Stanford Football: Jarek Lancaster

There were 34 Pac-12 players selected during the NFL draft, but there will be more than twice that many rookies in NFL training camps this summer. Shortly after the draft ended, the dominoes started falling and those who went undrafted started signing free-agent contracts.

The following list of undrafted free agent signings, which was compiled from various announcements and media reports, could change in the coming days:

Arizona
Arizona State
California
Note: K Vincenzo D'Amato will reportedly attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp.

Colorado
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Notes: S Devon Carrington (Pittsburgh) and LB Jarek Lancaster (Oakland) will attend rookie minicamps.

UCLA
USC
Utah
Notes: DT LT Tuipulotu will attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp and C Vyncent Jones told the Deseret News he will attend minicamps for Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Washington
Note: S Sean Parker will reportedly attend Washington Redskins rookie minicamp.

Washington State
Note: K Andrew Furney will attend Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp.
The countdown of Stanford's top-5 position groups with room to improve continues.

[+] EnlargeAJ Tarpley
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriLosing Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy will hurt Stanford, but A.J. Tarpley provides the Cardinal with a solid linebacker foundation.
One position group will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 3: Linebacker

Must replace: Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Jarek Lancaster

Returning starters: A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters

Players to watch: Kevin Anderson, Joe Hemschoot, Blake Martinez, Noor Davis

Outlook: Replacing two of the best linebackers in school history in Murphy and Skov obviously won't be easy. Throw in Lancaster, who led the team in tackles in 2011, and there's a lot of departing talent. Tarpley flirted with the idea of heading to the NFL before deciding to return for his fifth year, and Vaughters will be counted on heavily to have a big senior season. With Skov's departure, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Cardinal moved Vaughters back to inside linebacker, where he started to the 2012 season before he was beaten out by Tarpley. Anderson will likely enter camp penciled in as a starter after seeing a lot of playing time on the outside in 2013. He came up with a pick-six in the Rose Bowl and the coaching staff has spoken highly of him -- dating back to his redshirt season in 2011. Martinez was mostly a special teams player as a true freshman in 2013 and will compete at inside linebacker. An intriguing player to keep an eye on is Davis, who was the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker in the Class of 2012.

The countdown
No. 4: Defensive line
No. 5: Wide receiver

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
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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 one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from 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 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.

Pac-12 chat wrap

September, 27, 2012
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For those who participated in Wednesday's chat, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness. So you've got that going for you.

For those who didn't, you don't get to enjoy this Caddyshack reference. So stop enjoying it. You, sitting at your work computer with the Starbucks, stop enjoying it.

You can, however, read the highlights or catch the complete chat here.
Nick (Boston): Hi Kevin, I think that Stanford Washington game tomorrow night will be really interesting, I think if Price is able to make plays the Huskies can keep it close and have a chance to win the game in the 4th quarter your thoughts?

Kevin Gemmell (2:01 PM): The answer lies in the question. I think Price is going to be on the move quite a bit this week -- given the issues on the offensive line and the aggressive nature of the Stanford front seven. If they can keep contain, it will be a long day for Price. If he can make plays with his feet, he'll force Stanford to move up a safety to spy and adjust and that could keep them in the game.

Beavtastic (Corvegas): What will it take for the Beavs to be 8-0 coming into the Stanford game? I think if the improvements are made on offense, 8-0 is not unreasonable.

Kevin Gemmell (2:03 PM): At this point, I would agree that 8-0 is possible. I think the ASU game the week before could be a trap. If ASU keeps playing the way it does, there is the slight possibility OSU could be looking ahead. Also, keep in mind the Beavers have to play 11 straight weeks now. That could take a toll.

Ben (Clovis, CA): Do you think Jarek Lancaster is getting hosed by the Stanford coaches? The guy could be an all conference linebacker IMO

Kevin Gemmell (2:10 PM): I talked with someone on the staff about Lancaster. I was told they are yet to stop Vaughters in practice. I think Lancaster has the experience, but Vaughters seems to be the better talent. He just needs to get some experience under his belt. With that said, Lancaster is one of the gutsiest players in the conference and one of my all-time favorite interviews. Good, good dude.

