Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Leading up to a game against Oregon State in Novenber 2012, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked to compare the Beavers’ receiving duo (Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks) with the one at USC (Marqise Lee and Robert Woods).

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonRecord-setting WR Marqise Lee could be off the draft board early in Round 2.
“Well, first of all, I don’t mind going on record as saying that I think Marqise Lee is the best college receiver that I’ve seen since I scouted Randy Moss,” Shaw said.

He's wasn't just throwing that out there either -- Shaw was a quality control coach for the Philadelphia Eagles during Moss’ final season at Marshall. And while the future Hall-of-Famer fell to No. 21 overall in the 1998 draft, his talent was never in question.

When Shaw made the comparison, it sounded about right. At the least, it would have been difficult to argue against. Lee was on his way to what were then Pac-12 records for receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,743). It was Lee, not former No. 1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson, who was named USC’s first Fred Biletnikoff Award winner.

At the time, there was no question he would be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. Maybe top 5.

Out of the first round? No chance.

And even as he struggled to meet the bar through nagging injuries, quarterback struggles and coaching turmoil in 2013 -- the Pac-12 blog didn’t name Lee one of the conference’s top-25 players for the 2013 season -- it was hard not to write it off as a season-long aberration. Aberration or not, it’s going to cost him a lot of money.

The first receiver picked in last year’s draft, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, received $12.8 million in guaranteed money after getting picked at No. 8 overall by St. Louis. The first receiver selected in the second round last year, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, received $3.8 million guaranteed.

Feeling bad for someone who is about to make a life-changing amount of money to fulfill a childhood dream isn't the correct feeling, but, still, $9 million buys this house and leaves roughly $3.5 million. And that's just the minimum difference in guaranteed money.

Lee’s size came into question through the pre-draft evaluation process -- he measured at 6-foot, 192 pounds the combine -- but that didn’t hurt Austin, who measured 5-foot-8, 174 pounds. Austin ran a superior 40-time (4.34 to 4.52), but it would have been tough for a team to choose him over Lee.

Of course, none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. Lee should be one of the first players drafted in Friday’s second round, which means he’ll likely have the opportunity to contribute immediately. For a player with Lee talent, that should be enough.

Ten Pac-12 players to watch on Day 2 of the NFL draft
Happy Friday!
Yesterday Kyle broke down the offensive statistics from 2013 on a class-by-class basis (here are the links to the North Division and South Division breakdowns). Today, we move to the defensive side of the ball for the same kind of analysis. Each team’s classes are tracked in four statistical categories: total tackles, tackles for a loss, sacks and interceptions.

Cal:

Tackles: 859
Freshmen: 288 (33.5 percent)
Sophomores: 158 (18.4 percent)
Juniors: 279 (32.5 percent)
Seniors: 133 (15.5 percent)
Team: 1 (< 1 percent)

TFL: 76
Freshmen: 19.5 (25.7 percent)
Sophomores: 15 (19.7 percent)
Juniors: 22.5 (29.6 percent)
Seniors: 18 (23.7 percent)
Team: 1 (1.3 percent)

Sacks: 18
Freshmen: 4 (22.2 percent)
Sophomores: 5.5 (30.6 percent)
Juniors: 5 (2.8 percent)
Seniors: 3.5 (19.4 percent)

INT: 5
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 1 (20 percent)
Juniors: 2 (40 percent)
Seniors: 2 (40 percent)

Oregon:

Tackles: 1082
Freshmen: 45 (4.2 percent)
Sophomores: 195 (18 percent)
Juniors: 416 (38.4 percent)
Seniors: 426 (39.4 percent)

TFL: 70
Freshmen: 2.5 (3.5 percent)
Sophomores: 13 (18.6 percent)
Juniors: 24.5 (35.0 percent)
Seniors: 30 (42.9 percent)

Sacks: 28
Freshmen: 2.5 (9.0 percent)
Sophomores: 6.5 (23.2 percent)
Juniors: 9.5 (33.9 percent)
Seniors: 9.5 (33.9 percent)

INT: 17
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 0
Juniors: 8 (47.1 percent)
Seniors: 9 (52.9 percent)

Oregon State:

Tackles: 961
Freshmen: 122 (12.7 percent)
Sophomores: 58 (6.0 percent)
Juniors: 552 (57.5 percent)
Seniors: 229 (23.8 percent)

TFL: 75
Freshmen: 6.5 (8.7 percent)
Sophomores: 5 (6.6 percent)
Juniors: 44 (58.7 percent)
Seniors: 19.5 (26.0 percent)

