Stanford’s defense has been a dominant force in the Pac-12 North since the conference expanded and split into two divisions in 2011. More often than not, they have been the more traditional, smash-mouth type of football team that was able to ground the high-flying, fast-paced offenses that make up the majority of North division teams. But this year’s Cardinal defense looks to be a different story.
After the 2017 season wrapped, Stanford’s already deteriorating defense took a huge blow by losing stud lineman Harrison Phillips, along with with safety Justin Reid, cornerback Quentin Meeks, and linebackers Kevin Palma and Peter Kalambayi. In fact, the Cardinal defensive line only returns one starter from last season, defensive end Dylan Jackson.
Despite Jackson’s tenure, the senior was a relative non-factor in 2017, and doesn’t appear to be poised for a bigger and better 2018. Instead, the line will feature a crop of new talent including redshirt sophomores Jovan Swann and Michael Williams, who in time may be the next defensive standouts in Palo Alto. However, with a lack of game-time experience weighing them down, it may not be until the 2019 season that we’re able to sing the praises of these potential stars.
One bright spot for Stanford’s burgeoning defense comes from senior linebacker Bobby Okereke. The 6’3”, 234 lb athlete will settle into the outside linebacker position after trading reps between the outside and inside in 2017, and will be a critical piece to keeping Stanford’s defense respectable during an unusual rebuilding period.
Okereke was good for 88 total tackles last season, third best for the Cardinal, and also tallied four sacks, one interception and a forced fumble. As a veteran leader, Okereke will need to improve upon last years performance if David Shaw and company hope to repeat as Pac-12 North champions.
The Stanford offense is good enough to go toe-to-toe against the best teams in the Pac-12, but a young core of defenders just might be enough to hamper a return trip to Levi’s Stadium in 2018.