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September 4, 2013Replacing Stepfan Taylor, one of the most productive running backs in Stanford history, won't be easy. Beyond Taylor's record-setting career carrying the ball, he was an elite pass protector, solid pass catcher, and a team captain.
But Stanford has the depth and talent to lessen the blow of Taylor's departure. A pair of seniors - Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson - top the running back depth chart. Gaffney and Wilkerson are listed as co-starters at the position.
"As I said from the beginning, I'm not going to name any quote unqote starter at running back," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "It depends on what the first play of the game is. If the first play of the game is best for Ty Montgomery to play running back, he'll play running back. I'm saying that jokingly, but our two lead dogs are going to be 25 and 32, Gaffney and Wilkerson. They've had really good camps. They're both big, physical guys who run the ball the way we want to run them. We won't name a quote unquote starter there."
In addition to being Stanford's most experienced running backs, Gaffney and Wilkerson are also Stanford's largest. Gaffney and Wilkerson are listed at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds and 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, respectively.
"They're both similar in that they're big-bodied guys," Stanford running backs coach Tavita Pritchard said. "They're guys we feel like can get downhill and run between the tackles. They both have a physical style of running that we really like to have. I don't know that there's anything that really separates in terms of their style. They're both kind of bruising runners and they both get tough yards and they both pass protect extremely well, which all our backs are kind of in that same mold. I think the thing that maybe makes those guys different is their physical size and stature."
Though he's not listed on the two-deep, redshirt sophomore Remound Wright has also impressed during camp. Wright had one of the best runs of Stanford's open scrimmage last Saturday, dragging defenders for a 12-yard gain. He's also rounded out his skillset at the position.
"He's been so consistent in this camp," Pritchard said. "He's really improved in the areas (aside from) carrying the ball. And he's always been a good runner. He's always been good with the ball in his hands but when it comes to pass blocking and the nuances of the position other than carrying the ball, he's really taken that on as a full-time job. He's done a great job at it."
In addition to Wright, Gaffney and Wilkerson, David Shaw has mentioned that Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders will have roles in the offense this season.
"You will see Barry Sanders play," Shaw said. "You will see Ricky Seale play. You will see Remound Wright play, he's had another outstanding camp. We're in the running back position we were in a few years ago. We're going to play four guys. As evidenced by Jeremy Stewart playing extremely well for the [Oakland] Raiders right now, Jeremy was our quote unquote third down back, but he led us in touchdown rushes. That's kind of where we are."
Jackson Cummings, who was consistently productive during the open practices in spring and fall camp, could also have an opportunity to see the field.
"We have a good team with a bunch of good players that are all going to play," Pritchard said. "I think for him it's just about continuing to do what he's been doing. Because he has the attention of the coaching staff and now it's just a matter of continuing to build that trust and then when he does get those opportunities in a game taking advantage of them. Whereas it might not be as many as some of those other guys, when he does get them if he continues to run the way he does in practice, we've said before, we'll play the best guys. If he gives us the best chance to win, it is what it is."
Fullbacks: Ryan Hewitt is Stanford's clear starter at fullback, but with his status for the Cardinal's opener against San Jose State currently in doubt due to injury, backups Patrick Skov and Lee Ward could be thrust into the spotlight.
Though each Ward and Skov have game experience, they are different players with different attributes.
"They both offer so much," Pritchard said. "Pat's a tremendous athlete. You can get him out in space and he can run the rock and he can catch it. Lee can do those things as well. Lee's obviously a hammer. When we're talking about physical play at the fullback position, he's kind of where we hang our hat right now. He'll really stick it in there on lead plays and iso plays. But again, he does those other things well too. He comes out of the backfield and catches it like we ask our guys to do. They've all three done a tremendous job this training camp."
Sanders vs. Young: Thought they play different positions, Stanford running back Barry Sanders and receiver Kelsey Young possess similar attributes. Each player is listed at 5-foot-10; Sanders is listed at 192 pounds, Young at 195. And while each player can be effective with the ball in his hands, Pritchard said that Sanders and Young look different doing it.
"There are similarities," Pritchard said. "They break tackles, they're extremely elusive. I think Barry's speed is underestimated. He's smooth, whereas Kelsey looks explosive."
Family Connection: Tavita Pritchard will face a familiar face in his first game as a college position coach. Christian Tago, a second cousin of Pritchard, is expected to start at linebacker for San Jose State on Saturday.
"Those guys grew up in southern California so we haven't spent a whole bunch of time together but any time you're of Polynesian descent you have a lot of extended family, a lot of cousins," Pritchard said. "To be honest, it's good to meet and get to connect with those people and those family ties. If will be fun to see him play."