Sacks: 24
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 2 (8.3 percent)
Juniors: 14 (58.3 percent)
Seniors: 8 (33.3 percent)

INT: 19
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 1 (5.3 percent)
Juniors: 10 (52.6 percent)
Seniors: 8 (42.1 percent)

Stanford:

Tackles: 999
Freshmen: 3 (< 1 percent)
Sophomores: 103 (10.3 percent)
Juniors: 228 (22.8 percent)
Seniors: 664 (66.5 percent)
Team: 1 (< 1 percent)

TFL: 109
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 2.5 (2.3 percent)
Juniors: 21 (19.3 percent)
Seniors: 84.5 (77.5 percent)
Team: 1 (< 1 percent)

Sacks: 44
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 0
Juniors: 5.5 (12.5 percent)
Seniors: 37.5 (85.2 percent)
Team: 1 (2.3 percent)

INT: 13
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 2 (15.4 percent)
Juniors: 6 (46.1 percent)
Seniors: 5 (38.5 percent)

Washington:

Tackles: 952
Freshmen: 68 (7.1 percent)
Sophomores: 290 (30.5 percent)
Juniors: 268 (28.2 percent)
Seniors: 326 (34.2 percent)

TFL: 74
Freshmen: 4 (5.4 percent)
Sophomores: 23.5 (31.8 percent)
Juniors: 32 (43.2 percent)
Seniors: 14.5 (19.6 percent)

Sacks: 41
Freshmen: 2.5 (6.1 percent)
Sophomores: 10 (24.4 percent)
Juniors: 25 (61.0 percent)
Seniors: 3.5 (8.5 percent)

INT: 16
Freshmen: 1 (6.3 percent)
Sophomores: 6 (37.5 percent)
Juniors: 2 (12.6 percent)
Seniors: 7 (43.8 percent)

Washington State:

Tackles: 977

Freshmen: 3 (< 1 percent)
Sophomores: 347 (35.5 percent)
Juniors: 111 (11.4 percent)
Seniors: 514 (52.6 percent)
Team: 2 (< 1 percent)

TFL: 75
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 39.5 (52.7 percent)
Juniors: 9.5 (12.7 percent)
Seniors: 25 (33.3 percent)
Team: 1 (1.3 percent)

Sacks: 21
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 13 (61.9 percent)
Juniors: 5 (23.8 percent)
Seniors: 3 (14.3 percent)

INT: 16
Freshmen: 0
Sophomores: 0
Juniors: 0
Seniors: 16 (100 percent)

Video: Stanford coach David Shaw

May, 8, 2014
May 8
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video

Stanford coach David Shaw talks about Pac-12 meetings and spring practices.

Video: Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott

May, 7, 2014
May 7
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Ted Miller interviews Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott at the Pac-12 meetings.

PHOENIX -- Pac-12 coaches on Tuesday finished up the first day of the spring meetings with the morning session filled with mostly housekeeping items: scheduling, the College Football Playoff, bowl affiliations, summer practices and player stipends.

The largest news item to come out of the day was the discussion to move the Pac-12 championship game to Levi’s Stadium, the future home of the San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara, California. No coaches gave specifics on a timeline of when this would be put into effect, but it could happen as early as 2014.

Since the Pac-12 conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011, the game has been held at the stadium of the division champion with the better record. Levi’s Stadium, which will be completed and opened by August, will hold 68,500 fans.

Stanford coach David Shaw, who has been in the Pac-12 championship game two years in a row (with one as the home team and one as the visiting team), said he’s split on the idea of the neutral site game and that both options offer exciting opportunities for schools and fans.

Washington State coach Mike Leach said he’s excited about the idea of the game being played at Levi’s Stadium, though he said not every coach was as on board with the idea as he was.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said the neutral game site idea is “a total guess … but potentially a really great market,” noting the large Pac-12 alumni base in the Bay Area.

“I trust the league and what they want to do,” he said. “I have no problem one way or the other.”

The three-hour afternoon session was focused on officiating, according to Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceCoach David Shaw and Stanford have played in the last two Pac-12 title games.
He said one of the biggest talking points was in regard to the NCAA’s 10-second rule proposal, which would have allowed defenses to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. Under this proposal, offenses wouldn’t be allowed to snap the ball until the 29-second mark of the play clock, which would’ve severely affected up-tempo teams. The NCAA Football Rules Committee tabled the proposal in March.