Bryce (SF): What does DAT need to do to climb the Heisman rankings? All the talk seems to be about Geno Smith, who hasn't even played a good team yet!

Kevin Gemmell (2:15 PM): More touches, more touchdowns. But I don't call the plays and I'm not going argue with how Kelly and Co. call plays. The Heisman would be sweet. A national championship would be sweeter.

Kirk (Campbell, CA): First year QB's often drop a close game or two on the road, do you think Stanford can beat UW, Notre Dame and Cal away from home to possibly be undefeated by the time they play Oregon?

Kevin Gemmell (2:24 PM): A lot of first-year quarterbacks are asked to do a lot. With the running game support and the defense backing him, Nunes is in a position where he doesn't have to be stellar on a weekly basis. When you look at the USC game, he was OK and made two fantastic plays when he had to -- the scramble for the first down and the touchdown to Ertz. The fact that he pressure isn't on him to throw four touchdowns and 300+ yards every week is a good thing.

Jason (Vancouver, WA): Thoughts on Colt Lyerla being used in Oregon's backfield? He playing running back in high school and was 1st team all-state with 1,600 yards and 20+ tds as a senior. He is like a power DAT to me. I hope they start using him all over the field more.

Kevin Gemmell (2:39 PM): I love it. I love innovative offenses and keeping teams on their toes.

Kevin (OKC): What are your thoughts on the season that Will Sutton is having so far. He was an absolute beast vs Utah. If he keeps playing this way can he get All-American status? Surely at least All-Conference. He outplayed Utah's stud DT the other day.

Kevin Gemmell (2:44 PM): I wrote about Sutton last week before the Utah game and he didn't disappoint. He's playing as well as any defensive lineman in the country right now. Tough for Pac linemen to get the love though. He'll have to really have stellar numbers.

Walter Jr. (New Mexico): Which coach's autobiography would you want to read the most?

Kevin Gemmell (2:46 PM): Interesting question... This might seem like an obvious answer given my job last season -- but I would go with Shaw -- only because if I were a football coach, my philosophies would be in sync with his. I love the pro-style offense, I love the 3-4 defense. I love the grind-it-out approach to the game and he's got a really interesting history as a former player, the son of a coach and the fact that he gave up an NFL job to go with Harbaugh to a non-scholarship program at USD (where he and I first met).

Tyler (Portland, OR): With Matt Barkley's inability to get the passing game going for USC and with Oregon's stellar secondary coverage against Arizona on Saturday and the addition of Colt Lyerla to the running game, do you see the November 3rd meeting in LA going differently than you did at the beginning of the season?

Kevin Gemmell (3:00 PM): I have no problem saying I was wrong. I picked USC to win the title. Things change. And I think Oregon is the best team in the conference right now. That said, I still think that will be a great game, but as of right now I'm leaning toward Oregon.

Execution weak link in Stanford escape

September, 1, 2012
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- What a difference a year can make.

Nearly a year removed from a 54-point drubbing of San Jose State, Stanford rang in the post Andrew Luck era with a thud. The Cardinal needed a 20-yard field goal from Jordan Williamson early in the fourth quarter to provide the difference in a 20-17 victory.

The smiles and laughter that followed last year’s 57-3 season-opening win against the Spartans were replaced by straight faces and looks of concern.

Running back and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Stepfan Taylor said the team needs to work on its communication. Coach David Shaw said the poor play was due to a lack of execution. Whatever it was, it won’t be good enough when the Cardinal entertain better opponents -- certainly not No. 1-ranked USC in two weeks.

[+] EnlargeBlake Jurich
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStanford's defense couldn't quite keep a lid on San Jose State, which trailed just 17-10 after this Blake Jurich touchdown early in the third quarter.
With Luck and offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin off to the NFL, the supposed strength of the team was its defensive front.

That wasn’t the case Friday as the Cardinal struggled to get pressure on San Jose State quarterback David Fales, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 216 yards.

“(They didn’t play) up to their capability, flat-out,” Shaw said. “I told them flat-out after the game, they are much better than the execution that was out there. Those guys shouldn’t stay blocked. It’s one thing to get blocked, it’s another thing to stay blocked.”

