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Todd Husak on Stanford Spring Football: Running Backs

Who's ready to step up and take over in the backfield for Stepfan Taylor?


Replacing the all-time leading rusher won't be easy and while Stanford has a deep stable of talented backs, they are unproven. In fact, the one with the most experience just went through his first spring camp at Stanford (Tyler Gaffney who had spent the last 4 springs playing baseball). Each one brings a different skill set, but there is not one who currently possesses the all-around game that Taylor brought.

Gaffney has incredible balance, which was perfectly displayed in the Coliseum two years ago on a touchdown that featured a spin move, propping himself up with his off arm and finishing with a leap into the end zone. He has good hands and vision, but lacks the straight line speed to burn to the outside on zone plays and the experience to set up his blocks between the tackles. He is a tough blocker, but hasn't done much of it in his career. Also was a prolific Wildcat QB two years ago because he could throw. His leaping ability may also prove useful in short yardage situations, although his upright running style isn't necessarily conducive towards that type of back.

Anthony Wilkerson has the straight line speed which has earned him the outside zone and toss plays the last few years. He has had some of the longer runs for the offense because of this, but he hasn't had a ton of success (partially because of opportunity) running between the tackles. With more patience and the ability to set up blocks, he could be the dangerous every down back and not just the big play threat. Despite his lower body strength, Wilkerson hasn't shown the ability to break many tackles. He also ran the Wildcat last season when Gaffney departed.

Remound Wright didn't play in the spring game but did get some action as the short yardage back last season as the Cardinal looked to replace Jeremy Stewart. He may pick up that role again as the team struggled at times in those situations at times, both in 3rd down situations and goal line. He is smaller than the other backs which might help him get lost behind the mountainous OL, and has shown power running and patience which short yardage backs need. In order to become that every down back, Wright needs to show that he can catch the ball consistently and block for Hogan in passing situations.

Barry Sanders has shown some improvement and had a long run in the spring game where he showed patience to let the play develop, quickness to explode through the hole, speed to get the outside, and balance to pick up some yards after contact. The difficulty for him is beating out more experienced back who all specialize in certain aspects of the offense. If he can show that big play ability more often and gain the coach's confidence with his blocking abilities, he could increase his playing time this fall.

Ricky Seale had one impressive run in the spring game where he showed a big time burst up the middle and finished over Jordan Richards, which rarely happens. He could be the big play threat, like Kelsey Young last year, who gets some spot duty as a change up.

As for the fullbacks, Ryan Hewitt might be the best fullback in the country. The converted TE has become a powerful run blocker on downhill isolation blocks and he has the best hands of any TE or RB on the roster. When the offense was clicking later in the year, it was no surprise that Hewitt was getting more touches on the play action passes. Coaches might seek ways to get him down the field a bit more because of his speed and mismatch problems he could create for defenses.

Lee Ward filled in nicely for Hewitt last year when he was injured, but more of a one-dimensional back. The good news is he performs that dimension very well and has turned into a solid run blocker who can clear the way for the RBs. He atually knocked out 320-pound Notre Dame Nose Tackle Stephon Tuitt last season in a short yardage play, so he isn't afraid to get dirty in the trenches.