Shaw said the 10-second rule was “ridiculous” and doesn’t believe the rule will ever be brought up again.

“It caught everybody by surprise,” Rodriguez said. “We wondered, ‘How did that happen?’ … That was a scary part. We have to make sure in the future that we as coaches do our job to stay involved in anything that may affect the game itself or the people playing the game.”

Coaches also discussed the new rule that will be enforced on quarterback hits, which states that no rushing player is allowed to hit a quarterback at or below the knee when the QB is in a passing posture.

Shaw said the difficulty with that rule is how the officials will decide whether a defensive player is being blocked into a QB or hitting the player on his own.

“That’s the biggest distinction,” he said. “But I think it’s great. We all want to protect the quarterbacks as much as anybody. But we also like hitting quarterbacks. But it’s great for us to know when we can hit them and when we can’t.”

The spring meetings continue Wednesday morning with the coaches and athletic directors from each respective school (though Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis won’t be in attendance) meeting from 10 a.m. to noon, and then the athletic directors continuing their meetings until 6:30 p.m.
Spring ball is a lovely little dose of football that gets us all through the year, but it’s a far stretch from what we know and see in the fall. For the most part, it gives the young guys solid snaps and lets the older guys tune their skills.

But the coach who put it best this spring was Oregon coach Mark Helfrich who said, “In spring ball, you’re panning for gold a little bit. There’s a bunch of crap and one fleck of gold. You grab it and build on that and try to fix the other parts.”

So, here’s a look at who or what those flecks of gold were for the Pac-12 North:

Cal: If the Bears had been even adequate on defense a year ago, Andy Buh would still be in charge of the defense. Of course, that didn’t happen, but as a result coach Sonny Dykes was able to bring in Art Kaufman -- a man with a much more extensive list of success coordinating defenses. With Kaufman on board, Cal got back to basics, upped the amount of hitting it did in practice and took steps toward getting back to respectability. And, oh yeah, it remained healthy throughout the process.

Oregon: Offensively, if there’s any kind of gold/silver lining to the fact the Ducks lost Bralon Addison, it’s that they lost him early in the spring, which gave the younger, less experienced receivers more reps. Obviously, you never want to see a guy go down, but the timing of this injury gave other guys the time to step up and bring along the learning curve. Defensively, the silver lining is that the pass rush definitely improved. Between Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, Oregon is going to have two really solid defensive linemen on its hands.

Oregon State: The Beavers lost Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks and with him about 1,700 yards of receiving. They spent the spring trying to figure out where they’d find it. The fleck of gold in this season for Oregon State is that it might be on the right trail with two young receivers -- sophomore Victor Bolden and redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmon. They’re both players to keep track of next fall as quarterback Sean Mannion will certainly continue his gun-slinging ways.

Stanford: The two-time defending Pac-12 champion’s blueprint has long been in place. Now the program is in the rinse-and-repeat state among college football’s elite -- and for Stanford that starts with the offensive line. With four new starters up front, the talented group needs time to mesh, but it showed enough throughout spring to encourage the coaching staff it can remain a strength of the team. Center Graham Shuler and left guard Joshua Garnett also displayed leadership traits.

Washington: Whenever there’s a coaching change before a spring season, the fleck of gold is always going to be the fact that for both the coaches’ and players’ benefit, there was a period of time to get acquainted with one another. For Chris Petersen, he was installing a new system, bringing UW an overhaul in the coaching staff and implementing new rules and ways of doing things. Hopefully the spring period moves this group from Petersen’s program with Steve Sarkisian’s players to more of Petersen’s program.

Washington State: Ask any WSU fan about the future at quarterback beyond Connor Halliday and there is no worry in the world. It has been that way since Tyler Bruggman signed his letter of intent as part of the Class of 2013. What few counted on was that a walk-on could end up challenging the heir apparent -- but that appears to be the case. Luke Falk, who at one time was committed to Cornell, split reps with Bruggman and outperformed him in the Cougars’ spring game.

The Pac-12 entered spring practices with more clarity and quality at quarterback than any conference in the nation by a wide margin. It exits with even more clarity at the position.

With new USC coach Steve Sarkisian announcing that Cody Kessler retained his starting job, and Utah's Travis Wilson's apparently successful return from a career-threatening medical condition (an intracranial artery injury diagnosed in November), the Pac-12 welcomes back 10 returning starters heading into the fall, with a handful -- such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion -- who are candidates for All-America honors and national awards.