The team’s best pass-rusher was nickelback Usua Amanam, who recorded a pair of sacks and four tackles for loss.

Usually that designation would belong to outside linebacker Chase Thomas, who considered a jump to the NFL but returned for his fifth year on the Farm. San Jose State keyed in on Thomas, who finished with five tackles and half a sack. He did, however, provide the biggest hit of Fales on the night, but it came after he’d already got rid of the ball.

Next week against Duke, the front seven should benefit from the return of potential All-American linebacker Shayne Skov. Skov, who missed most of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, served a one-game suspension Friday for a February drunk-driving arrest.

“(Skov’s) experience is going to be huge,” Shaw said. “Getting him back will give us four guys on the inside that can play.”

Skov is expected to start alongside sophomore James Vaughters, who displaced last year’s leading tackler, Jarek Lancaster, as a starting inside linebacker. Vaughters made five tackles in his starting debut, but has some cleaning up to do, Shaw said.

While expectations are high for the front seven, the same can be said for the Cardinal running game which, early on, looked like the same unit that helped the team qualify for BCS bowl games in each of the past two seasons.

Behind Taylor and its power running game, Stanford scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. By halftime, the Cardinal led 17-3 and had 118 yards on the ground with 86 from Taylor.

The second half was a different story.

After averaging 5.6 yards per carry before halftime, Stanford ran for just 37 yards on 20 carries the rest of the game.

What happened?

“That’s what I want to know,” Shaw said. “Next question.”

Taylor pointed to a lack of communication that comes with breaking in several new offensive linemen in the first game of the year, and while Shaw agreed, he wasn’t ready to make any excuses.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJosh Nunes was 16-for-26 for 125 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut.
“They made some adjustments, which always happens,” Shaw said. “We made some adjustments after that. And, honestly, we made a lot of mistakes. We need to make sure we step it up a notch, but at the same time, when we run a play against a defense and it’s successful, and we run the same play against the same defense and it’s not successful, we’ll look to see why.”

Taylor finished with 116 yards on 26 carries.

While Luck had autonomy at the line of scrimmage last year, his replacement, Josh Nunes, isn’t quite there yet. The redshirt junior was solid in the first start of his career, but wasn’t asked to do a whole lot.

“It was everything I dreamed,” Nunes said. “I wasn’t nervous at all.
It was nice being back on the field again.”

Nunes completed 16 of 26 passes for 125 yards and found Drew Terrell on an 11-yard first-quarter touchdown, the first of his career.

“He played extremely well and was very poised under pressure,” Shaw said. “San Jose State gave a few looks we had not seen and Josh handled it all very, very well. He showed great leadership for our team out there and we look forward to having him do so throughout the season.”

Nunes knows he won’t be Luck, but realizes there will be comparisons.

In Luck’s first start as a redshirt freshman, he was 11 of 23 for 193 yards and a score in a 39-13 win at Washington State.

Thoughts on the depth chart

August, 27, 2012
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Stanford coach David Shaw released his first depth chart of the season in anticipation of Friday's matchup with San Jose State. We all know that depth charts -- especially with a team that can play up to nine offensive linemen in a game -- can be pretty flimsy. But there are still a few things of note.

Some thoughts:

Offense
  • It looks like we're probably going to see Andrus Peat and/or Kyle Murphy at some point at left tackle. David Yankey is listed as the starter, but he's also listed as the starter at left guard. Best guess is the frosh get some quality time the first two weeks.
  • Kevin Danser appears to have secured the spot for now at right guard. He was one of those extra linemen last year that saw a lot of time.
  • Levine Toilolo or Zach Ertz are listed as starters at tight end. That's not a commentary on one or the other. Both will start and both are fantastic.
  • Brett Nottingham, as expected, is listed as the backup quarterback. Though Shaw has said he'll need to fight to keep that spot behind starter Josh Nunes.
  • Fullback Ryan Hewitt isn't listed on the two-deep, but talking with someone in the know, this is just a reflection of his ankle injury. He'll likely be a game-time decision, though resting it for another week wouldn't be a terrible thing. UPDATED at 12:07 PT: Shaw said Hewitt will be out for the San Jose State game... so that settles that. Better to have him well rested, get some looks against Duke and be 100 percent for the USC game.
Defense
  • Henry Anderson looks to be the new starter on the defensive line. You may recall his fleet-footed fumble return against San Jose State last year.
  • Interesting to see James Vaughters as the starter ahead of Jarek Lancaster -- last year's team leader in tackles -- starting alongside A.J. Tarpley. Curious to see what happens when Shayne Skov comes back, whether it will be Skov and Vaughters, or Skov and Tarpley. Lots of good rotation at the position, though.
  • Terrence Brown and Barry Browning are listed ahead of Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons, respectively. Wonder how long it will be before we see those flip-flopped -- or if we even will this season.
Special Teams
  • Ty Montgomery will handle kick returns and Drew Terrell -- quietly one of the best in the conference last year -- will handle punt returns.
  • The Cardinal finally have a new long snapper. It felt like Andrew Fowler had been playing college football since the Clinton Administration, so keep an eye on Reed Miller.
  • Jordan Williamson returns as kicker, though, like last year, I wouldn't be shocked to see some competition when it comes to kickoffs.
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.

Stanford

Strongest position group: Linebackers

Headliner: Chase Thomas (52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks).

Supporting cast: Jarek Lancaster (70/7/3.5); Trent Murphy (40/10/6.5); A.J. Tarpley (57/4/1.5); Shayne Skov (19/5/1.5); James Vaughters (11/4/1).

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 Insider 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.
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?

[+] EnlargeJarek Lancaster
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIRELinebacker Jarek Lancaster thinks Stanford has "one of the greatest front sevens in the nation."
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.

Let's talk about the inside linebackers. You, A.J. Tarpley, Shayne Skov, James Vaughters. Is there enough defensive reps to go around?

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.

Stanford spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 8-1 (2nd, North)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter 1

Top returners
RB Stepfan Taylor, OLB Chase Thomas, LB Shayne Skov, FB Ryan Hewitt, C Sam Schwartzstein, OG David Yankey, OT Cameron Fleming, DE Ben Gardner, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo.

Key losses
QB Andrew Luck, OL David DeCastro, OL Jonathan Martin, S Delano Howell, DE Matt Masifilo, WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleener, S Michael Thomas.

2011 statistical leaders* (returners)
Rushing: Stepfan Taylor* (1,330 yards)
Passing: Andrew Luck (3,517 yards)
Receiving: Griff Whalen (749 yards)
Tackles: Jarek Lancaster* (70)
Sacks: Chase Thomas* (8.5)
Interceptions: Michael Thomas (3)

Spring answers
1. And then there were two: The pack of five has been funneled down to two quarterbacks competing to replace Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. There are plenty of questions left (see below) but at least we know that it's not a three-, four- or five-man race heading into spring. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. That's a start.

2. Running back depth: In case Stepfan Taylor gets the flu, and Tyler Gaffney trips over his batting gloves, and Anthony Wilkerson stubs his toe, we know the Cardinal still have a viable running back option in Ricky Seale, who impressed Shaw this spring with his vision, quickness and elusiveness. Oh yeah, there's a Barry something or other coming in the fall whose supposed to be a pretty good running back. RB depth is not a concern.

3. Scary front seven: The Cardinal have so much talent and depth at defensive line and linebacker that defensive coordinator Derek Mason has to be scratching his head on how to get everybody in. Linebacker James Vaugthers is a star on the rise -- but that means taking reps away from A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster. Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy are two of the best at what they do. Stanford's run defense was really good last year. It could be great this year.

Fall questions
1. Who's the guy? Nunes or Nottingham? Nottingham or Nunes? That's the question everyone will be asking on the Farm for the next few months. This might be the most intriguing quarterback competition in the country. But the Cardinal don't need a 50-attempt guy. They need someone who can put them in the best play against the right defense and hand off to Stepfan Taylor. Then repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And then pop a play-action to Ty Montgomery, Zach Ertz or Levine Toilolo.

