The message from Stanford camp was concise and uniform: Yes, Shayne Skov was a big part of our team. Yes, he's gone. Yes, it hurts. And yes, we're going to move on.
"There won't be a letdown," said linebacker Max Bergen, who starts opposite Skov at the other middle linebacker spot. "We're playing hard because we play hard. Obviously, Shayne's injury woke us up a little bit. But we're going to keep that fire going the whole season."
Coach David Shaw said that linebackers Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley will get the first crack and filling in for Skov, Stanford's leading tackler last season and this year. Skov injured his knee in the second quarter of Stanford's win Saturday over Arizona and it was announced Monday that he would be gone for the season. He'll likely platoon the two linebackers.
"Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley will both roll in and play," Shaw said. "Every opportunity they've gotten in the first three games, both of them have played extremely well. We're very comfortable with those guys. We don't have to limit what we call. Those guys can do everything."
The coaching staff and players will use this bye week to get the defense back in sync without Skov. But Bergen said not much adjustment is needed.
"We have solid linebackers that are ready to play," Bergen said. "Jarek and A.J. are ready to step up. They've had playing time this whole year so there is no break-in time needed for them. They are ready to go."
Tarpley and Lancaster know they have a tough assignment ahead of them, yet seem poised to handle the job.
"Not one of us can fill his shoes alone," Tarpley said. "He's one of those guys where, even before he was hurt, he was teaching us and trying to get us better. It's great to learn from a player like him ... he trusts us. He knows we both have some talent. We're obviously not at his level. He told us 'Don't try to be me.' And we're not trying to do that. Just play your game the way you work the best."
Lancaster, who was converted from safety two days after he got to Stanford, has experience at playing all four linebacker spots, but said he feels most comfortable in the middle.
"(Skov) told us not to over think it," Lancaster said. "He told us 'you have natural ability. Just play.'"
Shaw said he spoke with Skov this morning and the linebacker was in good spirits.
"Shayne's still here," Shaw said. "He's still an emotional leader ... he said 'Coach, I'm going to be there. I'm going to be in meetings and make sure everybody is going to be doing what they should be doing. I'm going to be that extra coach and that extra motivator.' Those guys don't want to let Shayne down. If they are going to come in and take his spot, they better play at a high level."
Tarpley is tied for third on the team with 13 tackles on the year and Lancaster is right behind him with 12. Shaw went on to say that those two will be in good company.
"You can say that Shayne is the heartbeat of the defense, but doggone it Michael Thomas and Chase Thomas are good football players," Shaw said. "We have a good football team. Shayne is a good player. And you take a good player off and you're going to miss him. But I think we've got some other good players also ... I like our scheme. I like our players. We've recruited really hard here."
Though Shaw didn't flat-out say that Skov, a junior, will return next season in lieu of entering the NFL draft, he hinted at it during this morning's Pac-12 coaches conference call.
"I wholeheartedly believe and still believe that by the time Shayne's done here, he's going to be the top or the top two linebackers in the nation by the time next year rolls around," Shaw said. "That doesn't change in my mind. He's one of those guys you have to account for."
He later backtracked a little after practice.
"I hope he comes back," Shaw said. "He and I have not had that conversation."