STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — A.J. Tarpley heard all offseason how Stanford would need to replace the production and locker room leadership linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy provided.
He heard how the departures of defensive coordinator Derek Mason and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski to Vanderbilt could complicate the Cardinal's transition. And he heard how the linebackers that were left behind, most notably himself, could be set up for a major setback this season.
Tarpley's response? He has heard this all before.
"Look at Coach Shaw. When everyone said, 'Coach Harbaugh's leaving, how are you going to replace his excitement, his determination for the game?' He just said he's David Shaw. He has his way of doing things," Tarpley said. "To me, that's worked out pretty well."
Tarpley is at the forefront of Stanford's latest leadership shift.
With Skov and Murphy in NFL training camps, the fifth-year senior middle linebacker is the most experienced and decorated player on defense. He has led the team with 216 tackles over the last three seasons, though his success has often been overlooked because of those playing next to him.
"I think Shayne's personality and Shayne's big plays that he made maybe put A.J. in the shadow a little bit," Shaw said. "But when you go back and watch the film, A.J. was extremely productive. And that's what you're looking for, a guy that makes the plays he's supposed to make and that maybe makes the plays he's not supposed to make."
Tarpley is expected to become a more proactive leader and public face of Stanford's defense this season, especially with the Mohawk-sporting, eye-black wearing Skov now fighting for a spot on the San Francisco 49ers. Tarpley said he is ready to take on whatever role is needed to help the two-time defending Pac-12 champions win another title.
But he won't be somebody that he's not.
Instead, Tarpley intends to lead teammates by the way he plays and the way he works. He admits there are roles that will have to be filled, such as leading the breakdowns after practices and games, but he believes that is just part of the natural evolution of any Stanford player.
"You become a leader through your whole career here," Tarpley said. "It's not something that you're automatically respected when you're a senior. You're respected because of what you've done, how you've carried yourself through the years."
Continue reading this story on the...