Pac-12: Remound Wright

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

We continue the series with running backs.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should be as dangerous as ever. De'Anthony Thomas never really grew into the role as an every-down back, but Marshall carried 168 times for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyner slowly picked up more carries and finished with 115 for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Folks are also excited to see what incoming freshman Royce Freeman brings to the table. This is a scary corps, even before you realize that Marcus Mariota also carried 96 times for 715 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

USC: The emergence of Buck Allen was a pleasant surprise after he spent much time in Lane Kiffin purgatory. He boasted 5.8 yards per carry to go with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be pushed by Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan, who is back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. This is a group that could do damage in Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense. Think about what Bishop Sankey did last year.

Arizona State: Marion Grice was a touchdown machine. But D.J. Foster is no slouch after rushing for 501 yards and catching 63 passes for 653 yards in a dual-threat role. The local product is explosive and has big-play speed. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, back from injury, provide depth since Mike Norvell won't want to pass up the opportunity to use Foster in the slot at times. The depth has ASU teetering on the Great Shape/Good Shape fence, but Foster's experience and explosiveness give ASU a perfect replacement for Grice. So we're confident saying ASU is in great shape with him at the helm.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: No, we're not going to list Myles Jack as a running back. Get over it. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Pac-12 blog he's been looking for Jordon James to make strides as a "one-cut" runner. He believes he has. And Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro will press for carries with the intriguing Craig Lee waiting in the wings. Keep in mind it was quarterback Brett Hundley who led the Bruins in carries (160), yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Maybe ... just maybe ... we'll see Jack also pick up a few carries. The Bruins are dedicated to the run (only Oregon has more carries over the last three seasons) and they have the depth to deliver.

Stanford: No Tyler Gaffney. Four of five starters on the line are gone. Surely this is the year Stanford's running game takes a step backward, right? Probably not. The line will feature five members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class and a committee approach with Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young seems likely. Only Oregon and UCLA have attempted more rushes over the last three seasons, so the Cardinal are going to continue to be dedicated to the ground game. There is a lot of untapped potential with this group and they have a coach who loves to run the football. There are a lot of unknowns, but Stanford's recent history of success running the football warrants the benefit of the doubt to put them in the "Good Shape" column.

Utah: For now, it looks like Bubba Poole will be the primary back. But Kyle Whittingham and Co. are excited about the emergence of JC transfer Davontae Booker and the complementary role Troy McCormick might play. They aren't married to the idea of a single back. In fact, Whittingham told the Pac-12 blog he'd like to have situational flexibility. This trio provides that at Utah for the first time in a while. Spreading things out is a priority for new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. But don't be surprised to see a balanced attack if these three see success.

Colorado: The Buffs are surprisingly deep in the running backs department, with seasoned players like Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II, Tony Jones and Donta Abron returning. Powell (562 yards, three touchdowns) provided the power while Adkins emerged as a fine complement with 5.2 yards per carry (103 carries, 535 yards and six touchdowns). Look for the coaching staff to keep using those two in unison as a thunder-and-lightning tandem.

Oregon State: The running game, or lack thereof, has been a sore spot for Mike Riley the last couple of seasons. However, with last year's combination of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks the personnel dictated 603 passing attempts. With Cooks gone, the staff will look to Terron Ward and Storm Woods (who combined for 240 carries, 998 yards and 11 touchdowns) to build off of last year's showing of 94.4 yards per game -- which was 11th in the conference. This tandem has the potential to be very good. It just has to go out and show it.

Washington State: That the Cougars return their top two rushers from last season, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, bodes well -- even in an offense in which the running back serves more to keep the opposition in check than to run the football. However, it might be Theron West and redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow who get the majority of the carries. The coaching staff was high on Morrow in the spring and if the Cougs can do just enough to keep the safeties guessing, it might open things up more for the Air Raid's primary objective.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats have to replace Ka'Deem Carey. No easy task. And it was made worse by the recent news that Pierre Cormier's won't be returning. That leaves carries to be divided among Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared and Jared Baker missed the spring with an injury from last year's ASU game. Look for special packages with DaVonte' Neal as well. The Wildcats are silly with wide receivers, which could help open things up in the running game.

