Pac-12: Wayne Lyons

We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year’s rankings here.

Up next: Cornerbacks. Considering the talent pool of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, each team’s secondary is going to be tested more and more this season. Teams are really (read: really, really, really) going to want to be good here in 2014.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is back, and considering how much opponents want to throw (though, who knows how much they will actually throw at him), he’s looking at what could be a really, really impressive final season. Through the spring, fellow senior Dior Mathis emerged as the other starter, though Troy Hill could make this an intriguing position battle to watch. Backing up these guys will be Chris Seisay, junior college transfer Dominique Harrison and Stephen Amoako. Elite talent and excellent depth make this one of the best position groups for the Ducks.

Stanford: The Cardinal have a new defensive backs coach in Duane Akina. In his 13 years with Texas he developed two Thorpe Award winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs, and he inherits a stocked pantry at Stanford. Alex Carter -- who sat out this spring -- and Wayne Lyons are both very, very good players who will anchor the secondary. Ronnie Harris will play the outside when Lyons shifts over to cover the slot.

UCLA: Last year at this time, UCLA’s cornerbacks were in the “we’ll see” category. Well, we saw. We liked. The Bruins return Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson -- they combined for 201 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2013. With an offseason to gel as a unit, mature and condition, expect those numbers to grow. If need be, Randall Goforth could play some cornerback, and early enrollee Adarius Pickett and 2014 signee Jaleel Wadood (younger brother of Arizona State cornerback Rashad Wadood) could also contribute.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Steven Nelson has one of the cornerback spots locked down. He recorded 62 tackles, six interceptions and eight pass breakups last season. Opposite him, Larry Scott and Dashon Hunt are vying for the starting spot. Scott has more game experience but spent half of the spring on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury, giving Hunt more and more reps as the spring season went on. And considering these guys go up against quarterback Sean Mannion every day in practice, their learning curves are going to be expedited.

Washington: In Marcus Peters (55 tackles, five interceptions, 14 PBR in 2013) the Huskies have a very, very good cornerback on their hands. Opposing quarterbacks probably aren’t going to throw at him a ton, which brings the second starter into question. The starter opposite Peters will be the one put in bigger situations (at least until he proves himself as a lockdown cornerback. If he doesn’t, the passes will keep coming). Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly and former Alabama transfer Travell Dixon had the first shot at the job in spring ball, and the Huskies will get four freshman cornerbacks in the fall to add to that group. It is a young group, but expect Peters -- who we think could be one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12 this season -- to pull along whoever plays the opposite spot.

Colorado: Senior Greg Henderson is the most experienced defensive player returning to the Buffs this season, and his history of steadily improving through his Colorado career is a good sign that this season will be his best. On the other side, Colorado is still going through a position battle with junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon (who had an interception three pass breakups in the spring game) and Kenneth Crawley (who played in 11 of 12 games last season for the Buffs). Chidobe Awuzie also returns, making cornerback one of Colorado's deepest positions.

WE’LL SEE

USC: A coaching change and a lot of questions about players made this a hard decision between Good Shape and We'll See. With the pure talent the Trojans have, it will be surprising if this is not a productive group, but that potential doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Kevon Seymour has one starting spot. He ended last season on a high note and played well in the spring, but has had a very up-and-down career. Can he sustain this recent production? We’ll see. Opposite Seymour, there is a battle brewing between Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins and possibly Adoree' Jackson. This might be the group with the most upside and the most downside (basically, the most unknowns) of any cornerback corps in the conference.

Arizona: Earlier this spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wasn’t as excited about his secondary’s depth as he wanted to be. Considering the Wildcats play with a five defensive back system, that is not great. But, they have Jonathan McKnight to anchor one side. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season and led the team with eight pass breakups. The other side is still a question mark as the team tries to replace Shaquille Richardson.

Utah: Expect to see a lot of nickel from the Utes as they prepare for life-after-Trevor-Reilly. Eric Rowe -- the team’s third-leading tackler in 2013 -- is back and has secured one of the starting spots. He is the fastest defensive back on the team (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but the other starter remains a question. Utah likes sophomore Reginald Porter (10 tackles in 2013) and senior Davion Orphey (eight starts, 33 tackles in 2013) but they could see competition from incoming players like Travonne Hobbs and Casey Hughes.

Arizona State: ASU lost both cornerback starters in Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson following the 2013 season. Nelson accounted for 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups, and Irabor tallied 54 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. Their backups -- Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood -- finished the spring atop the depth chart. Those two combined for just 32 tackles in 2013. There is always the argument that these two will step right into their mentors’ shoes as they have had time to learn, but the verdict is still out on how effective these two will be.

Washington State: The Cougars have taken major steps forward under head coach Mike Leach. At some point the cornerbacks need to follow suit (especially considering what they face in practice every single day). The Washington State secondary is in a major rebuilding period after losing cornerbacks Nolan Washington and Damante Horton. The only player with any kind of experience is Daquawn Brown, but beyond him it could be a lot of youth in the secondary.

Cal: The Bears have new defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who helped USC win national titles in 2003 and 2004 (in those two seasons the Trojans gave up just 239 passing yards per game) so there is certainly not a lack of talent and experience on the coaching end. But on the field, it’s a different matter. Cameron Walker -- who had to play safety last season because of injuries -- will return to cornerback and start alongside Stefan McClure. Both have experience at safety, which should help the defense be more dynamic, but again, that alone doesn’t necessarily propel the group into good or great shape this season.

