Aug. 26, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - While outside attention has focused on the reloading of the Stanford offense, the story of the 2012 Cardinal may be written by the defensive front seven, which boasts as much talent and depth as the program has known.
"We've always had great leaders," says Associate Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason. "Now, this defense and especially this front seven is probably as strong as it's ever been."
Stanford returns six starters from last year's front seven which ranked third nationally in rushing defense, 11th in sacks and sixth in third down conversion defense. The group is led by 2011 Sporting News All-American outside linebacker and fifth-year senior Chase Thomas, who last week was voted by his teammates as a captain for the 2012 season. The entire starting linebacker corps returns for the Cardinal, plus the addition of senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov after an injury-shortened 2011.
"I love having him back," says Thomas of Skov's return. "He has that crazy mentality out there on the field and that relentless attitude. It takes a little pressure off me and puts a little more focus on him because he's a presence out there."
Stanford's deep linebacker group has more playmakers than available starting spots this year. Opposite of Thomas is senior Trent Murphy, a long and athletic pass rusher poised for a breakout season, along with sophomore Kevin Anderson. In addition to returning both inside linebacker starters A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster, sophomore James Vaughters has made his presence felt in the Cardinal's training camp after a big off-season and a productive move from outside linebacker.
The depth on the defensive line is also prepared to play two-deep at every position, including returning starters and seniors Terrence Stephens at nose tackle and Ben Gardner at defensive end. Despite the optimism and comfort that could come from this depth, the defensive front seven dialed up the urgency and attention to detail this training camp.
"We have to play like it's our last game every game," says Stephens. "That's what we're preparing for in this camp. It's a grind. It's probably the hardest camp since I've been here. But we're shaping it to be the most rewarding."