California: The Bears averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game last year -- ninth in the league. Despite the reputation for being a pass-happy team, the coaches would actually prefer more balance, so they'll need better production out of oft-injured Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad. The departed Brendan Bigelow had the most carries (105) last year, but Muhammad and Lasco combined for 141 totes for 762 yards and six touchdowns. Muhammad is the burner at 175 pounds while Lasco has the bigger frame at 200 and change. Incoming freshman Tre Watson is also an intriguing prospect.

Washington: Like Arizona, the Huskies must replace a phenomenal back in Sankey. But there are options. Dwayne Washington was the No. 2 behind Sankey last year, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries. Behind him are Jesse Callier, who was the original starter in 2012 before his injury gave rise to Sankey, and Deontae Cooper. Both have a history of knee injuries. Jomon Dotson and Lavon Coleman could see time. We'll see isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means, we'll see.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback
The first round of spring games in the Pac-12 kicks off Saturday with Colorado, Arizona and Stanford. All three games are free to the public. Here’s a primer on what you need to know.

Arizona

Where: Arizona Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)


What to watch: The Wildcats are in the hunt for a new quarterback to replace B.J. Denker and a new running back to replace Ka'Deem Carey. Rich Rodriguez hasn’t said much on the quarterback front, with Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall and Nick Isham. Per Rodriguez, “one through five is pretty much bunched up.” You read that right --- one through five! How those reps all get divided will be very telling if Rodriguez is leaning one way. Or you could just crush some tea leaves and check the planetary alignment. Because right now, those make as much sense as any guesswork. One note about returning wide receiver Austin Hill, a 2012 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist who missed all of last season with a knee injury: “He won’t play a whole lot,” Rodriguez said. “He played a lot in spring. We will give him a couple series. He is a proven veteran and we know what we have in him. He’s slowly getting his confidence back. He’s 100 percent, but there’s a transition period in getting your confidence back.” … There will also be a celebrity/alumni flag football game kicking off at 11:15 a.m.

Colorado

Where: Folsom Field
Kickoff: Noon MST
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Obviously, there is going to be a lot of attention at wide receiver to see who steps in for the departed Paul Richardson. The Buffs are eyeballing a rotation/committee of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, Bryce Bobo and Elijah Dunston. There is no Richardson out there. So, as Colorado wide receivers coach Troy Walters recently said: “We’re going to have to do it collectively … if we get two or three guys to do with P-Rich did, then we’ll be in good shape.” Richardson caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. On the other side of the ball, guarding those receivers has been an interesting power struggle. The Buffs look set at their two starting cornerback spots with Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley. But developing depth has sparked a pretty good competition with Chidobe Awuzie and juco transfer Ahkello Witherspoon. (Colorado is quickly making a push to contend for the Pac-12 blog’s all-scrabble team.) … After the game, Colorado will host a Healthy Kids Day. Children can go through fitness stations with athletes from all of Colorado’s sports programs and get a free T-shirt.

Stanford

Where: Stanford Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PST (fan activities begin at 12:15)
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: How will the running back carries be divided? With Remound Wright suspended for the second half of spring practice, that opens the door for Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders and Ricky Seale to get some extra work. The Cardinal are trying to replace Tyler Gaffney, who carried 330 times for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Recall a year earlier, they were trying to replace Stepfan Taylor and his 322 carries, 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Cardinal have used bell cows the last couple of seasons, though head coach David Shaw told the Pac-12 blog he’d prefer to have multiple guys working in a committee – similar to the stable of the 2011 group. Keep an eye on the offensive line as well. All five projected starters are from the much-heralded 2012 recruiting class. … All players will be available after the game to sign autographs.
All indications are that Stanford is going to be a running-back-by-committee team in 2014.

You’ve heard this one before, right? Wasn’t that the word out of spring this time last year?

Then Tyler Gaffney galloped in, fresh off a minor league baseball career, and the Cardinal rode him to the tune of 330 carries, 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders is one of several Stanford running backs battling for carries this fall.
Now the Cardinal are once again looking for a “starting” running back. This time, however, there will be no Gaffney; no baseball transfers (does Mark Appel have any eligibility left?); no veteran back with tons of experience to carry the load for Stanford’s ground game.

