If Stanford is to live up to the enormous expectations surrounding the program in David Shaw's first year at the helm, it will take more than strong individual performances by the Cardinal's established stars. We know what to expect from the likes of Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Stepfan Taylor, a healthy Chris Owusu, Shayne Skov, and Delano Howell. (Namely, greatness.)
Over the next 11 days, I'll profile 11 less heralded players whose ability to adjust to larger roles will help make or break the Cardinal's season.
Today: Max Bergen
Max Bergen knows what it's like to start a season opener. The redshirt senior from Pennsylvania filled in for an injured Shayne Skov and registered a team-high eight tackles and a forced fumble in last year's 52-17 rout of Sacramento State. It will be tough to top that performance against San Jose State, but Bergen, who started only one other game in 2010, is expected to make a bigger impact over the duration of the season as Owen Marecic's replacement at inside linebacker.
Marecic had 51 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions last season. Those numbers aren't exactly eye-popping, but the Cardinal must also replace Marecic's senior leadership and toughness.
Bergen has maintained a slight edge over Jarek Lancaster, A.J. Tarpley, and Sam Hemschoot for the starting spot alongside Skov. Highly touted true freshman James Vaughters is also in the mix. The unit will be molded by Jason Tarver, who spent the last 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, and brings an intense attitude (think more cruelty than character) to the Farm.
"What we want to hold our hat on is hard work. The physicality and playing with violence has to stay the same. We need to continue to knock people back, use our hands and be relentless to the football. Those are some of the things they established last year, especially at the end of the season."
Bergen had 18 of his 21 tackles in the Cardinal's first four games last season. Once healthy, Skov blossomed in the second half of the year. He had 12 tackles and 3 sacks in the Orange Bowl, and many believe he is poised for a huge season. Opposing teams may do their best to steer clear of Skov, making Bergen's role all the more important.
"He makes up for a lot of mistakes that I might make," Bergen says of Skov.
Stanford will be best off if Bergen, who has been working on his hands with Tarver this fall, is able to return the favor when necessary.