Stanford Football: Remound Wright

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.

Notes from Stanford practice

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
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STANFORD, Calif. -- For most of Saturday's open scrimmage, the Stanford defense looked every bit the part of the dominant unit it has been all spring.

Which is why the it was strange to see coach David Shaw shout, "assume the position," and see the entire defense -- coaches included -- drop to the ground for a set of 20 pushups to end the day. The exercise was punishment for losing the day's final drill, a goal-line competition in which the offense reclaimed at least partial bragging rights heading in to the final week of spring practice.

"I'm technically the commissioner so I don't have to do pushups on either side, but it was nice to see," Shaw said. "The defense dominated Thursday … and it was nice to see the offense battle back (in the goal-line drill)."

The offense did it without running back Remound Wright, who has been suspended for the second half of spring practice for an undisclosed disciplinary reason. He will not play in the spring game on April 12.

Wright had received a significant amount of the first reps with the first-team offense, but with him out, Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders both capitalized on their opportunities. Young has made noticeable strides since converting back from wide receiver and appeared comfortable running inside and outside the tackles.

"You see [Young's] speed and explosiveness, he's hard to tackle," said Shaw, who added Sanders turned a couple runs that, "should have been minus to positive."

Another player who stood out was receiver Francis Owusu, who showcased good speed and physicality after the catch. Stanford lists Owusu at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, which gives him an inch and 10 pounds on his older brother Chris, who is a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Burns in, Crower out: QB Evan Crower did not practice this week due to a deviated septum, which allowed Ryan Burns, who was suspended for the first session of spring practice, to see a lot of reps throughout the week and during Saturday's scrimmage.

"His first practice was absolutely horrendous and then today was functional, it was good," Shaw said of Burns. "And next week we expect him to take the rest of the steps and get to the point where he can be a serviceable quarterback mentality between the ears. Physically he has all the tools."

Shaw expects Crower to be back next week.

Notes
  • OL Thomas Oser suffered what Shaw described as a significant knee injury and will be back "at some point next year."
  • OL Brendon Austin did not practice Saturday with a minor ankle injury, but he is expected back next week
  • Pittsburg Steelers OG David DeCastro was in attendance.
  • In rained throughout the week in the Bay Area but the weather was close to perfect Saturday. "Except for a few clouds," Shaw said.
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.
We finish our list of five predictions for the second half of Stanford's spring practice.

No. 1: Staying the course/depth chart

Much of the commentary that has followed Stanford football over the past four years involves the program's incredible resurgence.

Before Jim Harbaugh and his staff arrived, there was a faction -- a small minority, but it was there -- that believed the school should drop down a level in football. It was a concept that angered David Shaw, and several other fans and alumni of the program, and is now less plausible than a Stanford national title.

Expectations are obviously very different now. With the second session of spring practice set to begin next week, Stanford is set to continue preparations for a run at a third-straight Pac-12 title.

Like any program replacing hoards of talent, there are questions that need to be answered, but nothing about the current state of the program indicates the Cardinal shouldn't be among the best in the conference. They have recruited well, they have a lot of good players returning and the coaching staff has proved its mettle.

If there's anything left to predict, it's that the status quo will remain just that.

And, of course, a potential post-spring depth chart:

Offense

QB: Kevin Hogan
RB: Remound Wright
FB: Lee Ward
WR: Ty Montgomery
WR: Devon Cajuste
TE: Eric Cotton
LT: Andrus Peat
LG: Joshua Garnett
C: Graham Shuler
RG: Johnny Caspers
RT: Kyle Murphy

Defense

DE: Henry Anderson
DT: David Parry
DE: Blake Lueders
OLB: James Vaughters
ILB: A.J. Tarpley
ILB: Blake Martinez
OLB: Kevin Anderson
CB: Alex Carter
CB: Wayne Lyons
S: Jordan Richards
S: Kodi Whitfield

Countdown

No. 2: Running back competition will gain clarity
No. 3:
Hogan takes the next step
No. 4: Backup quarterback competition begins
No. 5: Whitfield will emerge at safety
We continue our list of five predictions for the second half of Stanford's spring practice.

No. 2: Running back competition will gain clarity

Through the first session of spring practice, there was no clear separation between the running backs. While that made it logical to project a by-committee approach in the fall, there is undoubtedly some separation on its way.

Where that separation will come remains the question.

None of the four candidates -- Remound Wright, Barry Sanders, Kelsey Young and Ricky Seale -- have the look of a true No. 1 back. Although, there is the hope that Sanders, the youngest and most-lauded recruit, could eventually develop into one.

