- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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First year or fifth year, it makes no difference. If you can play, you can play.
That's the philosophy of Stanford head coach David Shaw, who is starting his second offseason running the show at his alma mater.
And with several big-name players giving committing to Stanford, it's worth exploring which ones might play right away next season by examining who got in this year.
Of course, due to NCAA regulations, Shaw is not allowed to comment on any individual players until after the pomp and circumstance of signing day. But Shaw did say that he'll evaluate every player who comes in to the system and if they can compete immediately, they will.
"It's player-by-player, and there is no set rule," Shaw said. "If a guy is physically, mentally and emotionally ready to help us than that opportunity is there for them."
We saw several true freshman take the field for Stanford this season -- specifically wide receiver Ty Montgomery, linebacker James Vaughters, safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Wayne Lyons, before he hurt his foot and missed the majority of the season.
Some coaches live and die by a strict redshirt policy. That's not the case with Shaw, who has shown he'll use true freshmen to bolster depth.
Montgomery emerged -- slowly at first -- and then following the series of concussions to Chris Owusu, he leapt into the starting role and became a major contributor on offense down the stretch.
Lyons was working his way into the cornerback rotation early in the season before injuring his foot.
Vaughters saw a healthy amount of playing time -- specifically as a third-down pass-rusher. But even when Shayne Skov went down with a knee injury, Shaw said he wouldn't accelerate Vaughter's growth and give him responsibilities that he wasn't ready for.
In the case of Richards, he saw his playing time increase when Delano Howell missed time with a hand injury.
Naturally, the bulk of Stanford's freshmen redshirt -- that's the nature of college football. Most players aren't physically or mentally mature enough to contribute right away.
"Some guys aren't excited about it because they think they're ready, and they're not," Shaw said. "Other guys are really ready and we don't have a position for them and it's not worth missing that extra year for one or two plays."
That could be the case next season with, say, Noor Davis, considered by many to be the top outside linebacker in the nation. With Chase Thomas returning for another season and Trent Murphy coming off a fantastic year, it's not ikely Davis is going to overtake either of them. But he could be used like Vaughters, on pass-rush situations and to add depth in the case of injury. Or he could redshirt and get three or four good years after gaining strength for another season.
Stanford's other highly-touted recruit, running back Barry Sanders, could be in the mix right away, or could sit for a season behind the rotation of Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson.
We won't know for sure until we've seen them in camp -- and until the coaches are allowed to comment on them.
"There are a lot of things that come in to play," Shaw said. "It's definitely a player-by-player situation, and we're not going to rush anyone who isn't ready. But if they are, we'll find a way to play them."