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Bye week grades: defensive line

Part two of the ongoing report card for the Stanford Cardinal during the bye week.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Grade: A+

Summary: Stellar. Splendid. Stout. The top half of Stanford's 3-4 defensive scheme has been the tip of the spear for one of the best run-stopping units in the nation. Junior noseguard Terrence Stephens has drawn the praise of coach David Shaw every week. And deservedly so. He's also drawn a lot of offensive linemen -- two per play and sometimes three or four -- which is exactly what he's supposed to be doing. His job isn't to make a lot of tackles, but his 1.5 tackles for a loss (and half a sack) are a nice bonus. As is his one pass breakup. Quietly having an outstanding beginning to his career as a starter.

Defensive end Matt Masifilo, the only returning starter from last year's front, has been his steady self. Only four tackles on the year, but like Stephens, he's been a magnet for offensive linemen, which has allowed the linebackers behind him to make plays.

Opposite Masifilo, defensive end Ben Gardner, the smaller (if you want to call 273 pounds small) and quicker of the trio has been a machine. He has eight tackles on the year and is second on the squad with 2.5 sacks for minus-21 yards. He leads the team (and the conference) with 5.5 tackles for loss. He's quickly blossomed into one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12.

Backups: Defensive end Henry Anderson got his moment in the spotlight against San Jose State, recovering a fumble and then chugging 37 yards on the return. He's made the most of his time, tallying three tackles in three games. Josh Mauro has appeared in all three games at defensive end and has one tackle and a pass breakup. In three games at noseguard, David Parry has three tackles and has been in on a tackle for loss.

Not that we're expecting a season-ending injury to befall one of the three starters, but it's nice to know that the Cardinal have a reliable two-deep this early in the season in the event something does happen.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks