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2015 Stanford Football: A fan's take on the defensive line

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We love highlighting the best comments we get here at Rule of Tree, here is a rather in-depth comment regarding the Stanford defensive line

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rule of Tree is a small community so we do not get a lot of comments on our articles. In typical Stanford fashion the comments we do get are rather in-depth and articulate. When I happen to stumble upon a particularly interesting and in-depth comment I move it up to the front page for all to see. This particular comment comes from user maddogsfavsnpiks.

"As i see it, there are currently (starting with summer-camp in a little over a week) 8 to 10 D-Linemen who will be available for playing time once the season kicks off, in 5 weeks, in Evanston, ILL, Sept 5..:

1) Solomon "Judgement Day" Thomas, DE, is everything the team and we Tree fans could want in a RS Frosh. Not only did he come in with great bonafides, as a rare 5-star recruit embracing Nerd Nation, but he seems to have used his RS season to learn and grow into the challenges at the "next level", ie college ball. Judging by his play in the spring game he's ready to be the real deal. Furthermore, his father told me that he was not 100% in that game (more like 70% +/- ?) as he was dealing with a painful turf-toe injury. If he can answer the bell, whole and healthy at an even higher level of power, mobility and intensity (wow!), he will contribute enormous upsides to the D-Line with his uncanny ability to get great leverage and a powerful, disruptive push into opposing backfields.

2) Aziz "Eattu" Shittu, DE/DT, was already poised to have a break-out season, when he went down with a serious (knee ?) injury in the Notre Dame game last year. Imo, his injury was one of several contributing factors to the mid-season slide the team experienced. When he's right, he's tough to block. He told me after being held out of the spring game he's chomping at the bit.. - but of course, i'm sure the trainers are bringing him along slowly, rather than risk re-injury before he's completely healed.

3) Harrison "Ford" Phillips, DE/DT, shed his red-shirt status last year shortly after Shittu went down, and played surprisingly well for the balance of the season. He is serious and all business in person. I imagine that carries over into his role on the field. He was a bit undersized for NT/DT at 255lbs, but his 6'4" frame should allow for considerable additional poundage, especially if he continues to be an anchor in the middle of the line. As a back-up to David Parry, in just a few games, he registered 9 tackles and 2 sacks as a True Frosh, which is very hard to do, when you're that inexperienced and basically undersized, playing in the middle of the D with OL Centers, Guards, Tackles, and/or Fullbacks, coming at you from all directions.

4) Brennan "the Bear" Scarlett, DE. Scarlett is an accomplished, experienced DE/OLB, whom you've probably heard transferred from cal, in a very unusual move, most likely a first in the 125 yr old, heated Big Game rivalry. In 3 injury-plagued years across the bay, he's registered 15 starts, first at LB, then DE, with 54 tackles, 8.5 tfls, including at least 2 sacks, but just as importantly i think, he was a captain of the cal D ! I don't pretend to know the full list of motivations for the transfer, but it seems a no-brainer that family played a big role, as his younger brother, Cameron, is a very promising RB recruit, who just recently arrived on the farm. If you think Scarlett's transfer is no big deal, see if you can find the media clip of Sonny Dykes' response, when he got the news. The normally affable Dykes was literally fuming and could barely hide his anger and frustration, responding to inquiries with a terse, scowling, tight-lipped, "NO COMMENT !", before storming off in an unconcealed rage. Undoubtedly Scarlett's experience will be mined for choice nuggets on how to best attack the Pooh Bare defense, which actually has been slightly, almost imperceptibly, improving over the last couple years, from 46 ppg allowed in ‘13, to 39.8 last year, plus an almost 1 yard per rush, and .8 yard per pass, improvement. I mean, they're awful, but still.. obviously Dykes viewed Scarlett's defection with extreme malice. As a Tree fan, that's a good thang.

5) Jordan "River" Watkins, DE, is another highly regarded DL who's yet to shine. Phil Steele's composite rankings lists him as the 38th best DL recruit in his class. So far he's played sparingly, recording few stats. Obviously there is a great need for quality depth on the Stanford DL this year, so now would be a great time for Watkins to burst onto the scene, with an armful of tackles, multiple sacks, tfls, qbhs, pbus, ffs, etc.. Because of the almost unimaginable brutality and punishment meted out along the LoS, most good teams have 12-15 DL-men on the roster, and some have as many as 20 or so. Stanford's DL does not have that kind of luxury, so it's absolutely necessary that Watkins step up this season.

