Four Downs with Lance Anderson

As the Cardinal close the first session of spring football, Stanford’s defensive coordinator answers four critical questions.

A hard-nosed power running game is what comes to mind when most fans think of Stanford football, but the Card’s rise to power in the Pac-12 is also largely due to stingy defenses. With many familiar faces gone from the Treefense, second-year Willie Shaw Director of Defense Lance Anderson has some holes to fill for 2015.

After wrapping the first session of Stanford spring football with a scrimmage, Anderson caught up with me for four more downs.

TC: What are some of the things that have been on your to-do list for the offseason and for spring drills?

LA: Defensively, we’re really young. Right now, we’re only practicing with one guy who has ever started a game on defense, so we’re going through a lot of growing pains. We’re getting guys experience, teaching guys some of those fundamental things, and teaching them proper techniques. It’s definitely a process right now. It’s a learning process. But the guys are eager, they’re hungry, they have that desire. They’re giving us good effort, it’s just that they have a lot to learn.

What we’re trying to do is to find the best combination of guys, and find the best way we can teach these guys the fundamentals and things they need to do, then put it all together and be a good defense.

The good thing is that we don’t play tomorrow! (chuckling) We’ve still got some time. The guys are putting in good work, but there’s still a ways to go.

TC: Going back to last year, the defense was solid statistically except in one key area: turnovers. Was that a big concern for you as last season went along? How big of an emphasis has there been on forcing turnovers right now?

LA: No question. It definitely was. We played so well in so many areas and ranked so high in so many areas. But turnovers was one area we weren’t so good with. We made a big emphasis of it last year, and we’re continuing to do it now. If possible, we’re trying to make it an even bigger emphasis, with maybe a little more variety in some of our turnover drills. We still want to play good, solid defense, but we’ve got to be able to create takeaways. That’s a hallmark of great defenses. So, yes, that’s a point of emphasis for us.

But like I said, as young as we are right now, the biggest push is just the fundamentals, teaching guys how to do their jobs. But at the same time, you can never neglect those takeaways. That’s got to be a big part of what we’re doing.

TC: You had only three defensive linemen available both last Saturday and for today’s session as well. How big of a concern is that for you right now?

LA: We don’t have a lot of depth right there at that position right now, but we will get a couple guys back from injury. On the bright side, with those guys out, we’ve been able to move a lot of the outside linebackers around to different positions and see them do different things. It gets them more experience. So, in the long run, it may provide us the opportunity to have more variety in our package, with guys playing multiple positions and being taught to do different things. But it’s definitely a learning process right now.

The great thing with those three guys who are practicing is they’ve gone hard all spring long, and we’ve seen improvement from every single one of them. So I think that’s going to pay off. It will be nice when we get a little more depth at that position. We’ve got a couple incoming freshmen. We’ve got a couple of injured guys that we will get back. That will help.

TC: Who are some standouts from this first session?

LA: Blake Martinez really sticks out as a leader. He had a great season last year and has continued to play at a high level this spring. Up front, I really see Harrison Phillips making improvements. He got some playing time last year, and we see him making progress there. Right now, he still has some things to learn, but we really like the trajectory that he’s on. Peter Kalambayi played some meaningful snaps for us last year, and was a productive player. We continue to see him get better and better.

It’s been a real competition in the secondary with a lot of young guys. Kodi Whitfield is going to be a senior this year. He has kind of emerged there and done a nice job. Dallas Lloyd missed the last couple of practices, but he was making a strong impression there as well. We have some guys who have shown us some good things. We’ve just got to continue to get more consistent.

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