Healthier Defensive Line Looks to Take Next Steps

Aug. 14, 2008

STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford returns five players with starting experience to a defensive front that demonstrated marked improvement last season from the previous campaign.

After employing a three-man front in 2006, the decision to switch to a four-man front paid dividends, as the Cardinal finished fifth in the Pac-10 in sacks with 37 after totaling just nine in 2006. Stanford averaged 3.08 sacks a game a year ago, which ranked third in the Pac-10 and 11th nationally. The Cardinal also recorded 101 tackles for loss a year ago, good for third in the Pac-10 and fifth nationally.

Assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator has been impressed with Stanford's front four over the first two weeks of workouts in preparation for the season opener against Oregon State on August 28.

'They are making steady progress as a group,' said Lynn 'We were able to play through most of the spring with only three defensive tackles and three defensive ends, so certain guys got ton of snaps.'

Stanford's projected front four includes returning starters Pannel Egboh at left end, senior Erik Lorig at right end, senior Ekom Udofia at nose tackle, along with junior Brian Bulke, who has the inside track for the starting role at defensive tackle after starting the final two games at the position to close out last season.

Veteran Levirt Griffin, who started six games last season, and sophomore Matt Masifilo, also figures largely in the mix.

Egboh, a fifth-year senior who has made 24 straight starts over the last two seasons, has the size, athleticism, quickness and experience to develop into one of the Pac-10's best pass rushers. He enters his senior season with 109 career tackles and ranks as Stanford's active career leader in tackles-for-loss with 21.5. He has led all Cardinal defensive linemen in tackles each of the last two seasons after finishing with a career-best 49 stops last year. He also finished ninth in the Pac-10 with 13.5 tackles-for-loss.

The results of Egboh's off-season conditioning program left a noticeable impression on head cocah Jim Harbaugh when players reported on July 31st. 'I didn't recognize him,' said Harbaugh. 'He's a new man. It looks like he has a pair of basketballs on his shoulders.'

Lorig appeared in all 12 games and made nine starts at right defensive end after making the transition from tight end during spring workouts. A tough and talented high-energy player, Lorig should be able to improve on his numbers (37 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks) from a year ago with a year of starting experience under his belt.

Udofia saw action in seven games and made six starts, four at right defensive end and two at nose tackle, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. One of the top recruits in the nation at his position in 2005, coaches feel he still has the ability to develop into one of the Pac-10's top defensive linemen if he stays healthy.

Udofia also came into camp in what he described as 'the best shape of my life.'

Bulke showed continued improvement through the course of last season and worked his way into a starting role at defensive tackle for the final two games against Notre Dame and California.

Griffin, who has played in all 24 games and has made six starts over his first two years at Stanford, figures to see plenty of playing time up front, working mostly behind Egboh at left end. He started five of the first six games of last season and also earned a start against Washington State in Game 10, finishing with 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack.

Masifilo who was rated as the seventh-best defensive lineman recruit in the nation coming out of Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, Hawai'i in 2006, will be counted on to provide quality depth at both nose tackle and defensive tackle. Masifilo did not see game action as a natural freshman but should be a fixture on the defensive front for years to come.

Sophomore Tom Keiser, a highly-rated defensive line prospect out of North Allegheny in Wexford, Penn., should also factor into the depth on the front four, working mostly behind Lorig at right end.

Sophomore Matt Bentler, junior Derek Hall and senior James McGillicuddy round out Stanford's defensive line personnel.

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