Wright is the best bet to get the most carries and, perhaps more important, snaps among the group. Coach David Shaw labeled him the best in pass protection which will be a major factor in divvying up playing time. He just can't be the pass protection guy, though. Stanford needs to make sure whoever its best blocker is gets plenty of touches.

When Shaw talks about the position, he always has praise for Seale, but it's difficult to gauge just how big a role the fifth-year senior will have. He's been behind some talented backs in Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, but the fact that he's seen such little playing time over an extended period of time -- 30 carries in three years -- is reason to question how much of an impact he will make.

With the staff fairly tight-lipped about any unofficial depth chart, we'll go ahead and project the order at the end of spring practice will be Wright, Young, Sanders, Seale.

It makes for interesting discussion, but don't put too much stock in that order. It's still a very fluid situation.

Countdown

No. 3: Hogan takes the next step

No. 4: Backup quarterback competition begins

No. 5: Whitfield will emerge at safety
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.
The countdown of five things we learned from the first half of Stanford spring practice continues.

No. 4: No clear leader at running back

While there was minimal rotation on the offensive line with the first team during the Cardinal's two open practices, running back couldn't have been more different. Four players saw consistent reps with first group: Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young.

It's obviously still early -- Stanford is only halfway through its spring practice season -- but there has been nothing to indicate the Cardinal is in position to lean on one guy. That's a significant change in how the offense has operated the last six years with Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney all serving as feature backs.

Wright is the default leader because of his ability to pass protect, but he doesn't have the open-field skill of Sanders or Young.

Seale is a fifth-year senior, which could work for or against him. On one hand, he has had plenty of time to develop an expert understanding of the offense and its concepts. If the coaching staff feels like he'll be a substantial contributor this season, that'll be beneficial. However, if it's determined he's comparable with Sanders, a sophomore, or Young, a junior, it could be more beneficial to the program's future for the younger players to get the practice reps and, eventually, the playing time.

Countdown

No. 5: The offensive line is set
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.
STANFORD, Calif. -- In the grand scheme of things, a single football practice in March during the course of a college career or season registers near irrelevant. For several Stanford players, it probably didn't seem like that Saturday.

With many jobs up for grabs and the team in pads for the second time since its 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, the day felt like it opened up real competition for next season's starting jobs. It also served as one of three practices this spring open to spectators and the media.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw's team was in pads for the first time since the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
Here are some observations and takeaways from Saturday:

OL already set?: It's clear who is expected to make up the starting offensive line: LT Andrus Peat, LG Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, RG Johnny Caspers and RT Kyle Murphy. Before Saturday, the only spot that seemed potentially up for grabs was at center, but Shuler, not Kevin Reihner, worked almost exclusively with the first group. Shuler, along with Garnett, were the vocal leaders of the group. It wasn't clear if there is an unofficial pecking order yet for the other positions in the team's extra-OL sets.

On Shuler and the center competition, coach David Shaw said: "We're putting the pressure on Graham. He's got all the ability in the world and needs experience and we got to get him ready to go. He's got a chance at one point to be extremely good. One of the best, we believe, around."

Burns missing vital reps: With Ryan Burns suspended for the first spring session for what has been explained only as a "disciplinary issue," starting QB Kevin Hogan and backup Evan Crower split all the reps. It felt like status quo for Hogan, but Crower looked as comfortable as he ever has in a Cardinal uniform.

"All and all, I think we have two guys that are capable starters," Shaw said. "Evan Crower can play football. If it comes to the point where he plays, we're very confident in him."

His message in regards to Burns was strikingly different.

Asked if having just two quarterbacks limits how the team practices, Shaw replied: "Not really. It just means two guys get a bunch of reps. That's the sad part, we have to have our rules, and we have to have our discipline and that's the sad part for a young quarterback that missed these because these are valuable reps that you can't get back. When he does get back, he better be busting his tail because these are vital reps that he's missing."

It was clear Shaw wanted to send a message to Burns on Monday when he publicized the freshman's suspension and made it even more so Saturday.

RB depth: Remound Wright took the first reps with the first team, but there was a lot of rotation with him, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young. Shaw lauded Wright and Seale for their steadiness and smart decision-making and Sanders and Young for their big-play potential.

Not much can be gleaned from one spring practice, but it's clear there isn't a significant talent discrepancy between the four players. Their lack of separation provides a sense that the competition will ultimately be decided by other factors. Shaw gave Wright the edge in pass protection.

"That guy, that's a great pass protector is going to play and play a lot," Shaw said.

Lyons to nickel: With Usua Amanam gone, CB Wayne Lyons is in line to be the team's new nickleback. He'll remain a starter at corner, but when the team uses an extra defensive back, he'll slide over and cover the slot. It's similar to how the Cardinal used current Miami Dolphin Michael Thomas, when he moved from safety in 2011, and how the San Francisco 49ers use Carlos Rogers. Thomas, before he left, predicted Lyons would win a Thorpe Award before his career was over. Taijuan Thomas also worked at nickel.

