A Look at the Defensive Backs
Aug. 19, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. - Despite the losses of part-time starters Nick Sanchez (53 tackles; team-high four interceptions) and Tim Sims (31 tackles), Stanford's secondary is long on experience, with veterans strong safety Bo McNally, free safety Austin Yancy and left cornerback Wopamo Osaisai having combined for 38 career starts over the last three seasons.
Stanford also boasts quality depth in the defensive backfield in senior Kris Evans and sophomore Corey Gatewood, who are battling for the starting job at right corner along with Taylor Skaufel, who will make a strong push for starting time at free safety.
McNally, who is included on the preseason watch list for the Ronnie Lott Trophy, earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors last season after starting all 12 games at free safety and leading the team in tackles (114). The leader of the Cardinal secondary, McNally led or co-led the team in tackles seven times last season and ranked second on the squad with two interceptions. He ranks second among Stanford's active players with 135 career tackles.
'Bo's a very consistent player who has great instincts,' said defensive backs coach Clayton White. 'He got better as the season progressed last year and still has room for growth.'
Yancy started all 12 games at strong safety last season and finished with 47 tackles and five pass breakups. He returned his only interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter in Stanford's upset victory over USC. Originally recruited as a wide receiver (he made six starts at WR in 2006), coaches feel the lanky junior will combine his natural skills with added confidence to develop into a top coverman.
Along with McNally, Osaisai ranks as Stanford's most experienced player in the secondary with 13 career starts. He played in all 12 games and made seven starts at left cornerback last season, finishing with 45 tackles, including 26 solo efforts. He possibly made the most strides of any player during spring drills and was selected as the team's most improved player at the conclusion of spring workouts. The Pac-10's 100 meter track champion, he continues Stanford's tradition of outstanding two-sport athletes.
'Wopamo has had an unbelievable offseason and his hard work has carried over into cam,' said Harbaugh. 'He is a physical corner with great ball skills and he has really elevated his game over the last eight months. He has taken ownership in his position.'
Junior Mark Mueller, one of the team's most versatile players, figures into the picture at left cornerback behind Osasai after transitioning from wide receiver during spring drills. A tall, lanky player, he will also be a valuable contributor on Stanford's special teams unit.
The starting job at right corner will likely go to either Evans or Gatewood, although the two could be interchangeable as the season progresses. Evans saw action in all 12 games last season, earning starts in each of the last four contests. He finished the season with 40 tackles (27 solo), ranked second on the team with seven pass breakups, one TFL and one forced fumble vs. TCU.
Gatewood moves back to his natural cornerback position this season after seeing action in 11 games as a backup running back in '07. He possesses as much natural ability as any of Stanford's defensive backs and needs only time to develop into a top-flight Pac-10 cornerback.
'Both players have high hopes for the position,' said Harbaugh. 'We're waiting for one of them to step up and emerge as the clear cut guy.'
Skaufel, who made 35 tackles last season as a natural freshman, is coming off an excellent spring and will push Yancy for the starting job at free safety.