Spring Preview: Defense Part II

After answering the question of the the scheme for the defensive front seven, we now take a position-by-position look at the defensive line and the outside linebackers. Three of these five spots are searching for new starters, and the redshirt freshman class holds a number of promising playmakers we are watching this spring in position battles...

Defensive Line

The most inexperienced among the defensive position groups, we also discussed above that they had a winter of many wounds.  It is hard to handicap these three positions without knowing who will be on the field this spring.  We know redshirt freshman Pannel Egboh is out, which is a huge loss as the player expected by the Cardinal coaches to probably be the team's best defensive lineman this year.  Every time there is a display of disappointment this spring in the front trio, there will be the caveat added: "but this is without Egboh... just wait for Egboh to return."

The remaining competition at right defensive end mixes some experience with abject inexperience.  Redshirt junior Chris Horn made his mark last fall with three sacks, each coming in one of Stanford's road victories.  His banner performance came when he recorded three tackles for loss at Arizona.  A surprise contributor in 2005, he suddenly becomes one of the veterans and expected leaders in 2006.  Horn has just two career starts and just 15 career tackles, but that towers over much of the rest of the defensive line.  He will be challenged to become much more consistent and physical this year.  He has to play regularly, either as a starter or off the bench, for Stanford to have a chance this year up front.  Also at right defensive end is redshirt freshman and converted linebacker Tom McAndrew.  We expected him to play with his hand on the ground at some time during his college career, and that move came in the winter.  He was an active playmaker on the scout defense as a linebacker in the fall, but we have no idea what to expect from him as a defensive end this spring.  What we do know is that McAndrew arrived at Stanford with a huge 6'5" frame that easily wore 251 pounds, and now he has grown to 270.  He moves well and will only get bigger and stronger.  The future is bright for McAndrew, but the question this spring is how far ahead is his success?

At the other defensive end position, the fight for playing time in Julian Jenkins' vacated position will be fierce.  If redshirt sophomore Gustav Rydstedt can practice, he brings the most experience to the position.  He started eight games in 2005, and though his statistical contributions were not great, it remains to be seen how effective a playmaker he can be if healthy.  The Swedish import played through injuries, so the book has not yet been written on him.  Another player with something to prove this spring is redshirt junior Mike Macellari.  The 6'5" two-way athlete has flip-flopped between positions on the offensive and defensive lines with painful frequency.  His last switch moved him to defensive end halfway through the season last fall.  He actually showed some promise with a good bull rush, though this spring is his chance to settle down and learn the position as a more complete pass rusher.  Macellari is a good athlete with a big body who may still make his mark at Stanford.  And then there is redshirt freshman Matt Kopa, who like McAndrew is in his first spring and looking to make a name for himself after working on the scout team defense all fall.  Kopa had a good deal of hype out of high school, and we didn't put him on the cover of our Football Recruiting Yearbook issue of the magazine without reason.  He already presented a towering figure in the fall, but he has added some size and starts the spring at 280-plus pounds.  Redshirt sophomore Alfred Johnson toils as the lone walk-on on the defensive line, but he has been a selfless worker in the season as well as off-season work.

That leaves the middle of the line.  Nose tackle is the most difficult and arguably the most critical position in the 3-4 defense.  Some would say that Babatunde Oshinowo singularly made the 3-4 work because of his size and power, able to take on two blockers and still able to push into the offensive backfield.  Stanford is fortunate to have a pair of big bodies in the redshirt freshman class in Ekom Udofia and James McGillicuddy.  Unfortunately, one or both may not be available this spring, following their winter injuries.  If we had to guess, we would say that Udofia will practice while McGillicuddy will be out.  Both really need this spring because the 3-4 defense cannot work without a force in the middle to tie up blockers and free up lanes for the linebackers.  Either will be watched closely if they can compete, but Udofia will be a central story of this spring if he can make it through 15 practices.  He has freakish strength and quickness at his size, and now he hopes to add the conditioning he did not possess at the start of his freshman year.  He worked with strength & conditioning coach Ron Forbes to trim off a great deal of weight during the fall and has been steadily adding rock solid weight since.  Currently in the range of 305-310 pounds, he is a beast.  A good-to-decent Stanford defense in 2006 undoubtedly will require a productive Udofia in the middle.  The forgotten man, who will see plenty of time this spring if either of the youngsters are on the training table, is redshirt junior David Jackson.  Most observers will look past Jackson in projecting the nose tackle position, but Stanford has to maintain a solid two-deep even in the face of injury.  And this is a position that will often experience injury.  Jackson lacks the God-given frame or strength of his younger position mates, but he does carry experience upon which defensive line coach Dave Tipton will lean this spring.