Carter out for spring: Junior CB Alex Carter will miss the spring with a hip injury, but is expected to be ready for fall camp. The silver lining is that it creates more reps for guys like Ronnie Harris and Ra'Chard Pippens, who are trying to break into the rotation in the secondary.

Number changes: Kodi Whitfield's position change from WR to FS meant he could longer share No. 9 with LB James Vaughters. He wore No. 5 Saturday, but it isn't clear if that's a full-time move or trial run. Former QB Dallas Lloyd, who also switched to safety, is still wearing No. 2, which belongs to Lyons.

Three-man competition at ILB: Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot and Noor Davis make up the three-man competition to replace Shayne Skov.

Other notes

  • With David Parry limited, Aziz Shittu played inside defensive ends Henry Anderson and Blake Leuders at tackle with the first defensive unit.
  • Kyle Olugbode took the first reps at safety next to Jordan Richards.
  • Kevin Anderson worked with the first team and remains in position to replace Trent Murphy.
  • Harris and WR Dontonio Jordan both wore yellow noncontact jerseys.
  • David Yankey, Trent Murphy, Cam Fleming, Jarek Lancaster, Sam Schwartzstein and Owen Marecic were part of a small contingent of formers players at practice.
  • Freshman TE Austin Hooper, who is coming off his redshirt, did not attend due to a mandatory academic field trip.
  • Stanford's next open practice is March 8 at 9 a.m. PT. The spring game is on April 12.

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

Top 5 position battles to watch: RB

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
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The countdown of Stanford's top 5 position battles concludes.

No. 1: Running back

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders will be trying to take over at RB for Stanford.
Who to watch: Remound Wright, Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale

Outlook: The last time Stanford didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher was 2007. Richard Sherman led the team in receiving yards, current quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard led the Cardinal to a memorable 24-23 win at USC, and Jim Harbaugh was in his first year as head coach. Since then, Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney have combined to average 1,452.2 yards rushing a year.

Only Gerhart's 2008 season -- when he ran for 1,136 yards -- came out of relative obscurity. He ran for just 140 yards on 12 carries the year before.

If another Stanford running back is to keep the streak of 1,000-yard rushers alive, he'll have to follow a similar path. Wright, Sanders and Seale are all vying for the starting job, but it's likely, due to their varying skill sets, that 2014 will be more of a running-back-by-comittee scenario.

Among the three, Wright got the most work last season, but his 20 carries for 102 yards in mostly mop-up duty weren't enough to lend much insight into how he'd be as a feature back. Sanders was the most sought-after recruit and arrived with a lot of expectations because of his famous father, but he had just five carries for 42 yards. It was clear the coaching staff was impressed with his playmaking ability because he was used to return punts, but he didn't get many opportunities to makes plays in that capacity. Seale, who will be a senior, is probably a step below the other two based on how he has been used during his career, but a strong spring could change that.

The countdown
No. 2: Backup quarterback
No. 3: Center
No. 4: Safety
No. 5: Fullback

RBs have big production to replace

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
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The countdown of Stanford's top-5 position groups with room to improve continues.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWith Tyler Gaffney gone, the Stanford tailback job is open to players such as Barry Sanders Jr.
One position group will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 2: Running back

Must replace: Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson, FB Ryan Hewitt

Returning starters: none

Players to watch: Remound Wright, Barry Sanders Jr., Ricky Seale

Outlook: The good news? Three of Stanford's five leading rushers from 2013 return. The bad news? One is a quarterback and the other two are receivers. Gaffney was so good (1,709 yards rushing) and Stanford played in so many close games that it was difficult to get a gauge on the other running backs on the depth chart. The top three players vying to replace Gaffney -- Wright, Sanders and Seale -- combined for just 34 carries last season (just over six percent of Stanford's rushing attempts). Wright is more of a physical back, while Sanders and Seale are a little more shifty in nature. Of the three, Sanders was the most high-profile recruit. The Cardinal also must find a fullback to replace Hewitt. Lee Ward and Patrick Skov will begin that competition in the spring. Recent signee Christian McCaffrey could factor in at running back as well, but he's more likely destined to redshirt.

The countdown
No. 3: Linebacker
No. 4: Defensive line
No. 5: Wide receiver

Q&A: Stanford's Mike Bloomgren

June, 19, 2013
6/19/13
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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.

