Remember #partyinthebackfield? Just a couple years ago, Stanford’s defensive line was unstoppable, dominant, and the best. Last year, Stanford’s defensive line took a step back but was still dependable and solid. However, Stanford loses key veterans Brennan Scarlett and Aziz Shittu as well as longtime defensive line coach Randy Hart. With only one starter returning, how will Solomon Thomas and the rest of the defensive line fare in 2016?
As a redshirt sophomore, Thomas will be a young leader for the defensive line. He had a breakout freshman year recording 10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries. He should be even better this year and lead the defensive unit. Last year, he shifted between end and tackle, but as a natural end, Thomas would be better off using his athleticism outside. At end, Thomas should be able to thrive more outside, and luckily, Stanford has Harrison Phillips returning from an ACL injury.
Harrison Phillips most likely will start at tackle allowing Thomas to play his natural position. Phillips showed promise his freshman season and seemed like he’d star as a sophomore before tearing his ACL against Northwestern. Now fully healthy and eager to play, Phillips should step into the tackle position with his big frame and great strength to cause chaos in the middle.
Thomas and Phillips seem to be the only definite starters at this point, leaving two question marks. Who will start at the other end position and how will Stanford handle its depth? Stanford has multiple players competing for the last starting spot. Luke Kaumatule, a fifth year senior, switched positions from tight end and redshirt last year to support the line. Jordan Watkins has played few snaps and is hoping to make the defensive line rotation. Eric Cotton, who also switched from tight end, could get significant playing time. Sophomore Dylan Jackson has also showed improvement. Most likely, Stanford will rotate guys in and out of the last end spot until someone steps up. Stanford will also use these unproven players in their depth chart and hope they can play well in their new roles.
Solomon Thomas will be Stanford’s best defensive player next year, but the defensive line will not be their best position group defensively. If Phillips bounces back from a torn ACL, Stanford will have a good defensive line. If someone develops well to take the last end spot, Stanford will have a great defensive line. There are a lot of ifs. If Stanford wants #partyinthebackfield to return, Stanford will need to need to find a lot of answers.