Other position reviews:
It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.

Where Stanford needs to get better

January, 2, 2014
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"If only" is a silly game to play while watching a college football game, but it's impossible to avoid. It's the foundation of excuse-making, but perhaps it's sometimes useful for projecting a team forward, imagining what it needs to do to get better.

Take Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, a tough 24-20 loss to Michigan State. You could play the, "If only Stanford hadn't dropped two easy interceptions" and find yourself simply cogitating over straightforward execution. Yeah, "if only" plays that happened had instead happened another way.

A more valuable "if only" is this: If only Stanford had a dangerous pass-catching tight end, as it had during its previous three BCS bowl games.

Sure, pining for personnel that isn't there is equally silly, but it does point to a major reason the Cardinal offense was inconsistent this year.

If Stanford had a reliable tight end, it would have given quarterback Kevin Hogan a place to dump the ball when his receivers were blanketed by A-list cover corners, which was the case against Michigan State. It would have given the Cardinal an option in the intermediate passing game, a guy who could have exploited the Spartans' questionable safeties, who were joining the fight at the line of scrimmage in an effort to outnumber the Cardinal's power running game.

Moreover, it would have made the Cardinal's "jumbo" formation more diverse in terms of potential threats. Instead of using a bunch of backup offensive linemen, Stanford could have included a guy who could give it a dangerous pass option out of that formation.

Every coach in the offseason asks himself what his team needs to do to get better the next season. Know that coach David Shaw is thinking a lot about his tight end position, which it doesn't appear has yet been addressed in recruiting.

Defensive coordinator Derek Mason resisted a couple of "if only" questions after the game, but he clearly saw some things he believes need to improve. While his defense did a good job both stopping the run and rushing the passer, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook, who was outstanding at buying himself time while facing a furious pass rush, consistently found open receivers against the Cardinal secondary.

In what is probably a bit of a surprise, the Michigan State receivers outplayed the Stanford cornerbacks. More than a few folks on the Michigan State side of things said Stanford's reluctance to use press coverage made life easier for receivers who were more athletic than physical. Stanford corners Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons are both talented players who will be back next year, and Mason expects them to take a significant step forward.

"They need to be the two most feared corners in the conference a year from now," Mason said.

Stanford has plenty of talent coming back, but it also has huge holes to fill. There figures to be at least one early NFL defection -- likely All-American offensive guard David Yankey -- to join a strong crew of seniors, led by Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. As Hogan noted after the game, it is "the greatest class in Stanford history."

If Stanford is going to win a third consecutive Pac-12 title in 2014, it will need to do some "if only" based on the 2013 season. The Rose Bowl made clear getting better at tight end and cornerback are two places to consider.

Pac-12 names players of the week

December, 2, 2013
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Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with Arizona State safety Damarious Randall as defensive player of the week and ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez as special teams player of the week.

Here’s some more on the trio, per the Pac-12’s release:
Huff, a senior from Houston, Texas, posted a career-high nine catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns in a last-minute 36-35 win in the Civil War over Oregon State on Friday evening. After catching a 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 3:09 remaining, Huff followed with another 12-yard score for the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds remaining in the game. All three of his second-half scoring catches brought the Ducks back from deficits and eight of his nine receptions resulted in first down or touchdowns.

Randall, a junior from Pensacola, Fla., was responsible for two turnovers, including a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble as the Sun Devils knocked off in-state rival Arizona 58-21 in the Territorial Cup on Saturday night. Both forced turnovers led to scores that extended the Sun Devils lead and put the game out of reach. Randall also notched a game-high 12 tackles, including a four-yard tackle for loss, as Arizona State secured the best record in league play and hosting duties for the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Gonzalez, a freshman from Deer Park, Texas, accounted for 16 points as he connected on all 10 of his kicks, including 3-of-3 on field goals and 7-of-7 on extra points, helping Arizona State claim the Territorial Cup in the victory over Arizona on Saturday. He has now made a school-record 18 consecutive field goals dating back to the USC game on Sept. 28 and has made 22 of 25 on the year. His 124 total points are the most in a single-season by an ASU kicker, while his 10.4 points per game is good for eighth in the nation. Gonzalez is the only player to earn the special teams player of the week honor twice in 2013.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were running backs D.J. Foster of Arizona State, Tyler Gaffney of Stanford, Kelvin York of Utah and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and quarterback Brett Hundley of UCLA. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Addison Gilliam of Colorado, Anthony Barr of UCLA and Trevor Reilly of Utah; cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon and Wayne Lyons of Stanford; and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha of Washington. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was UCLA punter Sean Covington and Utah punter Tom Hackett.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.
Cornerback, at least from a preseason perspective, is not a strong position across the conference in 2013.

Three of the four corners on the 2012 All-Pac-12 first- and second-teams -- Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, Washington's Desmond Trufant and USC's Nickell Robey -- are now in the NFL. Only Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State welcome back both starting corners, and of those, only the Ducks ranked in the top eight in the conference in pass efficiency defense last year.

