Stanford middle linebacker Jarek Lancaster led the Cardinal in tackles last year and is one of six returning starters to the front seven. Here are his thoughts on the loss of co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, Stanford's defense and why he opted to shave his shoulder-length hair.
How different is the defense going to be with just one coordinator running the show?
Jarek Lancaster: It's not going to be that different. Coach [Derek] Mason and Tarver were really good at picking each other's brains. But I think coach Mason still talks a bunch with coach Tarver (now defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders) so I think he's going to keep a lot of the stuff from last year. It shouldn't be that different -- or at least drastically different.
With coach Tarver leaving, you lose not only a co-defensive coordinator, but your position coach. How has it been working with a more veteran coach like [David] Kotulski?
JL: There is definitely more knowledge. He has so much wisdom to impart on us. You could just see from the first day, he was fixing stances and it's nice to be under his wing and learning because he's been in the game for so long.
JL: I think so. I think there will be plenty. If you're good enough to play, they are going to find ways to get you on the field. There might not be as many reps as we'd all like, but that doesn't mean we won't get a lot of work each game.
You are in a much different position now than where you were at this time last year when you were a backup. Now you're a proven commodity. Are you feeling the pressure behind you?
JL: We always say iron hardens iron. Spring ball was amazing in terms of competition. We made great gains as inside backers. You could see young guys like James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley and Joe Hemschoot getting so much better over this four-week period. Anytime you can have that competition and look over your shoulder, it helps you elevate your game.
There is so much talk about how Stanford will drop off with Andrew Luck leaving. Has that permeated to the defense? Do you hear the chatter and do you even care?
JL: Yeah, we hear it. Naturally, you are going to hear the talk and the chatter. But if that means we have to be on the field a little more, that means we'll have better stats. It doesn't affect our play at all.
You guys have so much coming back in the front seven. Many have projected you to be the best front seven in the conference. Do you think you are?
JL: I feel like we have one of the greatest front sevens in the nation. We have two pass rushers that are unbelievable. If you watch film, you see Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy on the quarterback every time. Then you've got the stout Terrence Stephens in the middle that is wrecking shop with Benny Gardner and Josh Mauro. Then you have our inside backers that last year got a ton of experience, which helps us this year. If Shayne had stayed healthy, we wouldn't have that experience. We're ready to go.
In terms of expectations for the defense, is there more pressure on you this year because of all of the changes on offense?
JL: There's a long time to go till the season and we can definitely get better. But if we're going to be a successful team this year, we're going to need to handle the pressure. We expect it. Anytime you come out and you're a successful unit and you have a ton of returning starters, of course there is going to be added pressure. If you've shown you can play at that high level, it's expected that you do it all the time. We're excited for it.
Last question. What's up with Stanford guys dumping the hair? First Ben Gardner goes and dumps the mullet before the Fiesta Bowl and then you shave yours? What's the deal?
JL: I think it was having a new position coach coming in. I wanted a fresh start. It was symbolic. But on the flip side, Benny G is growing the mullet back so it should be pretty sweet come season. [Ryan] Hewitt still has the great, flowing blond locks.