2. The Fleener factor: Much of Stanford's offensive success came from the three-tight-end formations, which included Coby Fleener, Ertz and Toilolo. In fact, about 35 percent of the offensive playbook is triple-tight sets. How much does that change with Fleener's departure to the NFL? Ertz and Toilolo are both outstanding tight ends in their own right. But the three of them together was something special.

3. Drop-off? Aren't you tired of reading about the drop-off Stanford is going to suffer with the graduation of Luck? Well, so are the players. Several have said off the record that it's a great motivational tool because they believe the defense and running game are stronger than they've ever been. Whatever the public thinks, it hasn't penetrated the locker room. Not yet, anyway.

Stanford post-spring notes

April, 18, 2012
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David Shaw has said many times that he was spoiled having Andrew Luck at quarterback. Now that Luck is gone, the Stanford head coach is getting back to his roots as a quarterbacks coach -- a position he held with two NFL teams.

Part of that means scaling back the playbook. With Luck, he could let his offensive imagination run wild. Now with a couple of quarterbacks with a total of zero college starts between them competing for the job, it's more about getting back to basics.

"It's really not frustrating, it's just coming back to reality," Shaw said, followed by a big laugh. "That's where I've been most of my career. That's where [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton has been for most of his career.

"I received a nice little shot from Lane Kiffin saying that his quarterback checks plays also -- which is great. That's what most good quarterbacks do. We just had a guy that was on a different level. Now we're just back to what is really the standard for college football. You have to have your quarterback get you out of bad plays and into good plays, which is what we're back to."

Shaw said he won't really know the identity of his offense until he settles the quarterback question -- and also plugs the hole at left tackle vacated by Jonathan Martin.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Cary Edmondson/US Presswire"You have to have your quarterback get you out of bad plays and into good plays," coach David Shaw said of Stanford post Andrew Luck.
"At some point, we'll settle on a quarterback," Shaw said. "At some point, we'll settle on left tackle. It's hard to completely say who you are and what you're going to do until those places are settled."

In other post-spring news:

  • Shaw said he's pleased with the progress of Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes at the right guard position -- though he wasn't ready to name a starter. When tackle Brendon Austin missed time, David Yankey moved from guard to left tackle and Danser and Wilkes played both guard spots.

  • "If nobody on campus takes that left tackle job or if one of the two younger guys [Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy] isn't ready, we could kick Yankey out there and be solid at both guard spots as we groom those young tackles."

  • Just how deep is Stanford at linebacker? Well, Shaw was running off a list of names; Chase Thomas, James Vaughters, Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley, Kevin Anderson, Alex Debniak, Trent Murphy, Joe Hemschoot. Forgetting someone?

  • "What about Jarek Lancaster, coach?"

    "Oh yeah, Jarek is playing great."

    "OK, I didn't hear his name so I wanted to make sure he didn't transfer to Oregon or anything."

    "No no. Please don't wish that upon me."

    The moral of the anecdote is that Stanford is so deep at linebacker that Shaw forgot to mention the guy who led the Cardinal in tackles last season.

  • Shaw also sang the praises of running back Ricky Seale, who had an outstanding spring session.

  • "We just played a spring game without our top three running backs and we found out that our fourth running back is good enough to start at a lot of places," Shaw said.

  • With tight end Coby Fleener headed to the NFL, the Cardinal lose one-third of the Tree Amigos -- the vaunted tight end trio of Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Does that mean the Cardinal will move more toward the wide receivers being the primary receiving option?

  • "I personally don't really care about one group getting the ball over another," Shaw said. "I tell these guys all the time that I don't care who actually plays. It's whoever shows they can consistently make plays. We could easily become a three-or-four wide receiver team if that's the best group of guys and the most consistent and making big plays. Or we could be a two-tight-end team. Or a one tight end team. The offense will be whatever the personnel allows us to be."
Josh Nunes is going to remember the bonding experience with his Stanford teammates -- building two playhouses for Habitat for Humanity and getting off campus to do something good for the community. He's going to remember linebackers Jarek Lancaster and Trent Murphy showing off their art skills while painting Dora the Explorer on the playhouse. He'll remember defensive end Josh Mauro (6-6, 269) and fullback Geoff Meinken (6-4, 255) hamming it up while sticking their heads out of the child-sized windows.