So how do things stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

[+] EnlargeStanford celebrates
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezWayne Lyons, along with experienced safeties, gives Stanford one of the conference's top secondaries.
Oregon: The Ducks have the nation's best corner tandem in All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell. In fact, their backups, Dior Mathis and Troy Hill, probably would rate as one of the better tandems in the conference if they were starting. The Ducks welcome back the entire two-deep from their 2012 secondary, as well as safety Avery Patterson, an All-Conference talent who was hurt last year. This is probably the best secondary in the nation.

Stanford: While the Cardinal's star power is at safety, they are also strong at corner with Alex Carter, Wayne Lyons, Barry Browning and Usua Amanam giving them an experienced, athletic foursome.

GOOD SHAPE

Arizona: If Jonathan McKnight and Shaquelle Richardson are healthy -- and get supported by any sort of pass rush -- they have the potential to be an elite cover tandem. Derrick Rainey is also in the mix.

Oregon State: Rashaad Reynolds is now the lead dog with Poyer gone. There’s and interesting competition on the other side between veteran Sean Martin and juco transfer Steven Nelson, who had a strong spring showing. It helps that things are good at safety -- and that the Beavers gave up just 14 TD passes last year.

Arizona State: Osahon Irabor, a four-year starter, is back and senior Robert Nelson has experience, including a notable interception in the win over Arizona. Rashad Wadood, who redshirted last year due to injuries, is a third option who had a strong spring. The Sun Devils ranked first in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense in 2012.

Washington: Like Oregon State's Reynolds, Marcus Peters now moves out of a big shadow -- Trufant -- and gets an opportunity to show what he can do. While Greg Ducre and Tre Watson, backups last year, are back, watch out for junior college transfer Travell Dixon, a former Alabama signee.

Washington State: The Cougars welcome back three corners with significant experience: Damante Horton, Anthony Carpenter and Nolan Washington. On the downside, the pass defense struggled last year, ranking 11th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 65.5 percent completion rate.

WE'LL SEE

USC: Josh Shaw has moved back to safety, so this position is in flux for the Trojans. Senior Torin Harris has nine career starts but his play has been uneven, while Anthony Brown has two. Kevon Seymour, Devian Shelton and freshman Chris Hawkins are in the mix.

California: While the Bears lost both starters -- Steve Williams and Marc Anthony were a strong tandem -- Kameron Jackson has plenty of experience and Stefan McClure has plenty of pure talent. Depth is a question.

UCLA: The Bruins are replacing their entire secondary, and that might not be a bad thing considering they gave up 27 TD passes in 2012. Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams are the leaders to start, with Fabian Moreau also in the mix. It will be interesting to see if true freshmen Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson make a move. It hurt to lose sophomore Marcus Rios to a serious sinus infection.

Utah: The Utes lost their top three corners from a fair-to-middling 2012 pass defense, one that grabbed just eight interceptions. Keith McGill is a likely starter, while redshirt freshman Justin Thomas and JC transfer Davion Orphey are competing on the other side. Lots of inexperience here.

Colorado: The Buffaloes welcome back essentially their entire 2012 depth chart at corner, including intriguing young talents Kenneth Crawley, Greg Henderson and Yuri Wright. But the Buffs ranked last in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2012 -- just three interceptions -- which must be accounted for here.

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker

Linebacker

Defensive line
Unlike last year, there is no quarterback competition at Stanford. But the recently released post-spring depth chart does reveal some potentially interesting developments to eye-ball heading into fall.

Starting on offense -- there are only two running backs listed -- Anthony Wilkerson "or" Tyler Gaffney as the starter. Both are trying to replace three-time 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor, though it's widely believed the Cardinal will take more of a committee approach than they did last year, when Taylor led the Pac-12 with 322 carries. There is plenty of depth, albeit mostly inexperienced, behind Gaffney and Wilkerson.

Also of note offensively is the addition of Kevin Danser on the depth chart at center. He's slated to start at right guard, though there is also an "or" separating Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden and Danser at center. It will be interesting to watch in the fall if Danser continues to get work at center. And if he wins the job, it would allow the Cardinal to insert Josh Garnett into the starting rotation at guard. That would give the Cardinal a starting front of Andrus Peat (LT), David Yankey (LG), Danser (C), Garnett (RG) and Cam Fleming (RT).

With the news of Josh Nunes' retirement yesterday, Evan Crower is locked in as the backup to Kevin Hogan and, for now, Devon Cajuste looks like he'll start opposite Ty Montgomery at receiver.

Fullback Geoff Meinken also announced he'll retire after struggling to return from a knee injury that kept him out of 2012.

At tight end -- Stanford's go-to receiving position the last couple of years -- Luke Kaumatule and Davis Dudchock are separated by an "or." However both will probably get a ton of work in Stanford's two-tight-end sets.

Defensively, there are only two "ors" on the depth chart. Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro have a good competition going at defensive and Blake Lueders and James Vaughters are undecided at the outside linebacker spot to release Chase Thomas. Though the Cardinal rotate backers and defensive linemen so frequently that "starter" is more of an honorary title.

Worth noting also that Devon Carrington, who has spent his career at safety, is also listed as a backup with Usua Amanam at right cornerback behind Wayne Lyons. Amanam is Stanford's go-to nickelback and Carrington is also backing up Ed Reynolds.

Looking at the specialists, up for grabs is the punter, which could go to either Ben Rhyne or Conrad Ukropina. Montgomery looks set at kick return while it's a four-way race between him, Kodi Whitfield, Keanu Nelson and Barry Sanders to return punts.