With Stanford into its second session of spring ball, its running back competition is one of the most intriguing and hotly contested position battles in the Pac-12. Because recent history suggests that whichever of the four potential backs emerges as the No. 1 option, he’s likely to have a stellar season. Stanford has produced a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2008. But picking that No. 1 could take some time.

“I don’t know how you pick a starter today, because they all have something they do better than the other,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren.

When you think of Stanford’s rushing attack of late, it evokes images of bell cows and dust and a trio of yards. And the last couple of seasons, that’s exactly what it’s been. In 2013 Gaffney accounted for 56 percent of his team’s carries and 59 percent of its rushing yards. The year before that, Stepfan Taylor carried 322 times and accounted for 58 percent of the rushes and 62 percent of the yards on the ground.

But that’s not necessarily the identity that Stanford head coach David Shaw is most comfortable with. Sure, if he has a back who can haul it more than 300 times in a season, he’s already shown that’s what he’s going to do. But backs who can carry that kind of workload don’t grow on trees.

“When you hit the middle of the season, you’d like to have three or four guys who are still fresh,” Shaw said. “It’s just kind of how it happened the last couple of years. The 300-plus carries are gasping. But doggone it, Tyler Gaffney was 220 pounds and in great shape and he can carry it. That’s not normal. Toby Gerhart wasn’t normal. Fortunately we were OK with Tyler holding up. But I’d prefer not do that to anybody again if we don’t have to.”

This year’s quartet of potential backs -- Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders -- smacks more of Stanford’s 2011 stable. That year, Taylor carried 242 times. But other backs had their roles and niches. Gaffney (pre-baseball) and Anthony Wilkerson played supporting roles to Taylor. Jeremy Stewart was a short-yardage monster. Even the fullbacks combined for 22 carries. And of Stanford’s 518 rushing attempts that year, Taylor accounted for only 46 percent. That kind of distribution is more preferable to Shaw.

The 2014 Cardinal running game might have a similar look. And that’s not a bad thing. Unlike a quarterback competition, where a potential starter could be sitting on the bench because the guy in front of him is simply that much better, running backs have various roles they can fill. One guy might be better in short yardage. Another might be stronger in the screen game. Yet another can hit the edge better than the guy who goes up the middle. The ability to be multiple is more on par with what the Cardinal want to do.

“We have a lot of versatility at that position,” Shaw said. “But we also feel like any one of those guys in any given game could come in and carry it 20-plus times and potentially get over 100 yards. All of them have that ability. But we also feel good about the different combinations we can create with those guys.”

According to Bloomgren, Wright seems to be the “steadiest” of the four carrying the ball and in pass protection. Seale has improved his pass protection and has displayed good cutting and vision. Bloomgren described Young as “lightning in a bottle.” Recall he was used as more of a scat back before moving over to running back full time. And finally there’s Sanders.

“It’s hard to talk about Barry last, but when you talk about those other guys age-wise, that’s where he falls,” Bloomgren said. “He’s done some things that are unbelievable. He’s had a couple of those moments in scrimmages where he dead-legs people and leaves them in his wake … we just need him to be a better pass protector.”

So once again, the Stanford staff is preaching running back by committee. And this year, it looks like they really mean it.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division.

We looked at the South Division offensive three-headed monsters on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the North Division offense.

Only Cal and Washington State return their three-headed leaders from last season. The other four teams have all had a change of some kind. And there are some big question marks surrounding a couple of schools -- especially the one in Seattle.

Let’s take a look:

1. Oregon

QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, WR, Bralon Addison

The skinny: Heisman candidate + rising star + explosive playmaker = nasty. Though losing Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas, the Oregon offense should be explosive once again. Mariota led the nation in adjusted QBR last season to go with 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season, and Addison hauled in nine scores.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB ?, WR Ty Montgomery

The skinny: The Cardinal get the No. 2 spot here based on experience at quarterback and the fact Montgomery is returning after a second-team all-league year. And whoever the “regular” running back is, be it Kelsey Young (the leading returner in yards), Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders or Remound Wright, he will be running behind a stellar offensive line. Worth noting that Hogan and Montgomery had more rushing yards last year than any of the listed running backs. But Stanford's success running the football leads the Pac-12 blog to give it the benefit of the doubt.

3. Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, WR Richard Mullaney

The skinny: Though the Beavers lose Brandin Cooks, Mannion has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country after throwing 37 touchdowns last year. Storm Woods had more carries and touchdowns, but Ward had more yards, so they’ll likely work in unison, again. Mullaney had 52 catches last season.

4. Washington State

QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, WR Gabe Marks

The skinny: WSU gets the edge in the rankings over Washington (for now) because there are still a lot of question marks around the Huskies. Halliday tossed 34 touchdowns last year and threw for nearly 4,600 yards. Marks has blossomed into a bona fide playmaker and should be in the mix for all-conference honors. The Cougars don’t do much in the way of running the football. But when they did last year, Mason totaled 429 yards on 87 carries.

5. Washington

QB?, RB Jesse Callier, WR, Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: Washington is one of those programs that could end up in one of the top two spots by the end of the season. But for now, there is too much unknown. The status of QB Cyler Miles is still up in the air. Callier has the most returning attempts (one more than Dwayne Washington and five more than Deontae Cooper) and the Huskies expect Kasen Williams back by the fall at receiver. Mickens caught 65 balls and five touchdowns last year and the aforementioned RB trio combined for 10 touchdowns.

6. California

QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs

The skinny: There is a lot of potential in this group. The Bears just need that potential to translate into points on the field. Goff threw for 3,508 yards in his debut season, and Treggs caught 77 of his passes. Though just one for a touchdown (Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler each caught five). Though the departed Brendan Bigelow had more carries, Muhammad outperformed him with more yards and touchdowns.
There are plenty of issues Pac-12 teams will be addressing this spring. Here are some that are front and center for your Pac-12 insiders.

Ted Miller: Spring practice is the official transition from taking stock of the 2013 season, including recruiting, to looking ahead to next fall. The 2013 season was all about top-to-bottom depth for the Pac-12 -- and the lack of an elite national-title contender. That might be the case again in 2014, but if the conference is going to be nationally relevant in Year 1 of the four-team College Football Playoff, I think it will be because of the depth and quality of the quarterbacks.

If Travis Wilson is cleared to play at Utah, 10 Pac-12 teams welcome back their 2013 starters, and many of these guys are All-American candidates, most notably Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsHaving Brett Hundley back makes UCLA the favorite in the Pac-12 South.
The big question for these guys is if they can be better this season than last. If that happens -- for the above four and the six other returning starters -- then it should be a high-flying season with lots of offense. And perhaps a team emerges as a candidate for the playoff.

What most interests you this spring with the Pac-12?

Kyle Bonagura: As a result of the continuity at quarterback, offenses should be in line for a collective step forward. How far could be determined by how quickly the conference's seven new defensive coordinators acclimate to -- and perform at -- their new jobs.

We won't get a great read on how that process is going during the spring, but it'll be interesting to see in what ways defenses evolve moving forward.

For Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, the change will be minimal. Todd Graham will remain heavily involved in how ASU plays defense, and the other three promoted staff members will use the framework and schemes already in place. USC might have a new staff, but considering coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were in the conference last season, it should be an easy transition.

I'm more interested to see how things play out at California and Washington.

Washington is set up for success with the much-anticipated arrival of longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who brought his defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, Pete Kwiatkowski. They have a talented front seven to work with and a favorable early schedule that will allow the staff to iron out any kinks: at Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State.

Art Kaufman's job taking over the Cal defense won't be as easy. The Golden Bears should be in better shape than last season from a health and experience standpoint -- the latter partially a result of 2013's injury woes -- but there's a lot of ground to cover between where they were and being competitive.

Ted Miller: One team that had coaching continuity at both coordinator spots is Arizona, and I think the Wildcats are setting up to be a dark horse in the Pac-12 South, though I do see UCLA as a strong favorite at this point. The intrigue with Arizona, though, is at quarterback. It seems like the most wide-open competition in the conference.

