Early in spring, David Shaw asserted that Stanford's defense would remain sturdy in the face of several high-profile departures to the NFL Draft. Though some question marks do still linger on that side of the ball (the Cardinal anticipate they'll be answered during August camp), Saturday's spring game ended a several-week stretch that certainly calmed some worries. Here's a rundown of the spring game's defensive action:
- As I mentioned in my complete spring game offensive report, Stanford's defense looked more than comfortable throwing an array of aggressive defensive looks at Kevin Hogan's unit early on. The Cardinal blitzed frequently, utilizing inside stunts and a healthy dose of quickness from the linebacker position. A.J. Tarpley registered the first of the Farm Boys' eight sacks after he pancaked right guard Johnny Caspers. Tarpley roared in satisfaction, producing a sound that reverberated through the nearly-empty stadium.
- Aziz Shittu again saw most of his action at defensive tackle, this time with the second team, and again held his own on the inside. He also seems to have improved his motor and pursuit speed. After the game, Shaw called Shittu Stanford's "player of the spring."
- About a month ago, Shaw suggested that Shittu's versatility (despite playing defensive tackle, he's still officially listed at defensive end) may well be his ticket to earning some consistent playing time. That scenario will almost certainly be the case if David Parry again labors through the season with injury issues. For now though, Parry, the Cardinal's top defensive tackle, looks healthy and powerful. He was hindered by a lower abdominal injury throughout most of last season, but this weekend, manhandled the relatively inexperienced interior of Stanford's line several times before capping off his day dominating second-team center Kevin Reihner on the interior. The Cardinal is certainly thrilled to see No. 58 operating with fresh strength.
- Remaining on the defensive line, end Jordan Watkins appears to have bulked into a competitively-sized frame, and he enjoyed several spurts of productivity alongside Luke Kaumatule on Stanford's second-team defense. Despite Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro's departures, the battle for defensive line playing time will still be fierce, as Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders both made life for the Cardinal offense extremely difficult this spring.
- Outside linebacker Kevin Anderson missed the spring game because of a minor injury. (Shaw said he would have played had it been a regular season game.) The resulting opening allowed redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi to play with the first team, and the youngster capitalized. He led the Stanford defense in the box score, thanks to seven tackles and two sacks. Kalambayi's speed and hunger for the backfield were apparent; more than once, he successfully sniffed out the open lane to the quarterback.
- Kalambayi's classmate Mike Tyler, whom defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has also praised for his play at outside linebacker, delivered the day's biggest hit. He obliterated Dontonio Jordan after a disciplined read of a fly sweep. The Cardinal also received more positive second-team contributions at the position from Torsten Rotto, a walk-on who cracked the two-deep last season.
- Moving inside, Kevin Palma capped off an impressive spring when he clogged the interior and pile-drove Kelsey Young into the ground. Palma's successful work in the weight room is quickly becoming apparent: He's developed a sturdy frame that served him well throughout spring ball. Still, the favorites to replace Shayne Skov at inside linebacker remain the veterans. Joe Hemschoot got the nod Saturday, but he's been rotating with Blake Martinez as the position's top dog opposite Tarpley. Here's inside linebacker coach Peter Hansen's take on the situation.
- Second-string cornerback Taijuan Thomas, another redshirt freshman, is listed at 5-foot-10, so he struggled for a jump ball against 6-foot-4 wideout Devon Cajuste. Still, that play doesn't take away from the quickness and physicality that Thomas demonstrated this spring. The Cardinal shifted him to nickel back whenever the second team faced passing downs, and Thomas again stuck to receivers like glue on Saturday.
- Many of Stanford's defensive questions come in the secondary, particularly from Ed Reynolds' vacated safety position. Kyle Olugbode leads there, but Kodi Whitfield will have the entire summer to catch up on all-important playbook knowledge. Jordan Richards is certainly the leader at strong safety, but the situation behind him is intriguing. Converted quarterback Dallas Lloyd is officially listed at strong safety now, and he made a pair of good plays in run support. Fifth-year man John Flacco has also opened eyes. He complemented some hard-nosed run support this spring with an interception Saturday.
- Many Stanford players have told The Bootleg that Wayne Lyons
has taken his game to the next level. That may be part of the
reason why the coaching staff has also entrusted him with Usua
Amanam's old nickel back spot. (Lyons shifts over from cornerback
on passing downs.) Lyons' play, again solid at spring game, has
impressed Devon Cajuste in particular.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!