Spring grades: the defense

There's still a lot of news on both sides of the ball to catch up on, so I'll be breaking down the offense and the defense, position by position, in two separate articles. This article will focus on the defense, which won the spring game 37-29 over the offense (albeit using a scoring system that no one understood).

Defensive line: The gap on the defensive line left by Matt Masifilo's departure is easily the least discussed open starting spot. Josh Mauro, a redshirt junior, got a lot of reps in alongside starting linemen Terrence Stephens and Ben Gardner, so it looks like he will be Masifilo's replacement in the fall. Another promising player who will see playing time on the line is Henry Anderson, who was impressive in the spring game as well. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Stanford has an embarrassment of riches at the linebacker position, easily its most talented and deepest unit on either side of the ball. That talent and depth showed in the spring game, with the linebackers consistently stopping the run game and exploiting gaps in the offensive line for a total of eight sacks. The starting four in the fall will likely be Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov (after he's served a punishment for his DUI arrest), Jarek Lancaster and Trent Murphy, based on what has come out of spring practice so far. The coaching staff will likely utilize a rotation to take advantage of players like A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters, Alex Debniak and Noor Davis, though it's unclear whether Davis could redshirt next season. If Blake Lueders can get healthy in time for the season, he could make a contribution as well, but it's impossible to assess his standing on the depth chart since he's been out all spring. Grade: A+

Defensive backs: The defensive backfield is suffering quite a bit of turnover heading into 2012, losing three of its four starters from last season to graduation. The lone returner is Barry Browning at cornerback, and it's still uncertain who will fill the voids left by Delano Howell, Michael Thomas and Johnson Bademosi. In the spring game, Terrence Brown lined up across from Browning at the other cornerback slot, while Jordan Richards and Kyle Olugbode started at the two safety positions. It was clear that the unit still needs to make some progress before facing conference opponents in the fall, but their performance met expectations for a unit with three new starters. The second team was comprised of Wayne Lyons, Devon Carrington, Harold Bernard and Ed Reynolds, with Lyons and Bernard playing cornerback and Carrington and Reynolds at the safety position. Both Lyons and Carrington had pretty strong afternoons, and both are considered to be contenders for starting roles. The same can't quite be said for Bernard and Reynolds—the most memorable moment for them came when Ty Montgomery beat both backs on a jump ball thrown by Josh Nunes. Grade: C+

Special teams: There hasn't been a great deal of change in the special teams unit, and we've seen very little special teams play during the two open practice sessions this spring. The only notable personnel change is Daniel Zychlinski taking over full time punting duties with the graduation of David Green. On punt returns, Ty Montgomery and Drew Terrell will both take returns in the fall, even though Montgomery will be the team's primary wide receiver as well. Jordan Williamson will still handle the kicking duties. He did miss two out of three extra points in the spring game. Grade: B

Overall: Stanford's defense definitely played at a higher level this spring than its offense, and the unit could easily be better this season than it was last year. There should be no drop-off on the defensive line, and the linebackers will be better with a fully healthy Shayne Skov. The success of the unit will hinge on the defensive backfield, which has to break in three new starters after already being a weak point last season. If the coaching staff can find the right mix of players and get them playing up to speed, the Cardinal could have a truly special defense next season. Without significant improvements in the defensive backfield, however, Stanford could find itself getting torched by the Pac-12's prolific passing offenses, starting in the third game of the season against USC. Grade: B+

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