Football.com - everything football

Cardinal Breakout Candidates

By



Josh Mauro gained momentum at the end of last season and totaled four sacks in six games. Can he continue to be an anchor and the much needed depth for the Stanford defensive line? Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.
Josh Mauro gained momentum at the end of last season and totaled four sacks in six games. Can he continue to be an anchor and the much needed depth for the Stanford defensive line? Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.

OLB – James Vaughters

Remember him? A highly touted recruit, James Vaughters arrived on the farm with expectations to match. In case you have been living in a hole and haven’t heard about Stanford’s “party in the backfield” era— well, let’s just say these linebackers are good. Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley are a group unrivaled in the Pac-12 and maybe all of college football. Stanford always has valued maturity. David Shaw even spoke about that at Pac-12 media days. Now with two seasons under his belt, Vaughters has seen time at outside and inside linebacker depending on need. This year, they need an outside linebacker (filling in for Chase Thomas). Vaughters’ skill set is better suited for the outside and he won’t have to adjust like he did for the inside position. What's more, opposing linemen will have their hands full trying to block the rest of the Stanford front seven. Vaughters will have every opportunity to prove himself and succeed.

Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason

A lecture took place on Stanford campus. In the seats, many students watched Derek Mason for two hours break down the read option here. The students, by the way, weren’t enrolled in Stanford. They were NFL coaches. Derek Mason’s control over Oregon’s offense impressed the nation at the college and pro level, so in that sense he’s long since been recognized. However, Shaw seems to gets all the coaching credit at Stanford. Don’t be surprised to start hearing Mason’s name in the media, particularly when taking about available coaching jobs. If Mason “breaks out,” the Cardinal would do well to rein him in and keep him around.

The 4th and 5th Linemen

It’s hard to say who will rise to the top of this deep group. All the position players like Kevin Hogan, Stephan Taylor, Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart owe their success to the offensive line. The group is exceptional every year. This year, they return four starters. The depth might undermine their nickname, “tunnel workers union.” No offensive lineman in the union has job security. OK, maybe David Yankey is safe. But Stanford's depth means most every lineman will be tested for his position. The line will shuffle around with Cameron Flemming and Andrus Peat at tackle and Yankey at guard. The last two spots are anything but cemented. With a constant influx of offensive linemen at Stanford, a younger face (like Joshua Garnett or Graham Shuler) could take a guard-center spot from incumbent guards Khalil Wilkes or Kevin Danser.

Aziz Shittu, Josh Mauro and Jordan Watkins

I.E. the depth on the Cardinal defensive line, which has not proved deep… yet. These younger backups have potential, but all it could take is Ben Gardner to go down with an injury and all of the sudden this defense is in turmoil. The talented linebackers will need the defensive linemen to plug gaps. Otherwise the talent will be wasted. These three youngsters will be expected to take reps and keep the starters fresh. If all hell breaks loose, they will fill in for an injured player and quell pandemonium. Mauro has shown flashes (four sacks in the final six games off last season) and is a worthy backup to Henry Anderson. Sophomore Aziz Shittu was a multi-positional big man in high school and should move around on the line. If he comes into camp with the weight scouts thought he might gain, look for him at defensive tackle. Otherwise he will learn behind Gardner at end. Watkins remains unproven, but was regarded as a talented interior linemen coming out of high school in 2012. If Stanford has confidence in these younger guys, particularly Shittu and Watkins, it will be a huge relief for their defense.