Further, it became clear this spring that the Pac-12 is overflowing with quality receivers, with several teams combining depth, talent and experience at the position. So things figure to be pass happy in the fall.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams is one of the few Pac-12 defensive stars returning this season.
But what about defense? After all, they say, defense wins championships, and Woody Hayes told us, "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad," an optimistic take that leaves out the quarterback sack.

While conference teams average 6.4 returning starters on defense, and just three -- Arizona State (3), Oregon (5) and Utah (5) -- welcome back fewer than six starters on that side of the ball, the loss of star power is notable.

Just two first-team All-Pac-12 defenders return in 2014: USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Only four from the second team return.

Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha and Oregon outside linebacker Tony Washington are the only returning defenders who ranked among the conference's top 12 in sacks last season. The same is true in the secondary: Only two of the top eight interception leaders are back in 2014.

So, without marquee guys chasing them or trying to steal their passes, life seems good at quarterback heading into the offseason. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, few teams seem to be fretting their situation on the mean side of the ball.

Take Stanford, owner of the Pac-12's best defense in 2013. While the Cardinal appeared more settled on offense than defense entering spring practices, the defense mostly ruled when the ball was snapped.

"No question," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "If you look at our defensive front, it's a bunch of fourth-year and fifth-year seniors ... we've got a lot of guys coming back who've played a lot of football for us."

While Stanford lost some big names, such as linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, it also welcomes back a strong foundation of seven returning starters and experienced backups. Shaw noted that Aziz Shittu is only non-fourth- or fifth-year guy in the mix for playing time in the front seven. He lauded defensive end Henry Anderson, an athletic 6-foot-6, 295 pounder, this spring as a potential breakout star this season, with an NFL future.

Over at Oregon, the Ducks are not only replacing two of three defensive linemen and three starters in the secondary, they also are breaking in a new defensive coordinator, as Don Pellum moved up from linebackers coach to replace the retiring Nick Aliotti.

Yet even when matched against Mariota and a potent and experienced Ducks offense, the defense held its own.

"I think we've had a great give and take as far as who's had the upper hand," Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said. "Marcus is obviously a difference-maker and a special guy. Defensively, we're building where we need to be. It was good give and take overall."

In the South Division, UCLA and USC both look strong on defense despite losing some marquee players. Both welcome back eight starters from accomplished units. Defending champion Arizona State lost almost all of its star power, but Sun Devils coach Todd Graham was almost defiant all spring about his expectations for his defense.

Of course, he's also counting on a number of newcomers playing key roles, which often is a matter of keeping the ole fingers crossed.

“People come here to play defense, that’s what we’re known for," he said. "We’re known for defense, so I don’t expect anything less than last year.”

While there might be some defensive questions among the teams thought to be competing for division championships, the defenses that finished on the bottom in 2013 could be much improved.

Oregon State, Colorado and California, the Nos. 9, 11 and 12 scoring defenses last season, each welcome back eight starters. The Golden Bears and Beavers, in particular, could dramatically improve if injury woes from 2013 reverse themselves.

"I think our team is tougher and better conditioned and our players are in a much better place than they were last year," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "I think that's something players noticed. We have some experience coming back. It's the second year in the system. So, yeah, I think everybody feels like we're a lot better football team than we were a year ago."

It seems certain that Pac-12 offenses will again be high-flying and potent in 2014. But the conference teams that have earned BCS bowl berths the past decade or so also have played good defense. As we exit spring and head into the offseason, there is hope -- but not nearly as much certainty -- there.

Stanford spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
May 2
8:00
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What we learned about the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal in spring practice.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Defense is ahead of the offense. That shouldn’t be taken as a slight against the offense, either. Stanford’s defense is loaded back to front and set the tone for most of the spring. Replacing defensive coordinator Derek Mason, linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds is daunting, but not reason for panic.

2. Henry Anderson is a potential All-American. He has flown under the radar at times, but Anderson will be among the best defensive ends in the country next season. The fifth-year senior has the size (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) and skill to alter opposing gameplans.

3. Kevin Hogan is ready to lead. With a 10-1 career mark against Top 25 opponents, it’d be easy to argue he arrived ready to lead, but there’s now no question that he's a leader. With a talented group of receivers coming back, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if his passing numbers make a big jump this season.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will win the starting jobs on defense? One safety spot and one inside linebacker spot appear to be the biggest question marks going into the summer. Kodi Whitfield still figures to have a good shot at starting next to Jordan Richards at safety after converting from receiver, but Dallas Lloyd, Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir will factor in. At linebacker, Blake Martinez and Joe Hemschoot are the frontrunners to replace Skov.

