Notebook: Outside linebacker shuffle

He's the active FBS leader in sacks and is having easily the best year of his Stanford career despite being the focal point of opposing offenses' protection plans. This season, he leads the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss yards. There's little doubt that Trent Murphy, a former three-star recruit, has cemented himself as one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the nation.
"He's a game-changer," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "It was one thing when we had Chase Thomas on the other side and you had double trouble but now everybody gears their protections towards him. And we're not just doing special things for him where he gets to roam around. You know where he's going to line up for the most part and you're going to have to block him and he still gets back to the quarterback. He still gets off blocks and makes tackles for losses. He makes game-changing plays and he's done it just about every week."
Stanford outside linebackers coach Lance Anderson thinks that Murphy will be a coveted prospect in this year's NFL Draft, and that the 6-foot-6, 261-pound fifth year senior could play multiple positions at the next level.
"I would think he'd have to be a fairly high draft pick in the first couple of rounds," Anderson said. "He's played great this year. He has a lot of flexibility where he could be a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could be a 4-3 defensive end. He has a lot of versatility to him and plays at such a high level."
Murphy has been the steady presence in an outside linebacker group that's seen several personnel changes in recent weeks. The Cardinal moved top backup Blake Lueders to defensive line last month to add depth to a position that had lost several players due to injury. To compensate, Stanford moved Joe Hemschoot from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
Hemschoot has adjusted well to the his new position
"Joe, Kevin (Anderson) and James (Vaughters) all played about equal reps at USC," Anderson said. "Trent had the most reps. Joe really made some plays for us against USC, did a nice job. He's still learning the position a little bit but he plays so well in space just with his experience playing nickel, playing inside linebacker. He brings a little different dimension. He's smaller than the other guys but he really moves around well, plays well in space. He's a physical guy, good tackler. So he's kind of added a different dimension. All three of those guys are contributing. We still plan on rotating all of them through, getting them reps."
Hemschoot is performing at such a high level at outside linebacker that Stanford is strongly considering moving him there permanently.
"At first we weren't sure, thought it might be a little bit of a temporary thing," Anderson said. "But I think he just adds a different dimension. I think he has some Alex Debniak-type qualities and can bring some of the same things to the position that Alex did and he's done similar things there already. If it all works out it would be great to have him there permanently just like Blake Lueders has done a great job on the defensive line, how well he's playing and with what our depth is like there he may need to stay there. At the time we thought it was just going to be a temporary thing but it may end up being permanent for both of them."
Though Stanford will lose Trent Murphy after this season, several freshmen could play their way into the rotation next year. Ohio native Mike Tyler, for one, has impressed coaches with his work on scout team.
"I know the offensive coaches rave about Mike Tyler and the look that he gives them (on scout team) and the effort that he gives down there, the pass rush ability that he gives them down there," Anderson said. "And that stuff has started to show in some of the Friday scrimmages that we have with the young guys too. He's playing hard, doing a great job."
With freshmen Tyler, Kevin Palma and Peter Kalambayi already in the program and a quartet of linebackers committed to join the Cardinal in 2014, Shaw is optimistic about the future of the position group.
"I'm excited about the young linebackers that we have," Shaw said. "I'm excited what we're doing recruiting-wise, the linebackers that we hope to gain. I think we're in a really good position to be one of the top linebacker groups for years to come."
Alex Carter will be held out of the Big Game after he suffered a concussion against USC. He'll be replaced in the starting lineup by Devon Carrington. Shaw expects Carter to return for the Notre Dame game.
Jordan Williamson remains questionable for the Big Game. He participated in Wednesday's practice and will kick again on Thursday. Stanford will determine whether he'll play this weekend based on how he responds to tomorrow's workout. Either way, Shaw expects Williamson to return for the Notre Dame game next weekend.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association announced on Wednesday that Stanford's Shannon Turley was named its College Strength Coach of the Year. Shaw shared the news with Stanford's players after practice, which drew a rousing ovation.
"They wanted a speech," Shaw said. "They love him. He pushes them hard. He makes them hurt in the offseason but he makes them better and our health is a direct relation and how physical we can play is a direct result of what he does and the guys know that. So they wanted to hear a speech from them and of course it was short, sweet and to the point."
How has Shayne Skov evolved as a player since before he injured his knee in the 2011 season?
"I would say he's smarter," Shaw said. "That year away, it was hard. He would sit in on those meetings and watch other guys get coached. When he came back he was a step slower. He's faster this year. What happens when you're a step slower is you can't get to all the places you were before. So you have to play it smarter. You have to play with better angles. I'm not going to say that injury helped him but I think not being just fast explosive run all over the place and make tackles like he did his first two years, he has to play within the defense and play it smart and take great angles. I think now he's making all the plays that he should make and some of the plays that other people can't make.
"I think he's been able to make more tackles as opposed to when he was younger, he'd tell you himself, when he was younger he was just running all over the place. So he'd make a lot of great plays but he would miss some of the plays he was supposed to make because he wasn't where he was supposed to be. He was just running full speed going where he thought the ball was going. I think he's a much, much smarter football player now and plays the techniques and plays the defense much better than he has in years past."