You can see the complete depth chart here and interpret it as you see fit.
Back in June we looked at 12 players -- one from each of the Pac-12 teams -- who needed to have an impact year. Some did, some didn't. On Monday we looked at the Pac-12 South. Today we turn our focus to the Pac-12 North. Here's the link for the North players back in June.

Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: Much like Cal's season, Maynard never really got off the ground. He hit a career high in completion percentage at 60. 8 percent, but he had just 12 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He missed the final two games with injury and over his final four games he had just three touchdowns to five picks. He had one breakout game -- a 43-17 win over UCLA where he completed 83.3 percent of his throws -- but it was a rare highlight in a disappointing season for quarterback and team.

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: He finished with career highs in receptions (32), yards (493) and touchdowns (7) despite missing two games. He was second on the team in receptions behind De'Anthony Thomas and put together a big two-game stretch midseason against USC and California where he combined for 11 catches, 234 yards and five touchdowns. It was a good year for what he's asked to do in the run-heavy offense.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: He strung together a phenomenal season that saw him earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He caught 91 balls for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns and he also carried the ball 20 times with a pair of rushing touchdowns. One of the fastest players in the league, Wheaton had a dominating season and was one of the best wide receivers in the country. And along the way he did a pretty good job tutoring Brandin Cooks, who looks to be one of the brightest receivers in the conference for the next couple of years.

Wayne Lyons, CB, Stanford: It was a decent first full season for Lyons, who was coming off of a season-ending injury in 2011. But Stanford's defense was so dominating that it's easy for role players to get lost in the shuffle. He appeared in all 14 games and recorded 25 tackles with one interception. Look for Lyons to take a step forward next season. Head coach David Shaw has made it very clear that he has high hopes for Lyons.

Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: The Huskies' dramatic defensive turnaround was certainly bolstered by the addition of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. But let's also give a little credit to the guys on the field. Trufant lived up to his hype as a lockdown corner and earned first-team all-league honors. His numbers weren't as lofty as some other defensive backs -- but that was out of respect and teams throwing away from him. He finished with one interception and a team-high nine pass breakups. He also forced a fumble, recovered another and blocked a kick.

Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: He makes the first-team All-Pac-12 interview team. But unfortunately that and a couple of bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. Things never came together for Tuel in Mike Leach's first year at Washington State and the constant shuffling at quarterback didn't do much to help his numbers. He completed 63.6 percent of his throws, but had just eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Defense shines as Stanford stuffs the run

October, 20, 2012
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- It wasn’t flashy and it won’t be all too memorable, but Stanford’s 21-3 win over Cal in the 115th Big Game was exactly the type of game Cardinal coach David Shaw was looking for.

“Very proud of our guys for bringing the [Stanford Axe] back home to Stanford,” Shaw said. “It was a great effort, in particular on defense. Dominating, suffocating defense.”

His description wasn’t an exaggeration. The Cardinal held the Pac-12’s No. 3 rushing team to just 3 yards on the ground and kept the Bears out of the red zone on all but two occasions. On their first trip, the Bears couldn’t punch it in after facing first-and-goal from the 2, and the second ended on sophomore Wayne Lyons' first career interception.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesDavid Shaw's defense held the Golden Bears to just three yards rushing.
“This was a blueprint game,” Shaw said. “This is what we want to do. We don’t care about stats. We don’t care about any of that other stuff.”

What he does care about is staying true to the model the program has been built on. That hasn’t necessarily been the case at times this year, but Saturday’s win fit the bill.

“We want to stop the run, we want to run the ball, limit the big plays in their pass game, make the big plays in our pass game, and in special teams, try to control where the ball is,” Shaw said.

Easy to say after the fact, but Shaw could have put check marks next to each of those five priorities on Saturday.

In building a 21-3 halftime lead, the Cardinal took Cal out of its element. The Bears were forced to rely on quarterback Zach Maynard to make plays, and he didn’t make enough of them. He was 19-for-31 for 214 yards and was sacked four times. His half-brother, standout receiver Keenan Allen, was held in check, too. Allen finished with four catches for 43 yards and didn’t factor into any of the Bears’ red zone trips.

“Their defense is as good as any defense we have played in this conference for years,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “They are very experienced, very physical and very multiple.”

And Cal was very overwhelmed.

“We preach stopping the run every week,” senior linebacker Chase Thomas said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. First things first, stop the run, and make them one-dimensional and then get after them in the pass rush.”

Thomas, an All-American candidate, finished with seven tackles, four for loss and a sack. He also forced two fumbles and returned one for 7 yards.

The standout performance falls in line with the expectations for Thomas, who considered leaving for the NFL after ranking second in the Pac-12 in sacks last season (8.5).

He credited the offense’s job in running off time-consuming drives as a major factor in the defense’s ability to stay fresh. Stanford held the ball for 36 minutes, 58 seconds, compared to 23:02 for Cal.

“I think that our defense played with a big chip on its shoulder from last week [against Notre Dame],” Thomas said. “I think, actually, the whole team did. The fact that our offense kept their defense on the field gave us a lot of time to catch our breath, get our legs back and have plenty of time to rest.”

