The Minnesota native did a solid job last season as the Stanford linebackers had to adjust without Shayne Skov in the lineup. Tarpley compiled 57 total tackles, which ranked third on the team. He also added one interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for the Cardinal defense. Stanford’s linebackers are the top group in the Pac-12 and maybe in the nation.
The outside linebacker started all 13 games last season, compiling 10 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks. The Arizona product will help form one of the best linebacking units in the country. Stanford excels at pressuring opponents’ offenses, and Murphy is a big reason why. He could be an all-league player if his numbers continue to improve.
The aggressive defensive end had a solid 2011 season getting into opponents’ backfields, amassing 10 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks. His high-motor play saw him consistently pressure the quarterback, while also contributing a forced fumble, a blocked kick, a fumble recovery and a safety. Gardner also was part of a defensive line that helped Stanford rank third in the country in rush defense.
The massive Texan will form a top blocking duo with David Yankey as Stanford looks to continue its top offensive production with a new quarterback. Fleming was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 last year, and he helped the Cardinal set a school-record with 446 rush yards against Washington. The right tackles should be one of the league’s best run blockers in 2012.
The Bay Area native is a complete tight end, known for being an outstanding blocker as well as a solid option in the passing game. Last season, Ertz compiled 27 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns. He will team with fellow tight end Levine Toilolo to give Andrew Luck’s replacement large receiving targets, while also clearing the way for Stepfan Taylor and Stanford’s solid running attack.
He was part of an incredible offensive line last year, with Stanford ranking in the top 25 in the nation in both rushing and passing offense. Yankey will be counted on as a leader this season with first-team All-Pac-12 blockers David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin moving on to the NFL. The Georgia native did make honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago, and he has the versatility to slide out to tackle if needed.
After battling injuries in 2010, Toilolo showed his potential last season with 25 catches for 343 yards and an impressive six touchdowns. At 6-foot-8 and 263 pounds, he has the ability to create immense matchup problems for Pac-12 defenses. Coby Fleener’s 10 scores have moved on to the Colts (along with Andrew Luck), so Toilolo could be a star this season as he becomes a security blanket for the new quarterback.
The Texas native has been a workhorse for the Cardinal over the last two seasons. After compiling 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in 2010, Taylor followed up last season with 1,330 rush yards and 12 total touchdowns. He looks to be the focal point of the Stanford offense this season, and Taylor could challenge Darrin Nelson’s school record for career rushing yards with another stellar season.
The hard-hitting Skov was the Cardinal leading tackler in 2010 despite missing two games, but his 2011 campaign lasted only three games because of a severe knee injury. His rehab will last right up to the start of the season, and the Stanford staff will be anxious to see if he can return to his ’10 production level of 84 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Skov does face a short suspension for an off-the-field issue, but he should give the defense a major boost in 2012.
The playmaking linebacker became a star last season, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in the process. The Georgia native compiled 52 tackles with 17.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage. Thomas also had an impressive five forced fumbles in 2011, embodying Stanford’s defensive tendency to arrive with aggression. He has 16 sacks over the last two seasons and is a top All-America candidate for the 2012 season.
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