If Cyler Miles gets back in Petersen's good graces, he's got a significant lead for the Washington QB vacancy. At USC, I think that Cody Kessler is likely to retain his starting job over touted redshirt freshman Max Browne. Kessler steadily improved as a difficult season went on, and he still has his 2013 offensive coordinator/position coach in Clay Helton. At Utah, a healthy Wilson starts for the Utes.

But Arizona has four guys with a legitimate shot at winning the starting QB job this fall: Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer and junior Jerrard Randall. Solomon was one of the jewels of the 2013 recruiting class, while the other three are transfers from A-list programs -- Scroggins from USC, Brewer from Texas and Randall from LSU.

The first big question will be whether Rich Rodriguez narrows the field at the end of spring practices. How much does he want to establish a clear pecking order? You'd think at least one of these guys is going to be relegated to fourth place because there are only so many practice reps to go around.

The good news is the guy who wins the job is going to have an outstanding crew of receivers. He won't have running back Ka'Deem Carey lining up as a security blanket behind him, but Rodriguez's offenses almost always run the ball well. The Wildcats will average more than 200 yards rushing again next season, I feel confident saying that.

The million-dollar question -- the difference between competing for the South title and winning eight games again -- is how efficient the guy behind center is.

Any position battles particularly intrigue you this spring?

Kyle Bonagura: Like you, I'm really intrigued to see how the quarterback competition at Arizona progresses. That's a lot of pressure for the three guys who already transferred from big-time programs. All of them clearly want to play, and it makes you wonder if one of them will end up at an FCS school before the season starts.

The most high-profile battle outside of quarterback has to be at Stanford, where four guys are competing to replace Tyler Gaffney at running back. I was out at the Cardinal's first open practice of the spring last week -- and will be out there again on Saturday -- and what stood out immediately was how balanced the reps were. If Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young didn't have equal reps with the first team, it was close.

However it plays out, it's unlikely Stanford will feature one back like it has the past six years with Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart.

Wright probably holds a slight edge in terms of the overall package -- largely because of his capabilities in pass protection -- but there are more similarities than differences in comparing each guy. A lot of people ask about Sanders because of his famous father (my favorite football player as a kid), but the reality with him is that expectations were probably too high when he arrived. His name and recruiting profile are to blame, and the coaching staff isn't going to force his development.

Young, who switched back to running back from receiver, might be the most dangerous with the ball in his hands and Seale, a fifth-year senior, might have the best grasp of the offense.

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
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Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

Q&A: Stanford's Mike Bloomgren

June, 19, 2013
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When Stanford coach David Shaw went looking for an offensive coordinator, he didn't look far, promoting Mike Bloomgren a couple of weeks after Pep Hamilton left for that role with the Indianapolis Colts. No other candidates were interviewed. Bloomgren, who was previously the Cardinal's offensive-line coach and run-game coordinator, took some time this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his expectations for this season (realistic or otherwise), the competition at running back and how his time in the NFL translates to the college game.

What would you like to see out of the offense in your first year as coordinator?

Mike Bloomgren: Well, probably average between eight or nine yards per carry, have zero incompletions and win every game we play.

Well played. What would you realistically like to see?

MB: I just want to see us keep getting better as a football team. I love the steps we've taken. I'm so proud of the way our guys work and how they fight and fight and fight. I want to keep seeing that mentality and hopefully they keep seeing that in the way we play. From an efficiency standpoint, protect the football and do all the things we talk about being the core of this offense.

What goes into game planning at Stanford? I know there were times when coach Shaw would call the plays and Pep would call plays and you'd call the plays. How much collaboration really goes into it?

MB: A lot. It was as segmented of a deal as I've ever been a part of when I first got here. And from what I understand, it was worse before I got here. Last year, it was segmented, but it worked out so freaking good. So much better than I thought possible. The reasons are very simple. We're experts in our field. There wasn't much that surprised me run-game-wise from the fronts and the defensive structure. I felt like I had a good beat on teams. I thought Pep and David and (running-backs coach) Mike Sanford had a good understanding for what the defense was going to do. David was all in on third down. He's so great at calling that. Pep in the red zone has been lights-out the last few years. It's great. It's a different system. The way I understand is it stems from coach Shaw working with Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan and how they did things when they came over to Oakland from Philly together. Jon was involved in calling the plays, but when he wanted to run, he asked coach Callahan. Hopefully I was able to be that for Dave the last few years.