Thomas probably owes an individual thank-you to running back Stepfan Taylor, who ran for a career-high 189 yards on 29 carries. He passed Toby Gerhart for No. 2 on the school’s all-time rushing list (3,616 yards) and, with five games left in the regular season, needs 418 yards to pass leader Darrin Nelson (4,033).

“Can’t say enough about [Taylor] as a person,” Shaw said. “Can’t say enough about him as a player.”

Taylor scored on a 7-yard touchdown with 4:42 left in the first quarter to end the Cardinal’s recent road scoring woes. Before Saturday, Stanford hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in two games away from Stanford Stadium this season. Its last touchdown on the road -- not including the neutral-site Fiesta Bowl -- came in the fourth quarter of a trip to Oregon State on Nov. 5, 2011.

Stanford added two more touchdowns in the first half. The first was a 9-yard strike to tight end Levine Toilolo on freshman Kevin Hogan's first career pass attempt to make it 14-3.

The athletic freshman quarterback, who is listed as No. 3 on the depth chart, had been used sparingly to run option plays, but will factor into the game plan every week moving forward, according to Shaw. Stanford shied away from using read-option plays last season as it wanted to protect Andrew Luck while keeping him on the field as much as possible.

“That whole package has been called the Hogan package,” Shaw said. “The last two weeks, that package has gotten better and better.”

A 20-yard pass from starting quarterback Josh Nunes to tight end Zach Ertz with 8:15 in the first half resulted in the game's final points. Ertz set a career high with 134 yards receiving and tied his career best with six catches.

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

June, 19, 2012
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following year, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others, have to bounce back from an injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2012.

Monday we took a look at six players from the South Division. Today our focus shifts to the North.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
AP Photo/George NikitinZach Maynard led the Golden Bears to a 7-6 record last season.
Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: Is there any quarterback in the conference more maligned than the guy in Berkeley? No doubt, he hit a low point midway through last season with a three-game stretch against USC, Utah and UCLA where he had one touchdown to seven interceptions. His completion percentage was one of the lowest in the conference last year (57 percent). But all accounts are that he had a solid spring and gained a stronger control of the offense. He has pieces in place this year -- an A-list receiver, a solid running game, a very good defense behind him -- so if he's going to silence his critics, this will be his best chance.

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: On the surface, the obvious pick here is Kenjon Barner with the oh-so-obligatory "can he be the featured back" question. Let's go ahead and address that right now. Yes, he can. There, that was easy. Huff, however, has yet to really show what he's capable of. Last year he was partly hampered by injury (31 catches, 430 yards, two touchdowns) and Lavasier Tuinei was the preferred target. No doubt, the potential is there (see how he made Stanford defenders look silly on his 59-yard touchdown catch). Huff's status remains up in the air pending next month's trial for a DUI citation, so we'll have to see how that plays out. The Ducks have so much offensive potency that they don't need him to be great. But wouldn't it be a whole lot better if he was?

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: The beauty of football is that it's not a stat-driven, individual game. A wide receiver can be a great blocker or decoy and never get the statistical credit, but his teammates and coaches know his contributions. With that said, if Wheaton wants to be counted among the elite wide receivers in the conference -- and he absolutely should be -- he'll need to have more than just one receiving touchdown, which was the case in 2011. The fact that Oregon State's running game should be better helps, and Sean Mannion's continued growth is also a plus. He's an underappreciated talent around the conference who's out to prove he belongs in the conversation with the league's elite receivers.

Wayne Lyons, DB, Stanford: When your coach says you'll be up for the nation's top defensive back award by the time your career is through -- before you've put together a complete season -- that's his way of not-so-discreetly applying pressure. David Shaw expects big things out of Lyons -- and the highly touted defensive back will have to deliver. He's fully recovered from a foot injury he suffered last fall that nagged him for two games before shutting it down for the year. Stanford's secondary was dreadfully exposed against Oregon and Oklahoma State. The pressure is on Lyons to produce immediately (say, Week 3 against USC?).

Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: And Baylor just scored again ... Haha. Didn't we all have a nice little chuckle at that one on Dec. 30. Well, the joke was stale by New Year's Eve. However, the lasting image of what Baylor's offense did to Washington is still very much fresh. The Huskies defense got an overhaul in the offseason -- and it's up to a veteran like Trufant to give the unit more punch and less punch line. Not easy, considering the Huskies allowed a whopping 35.9 points per game last year. But Trufant isn't alone in his efforts. He has good support in the secondary with safeties Justin Glenn and Sean Parker (the three combined for 207 tackles last season) and Trufant added a pair of picks. He's a very good defender who is going to have to become a great defender in 2012 to not only prove he can play at the next level, but to show it's time to stop cracking wise about Washington's D.

Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: Outside of new head coach Mike Leach, no name coming out of Pullman, Wash., this spring has been uttered more than Jeff Tuel. A prototypical NFL quarterback with the arm and the arsenal to boot, all of the pieces are in place for Tuel to have a big season. But injuries have prevented him from reaching his true potential. This offense, which puts the quarterback center stage like no other, should go a long way in helping him reach it. He's picked it up quickly, which should come as no surprise. But there are still Connor Halliday advocates ready to take their shots at Tuel. He's got to prove he deserves to be the guy. Provo, Utah, seems like a good place to start.