6) Nate "Yurnotta" Lohn, DE/DT. Although, as a recruit, he was not as highly ranked as Watkins, Lohn is in a similar situation now. The Tree will need a major contribution from him this year, in order to spell the front line of defense, especially in a league with so many up-tempo offenses, and in a position group with such a high incidence of injury. This year would be an ideal time for Nate to emerge from the shadows, since next year, when NTs/DTs Bo Peek, and Mike Williams are expected to arrive, with Scarlett and Shittu departing, it will be essential that Lohn is seasoned and ready for a significant role in the starting rotation.

7) Wesley "the Man" Annan, DT, an incoming freshman, at 6'4", 290lbs, will probably be the biggest DL on the team, at least until Peek and Williams get here next year. Shaw has said that of the new arrivals, the most likely to see playing time are WR Trent Irwin and Annan. Because of the depth issues on the DL it's easy to see why. It will also be interesting to see how Annan responds to Shannon Turley's conditioning and weight training regimen. While he looked big and powerful in his high school film clips, college ball is played on a whole other level.

8) Thorsten "the Thought" Rotto, OLB/DL, a senior, listed at 6'2", 236lbs, has played LB most, if not all, of his Stanford career. Obviously he appears to be undersized for DT, or even DE. Having played a portion of my career as an undersized OLB i can appreciate the odds he probably faces. I've watched a little of his recent play and he seems to be a smart, heady, focused player, who makes good decisions. My guess is that, because of the dire need for depth on the DL, the coaches asked for volunteers, and Rotto, team player and gamer that he prob'ly is, stepped up... If that is indeed the scenario that played out, i admire Mr Rotto, and appreciate his efforts immensely. People don't often recognize the contributions in practice, or in a back-up role, that go into the make-up of winning football teams. But remember, there's plenty of times when it's "the Thought" that counts.

9) Dylan "How Many Miles Musta Man" Jackson, DE. I expect Jackson, an incoming freshman, to be RS'd, unless the kind of emergency that imposed itself on Phillips occurs. His high school tapes reveal a guy with a high-energy motor which is always good to see in a big man. He was a dominant player in HS, altho it's not always easy to tell, at the high school level, much about the quality of the opposition. A great high school baller is not infrequently, just average in college, especially at first, and so much depends on how a guy matures both physically and mentally.

10) Luke "Cool Hand" Kaumatule, OLB/DE, 6'7", 276lbs. I've met and talked briefly with Luke at fan events. He's a very up-beat, friendly guy, from Hawaii. Bright-eyed, full of smiles and mirth. He started out his career on the farm at TE, after a couple years or so moved to DE, and now has shifted slightly to "rush" LB, (a position often referred to as a hybrid DE/OLB) in a similar vein to James Vaughters and Trent Murphy, it seems to me. He's very long and lanky and has bulked up considerably to suit his new role on the D front-7. With his long-armed reach, he will present to an opponent the prospect of a small hill with trees on top for the QB to throw over to reach his receivers.. Plus it looks like Luke's got a capable bull-rush, as i saw him flatten OT Casey Tucker on one occasion in the spring game, and get the (touch) sack. In Casey's defense, he had been switched from RT to LT a couple plays previously and didn't get his feet set partly due to the position change, but still...
My only beef with Luke is, he let his younger bro, a very highly regarded DL recruit, enroll in Eugene this year... What duh duck's up wit' dat ??!!

Conclusion : A number of things must go right for Stanford to challenge for a playoff birth this year, but it's not out of the realm of possibility if all falls into place. IMO the most urgent issues, in no particular order are A) a resurgence in the power run game, B) finding a competent punter and place-kicker, and C) keeping the DL healthy, dangerous, and productive.

Ideally, Jordan Watkins and Nate Lohn will be ready to play major minutes, and Wesley Annan will be ready, at least by week 3, to be the man in the middle, at least part-time. The DL must be able to put major pressure on $C's Kessler; AZ's Solomon; the 'ruin's QB (Rosen or Neuheisel); the duck's Adams or Lockie; ..and so on. This last year saw the Cardinal sack the QB 46 times, 2nd highest total in 12 years, probably longer. In other words they decked the QB once every 10 Pass Attempts. That was 2nd in the Pac12 only to Utah's 1 sack per 9 PAs. If they can maintain or even improve on those numbers AND still shut down the opp's run game, then i ‘spect they'll still be playin' in mid-Jan next year."