There's so much NFL influence on this coaching staff -- you included from your time with the Jets. How much of the NFL game translates to what you guys want to do?

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMike Bloomgren will have a diverse group of running backs at his disposal in his first season as Stanford's offensive coordinator.
MB: It's unbelievable how much translates, in terms of the volume of the system and that it's done in a West Coast terminology. Bill Walsh called plays in this system -- so much of it stems from what he came up with. And it's probably the same system that's used in more than half of the teams in the NFL. That's why our free agents do so well. They are plug-and-play guys. They show up to camp and already know the terminology. The NFL influence is real. It's real on who we are and the mark that's left on this system.

Having already served as the run-game coordinator, how much does that help as you transition into the offensive coordinator job?

MB: Hopefully a lot. I'll be frank with you. I'll still be really involved in the run game and I was an offensive coordinator before at Delta State. Obviously, a smaller level of football, but it's still played on a field that's 100 yards long and the football still had air in it. And then my time in New York with Bill Callahan and Brian Schottenheimer was incredible in helping me understand what goes into make a game plan and calling a game on game day. Plus coach Shaw isn't going anywhere, so we'll continue to have that great communication.

Coach Shaw -- unfairly, as I've written many times -- gets a lot of criticism for being too conservative of a playcaller. What do you bring as a playcaller?

MB: I'm not going to be great at talking about that because I don't think he's conservative at all. He's so well thought-out. People think he's emotionless on the sidelines. But he's not! I think back at some of the calls we had over the last few years. I remember my time with Jimmy Raye in New York, he used to talk about "Diet Coke calls." I asked him one day, "Jimmy, what in the heck are Diet Coke calls?" He said, "You call it, you grab your Diet Coke and take a sip. Sometimes you watch what happens. Sometimes you don't. And you can tell by the crowd whether it's good or bad." We had a bunch of those. The halfback flip against USC to basically end the game. Critical calls on fourth-and-1. The wildcat calls we do. Reverses. I don't see the conservative approach. I don't get it.

What about you?

MB: I hope I bring something that is well thought-out and gives our kids answers. So no matter what we call from the sideline, we'll have programmed the quarterback and the offensive linemen with ways to solve whatever problems they have. We have a solid system. It's more than just being a playcaller on game day. We want our kids to have answers to whatever the defense gives them.

Now that you've been through spring, what's your take on the running backs?

MB: It's an exciting group. We were just watching some of Stepfan (Taylor's) highlights and we were like, "Dang, that guy was good." We won't have a guy that carried the load like Stepfan did the last few years -- especially last season. We've got six guys who could probably start at most schools in America and they are going to share the load. They probably could be every-down backs. But they have specialties. You look at how big Gaff (Tyler Gaffney) is right now, and oh my goodness. The way (Anthony) Wilkerson ran downhill in the Rose Bowl. The zone-running gurus are Ricky Seale and Barry (Sanders) and how they run outside and read things. You see that instinctive cut. The truth is those guys have such a good feel. Remound Wright and Jackson Cummings. If Jackson went to an Ivy League school, he'd probably be the league's all-time leading rusher by now. And he had a great spring. Those guys run the gap schemes, the who-we-are-Stanford-football plays, so well. It's going to be interesting to see where they put themselves after training camp. Who has a defined role? Who is going to snatch a job and say "Hey, I'm the third-down back. I'm going to catch it out of the backfield. I'm going to hit linebackers in their face when they try to pressure our quarterback." Who is going to win that role? Who is going to be the first- and second-down back that gets the most carries that game? And will it change from game to game?

Obviously the passing game has been catered to tight ends the last few years. How much do you need the wide receivers to be more involved?

