- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.
Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp goes into full swing.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order.
Strongest position group: Linebackers
Headliner: Chase Thomas (52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks).
The skinny: Thomas' decision to return to Stanford for another season is going to be a good one -- for him and for the Cardinal. Mel Kiper rates him as the top returning senior outside linebacker in college football and another strong season will surely up his draft stock. He's a perfect fit for what the Cardinal want to do in their 3-4 scheme, a first-team All-Pac-12 performer and one of the most dangerous defensive players in the league. With a talented cast around him, look for an even bigger, more consistent season out of arguably the league's best pass rusher.
And speaking of his supporting cast, there is no better 1-2 punch in the league at OLB than Thomas and Murphy -- a sure tackler who tied for sixth in the conference last year in sacks and quietly excels opposite Thomas.
The Cardinal have a fortunate log-jam at the two inside linebacker positions -- where Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley emerged as replacements for the injured Skov and both ended up as starters. Lancaster -- who led the team in tackles last season -- and Tarpley improved significantly as the year progressed.
Then you factor in Skov -- a potential first-round draft pick -- who returns from his knee injury after just playing in two and a half games last year. He'll likely take one of the two starting spots (assuming he's 100 percent healthy and head coach David Shaw has said he's on track), and Vaughters is expected to be unleashed this season after being used primarily as pass rusher last year.
The position group also gets a big bump with Noor Davis coming in the fall, who could also make an immediate impact and adds depth to the OLBs.
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