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Stanford's secondary had a disappointing year in 2011, finishing 95th nationally in pass defense. The unit intercepted only seven passes all year. On top of their unimpressive performance last season, the defensive backfield must replace starting cornerback Johnson Bademosi and both starting safeties in Delano Howell and Michael Thomas.
If the Cardinal are going to improve on their weak pass defense, they need several new players to step up. Junior cornerback Barry Browning will likely become the starter opposite fellow junior Terrence Brown. Browning started three games last year, and possesses great 6'1" size for a cornerback. Brown will need to improve on his solid 2011 campaign, in which he recorded 43 tackles. While both Browning and Brown can certainly get the job done, neither possesses elite coverage skills on the outside.
The wildcard at cornerback is freshman Wayne Lyons. A highly touted 4-star recruit in 2011, Lyons redshirted last season after an early injury cut his season short. He seems to be the most special player of the the group, and I believe he has the potential to emerge as Stanford's number one cornerback as early as the end of the 2012 season. Keep an eye on him as the season progresses.
At safety, Stanford has very little experience to work with. Sophomore Jordan Richards is the favorite to replace Delano Howell. Richards recorded 31 stops while filling in for Howell when he was injured in 2011. He should compete with fellow sophomore Ed Reynolds to earn the starting strong safety position.
At free safety, the Cardinal must replace Michael Thomas. Sophomore Kyle Olugbode and Junior Devon Carrington will compete for this job. Carrington is the favorite, as he has more experience. However, that experience is still limited, and it may take some time for him to ease into the position.
With plenty of fresh faces in a struggling secondary, the Cardinal will likely have to rely on their front seven to shut down the run in 2012. The lack of significant experience and star power in the secondary make it hard to believe that the Cardinal defensive backfield will improve on their poor performance anytime soon.