Pac-12's most intriguing players this spring

March, 22, 2012
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There are plenty of stars back in the Pac-12 this spring. And there are plenty of interesting competition and young guys about to break through.

But here's a team-by-team list of the Pac-12's most intriguing players this spring. These are guys who could be ready to emerge, redeem themselves or are simply critical for their team's success.

Arizona: LB Brian Wagner
The senior transfer was a tackling machine at Akron and he's likely to start for a rebuilding Wildcats defense. But can he keep up with Pac-12 offensive skill?

Arizona State: QB Michael Eubank
The redshirt freshman was recruited by new Sun Devils coach Todd Graham when Graham was at Pittsburgh, so Graham obviously believes Eubank has what it takes to run his no-huddle, spread offense. Impressive athlete.

California: WR Maurice Harris
The redshirt freshman is the top candidate to become the No. 2 receiver behind All-American candidate Keenan Allen.

Colorado: OT Stephane Nembot
Recruited as a defensive end, the redshirt freshman has an NFL frame -- 6-foot-8, 310 pounds -- and tons of athletic ability. He's green, but that might not stop him from earning a starting spot.

Oregon: WRs Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley and Tacoi Sumler
All three are redshirt freshmen. All three were touted recruits. At least one needs to step up at a position that is questionable for the Ducks.

Oregon State: OT Michael Philipp
Philipp was a touted recruit -- everybody in the Pac-12 wanted him -- and he won the starting left tackle spot as a true freshman in 2009, earning Freshman All-American honors. But, in large part due to injuries, his career has regressed. Will he take a step forward this spring? It would be huge for the Beavers if he did.

Stanford: CB Wayne Lyons
While coach David Shaw said Lyons was only about "85 percent" during the Cardinal's first of two spring sessions due to his on-going recovery from the broken foot that ruined his freshman season, Shaw also said he believes Lyons is a future All-American.

UCLA: QB Brett Hundley
While Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut both are back with significant starting experience, it wouldn't be surprising if Hundley, a redshirt freshman, won the starting job. Or at least earned playing time next fall.

USC: LB/RB Tre Madden
Madden is a beastly good athlete who is going to play on one side of the ball or the other. Maybe both. He backed up Dion Bailey at strongside LB last year, but the 6-foot, 220-pounder may end up bolstering the backfield depth.

Utah: DE Thretton Palamo
Palamo flashed potential in the running back competition last preseason, but that same athletic ability might make the 6-foot-2, 250 pounder a dangerous pass-rusher. No question about ability to tackle, seeing that he's a former rugby star.

Washington: DT Danny Shelton
The 6-1, 334-pound sophomore looks like a nice fit at nose tackle if the Huskies move to a base 3-4 with new D-coordinator Justin Wilcox. But whatever the defense is, Shelton showed signs during his true freshman season that he can be an All-Pac-12 defensive lineman.

Washington State: DE/OLB Travis Long
Long is a three-year starter at defensive end, and during that span has mostly been the Cougars' best defensive player. It's interesting, however, because new coach Mike Leach said he's intrigued with Long playing outside linebacker in a new 3-4 scheme. Can the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder make that transition work?

Q&A: Stanford's Wayne Lyons

March, 14, 2012
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Wayne Lyons, Stanford's highly-touted cornerback, never really got a chance to show what he could do in his true freshman campaign. The week before the season-opener against San Jose State, he broke a bone in his foot, but still played against the Spartans and the following week against Duke before shutting it down for the season.

Now, following surgery that placed a screw in his foot, the cornerback says he is 100 percent (some reports say 75, others 85) and poised to have the big year that eluded him.

How are you feeling?

Wayne Lyons: I'm feeling great. 100 percent. It feels great to get back out there. It was a struggling sitting out the entire season on the sidelines. In high school you play every game and then you make it to the next step in college and you can't play because injuries stop you. It's heartbreaking in a way. But I made it through and I'm happy to be back out there.

How tough was it to watch from the sideline and watch the team have the kind of season it did?

WL: Part of me was upset, but I took everything into consideration and learned everything I could while watching on the sideline. I was looking at every play, every break and closing in on what I can learn to better myself for next year. I just learned as much as I could.

Like what? What did you learn?

WL: How to read the quarterback and the mechanics of a quarterback. How to read different drop steps and different formations and how to pick up different alignments and assignments and position on the field -- having an overall awareness of where to be on the field.

There is so much talk about Stanford's front seven for next season. Is the secondary feeling the pressure to match those guys?

WL: There is pressure, but there's not. It kind of goes both ways. We work together so well and we complement each other. We're going to be an exciting defense next year. Our defensive line is going to attack and pressure, the linebackers are going to make their tackles and the secondary will handle the passing game so we'll all come together and make great plays.

Last year the defense only had seven interceptions, and only three came from cornerbacks. I assume that's a point of emphasis this spring?

WL: Yes. We definitely need to catch more balls. That's something that Coach [Derek] Mason stressed. We need to attack more balls. That's one thing we're working on is catching interceptions and creating turnovers.

Coach [David] Shaw told reporters he expects you to be up for the nation's best cornerback award at some point in your career. No pressure, right?

WL: Ah, man. There's no pressure. It's an honor that he thinks so highly of me, but personally I have to prove myself. It's great he said that about me, but I feel like I have to perform on the field and prove myself to be a great player. I need my film to talk. I need my film to dictate who I am. Words can't tell who a player is. Only film can tell the kind of player I am.

What are some of your personal goals for the next season?

WL: My freshman goal was to be a freshman All-American. That's what I'm striving for again since I'll be a redshirt freshman.

When you look at the defensive back rotation, it's going to be a very young secondary. Is there something to be said for having a young group that is hungry to make plays?

WL: Definitely. Nobody has a name yet. I don't have a name. Jordan [Richards] doesn't have a name. DC [Devon Carrington] doesn't have a name. Terrence Brown -- he started to make a name last year -- but almost everyone who is going to be out there is trying to make a name for themselves and prove who they are and what they can do on the field. There is a lot to prove this year.

Stanford is more than Andrew Luck

August, 26, 2011
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Is it the "Stanford Andrew Lucks"? Or is it more accurate to call the nation's No. 7 team the "Andrew Lucks of Palo Alto"? Or perhaps just "Andrew Luck!!!!"

[+] EnlargeCoby Fleener
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyStanford tight end Coby Fleener, left, is part of an impressive supporting cast that surrounds quarterback Andrew Luck.
Everyone knows who Andrew Luck is: the 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up who would have been the No. 1 overall pick in this past spring's NFL draft if he hadn't decided to return to Stanford, where he ended up on the cover of every college football preview magazine.

Luck is widely hailed as the best quarterback prospect in years. Decades, perhaps. And he casts a big, obscuring shadow. That shadow has inspired some ignorance of the Cardinal's across-the-board talent, not to mention some raised eyebrows over whether Stanford is really that good.

Just 11 returning starters, some note. No more Jim Harbaugh, others fret. No consistent tradition of winning, some calculate.

Stanford, it seems, is widely viewed as Andrew Luck and a bunch of nerdy stiffs. It has become a popular team for some to call overrated or questionable, although folks who make such charges typically reside east of the Mississippi.

We're here, as usual, to help. Overrated? That's Georgia, a team that welcomes back just 12 starters from a 6-7 team that lost at Colorado last season yet is somehow ranked 19th in the AP poll.

Stanford actually might be underrated.

Just 11 starters? Fine. But eight of them are first-rate NFL prospects. Three were first-team All-Pac-10 and two were second-team in 2010. Five others earned honorable mention.

Heck, six of them started for the Cardinal team that nearly beat Oklahoma in the 2009 Sun Bowl. That doesn't include Luck, by the way, because he was out with a broken finger.

"No one worries about Andrew getting all the attention," said linebacker Shayne Skov, last seen rolling up 12 tackles and three sacks in a dominant victory against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. "He's earned all of it."

True, but Stanford's supporting cast merits more than a passing notice. Or, even worse, ignorance. So we asked new coach David Shaw -- Stanford's offensive coordinator under Harbaugh -- to help with some colorful commentary.

Let's start at tight end, where the ridiculousness of riches is mind-boggling.

Coby Fleener was second-team All-Pac-10, and Mel Kiper rates him the fourth-best senior tight end in the nation. And he might be the Cardinal's third-best tight end. Levine Toilolo beat Fleener out for the starting job last fall before blowing out his knee. He's freaking huge: 6-foot-8, 260 pounds.

"He has uncanny hand-eye coordination," Shaw said. "He can make awkward-body catches. We're looking for him to be a big threat in the red zone. At the same time, he is a dominating, physical blocker."

Then there's 6-foot-6 Zach Ertz. Said Shaw, "He has a little bit of everything. He's a great -- not a good, a great -- route runner at 245 pounds who can get down the field. But he also has taken to blocking as well. He's one of those guys who sticks his face in there. We can do a little bit of everything with him as a blocker and receiver."

Oh, and that Fleener guy, who caught six passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in the shellacking of Virginia Tech? Shaw: "It's hard to find a guy who is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds who outruns defensive backs. It almost doesn't make sense how fast he is."

This depth at tight end is one reason replacing the two leading receivers from last season isn't a huge concern. Another reason: Chris Owusu.

Owusu isn't included among the 11 returning starters because he was hurt much of last season. But that didn't stop Kiper from rating him the No. 5 senior receiver. When healthy, Owusu is an explosive player -- see 18.4 yards per catch in 2009 with five touchdowns.

Shaw: "When Chris is healthy, I think he's one of the most explosive athletes in the nation."

Next there's the offensive line. Just two starters are back, but they are the best two starters any offensive line in the nation welcomes back. Both tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro are likely first-round NFL draft picks.

Shaw on Martin: "He's over 300 pounds but doesn't look like it. He's athletic, he's strong, he's a leader and he doesn't make mistakes. He doesn't get beat. He's going to be as good as anybody in the nation."

And DeCastro: "He is athletic, he is strong, he is physical and he is nasty."

Skov on the 315-pound DeCastro: "He's just a force."

Last but not least on offense, there's running back Stepfan Taylor, who very quietly rushed for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Shaw: "We talk about him as that old Cadillac. He's not the flashiest thing on the block but, dog-gone-it, you look up at it at the end of the day and it had a heck of a day. He is steady; he does everything right. He has uncanny balance and quickness."

By the way, Taylor's backup, 220-pound true sophomore Anthony Wilkerson, is a beast.

What about defense?

Let's start with Skov. Said Shaw, "Shayne is a nasty football player. He is fast, he is explosive, he has great anticipation. He's fun to watch."