But what was burned into Nunes' memory was the face of the little girl when she saw her new playhouse. It was a look he could only describe as "that glow."

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
David Elkinson/Stanfordphoto.com Josh Nunes does many volunteer projects a year and has always been involved with community service.
"I don't know how old she was, but she was about two-feet tall," Nunes said. "Being able to do something like that with your teammates is great. But to see her go in that house -- it was just incredible. She was loving every second of it."

One of the playhouses was earmarked for the Blue Star Moms -- a Bay Area organization of mothers with sons and daughters serving in the military. That's the house that went to the little girl.

"Her smile was priceless," said safety Jordan Richards. "I think we all left there feeling pretty good."

About 20 Stanford football players participated in the project last month. The following week, Nunes and Richards were back at it, volunteering with half a dozen teammates to go the Stanford Ronald McDonald House, where they played with kids who are shuttled back-and-forth between Stanford Hospital. A few days later they were off reading to elementary school kids.

It's not like Nunes, Richards -- or any of the other Stanford players for that matter -- have a ton of free time. They have full course loads and football. Both are locked in position battles. Why sacrifice what little downtime they have?

"You make the time," Richards said. "We're always working and grinding so it's nice to just get out there and do something for someone else. Especially in college, as you start to become more self-centered as you're on your own. It's good to widen that scope."

None of this mandatory. Stanford has a program called Cardinal for the Community, which puts athletes interested in helping into roles where they can. Head coach David Shaw lets players know what events are out there and it's not uncommon for some to be turned away because so many volunteer.

"We look for different opportunities -- in particular anything to do with kids -- we try to participate in those," Shaw said. "Read Across America, different children's hospitals etc. I never make it mandatory, but I remind these guys what kind of an impact they have just by showing up and showing that they care. They can inspire people. And it's important for our guys to see how they are perceived by young people and know that they can impact people's lives."

Nunes, who's locked in a quarterback competition to replace Andrew Luck, was no stranger to community service projects growing up. He was actively involved in church projects and considers himself the strongest builder on the team, citing his family mantra "Do it yourself."

"The Ronald McDonald House was great because it was all about the kids," Nunes said. "I was the crafts leader for the day and we made little leprechaun faces. We made cookies and then played in the backyard with the kids doing sports stuff.

"Yes, we're here to graduate and play great football. But that doesn't mean we can't impact lives during our time here. We should make the most of that opportunity."

Naturally, during the season the players are limited in their extra-curricular activities. But when they do get some free time, many of them are looking for ways to help others.

"We talk all the time about the recruiting process and how we're looking for great football players that are great students that are great human beings," Shaw said. "We've got guys who will take a little bit of time because they know how important it is to look at something outside of themselves. We talk about making a positive impact. If we can do that everywhere, in the classroom, on the field and on and off campus, it can have a huge impact for them and the people who look up to them."
Stanford head coach David Shaw rounded out his staff by naming David Kotulski his new inside linebackers coach.

Kotulski spent the past six seasons as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Lehigh University of the Patriot League. He replaces Jason Tarver, who left last month to be the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders.

"David Kotulski is a veteran in 3-4 defense and has a very positive history with both [defensive coordinator] Derek Mason and [OLB coach] Lance Anderson,” Shaw said in a statement. "He has demonstrated through the years that he is an outstanding teacher, great motivator and a very good recruiter -- especially in the Northeast. Our entire staff will benefit from his experience and expertise."

During his 31-year career, Kotulski has worked at Holy Cross, Utah State, Bucknell, Saint Mary's and Utah. It was at Bucknell that he crossed paths with Mason and Anderson, and again with Anderson at Utah State. He started his career in 1978 at Utah.

Kotulski, 59, isn't a big name on the West Coast, and he doesn't have the NFL coaching pedigree that Tarver had -- which included 10 years with the San Francisco 49ers. But he seems to know the 3-4 scheme and how to create pressure, and that's what Stanford's defense is all about. Last year, Lehigh's defense ranked in the top three in six defensive categories, including first in pass efficiency defense, sacks and third-down defense.

