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August 30, 2013

Camp Position Update: Inside Linebacker

Stanford's inside linebackers played at a high level in 2012. They should be even better in 2013.

The Cardinal's three top inside linebackers from a year ago - a now-healthy Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster - all return. Additionally, several of the program's less experienced inside linebackers could assume bigger roles this season.

"It's been excellent," Stanford inside linebackers coach David Kotulski said of his position group's progress during camp. "We're very excited about the development of not only Shayne and Tarpley playing together, but also Blake Martinez and Jarek Lancaster. Truly, there are three starters with Jarek, Tarpley and Shayne. Those three guys can work in at any time. Blake has stepped forward. He is in that mix now to be able to play all the time. We (also) have some very good young guys."

Much of the inside linebackers' anticipated improvement can be attributed to the health of senior Shayne Skov, who was plagued by the lingering effects from a severe knee injury he suffered in the 2011 season. Skov is moving much better now than he was last year at this time.

"He's playing on two legs," Kotulski said. "The instincts have always been there, but the explosive nature of it and the speed to be able to go from sideline to sideline and the anticipation has greatly improved in that regard. So that's probably the biggest deal is his ability to move and be more explosive because he's playing on two legs."

Sophomore Blake Martinez has cemented himself as the fourth linebacker in Stanford's two-deep behind Skov, Tarpley and Lancaster.

"Blake is there and definitely has done some very good things," Kotulski said. "The biggest thing is consistency. Those other three guys have great knowledge and great feel. Blake is still going from Geometry to Algebra into Calculus. The other guys are in Calculus and understand the full boat. Blake is still learning but he has great skills and can definitely be very explosive also."

Though playing time will be hard to come by for the inside linebackers not in the two-deep, the Cardinal possesses some other intriguing talent. Redshirt junior Joe Hemschoot might be the most versatile linebacker in the defense.

"We're working him at some different positions to try to utilize his ability and trying to get the best talent on the (field) overall," Kotulski said. "Joe has done a great job in the learning process. And he's a guy that can play probably right now three different positions for us. So it gives us some position versatility in terms of size and speed and athleticism. Joe does a great job."

Kotulski said that Hemschoot can play both inside linebacker positions and the nickel back spot. Hemschoot is far larger than some of Stanford's other nickel backs and brings different strengths to the position.

"He gives us a bigger body, a different kind of guy," Kotulski said. "As you get different matchups, Usua is very good against other things but Joe's almost 230 (pounds). It gives us a little bit bigger guy to be able to handle some different matchups or different groupings that people might give us, yet still be able to carry over without having to teach a whole bunch of other guys. We got a little bit bigger but still stayed fairly athletic through the process."

A former top recruit, redshirt freshman Noor Davis switched from outside linebacker to inside linebacker at the start of camp. The move seems to be paying off.

"I think it's been a good switch for him in terms of what he does best (with) his strengths," Kotulski said. "I think it plays into it a little bit. Is it a learning curve right now? Yes. How fast does it go? Who knows. It's an ongoing deal. We're blessed with some very good players right now. He's just got to keep on taking those necessary steps and be ready when those opportunities come. You never know when it's going to occur or how it's going to occur. Just like during the scrimmage last week when Jarek had a little twist and was out for a little bit, Noor stepped on in and did some nice things. He made some mistakes as well, but also made some visible plays that (prompted a reaction of), 'Hey, yeah, that's good.'"

Kevin Palma is the only true freshman working with the inside linebackers. Kotulski is bullish about Palma's future on The Farm, but the Cardinal has yet to decide whether the Central Valley native will play this season. (In the past, Stanford coaches have indicated that decision is influenced by a player's role on special teams.)

"We'll take it one day at a time, one week at a time in terms of his development (and a possible redshirt)," Kotulski said. "We'll see the overall growth on him. Kevin will be a very, very good player. When will it be? Who knows exactly. So that's kind of really the question. Is it (a redshirt situation) out there? Yeah. Will it happen? I'm really unsure of it right now. We're taking the one step at a time approach, but he's one of those guys that we're very excited to have and he'll be one of the guys that we'll be talking a lot about here in the near future."

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