Outside Linebackers

As important as Babtunde Oshinowo was to the 3-4, you could argue that the player for whom it was created was Jon Alston.  In 2003, he was a reserve outside linebacker, not quite big enough to get on the field, yet Stanford's pass rush lagged.  Adding a spot for him in the defense unlocked success for both Alston and the Cardinal the last two years.  But the question that begs us today: How unique was Jon Alston?  Is there another like him to make that position work?  That is a question seeking an answer this spring, with three very different players hoping to solve the riddle.  The eldest candidate is redshirt junior Emmanuel Awofadeju, who came to Stanford with great promise and expectations.  He was lean but quick, and he is the type of athlete who precisely benefits from playing in a 3-4 rather than a 4-3 defense.  The problem is that Awofadeju was stuck behind Alston and Timi Wusu, but now that both have graduated, this is his chance to emerge.  Awofadeju has grown stronger, but his challenge has been his maturity and playmaking awareness.

While Awofadeju has been learning to play outside linebacker in Stanford's 3-4 defense the last two years and awaited his turn, redshirt sophomore Austin Gunder is brand new to the position after moving from tight end this winter.  Gunder has the body type, but does he have the quickness?  That is an open question, as is whether he is better suited to play the "Rush" outside linebacker position or its "Sam" counterpart on the strong side of the field.  There is no doubt that redshirt freshman Clinton Snyder belongs at outside linebacker.  Though he lost part of last fall with surgery to clean up a bone chip in his foot, Snyder was an inspiring force on the scout team defense.  He has all the tools, plus a nose for the ball and a ravenous playmaking hunger.  Snyder is also like Awofadeju in that his quickness and athleticism are greatly suited to Stanford's 3-4, but would today but undersized as a defensive end.  Many people inside and outside the program half-expect Snyder to be the breakout player of this defense in 2006.  He has our full attention.

The "Sam" outside linebacker position is more common in modern defenses, but the two players slotted at the position for Stanford are not common.  Redshirt junior Udeme Udofia has grown (in more ways than one) each year at Stanford, and he was a quietly effective playmaker in his 11 starts last fall.  Udofia made huge plays in the wins at Arizona and Oregon State and would have been hailed as a hero in the UCLA game if not for the late turn of events that toppled the Cardinal's upset bid.  He is overshadowed by numerous players in the front seven, including his brother two years his junior.  But the elder Udofia had a great winter and is seen by teammates as one of the leaders of the defense.  That all being said, there will be a lot of eyes watching redshirt freshman Will Powers as he challenges Udofia for his starting job this spring.  Powers is a local boy who came to Stanford last fall with as much acclaim as any linebacker in the last four years, though he also contributed at defensive end for the scout team defense during his redshirt year.  Taking him out of the scout environment and putting him full-time with the Stanford defense to compete at outside linebacker puts Powers in a position where we can really examine his ability for the first time in college.  He is talented enough to push Udofia, and there are some observers who believe he could win the job.  Whoever exits April atop the depth chart, this is one of the best battles for any position on the field this year.  Walk-on redshirt sophomore Brandon Willetts is also slated for this position, and hopefully he can settle into a role after bouncing between inside and outside 'backer spots last year.

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