Five to watch: Stanford Defense

As the Blue Devils head out to California for a Week 2 matchup with Stanford, TDD takes a look at five players who could make a difference for the Cardinal.

Top 5 to watch Stanford Defense

1. NG Terrence Stephens (6-2, 305, Sr.): Stephens was one of the main pieces in Stanford's 3-4 system, filling the middle of the line, and managing to record five tackles for loss with a forced fumble a season ago. He started all 13 contests a season ago and certainly gave the Blue Devil offensive line all it could handle with four stops.

2011 v. Duke: Four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss.

2. DE Ben Gardner (6-4, 275, Jr.): A second team all-Pac 12 selection as well as the team's Deswarte-Eller Award winner honoring the team's most outstanding (redshirt) sophomore as a first year starter in 2011, Gardner started 12 of 13 games at defensive end and finished with 35 tackles, including 10.0 for loss (47) and 4.5 sacks. .

Defensive line coach Randy Hart spoke highly of Gardner in the preseason news conference, though he did mention one major limiting factor:

"The challenge for Ben is maintain that lunch pale-type mentality," said defensive line coach Randy Hart, who enters his 43rd year of collegiate coaching. "When he's a fighter, scrappy rascal, he's a very good lineman for us.

"He also has a great head on his shoulders. He used to be a linebacker and you can see he was used to running the show from that position. He has great knowledge of the game, the protection we see, the offense and understands what we need to do to get stops."

Should Gardner find a way to put consistent effort out, he'd be a favorite for all-Pac 12 honors.

2011 v. Duke: Gardner recorded 1.5 tackles for loss including a sack.

3. Chase Thomas (6-4, 248, R-Sr.): is considered one of the top linebackers in the nation after earning various All-American honors and first team all-Pac 12 honors a season ago when he finished fourth on the team with 52 tackles and led the Pac 12 with 1.35 tackles for loss per game (17.5 total).

Thomas was named as one of the team's captains in the preseason and has the ability to play on the inside or outside, and can even line up as a defensive end in a four man front.

2011 v Duke: Thomas was a handful off the edge against Duke in 2011, recording six tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Additionally Thomas added 2.5 sacks for 21 yards.

4. CB Usua Amanam (5-10, 176, Sr.): A converted running back, who saw time in all 13 contests a season ago, made his first collegiate start against San Jose State and was all over the field. He made six tackles including four tackles for loss. In addition Amanam recovered a fumble. Able to drop into coverage, and pressure the quarterback, Amanam recorded a pair of sacks for the Cardinal in Week 1.

Not only is Amanam showing the ability to fly around the defensive side of the field, he's proving very opportunistic when Stanford needs a play to be made, having recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter which set up Stanford's winning score.

2011 v. Duke: One tackle.

5. LB Shayne Skov (6-3, 242, Sr.): A big inside linebacker who missed most of last year after a knee injury in Week three, Skov has returned to full speed in 2012. Not only is Skov productive one a game by game basis, he's also proved the ability to come up big in the most important games, recording an average of 13.5 tackles per game in his two post season appearances (2009 Sun Bowl against Oklahoma & 2011 Orange Bowl v. Virginia Tech). As a sophomore he was named Stanford's most outstanding sophomore...finished the regular season as the team's top tackler from his inside linebacker's position, despite missing the first two games of the season with injury.

Skov didn't play in the season opener thanks to an off the field suspension, but will make his debut this Saturday against Duke. He may not start, but with his experience and history of production, it's likely that Skov will factor into the game. Sure there will be some rust from sitting out, hever Skov is a guy who can cause all manner of problems and who should factor into a run game that allowed less than 85 yards per game a season ago.

"It's just getting back to the Shayne Skov we saw make (12) tackles in the Orange Bowl," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "Hopefully, by midseason he'll be back to his true form."

That form was very evident for Blue Devil fans a season ago...

2011 v. Duke: In his last fully healthy game of the season, Skov was a monster on the defensive line. He recorded 11 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one pass breakup.

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