Linebackers aplenty for Stanford

Has there ever been a 3-8 defense? Three linemen, eight linebackers?

"Uh, I don't think so," laughed Stanford linebacker Jarek Lancaster. "But who knows. I'm sure the coaches will find a way to figure it out. There are far too many talented guys to just leave them on the bench."

It's the proverbial great problem for Stanford to have — too many good players for only four linebacker spots.

All four of Stanford's starting linebackers return next season — Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley on the inside and Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas on the outside. Not to mention that two of the three starting defensive linemen — Ben Gardner and Terrence Stephens — are also back.

Then, you factor in that Shayne Skov will be returning from a knee injury, Joe Hemschoot picked up good playing time, James Vaughters is chomping at the bit and incoming freshman Noor Davis — the No. 1 outside linebacker recruit in the nation — may fight for snaps.

Co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said the key to rotating so many players is making sure the snaps they get are about quality, not quantity.

"We'll use them for what they do well," Tarver said. "We're excited about the depth and they are good young men. There are also a lot of young guys out there who are excited about playing and taking the baton and taking what we started to another level."

The unit obviously got a huge boost when Thomas opted to return to Stanford for his senior year. After going through the NFL projections, he decided his NFL future would still be too hazy to leave early.

"It was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Thomas told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Each day I woke up and I'd be changing my mind ... I just had to go with my gut instinct."

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects Thomas to be the No. 1 senior outside linebacker in the country next season.

Chase Thomas had a chance to crack the second round, but in going back to Palo Alto for another year, I think he has the chance to improve his stock a bit.

The biggest question mark will be Skov -- who went down with a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season. He was the team's leading tackler and probably would have left for the NFL had he stayed healthy. Kiper rates him as the No. 3 senior inside linebacker.

Skov is an interesting prospect, and if he's fully healthy the Stanford defense is going to be quite good.

While head coach David Shaw's expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, he knows his linebacker cup runneth over with talent. And it's not something he can ignore.

"We'll find a way to get them all involved. We have to," Shaw said. "With Ben and Terrence Stephens, A.J. and Lancaster — the experience those guys got this year — and Shayne hopefully coming back to form and both outside linebackers, it's an exciting group when you look at it on paper."