Sunday, 18 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 13 Shayne Skov

(photo cred: Harry How - Getty Images)
After tackling Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and getting a few things off my chest earlier today, it's time to get back into the countdown with our second player of the day. This is a man who like Seferian-Jenkins, made a terrible decision off the field and was arrested for DUI. Unlike Seferian-Jenkins' fraud of coach, this next player's coach does understand things like "discipline" and "sending the right message." That's because our next player's coach is David Shaw, the man who currently holds the belt as the Pac-12's best coach and a man who commands respect and delivers coaching acumen that Steve Sarkisian can only dream of. David Shaw is a leader and coach of many great players (including six top 40 players), led by the 13th best player in the Pac-12 for 2013, Stanford senior linebacker Shayne Skov. You know what happens first though, a recap of the first 27 players on the list:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
19. DT Leonard Williams, USC 
18. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 
17. OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
16. OLB/DL Trent Murphy, Stanford
15. OL David Yankey, Stanford
14. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington

Skov is one of those guys who makes you say, "Wait, that guy still has eligibility? Hasn't he been around for like 10 years?" It hasn't been 10, only five but it sure seems like Skov has been wrecking havoc on opposing offenses down on the farm for a decade. Skov is now a fifth year senior, back for one last hurrah as the center piece of Stanford's indomitable defense. Unlike most fifth year seniors though, Skov is actually going to be a five year starter, thanks to using a medical redshirt in 2011 after blowing out his ACL just three games into the year.

What makes Skov so special? You can start with his leadership. No one questions Skov as the centerpiece of Stanford's defense and the man who gets everyone else going. You certainly would expect a fifth year guy with that much experience to be a leader on the team but what's amazing is that he has shown superior leadership from day one. From the moment Skov stepped on campus in 2009, he has been changing play calls and organizing the defense on the field, lighting a fire under his teammates on the sideline, and setting a physical tone and an example to follow in practice. Shaw and Jim Harbaugh before him have frequently gone out of their way to single out Skov as an emotional leader of the Stanford defense and the man who brings the Cardinal its energy.

Skov's intangible leadership was never on better display than in his darkest moment, when he tore his ACL against Arizona in 2011. The outpouring of love the Stanford players showed him following that injury was just incredible. A.J. Tarpley, the man who was tasked with replacing Skov in the starting line up said at the time, "Not one of us can fill his shoes alone. 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 ...We're obviously not at his level."
David Shaw espoused about Skov saying:
"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."
Shaw went on to say Skov was "the heartbeat of defense." Skov could have disappeared into the night. he could have said "why me?" and sulked. he could have gone home, rehabbed on his own and focused on coming back for 2012. But, he didn't. he became an assistant coach and he did everything he possibly could to motivate his team and lead from the sideline with his knee in a brace and crutches in his armpits. Even in his lowest moment he found a way to lead and show his teammates how to win.

So you might be saying, "Okay fine he's a great leader, but is he a great player?" Um, yes. Skov has been ridiculously productive from day one. He was fourth on the Cardinal in tackles as a true freshman in 2009 and then led the Cardinal in tackles in 2010 (despite missing two games to injury) and last year in 2012 (despite being suspended for a game following his DUI arrest, are you reading this Steve Sarkisian?). he was also leading the team in tackles in 2011 at the time of his injury. All totaled, Skov has 246 total career tackles (138 solo) with another full year still to go. He might leave Stanford with as many as 350 tackles. His best season was in 2010 when he racked up 84 tackles (50 solo), 10.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, five pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He punctuated that breakout year with 12 tackles and three sacks in Stanford's program defining blowout win over Virgina Tech in the Orange Bowl. Had he not missed those two games with injury, he would have easily surpassed 100 tackles. Despite coming off a devasting knee injury and looking a step slower, particularly at the beginning of the year, Skov still managed to almost mirror that 2010 production last year with 81 tackles (43 solo), nine TFLs, and 2.5 sacks.

Shayne Skov is one of the Pac-12's most effective and productive defenders and he is universally revered by his teammates as their leader. But what allows him to be so effective? And what distinct abilities does he have? I'm glad you asked. The first thing that helps him is that he has put in the work to master the defense and understand all the principles, concepts, and responsibilities of his position. Simply put, the next time I see Skov out of position will be the first time. Check out his tape, particularly this film from the Pac-12 title game against UCLA.

You can see he is a prototypical read and react player. This can burn him sometimes as he gets caught staring in the back field too long, particularly on play action, allowing a tight end or slot receiver to run right behind him down the middle of the field. It also helps him because he doesn't get caught crashing down hill on play action or over pursuing a run, and he does not get himself into unnecessary trouble by guessing plays and turning out to be wrong. he let's the offense show what they are doing and then he reacts and makes the play.

You can see a perfect example of this at the 0:46 mark. UCLA runs a triple option play and Bruins QB Brett Hundley keeps the ball off the initial read. Skov reads the play and gets into position. He doesn't over play the inside or the outside and he doesn't come in sprinting and putting himself out of position. he plants his feet on the line of scrimmage and let's Hundley make his move. Hundley actually made a bad read here as he had Jonathan Franklin available on a throw to his left with one defender on that side of the field and a lead blocker to take care of him. Of course that isn't Skov's problem as Hundley keeps it and Skov breaks him down, makes a perfect one-on-one form tackle in space and sets UCLA back for a loss. I also like what he shows as a blitzer at the 1:03 mark. He is left unblocked coming off the edge and Hundley reads it and dumps the ball quickly. Skov knows he won't get to the QB in time so he leaps in the air and puts both hands up and into the passing lane. He also made sure to jump slightly to side of Hundley so that he wouldn't hit him after the throw and incur a 15 yard penalty. he didn't get his hand on the ball or affect the throw but he played it perfectly. I also like how quickly he reads plays and shoots the gaps. At the 2:15 mark, he's not reading the backfield and waiting for the hand off but rather he reads the offensive line blocking up field and pulling the left guard which obviously suggests a run or screen pass or else UCLA would be incurring an illegal man down field penalty. He reads the play in a flash, shoots the gap, beats the pulling left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo to the spot and lays the wood with another perfect form tackle for a loss.

Skov doesn't possess great speed as he often struggled to chase down plays from sideline to sideline even before he was injured and he's not the best in pass coverage. That combined with his injury history and his DUI and older age compared to most prospects will probably keep him out of the first two rounds in next April's draft. However, I think the team that takes him will be getting a great player who will be a successful pro for many years. Skov is a picture perfect tackler, posses great instincts, an absurdly high football IQ, and special leadership qualities. Some may groan at the thought of a player who's never been even a 2nd team All-Conference pick being the 13th best player in the Pac-12. However, I hope that after reading this you'll understand that some players just have that certain special something that rises above hardware and accolades. Without a doubt, Skov is just one of those special players.

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