Stanford football defense pins hopes on veterans

The Stanford football team (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12) resumed spring practice on Wednesday, with a continued focus on defense.

Cornerbacks coach Paul Williams completed his first season with the Cardinal, having coached the Wake Forest Demon Deacons the last three seasons. Williams highlighted sophomores Colin Wright and Aaron Morris, as well as fifth-year senior Zahran Manley as early standouts at the cornerback position.

Williams said that the core of veteran players is complemented by a band of younger players who continue to develop. 

With Wright and Manley, two cornerbacks with many games under their belts, returning next season, Williams emphasized the importance of experience to a winning team, particularly on the defensive end. 

“You’re not gonna have a good team unless you have experience, older guys and leadership,” Williams said. “It really starts with those guys.” 

Inside linebacker Tristan Sinclair, a sixth-year senior, is returning for another season and will provide the team with the experience and leadership that Williams is looking for. 

“I wanted to come back for sixth year because I really believe in this program,” Sinclair said. “With this new coaching staff and the new energy, I think we’re training the right way. I want to be a part of the build-back.”

The Cardinal’s defensive system saw a drastic change up over the past year. Lance Anderson, who served as the Willie Shaw Director of Defense for 16 years, exited Stanford in 2022. Bobby April III joined the Cardinals this past season to fill Anderson’s vacancy after spending the five seasons prior at Wisconsin and having done stints with various NFL teams.

April had been a critical member of the Wisconsin defense staff that landed the Badgers three straight top-five national finishes in total defense. In 2022, April helped guide the Wisconsin defense to rank top-15 nationally in both total defense (305.4 ypg) and rushing defense (103.2 ypg).

Having spent his first four seasons playing under Anderson’s defensive system, Sinclair acknowledged the inherent challenges of transitioning to a new system with April’s arrival. But after a year of adjustments, Sinclair believes the team now looks much better versed in April’s system. He noted that the team has added many new calls and can play a much wider range of defenses. 

“Now, year two in the system, we’re really getting after it, and we’re playing fast,” Sinclair said. 

On top of team improvements, Sinclair is personally working to improve his run fits and pass rush. He hopes to improve in getting over the top and scraping on perimeter runs and more actively head-hunting the running backs and guards.

Williams and Sinclair stressed that they are ready to compete in the ACC this upcoming season. Williams, recognizing the ACC’s deep pool of elite receivers, believes the team will be well-prepared to tackle any challenge.