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Shayne Skov's Injury Opens Door for Stanford's Other LBs

Eight games into the 2009 season, Stanford fifth-year senior middle linebacker Clinton Snyder, the Cardinal's leading tackler and emotional leader, suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice

Enter Owen Marecic. In his debut as a two-way starter, Marecic the fullback helped Toby Gerhart rush for 223 yards, while Marecic the linebacker helped the defense make just enough stops in a 51-42 win over then-No. 7 Oregon.

Shayne Skov, a true freshman who had played his way into a starting role two weeks earlier, made five tackles against the Ducks and stepped up his game after Snyder went down. Skov started the last seven games of the season, finished third on the team in tackles, and established himself as Stanford's most feared defender as a sophomore. He was putting together an All-America-worthy season this year before his left knee failed him in an ugly collision on Saturday in Tucson. 

So who will emerge as this year's Owen Marecic and how will Skov's loss affect the Stanford defense statistically? It's an imperfect comparison, but taking a look at the 2009 team post-Snyder might offer some clues. 

Fresh off a 33-14 pasting of Arizona State, Stanford was 5-3 when Snyder went down. While Gerhart was plowing his way into the Stanford record books en route to finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting, the Cardinal defense wasn't exactly dominant. Stanford, which had allowed a combined 81 points in losses to Oregon State and Arizona before knocking off the Sun Devils, ranked 71st in total defense and 47th against the run. 

The Cardinal won three of its next four games mostly in spite of its defense, including a 45-38 win against Notre Dame one week after Shane Vereen ran all over Stanford in Big Game. By the end of the season, which was capped with a 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl, Stanford had slipped to 90th in total defense and 55th in rushing defense. The Cardinal suffered a dropoff in defensive production, but hardly a drastic one, especially considering the quality of the offenses it faced in the second half of the season as compared to the first half.  

One reason the Skov-Snyder comparison is an imperfect one is that Stanford is deeper defensively today than it was in 2009. 

"We've recruited hard and we have good players up and down the roster," head coach David Shaw said. "We made sure we played a lot of guys early for reasons just like this. We need every available body at any given time, so we are going to make sure we have guys ready to step in at every single position."

Shaw indicated Monday that redshirt freshman A.J. Tarpley and sophomore Jarek Lancaster will share time opposite fellow inside linebacker Max Bergen over the next few weeks. True freshman James Vaughers will continue to practice at inside linebacker, according to Shaw, and could also see increased playing time. 

"You can say that Shayne is the heartbeat of the defense, but doggone it Michael Thomas and Chase Thomas are good football players," Shaw said. "We have a good football team."