MB: An absolute ton. Because they can handle it. You watch what Ty Montgomery did this spring and he was absolutely dominant. It's what we hoped to see last year because he was great his freshman year. We need him to not try to be any more than he is. He doesn't have to press. He doesn't have to feel any pressure. Because he is big-time good. He just needs to play his game. If he does that, we could see something that we haven't seen here in a while -- at least as long as I've been here. Then there are other guys with world-class speed. Michael Rector had a great spring. Kelsey Young is dynamic. We don't know what position he plays yet. We just call him a football player.

Finally, coach Shaw didn't interview anyone else for the offensive coordinator job. Humbling and flattering, I'm sure. But is there some pressure that goes with that?

MB: I don't know. I don't feel the pressure, to be honest. But it is remarkably humbling. When things are in the works you get calls from friends wondering if you'll get the interview. For David to say what he said within the press release was absolutely humbling. I love working for him and continuing to learn this game from him. We're all just trying to get better and be as good as we can be.
Ted is sad, which is why I'm doing the mailbag today.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter and Ted will be happy again.

Thomas in Palo Alto, Calif. writes: You called Tyler Gaffney a game-changer. Isn't that hyperbole considering he's been away from football for a year?

Kevin Gemmell: If you want to get picky, I said he could be a game-changer. But just for the sake of argument, I'm willing to drop the "could" and predict that he will in fact be a game-changer. There is no other running back on the Stanford roster right now that has Gaffney's skill set. Anthony Wilkerson rivals him in experience, but Wilkerson is yet to make a big impact in his career. His carries, and thus his production, have declined every year, culminating with a career-low 50 carries for 224 yards (4.5 average) and just one touchdown in 2012. There were some injuries involved there, as well.

I'm guessing the two of them slug it out (along with several others) for the starting gig -- the winner getting 12 to 15 carries per game -- and the runner-up getting 8-12. A few more carries will be sprinkled in to change-of-pace backs to be determined and a few to the fullback. Remember, David Shaw prefers to use as many as four or five different backs during a game. So the "starter" might only have 10 carries.

And Gaffney could even be a stop-gap until Barry Sanders, Remound Wright or Ricky Seale is able to emerge as the go-to back. (Kelsey Young likely stays in the hybrid WR/RB role.) Gaffney is a bona fide playmaker who could very easily shoulder the offensive load for the Cardinal -- be it for an entire season or six games until a youngster gets it all figured out. Either way, it's win-win for a Stanford offense that could use some veteran seasoning.


Ryan in New York writes: USC signed 13 guys. UCLA [24]. How can you even compare the two? It's absolutely [stupid]. Is it all about numbers? USC had more Top 150 and 300 guys. So it's about quantity? Keep hating [Lane] Kiffin. And remind me the last time UCLA played in a BCS bowl? Or better yet, won a Rose Bowl? Stanford has won seven, UCLA five. USC 24. No contest. You guys are so brutal it hurts. Peace.

Kevin Gemmell: OK, you sort of went in a lot of different directions here. Let's try to narrow the scope and start with recruiting. I'm not sure if you're referring to a specific article, or just the rankings in general, but I'm pretty sure the recruiting classes of UCLA and USC are comparable in terms of talent. If you're griping about the rankings -- it's not just the ESPN group that has UCLA's class ranked No. 1 in the conference. It's pretty consensus.

No, it's not just quantity -- because Arizona, ASU, Utah and Washington State all had larger classes. But UCLA had comparable quality to go with its quantity. USC had nine ESPN 150 guys, 12 ESPN 300 guys and all 13 were 4-star players. Anyone who doesn't think that's not an outstanding class is silly. Because it is.

UCLA had six ESPN 150, 10 ESPN 300 and 12 four-stars. But they also added 12 guys behind the 12 four-stars -- meaning UCLA has wiggle room with this class that adds depth and maybe one of those highly-ranked three-stars like Myles Jack (a four-star per Rivals and Scout) develops into an all-conference player. USC can't afford to swing-and-miss on its recruits, because depth is going to be an issue. As you yourself pointed out in last week's mailbag, USC couldn't go for the "low hanging fruit." That's where quantity comes into play and that's why the Bruins get the nod for top recruiting class.

Hating on Kiffin ... let's be honest here, he didn't exactly give us much reason to love him this year. But I'm on record saying I don't think things are as terrible as they appear. Maybe I'm wrong and the sky really is falling. I just don't see it. I think the Pac-12 blog has been harsh but fair considering the faceplant USC took this year.