As noted earlier in the week, the Cardinal have two budding stars at inside linebackers in Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley -- who flourished under Tarver's tutelage. Both have shown good ball instincts and Lancaster's open-field tackling was spectacular toward the end of the season. The Cardinal also hope to have Shayne Skov back and healthy after a season-ending knee injury last year. He still has to serve some sort of punishment -- likely a suspension -- stemming from his DUI arrest last month and his rehab will keep him from participating in spring drills. But if he's back at 100 percent, he'll be one of the top inside linebackers in the country.

Worth noting also in Shaw's released statement is the recruiting factor. Stanford is one of the few true national recruiters and having a known presence in the Northeast can't hurt.

You can see the full release with Kotulski's complete bio here.
This is what happens. You get good, and then the getting gets good for other teams to come in and start picking off assistant coaches.

Stanford is no exception. It happened last year with the head coach. And another successful season means another round of the coaching carousel.

The fact that co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver left the Cardinal after just one year to return to the NFL is no real shock. He's one of the brightest defensive minds in football and his star is on the rise. There are only 32 defensive coordinator gigs in the NFL -- and when one of them opens up, you have to take it. If it were a lateral move to another college team, you might scratch your head. But none of that is needed with Tarver. Great move for him and a validation for David Shaw for hiring him in the first place.

So where does this leave the Cardinal -- specifically that monster front seven we've been chatting about since the end of the season? Tarver's is a beautiful mind -- and not just in the football sense. The guy is smart. There probably aren't a lot of other NFL defensive coordinators who have masters degrees in molecular biology and biochemistry from UCLA hanging on their office wall.

What he brought to Stanford was an unbelievable understanding of the 3-4 defense. In the decade prior to his time on The Farm, Tarver learned every strand, strain, wrinkle and wiggle there is to know about the scheme from some of the best defensive minds in the NFL.

At Stanford, he worked directly with the inside linebackers and deserves a ton of credit for the rapid development of Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley from good prospects to legitimate Pac-12 starters.

Without a doubt, losing Tarver is a blow. But if Stanford is anything, it's resilient. Wasn't the team supposed to lose its swagger once Jim Harbaugh left? Remember how the run defense was shot after Shayne Skov went down? Wasn't recruiting going to decline once Andrew Luck was gone?

From a game-planning perspective, little will change with Tarver's departure. Co-defensive coordinator Derek Mason (who we can only assume is running the show solo until otherwise told), will continue to install the game plan with the direct input from Lance Anderson, Randy Hart and an inside linebackers coach to be named later. (And don't be surprised either to see Mason's name popping up for head-coaching gigs either in the future).

In extensive conversations with Tarver during the season, one of the things he always made clear was that every week it was a collaborative effort, and every week there was something in the defensive game plan from each contributing coach.

Mason is not a micro-manager, and that's why he works so well with Anderson, Hart and Tarver. Now a quarter of that brain trust will be missing, but it will be replaced.

Where the real impact will be felt is teaching technique and installing the front seven's schemes. Tarver was very good at implementing the same blitz or stunt out of several different looks in the front seven -- and then tweaking it each week based on the opponent. As he often said, it allowed the defense to play faster without having to think slower.

Mason, Hart and Anderson are all fantastic coaches in their own right with an unquestioned wealth of knowledge. But none has the next-level experience of 10 years in the The League that Tarver brought -- the last five specifically working with linebackers in an NFL 3-4 scheme.

Because of who remains on staff, Tarver's departure doesn't make or break the Stanford defense. But whoever comes in has some big brains to fill.

Linebackers aplenty for Stanford

January, 26, 2012
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Has there ever been a 3-8 defense? Three linemen, eight linebackers?

"Uh, I don't think so," laughed Stanford linebacker Jarek Lancaster. "But who knows. I'm sure the coaches will find a way to figure it out. There are far too many talented guys to just leave them on the bench."

It's the proverbial great problem for Stanford to have — too many good players for only four linebacker spots.

All four of Stanford's starting linebackers return next season — Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley on the inside and Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas on the outside. Not to mention that two of the three starting defensive linemen — Ben Gardner and Terrence Stephens — are also back.