2. How will the young offensive line come together? Left tackle Andrus Peat is the only full-time starter back, but it’s a unit that won’t be light on talent. The other four players, like Peat, were from the lauded Class of 2012 and need time to gel. There was little rotation among the first team during spring practice as Stanford tries to ready the group. There won’t be much time either, with USC on the schedule in Week 2.

3. Will running-back-by-committee last? Coach David Shaw predicted a committee approach in 2013, but Tyler Gaffney forced his hand and took the lion’s share of the carries. This time, with four players close in skill level, the Cardinal will probably stick with it longer, which will jeopardize the school's six-year streak with a 1,000-yard back.

One way-too-early prediction:

Kelsey Young will lead the team in carries. He arrived at Stanford as a running back, switched to receiver and is now back at his natural position. He and Barry Sanders appeared to be the most dangerous of the backs with the ball in their hands, but they need to improve in pass protection. If Young proves to be a capable blocker, he’ll see the most snaps.
In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade. And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down and cut him 'til he cried out in his anger and his shame, "I am leaving, I am leaving." But the fighter still remains.
Pac-12 spring practices end on Saturday with spring games from Oregon and Oregon State, and many conference teams feel like they found answers to some of their nagging questions. But there also are major unresolved issues.

So which is the most pressing post-spring void?

Start at Arizona. While the Wildcats QB competition is far from resolved -- heck, four guys are still in the hunt -- the general feeling after spring practices ended is that the position is far better off than it was a year ago. Based on the quality of competition, there's not much concern that the next QB won't be at least solid.

SportsNation

Which is the Pac-12's most pressing post-spring void?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,762)

Things now seem more uncertain at running back, where the Wildcats are replacing Ka'Deem Carey. The only returning RB with experience, Jared Baker, was out with an injury. The NCAA waylaid early-enrollee Jonathan Haden, and redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green didn't distinguish themselves. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby made a few plays, and incoming freshman Nick Wilson arrives in the fall. It's possible Rich Rodriguez will reach into his deep bag of receivers for help at the position.

The Wildcats running game should be productive because that's pretty much a given with a Rich Rodriguez offense. How productive, however, might determine where Arizona ultimately falls in the South Division pecking order.

Then there's Oregon State, which is only replacing the nation's best receiver in 2013, Brandin Cooks, a potential first-round NFL draft pick next week. The Beavers welcome back the experienced Richard Mullaney and the promising Victor Bolden, but asking them to replace Cooks' production and explosiveness seems far-fetched. With a strong-armed, veteran QB in Sean Mannion, the Beavers need to find more weapons in the passing game.

Meanwhile, UCLA exits spring practices with few obvious voids. There's a reason folks are projecting a top-10 preseason ranking. Yet OLB Anthony Barr was special. He's also a potential first-round NFL draft pick, and the Bruins don't have an obvious answer for replacing his 10 sacks. Kenny Orjioke flashed some this spring, and he and Deon Hollins seem to be a serviceable tandem, particularly if end Owamagbe Odighizuwa becomes a QB terror.

Still, Barr not only was everywhere last year, he made everyone around him better.

Often it's not just about physical skill, though Stanford LB Shayne Skov has plenty of that. Skov was more than the Cardinal's leading tackler. He was the locker room's emotional presence, its unquestioned leader. So it's not just that Stanford is replacing his production. It's also the leadership void he leaves behind.

At the end of spring, it was unclear who would take his place, as Blake Martinez, Noor Davis, Joe Hemschoot and Kevin Palma all are still in the mix.

Finally, Washington is replacing RB Bishop Sankey, its unquestioned offensive superstar, but the QB situation, where the efficient Keith Price needs to be replaced, seems more worrisome. The good news is Cyler Miles wasn't charged in an off-field incident that had him suspended all of spring. That would appear to clear the way for him rejoining the team.

Still, he might be in new coach Chris Petersen's doghouse, and he might not find it easy to catch up with Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams in terms of learning the new offense. Further, neither Lindquist nor Williams seemed to make a decisive statement this spring. While the options to replace Sankey at RB -- unlike at Arizona -- have quality game experience, that only can be said for Miles at QB. Until Petersen reveals Miles' standing, this is a major question for the Huskies offseason and fall camp.

