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Which players are poised to break out on defense for Stanford in 2014?

After the loss of Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ed Reynolds, look to these players to take command of the spotlight this fall

Kevork Djansezian

Replacing the heart of your defense isn't easy. Replacing players on all three levels of your defense isn't easy. Replacing the nation's leader in sacks isn't easy.

Now David Shaw and Lance Anderson have to find those replacements all at once.

So which players on the defensive side of the ball are poised to step up and become the next set of tormentors to opposing offenses? Here are three to watch this season.

Outside linebacker Kevin Anderson

Anderson steps into the role vacated by Trent Murphy, who was incredibly valuable against the pass and the run for the last three seasons. Anderson got a substantial amount of playing time in 2013, including an extremely strong performance Rose Bowl, where he had a pick six.

As an outside linebacker, Anderson will be counted on to both create havoc and set the edge against the explosive offenses that Stanford will encounter this fall. Even if he doesn't accumulate stats as prolific as Trent Murphy, he'll be counted on to rush the passer effectively - something fellow OLB James Vaughters hasn't quite done consistently throughout his career.

So far, Anderson has shown some serious talent in his limited reps, and I think he should fit in quite well with this defense. I doubt he'll be any significant dropoff from Murphy, particularly against the run. Consider this: in the last seven games last season, Anderson had 4.5 tackles for losses, two sacks, and a pick-six. He created a disproportionate amount of chaos for the minimal snaps he played a year ago, and I'm very high on his prospects this season.

Nickel cornerback Zach Hoffpauir

In the Pac-12, you're constantly tested by various spread offenses. Washington State, Arizona State, UCLA, Cal, Utah and Oregon all consistently put four or five wide on the field. As a result, the nickel is an increasingly important defensive formation, and most of the teams in the conference will probably end up with nickel as their de facto base defense. That's why Usua Amanam was critically important for the Cardinal these last two seasons, and why whoever starts at nickel cornerback this year will be essential to the success of Stanford's defense.

Right now, Hoffpauir may have the inside position on the job, although several players have taken reps at nickel cornerback this spring and summer, but no matter how much he plays, I think Hoffpauir will be an interesting player to watch all season long.

He's a physical presence who should mesh well with new defensive backs coach Duane Akina's style, and he should be one of the bellweather players to watch Akina's impact in action. (Jordan Richards and Alex Carter will be the others I'm observing closely.)

Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu

Shittu hadn't made huge strides on the field until the end of last season, when it appeared that the light went on after Luke Kaumatule was swapped to the defensive side of the ball.

Now, Shittu will be asked to use his massive frame to control gaps and disrupt the run game as both a 3-technique and a 0-technique, giving David Parry a much needed rest in the middle and giving the Cardinal a critical run-stopping presence across from Henry Anderson. Last year, Shittu had only five tackles, but his increased role should allow him to blow that number out of the water this fall.

The big question is if Shittu can add anything as a pass-rusher that Parry or Anderson can't. Parry isn't a world-beater as a pass rusher, and if Shittu can stay on the field (and switch between nose and end) during those hurry-up no-huddle drives that Stanford's defense will face, he'll see a massive increase in snaps.

Altogether, is Shittu is able to ruin blocking schemes as both a nose tackle and a 3-technique, he'll be one of the more valuable players on the defensive side of the ball.