Week 1 questions worth asking

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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It's Week 1, Game 1. And while most people aren't expecting tonight's opener against San Jose State to produce too much drama, there are still some questions surrounding the Cardinal, who enter the game ranked No. 21 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the coaches' poll.

  1. How will Josh Nunes respond? Not to the fact that he is now Stanford's starting quarterback, but to a negative play. And he's going to make some. Even Andrew Luck -- his predecessor -- wasn't perfect in any game last season and Nunes won't be either. There might be an interception, or a missed read or a missed opportunity to a wide open receiver. What about tipped passes? Luck had a few of those that went for picks last year. How will Nunes respond the first time something doesn't go his way?
  2. [+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
    AP Photo/Paul SakumaJosh Nunes replaces Andrew Luck as the Cardinal's starting quarterback.
    Running back rotation? We know Stepfan Taylor is going to get his carries -- probably more (at least early on) than he did last season. Wouldn't be shocked if he breaks 120 yards tonight. And, per the depth chart, Anthony Wilkerson will be the first guy off the bench in relief of Taylor. I'm curious to see who the Nos. 3 and 4 backs will be. Remound Wright or Ricky Seale?
  3. Vanilla? Assuming the Cardinal are the superior team to San Jose State, and we're going to work under that assumption for now, the question is how much do David Shaw and Pep Hamilton open up the playbook? We know they don't want to put too much on film early -- especially with USC looming just a couple of weeks away -- but I'm sure they also want to test drive Nunes and see what he can do.
  4. Which freshman makes an impact? Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy are locked in a battle for the starting tackle spot. But it could be Alex Carter who breathes life into a revamped secondary. A lot of people are also wondering if we're going to see Barry Sanders this season.
  5. What will the offense look like? We know what Stanford wants to do -- and what they are probably going to do. But what will it look like? Will they pull out the three-tight end sets that worked so famously last season? With the versatile Ryan Hewitt out with an ankle injury (he saw some spot duty as a tight end last year in some formations) you wonder how multiple will the Cardinal be in Week 1? And that takes us back to question No. 3, do they even need to be multiple in Week 1?
Not sure if anyone caught this in Ted Miller's Pac-12 lunch links last week, but it's worth taking a look at.

Mighty Hank, a friend of the Stanford blog who does a great job with Go Mighty Card, projected a potential depth chart for Stanford in 2014 -- the first year college football will have its four-team playoff system.

Here's his projections:
  • Quarterback: Brett Nottingham, RS Sr.
  • Running backs: Kelsey Young, Sr.; Barry J. Sanders, Jr.; Remound Wright, Sr.
  • Wide receivers: Ty Montgomery, Sr.; Kodi Whitfield, Jr.; Francis Owusu, So.
  • Offensive line: Andrus Peat, Jr; Josh Garnett, Jr.; Kyle Murphy, Jr.; Nick Davidson, Jr.; Graham Shuler, Jr.
  • Defensive line: Aziz Shittu, Jr.; Jordan Watkins, Jr.; Luke Kaumatule, Jr.
  • Linebackers: AJ Tarpley, RS Sr.; James Vaughters, Sr.; Noor Davis, Jr.
  • Defensive backs: Wayne Lyons, RS Sr.; Alex Carter, Jr.; Zach Hoffpauir, Jr.

As Hank points out, there really is no way to fully project what the team is going to look like two seasons from now. But here is my first thought: nasty!

Owusu is the only player mentioned from the 2013 class. It will be interesting to see where players like QB Ryan Burns, ILB Isaac Savaiinaea and OLB Doug Randolph factor in.

A little more from Hank:
With the experience of a three-year starter at quarterback in Nottingham, a possible Heisman candidate in Sanders, and the best offensive line in the country, the offense promises to be dominant. Defensively, the front seven will have the strength to stifle the best running backs the Pac-12 has to offer, even if Vaughters has already made the leap to the NFL, and the defensive backfield will be skilled enough to do more than just keep up. All three levels of the defense could be at or near the top of the conference.

The offensive line is what stands out most to me. It's one thing to project what kind of impact Peat or Murphy could make in the 2012 season -- where the Cardinal are still trying to plug a couple of holes on the line. It's another to imagine them -- with a couple of years experience -- starting alongside other big-time recruits from the 2012 class. This group won't all come up together, but will likely see some spot starts along the way.

Then you put Sanders behind them and you have a powerful, explosive running game that is the envy of every B1G program. And if some of the 2013 guys are as advertised, the defense will be SEC worthy.

Of course, when you look at the recruiting classes USC and Oregon have brought in the last two years and the projected 2013 classes of the Trojans, Ducks and Washington, it's clear that this won't exactly be an easy road for the Cardinal. Expect the Pac-12 to ultra-competitive in 2014 with Stanford right in the mix.

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