And I don't remember either Ted or I disputing how many Rose Bowls USC won vs. UCLA (and since you asked me to remind you, it was the '86 Rose Bowl for UCLA). But since we're on the subject, how many of those Rose Bowls did Kiffin win as head coach? Tradition matters. But it's also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately game.


Newknox in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: In your opinion based on knowledge of what coaches think, is it possible to have too many 5 star recruits? Too many egos? Also, in the Pac-12, who has the best recruiting class based on needs? For example, USC has a few holes to fill. Did they do that?

Kevin Gemmell: I doubt it. Most five stars fall into line rather quickly -- because they end up going to schools that also have a bunch of former five stars. So a five-star true freshman who gets knocked on his keester by a former five-star who is now a junior understands his place. There are always exceptions, but having a bunch of ready-to-play guys who can all run 4.4 isn't a bad thing. In all my years in this business, I've never heard a coach complain about too much speed and too much athleticism. Woe is they.

Plus, there aren't that many five stars to go around. In this year's class, two went to Notre Dame and two went to Ole Miss. Last year, two went to Alabama and two went to Florida State. In 2011, two went to Clemson. It's not like five or six are all going to the same school and they are all wide receivers competing for two spots.

As for holes filled I think UCLA certainly solidified its defensive backfield for the next few years. Five of USC's top six signees are on the defensive side of the ball and at all three levels -- which is a spot they really needed to address. I would say each team filled at least one major hole it had to address in recruiting.


Brian in Denver writes: I am guessing that Kevin Hogan is not going to be one of your top seven Pac-12 performers from the past year, and I understand the logic -- he barely played in the first eight games of the year and didn't start until the tenth. But his ascension to the Stanford starting QB role was absolutely essential to the amazing run the team had to close out the year. No way [Josh] Nunes gets through OSU, Autzen, UCLA squared and then the Rose Bowl. He may not have been a top 25 performer for the year, but a case can be made that he was also the MVP of the league this year.

Kevin Gemmell: Don't think I'm giving away Pac-12 blog secrets here, so you're right, Hogan is not in the Top 25. That's not to say he wasn't discussed. Ted and I each started with about 35-40 players and we debated every one of them. He got about five minutes of back-and-forth and was eventually placed in the "no" pile. Don't be surprised, however, to see him ranked favorably on the preseason top 25 list.

No doubt his ascension was big for Stanford and their post Notre Dame run. But I think league MVP is pushing it. Don't get me wrong -- he was good. But he was good at what he was asked to do. He was 5-0 as a starter, but in those five games he had a 6-to-3 touchdown-interception ratio. He averaged 180.6 passing yards and completed 70 percent of his throws. You can tack on two more touchdowns on the ground.

He had the benefit of an outstanding running back, an elite tight end and a great offensive line working in front of him. And let's not forget the outstanding defense. So did Nunes, for that matter, but Hogan was just better. That's why the switch was made. Stanford's run this year truly was a "team" effort. Because as I pointed out in a top performances post Thursday, Stanford probably has three losses had it not been for Nunes' play against Arizona.

I'm curious to see how Hogan matures with an entire offseason as the starter and how he holds up over a full season. He's going to be asked to do a lot more next year than he was this year -- and Shaw wants him to do more. Shaw wants him to get to that point where he can suggest plays and even start doing some calling on the field. Certainly he qualifies as one of the bright, young quarterbacks in the league.


BeaverDan from "The Couv" writes: OK, reading your blog I have been turned on to Dexter and Alex Berenson's John Wells novels - both great suggestions. Anything further that I might have missed? I think we share similar tastes in entertainment.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, let me compliment you on your tastes. You must be a very handsome individual and the life of all social gatherings. Glad I could provide some offseason time-killers. Berenson's latest John Wells novel, "The Night Ranger," was released this week so I'm looking forward to cracking that open (rather, downloading) it this weekend. TV wise, I've been a fan so far of "The Americans" on F/X. Pretty solid start for the new series. If you like the spy/espionage genre, give it a try.

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