Big Shoes to Fill
Over the past half decade, Stanford developed a dominant defensive line from scratch. That unit, highlighted by the likes of Terrence Stephens, Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro, David Parry, and Henry Anderson, helped achieve consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.
A potential Pasadena three-peat poses a new challenge: Entering 2014, only two of the Big Five remain. Defensive end Anderson and nose tackle Parry will look to carry the position group's torch while relatively untested talent tries to fortify the rest of the wall. It looks to be a work in progress for Stanford, but not a hopeless one.
That's because there's a veteran presence (Blake Lueders) and a younger one with seemingly unlimited potential (Luke Kaumatule) chomping at the bit. And there's more touted talent fighting for playing time, too: Like Kaumatule, defensive ends Aziz Shittu and Jordan Watkins will both be juniors in 2014.
The Fifth-Year Veteran
Lueders made the move from outside linebacker after Anderson's knee injury thinned out the Cardinal's front last year, and that shift has now become permanent. Assuming he can add 15-20 pounds of bulk this offseason to ready himself for heavy-duty line play (last year, he was listed at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, while Gardner, Mauro, and Anderson averaged 285 pounds), Lueders has the veteran savvy to be consistently effective at defensive end. He certainly did a solid job holding the fort in action there last year.
The Soon-To-Be Upperclassmen
Kaumatule may be the single most intriguing player on the Stanford roster. His massive six-foot-seven frame is complemented with raw football strength and explosiveness that has led many fellow players to rave about his potential. The sophomore was a defensive monster in high school, but he flipped to tight end at the beginning of his college career and just recently made the switch back to his natural position. Several players have told The Bootleg that they think Kaumatule will be an absolute force once he picks up the nuances of the defensive end position at the college level.
Shittu (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) and Watkins (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) also present intriguing cases, especially because they were both explosive, touted players in high school. They'll be juniors next season, so the time to assert themselves in the rotation is now. So far, Shittu has seen only spot action for Stanford. Watkins has impressed in training competitions among the Cardinal's younger linemen, but he's also looking to take the next step on gameday. All three should be a vital point of attention during spring practice.
Moving to the Middle
Since Parry is entering his fifth and final year of eligibility, Stanford must also look to develop its next nose tackle. This seems to be an imperative position of need in the 2015 recruiting class. More immediately, Ikenna Nwafor (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) is still the heir apparent after a phase of remarkable physical development in his first year on campus, but a foot injury has held him out of action for several months. David Shaw hopes to have the big man ready to go again by the second session of spring. Anthony Hayes and Lance Callihan are two other interior options, but both are entering their senior seasons, so the clock is ticking on those fronts.
J.B. Salem (6-foot-4, 266 pounds) and Alex Yazdi (6-foot-1, 261 pounds, a hard hitter known as the "Iranian Meatball") provide more depth at the defensive end position, while Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas are two particularly exciting Stanford newcomers. Both seem to fit the blue collar mold that has made the Farm Boys so successful along this line. It's unlikely that the two will see action in their coming freshman seasons, but coach Randy Hart certainly has much to work with heading into the future at the position.
Ultimately, the current challenges facing Stanford's defensive front are similar to the those confronting the offensive line. The Cardinal's track record of player development at the position has been very good, and it will have to score again this offseason for the program to maintain its stout pace up front next season. Gardner and Mauro leave huge shoes to fill, and a look into that effort begins at spring practice on Monday.
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)
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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