Though Stanford's defense has been among the best in the nation for several years running, the Cardinal has faced numerous questions this offseason about the unit in 2014 and beyond.
The departure of players like Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro and Ed Reynolds, along with defensive coordinator Derek Mason, will require several new players and coaches to handle new responsibilities.
So far, first-year defensive coordinator Lance Anderson is pleased with how his unit has responded the challenge.
"Just as a whole, all the guys seem to be playing really well defensively," Anderson said. "And the guys that we would expect to play well, the guys that we would expect to play hard, the leaders are the ones that are doing that: Jordan Richards, A.J. Tarpley, Blake Martinez has kind of stuck out maybe a little bit. He had a really good offseason, did a good job in the weight room. He's done well so far. There is still a lot of competition at that inside linebacker spot. I think we have a ton of depth at DB. All the freshmen, I don't know which ones will be ready to play, but they're all very talented kids, very athletic kids and they're really good kids. They practice hard, good football IQ, they seem to love the game, which is real positive."
"We lost some great players but I think we have some really good guys that are ready to step up, whether it's Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters, A.J. Tarpley and whoever ends up (starting at ILB opposite him), Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot, Noor Davis, one of those guys inside. In the secondary, Jordan Richards is such a leader and I think he's ready to take the next step. There's such great competition at that other safety spot with Kyle Olugbode, Kodi Whitfield Dallas Lloyd… Zach Hoffpauir has been great. That's probably another guy that would probably stand out on the defense, really, because he wasn't there in the spring, so you always worry a little bit even though Zach has played some football. (You worry) how well he will do when he's missed all spring. He jumped into fall camp like he hasn't even missed a beat. Very focused mentally, very sharp with what we're doing and he's playing fast. He's got great football IQ. He's kind of a gym rat. He's done a great job for us."
Hoffpauir is competing for playing time at nickelback and safety.
"He's right in the mix at safety as well," Anderson said. "With Kyle Olugbode, Kodi Whitfield, Dallas Lloyd and Zach, they're all really battling for that other safety spot."
Kevin Anderson, James Vaughters and Peter Kalambayi have cemented themselves as Stanford's top three outside linebackers, but the competition for the fourth and final spot in the two-deep is still ongoing.
"Those have emerged as the top three and then really battling for that fourth spot are Torsten Rotto, Sam Shober and Mike Tyler," Anderson said. "Joey Alfieri has done a good job. I'm just not sure at this point if he's going to be ready to contribute this year or not but he's very athletic.
"Those other three are really competing for that fourth spot."
Interestingly enough, Alfieri is actually listed as an inside linebacker on Stanford's roster, and there was some though during his recruitment that he would begin his college career inside. But Stanford ultimately decided that Alfieri's skillset was better suited for outside linebacker, at least initially.
"His size, his length, his speed, I think he's a good fit there at outside," Anderson said. "But he does have some versatility to play both."
Though Stanford has not made any determinations about which freshmen defensive players will see the field this year, several of the Cardinal's first-year defensive backs could be closer to doing so than some of their peers. Through the first week-plus of training camp, both Terrence Alexander and Alameen Murphy have taken reps with the veteran players.
"Those two are probably slightly ahead of the others (at defensive back) right now but the others are still doing very well," Anderson said. "Again, I'm not sure who will be ready to help and contribute but we're pleased with the whole group and Terrence and Alameen are both doing really well."
Stanford's defensive line rotation is largely set. Aziz Shittu, Henry Anderson, David Parry and Blake Lueders have cemented themselves as the top four linemen, and they'll likely receive the bulk of the playing time at the position.
Stanford is still in the process of firming up the final two spots in its two-deep, however.
David Shaw said earlier in camp that junior Luke Kaumatule had a leg up on the fifth spot. Several candidates remain for the final spot, though redshirt sophomore Nate Lohn may have an edge over some of the other contenders.
"Nate Lohn is making a push," Anderson said. "He's done some good things in fall camp. Alex Yazdi is doing some good things. He's really fighting to get in that first two. He's repped a lot in the first two groups so far. And we're very pleased with the two freshmen as well, Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips. We're slowly moving them up the depth chart and getting them reps with some of the older guys as well as they show more and learn the defense better. They're going to get a shot as well. We're happy with those guys."