Each of these teams has high aspirations for 2014. It's unlikely they will meet those expectations without adequately addressing these voids.

So which is the biggest?

Q&A: Stanford's Jordan Richards

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
7:00
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Stanford safety Jordan Richards took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about how spring ball went for the two-time defending Pac-12 champs and adjusting to life with some new defensive coaches.

Every year it seems like people say "this is the year Stanford takes a step back," and every year you prove people wrong. How will you prove them wrong this year?

[+] EnlargeJordan Richards
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJordan Richards had three interceptions last season, including two against UCLA.
Jordan Richards: What happens in the season is a product of what we do in the offseason. Whether that’s on the field in spring ball or on the field by ourselves or the stuff we do with Coach [Shannon] Turley in strength and conditioning. It’s a mentality that’s throughout our program. We have a standard. The bar is raised every year, and we’re constantly trying to beat that standard. The last couple of years has been a product of the work the previous classes have gotten everyone to buy into.

How much of a hangover was there following the Rose Bowl?

JR: I would not say there was much. There’s not much to be happy about after you lose a Rose Bowl. So we got our two weeks off. Got rejuvenated. Got to reboot. Got to go home. And then it was right back to the grind.

The secondary faces a lot of pressure because traditionally it has been so tough to run on Stanford. As a result, the secondary stats are a little skewed. How do you guys handle that knowing teams are going to be coming after you through the air a lot of the time because the front seven has been so tough?

JR: It’s nice playing behind those front seven guys and how they get after the passer because it makes our job easier. We can cover while they get after the quarterback. We definitely appreciate all of that. In terms of the numbers, it doesn’t really matter. It’s cool to have bragging rights. But in the end, all that really matters is Pac-12 trophies and bowl trophies. The one we want is a national championship trophy and that’s what we’re working for. We play in a pass-happy conference anyway. Wazzu is going to put it up 80-90 times. You just have to live with it and hope each and every Saturday you come out with a "W" when it’s all said and done.

There have been some changes on the defensive coaching staff. What has that adjustment been like this spring?

JR: We were sad to see coach [Derek] Mason leave. But we’re happy to see him as a head coach. Coach [Duane] Akina came in for the second half of spring ball. For an older guy like me, you’ve heard one voice for the last three years. So it’s different with a new voice out there. That’s something we’re all getting used to. Coach Akina has this group moving in the right direction. Some guys who probably didn’t have as big a role in the past couple of years have gotten a clean slate with a new coach and that’s good for us. Everyone has something to prove, including myself, to Coach Akina. We’re trying to put our best football forward. The spring was good. We just need to translate that into the spring and hopefully when we get into camp we’ll be ready to go.

What has it been like without Ed Reynolds? You two were such a good tandem the last couple of years. Is it strange not having him out there next to you?

JR: I guess it’s weird to know I’m one of the older guys now. Between myself and Kyle Olugbode and [John] Flacco. I guess that’s the biggest change. You see guys you played with for two or three years and they start disappearing. You start with Michael Thomas and Delano Howell and those guys graduated. Then Terrence Brown and Harold Bernard and those guys graduate. I guess it’s a realization that this is the last one I have eligibility-wise. Whoever is playing among the DB group, I feel like we really improved. Who plays? I don’t know. I’m fighting for time just like everybody else. It’s been good. We’re all grinding and fighting in the same direction.

Speaking of guys leaving, you’re losing a lot of guys who were the “faces” of the defense in Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner. Do you feel like this is starting to become your defense?

JR: Maybe not in the traditional “face” of the defense. But in terms of leadership, confidence, poise on the field, I feel like that’s a responsibility of mine more than it’s been the last couple of years. There are plenty of guys besides me who have played a lot of football here who are poised, calm and respected players on this defense. The faces change. We don’t have the Screaming Mohawk with Shayne or Big Murph out there. But we’ve got guys that can still demand what those guys demanded of this defense.

After the NFL, what do you want to do with your public policy degree?

JR: I’m still not sure. Taking classes to figure that out. I want to try my hand at education. Whether that’s policy, I don’t know. I feel like I need some experience in the classroom before I focus on policy. Hopefully I’ll find out more this summer.

Finish this sentence: In 2014, Stanford football will be …

JR: Exciting. I’m excited to play next year and I’m excited what this team has in store for our school and the Pac-12. I’m excited. That’s the word I would use.
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team, Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland.
Happy Friday!

Lunch links: Remembering Tillman

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:30
PM ET
There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out ... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

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