In today's college football world of wide-open, pass-oriented offenses, Stanford's power running and pro-style attack stand out from the rest. So too does the team's quartet of fullbacks, a group as deep and talented as any in the nation.
That depth has helped the Cardinal weather injuries to starter Ryan Hewitt and Geoff Meinken, ailments that could have derailed other pro-style college offenses.
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"We talked about it years ago that if we're going to run this offense we have to have multiple tight ends and we have to have multiple fullbacks," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We can't lose a fullback and scrap our whole offense."
Due to the presence of Lee Ward and Patrick Skov, Stanford doesn't have to. While the Cardinal didn't have a banner day rushing the ball against San Jose State, Ward and Skov provided more than adequate blocking and will be counted on to do the same against Duke.
"It's unbelievable that we went through a full season last year using the fullbacks as much as we did and they got through healthy, but just as a running back group and as a fullback group we believe that we're only as strong as our fourth fullback," Stanford running backs coach Mike Sanford said. "We're only as strong as our sixth or seventh tailback. I feel, and our coaching staff feels, it's so important to develop that depth. Those guys have worked and they haven't accepted, the guys that are third and fourth at the fullback position have not accepted their role as the third and fourth guy. They've been pressing and obviously they were ready for the opportunity, so we're excited to get the reinforcements, but we feel like those guys are stepping in, doing a good job and being physical."
The fullbacks themselves relish being on a team that puts such a heavy emphasis on the position and power run game.
"It's very special," Ward said. "All great guys. We're all kind of kooky and we're all lunatics in our own special way. Me, Geoff, Ryan, Pat… It's a great group of guys and I love every single one of them. But we all bring something special to the table. We have our own thing that we're good at. I think it's the best in the country."
Wright excels in short yardage
There weren't many concerns about the quality or quantity of Stanford's running backs entering the 2012 season, but there was one question mark surrounding the position: Which player would fill Jeremy Stewart's role as the team's short yardage back?
While it was speculated that Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson, or even one of the fullbacks would stake claim to the short-yardage role, redshirt freshman Remound Wright was featured prominently in those situations last Friday.
"He's just built low to the ground, thick, strong, always finishing forward," Sanford said. "He did a great job in that game. There were a couple times that we didn't get the surge everywhere that we always get, a couple looks that San Jose gave. He did a good job of getting his pads down and going. That's what we saw in scrimmage situations. He was a guy that kept coming up in somewhat of an audition type deal during fall camp, kept coming up as a guy that's just going to keep his pads down and keep it rolling.
"He's a really good running back and we're looking forward to seeing what he can do."
After two injury-plagued seasons, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Dillon Bonnell saw the first significant playing time of his career in Friday's San Jose State game. Bonnell lined up at James McGillicuddy's old "Jumbo" tight spot.
"We talked about it and Coach Bloomgren said that Dillon Bonnell has a great get-off," Shaw said. "He's very physical. And he has a lot of the same characteristics as James McGillicuddy. And I said you know what, you're right. Let's try him. With Geoff Meinken being gone for at least part of the year, let's take a look at him and see if he can handle it. And it's a hard job to get used to doing. But he showed some promise and he's worked extremely hard at it. He'd make a mistake he'd get coached and come right back and ask a question. So we're excited about it. He's only going to keep getting better at it."
All the walk-ons and other players who weren't with the team for the start of fall camp (due to the NCAA's 105-man roster limitations) are now with the team, Shaw said. The Cardinal coach said that the roster now stands at over 120 players, the largest it's been during his tenure at Stanford.