Skov volunteered outside linebacker Chase Thomas as the most underrated player on the Cardinal defense. He has 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Said Shaw: "He's hard to block. He's slippery. He's quick. He's got a lot of different moves. He's great with his hands. He finds his way to the ball. He finds his way to the quarterback. And he plays the entire game in a bad mood."

At safety, there's Delano Howell. While all four members of the secondary have starting experience, Howell leads the way with 23 starts. Shaw: "He's our enforcer. Whenever we need a big hit, he's the guy who makes it. He's one of those guys we try to slow down a bit in practice just because he only plays one way and we can't play a game just with the people left over."

Skov also said free safety Michael Thomas was underrated. He and end Matt Masifilo both earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2010.

Further, Stanford recruited well under Harbaugh and Shaw. It has signed three consecutive top-25 classes. The Cardinal are almost certain to produce stars this season we don't even know about right now. (Here's a guess: LB James Vaughters and CB Wayne Lyons.)

So there you have it. Stanford, my friends, is not a one-star constellation.

But that Luck kid is pretty darn good.

"Yes, he is," Shaw said.

Stanford defensive notes

April, 8, 2011
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford's defense went from mediocre-to-lousy in 2009 to darn-close-to-dominant in 2010. New Cardinal defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who oversaw the secondary last season, is quick to give credit where it is due for what he calls "a complete metamorphosis."

"Vic [Fangio] brought in a sense of accomplishment, stability and experience," said Mason of the coordinator who followed former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers. "Guys bought in to what he was selling."

Considering how much better the Stanford secondary was in 2010, Mason certainly deserves his share of credit. The pass efficiency defense improved from 98th in the nation to 16th in one year with Mason.

Mason believes there's no reason for regression in 2011, even though Fangio and five key starters are gone, including nose tackle Sione Fua, who made the Cardinal's new 3-4 look work by anchoring the middle of the line and keeping the linebackers free to roam in space.

"The biggest component was confidence," Mason said. "When you have some success, it starts to breed confidence."

Some notes from our chat:

  • The general gist from Mason: There's good depth at linebacker, good competition in the secondary and maybe some concerns up front. Replacing Fua -- perhaps the most underrated player in the Pac-10 last year -- isn't going to be easy. "We're going to do it by committee," Mason said. "There is no player right now that we can say, he's the guy."
  • [+] EnlargeStanford's Matt Masifilo
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDefensive end Matt Masifilo was part of a Stanford defense that was dominant last season.
  • As for that D-line, Matt Masifilo is back at one end. Ben Gardner probably is tops at the other end. Terrence Stephens, David Parry and Henry Anderson are options inside at nose tackle. Mason also mentioned Eddie Plantaric as an option. Mason called Anderson, a redshirt freshman, a "swing guy" who could play inside our outside: "When we look at who has come the furthest in the shortest amount of time, it's Henry Anderson."
  • Mason also admitted -- after a certain sports writer whined about the multiplicity of looks from the Stanford D -- that the the Cardinal defense is more of a hybrid 3-4 than a pure 3-4. There were plenty of times last fall when four defenders put their hands on the ground in a 4-3 look. It's about matchups, he said. And if it's clear there's more talent at linebacker, which appears to be the case, "We could take a defensive end out and put another linebacker in. We're going to get the best athletes in."
  • Mason repeatedly talked about incoming freshman, particularly linebacker James Vaughters, who by most accounts will be too good to redshirt, as well as a defensive backs Wayne Lyons, Ra'Chard Pippens and Ronnie Harris. "We're not afraid to play true freshmen," he said.
  • Inside linebacker Shayne Skov and outside linebacker Chase Thomas are All-Pac-12 talents. As for the two vacancies at linebacker, two sophomores, Blake Lueders and Trent Murphy, are battling outside and senior Max Bergen and sophomore Jarek Lancaster are competing inside. Alex Debniak also is in the mix outside -- Mason included him with Lancaster and Lueders when he said, "Those three guys have probably come the furthest in the shortest period of time." And Vaughters, well, he's got great high school video and could help inside or out.
  • Linebacker? "We are a very athletic group across the board," Mason gushed.
  • As for the secondary, the question is not only Richard Sherman's former sport at cornerback. Said Mason, "Richard's spot is up for grabs. Both corners are up for grabs. I'll say this. There's not a position in the secondary that isn't up for grabs." That includes both returning starters at safety, Mike Thomas and Delano Howell (here's a guess Mason was mostly making a point about competition -- "We're always going to keep pushing the envelope" -- Thomas and Howell are almost certain to start). At corner, Barry Browning, Johnson Bademosi and sophomore Terrence Brown are in the mix. Sophomore safety Devon Carrington also has caught Mason's eye.
  • Interesting quote from Mason: "We probably played as much man coverage as any team in the country [in 2010]."
  • The Stanford defense finished ranked in the nation's top 1o in scoring, which is more remarkable when you consider it gave up 52 points at Oregon. That ill-fated trip is something that Mason seems to recall as vividly and often as the fancy, positive stats. It's clear he has -- and likely his staff and players have -- spent plenty of time thinking about the Ducks, who handed Stanford its only loss. Said Mason, "The team we have to go get is the Oregon Ducks. Oregon is king of the hill."

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