Then, you factor in that Shayne Skov will be returning from a knee injury, Joe Hemschoot picked up good playing time, James Vaughters is chomping at the bit and incoming freshman Noor Davis — the No. 1 outside linebacker recruit in the nation — may fight for snaps.

Co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said the key to rotating so many players is making sure the snaps they get are about quality, not quantity.

"We'll use them for what they do well," Tarver said. "We're excited about the depth and they are good young men. There are also a lot of young guys out there who are excited about playing and taking the baton and taking what we started to another level."

The unit obviously got a huge boost when Thomas opted to return to Stanford for his senior year. After going through the NFL projections, he decided his NFL future would still be too hazy to leave early.

"It was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Thomas told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Each day I woke up and I'd be changing my mind ... I just had to go with my gut instinct."

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects Thomas to be the No. 1 senior outside linebacker in the country next season.
Chase Thomas had a chance to crack the second round, but in going back to Palo Alto for another year, I think he has the chance to improve his stock a bit.

The biggest question mark will be Skov -- who went down with a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season. He was the team's leading tackler and probably would have left for the NFL had he stayed healthy. Kiper rates him as the No. 3 senior inside linebacker.
Skov is an interesting prospect, and if he's fully healthy the Stanford defense is going to be quite good.

While head coach David Shaw's expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, he knows his linebacker cup runneth over with talent. And it's not something he can ignore.

"We'll find a way to get them all involved. We have to," Shaw said. "With Ben and Terrence Stephens, A.J. and Lancaster — the experience those guys got this year — and Shayne hopefully coming back to form and both outside linebackers, it's an exciting group when you look at it on paper."
If 2011 was the season of learning for Stanford linebacker Jarek Lancaster, then the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State was graduation. And the first-year starter walked away with defensive valedictorian honors. In a game that wasn't exactly overflowing with defensive bright spots -- for either team for that matter -- Lancaster was one of the few defenders who stood out.

"He made a lot of plays," said head coach David Shaw. "He was physical. In a game where we missed some tackles on defense, he was as sure a tackler as there was in space. He made big-time stops at big times. It's how the season went for him. We ask him to do more and he steps up and does more."

[+] EnlargeJarek Lancaster
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsJarek Lancaster, right, had seven tackles in Stanford's Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
And more is on the way, both in the production and expectation departments. The third-year sophomore admits that when he first stepped in to the starting inside linebacker spot following Shayne Skov's injury, there were plenty of jitters. But he also knew that in time, they would pass.

"When you first get thrust into a starting position, you want to think you'll get better and believe you have the potential to get to another level," Lancaster said. "When I first got in there, the game seemed really fast and I wasn't as comfortable as I am now. It's been real nice to see the game slow down in front of my eyes and be able to feel more confident when I'm in there."

And confidence wasn't a problem in the Fiesta Bowl, where he matched senior safety Delano Howell for the team high in tackles with seven.

"I felt like I played pretty well with the open-field tackles, because they are a speed team," Lancaster said. "They didn't really run the ball, which is something you want to do -- make them one-dimensional. They were the better team that night, but overall I thought I played pretty well."

So next season, there won't be any excuses. No first-year starter excuses to fall back on. Not that Lancaster did anyway. But the better he plays, the better he will be expected to play.

"His open-field tackling was outstanding," said co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "They were big-time drive-stoppers for us. I was really excited about that. I was happy to see him do that. After a long season and starting on two special teams and playing almost every snap on defense, he worked through everything in his first year starting and his production per play was very good.

"I can't wait to see him progress. We were already talking about certain areas where he needs to grow right after the game and on the way home. He put a lot of good things on film. Jarek's a pretty amazing kid and he has a great ability to stay in the moment."

Despite leading the Cardinal with 70 tackles this season, Lancaster had just one sack on the year. That's something he said will be a major point of emphasis in the offseason.

"I need to get better at my pass rush," Lancaster said. "Maybe I can get some hands, too, so I can get a pick next season."

Is A.J. Tarpley, the other starting inside linebacker, giving him a hard time because he has a pick?

"Yeah, a little bit," Lancaster joked. "I need to fix that."

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