any other team in the nation.