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Options abound at running back for Stanford

LOS ANGELES – Stanford has had some remarkable single-season performances by individual running backs over the last five seasons. Who could forget Toby Gerhart’s 2009 campaign that nearly won him the Heisman Trophy? Stepfan Taylor (aka Kulabafi) had a banner year in helping Stanford to its first Rose Bowl win in more than four decades in the 2012 season, while Tyler Gaffney came back from a minor league baseball stint to post 1,700-plus yards on opposing defenses in 2013.

Gaffney’s departure leaves the Cardinal without a set feature back for 2014. But if you ask Stanford head coach David Shaw, that’s not a bad thing. Shaw is quite pleased with the options he has in the backfield. In fact, he doesn’t mind it if nobody separates themselves from the pack in 2014.

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“I love it. I love being able to rotate guys.” Shaw said Thursday at Pac-12 Football Media Day. “Right off the bat, I would love to play all those guys and let them have their chance to influence our games.”

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Shaw mentioned five guys who will be in the picture at running back: Kelsey Young (“fast and explosive”), Barry J. Sanders (a “make-you-miss type of running back”), Ricky Seale (a guy who has “made great plays for us”), Remound Wright (“steady back”) and Christian McCaffrey (“a phenomenal high school football player”).

Sanders has drawn the most media attention because of his father, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. It also helps that he has looked like his pops in spurts on the field, with exhibit A being this play against Washington State in 2013.

“Barry has grown a lot. He’s got the privilege and burden of his name to where he gets a lot of attention, but at the same time, he knew he had a lot to learn and [he] came in and learned,” Shaw said. “He has learned the pass protection game…He has learned how to run the ball inside and out. He has become more of a complete back.”

[Related: New coaches, same plan for Stanford]

But if Sanders doesn’t rise to the cream of the crop, Shaw won't worry. A by-committee system worked quite well for the Card in recent past; he pointed out that a four-person backfield played a big role in Stanford’s runs to the 2011 Orange Bowl and 2012 Fiesta Bowl.

“I know that rotating backs with differing styles can work and hopefully we get back to that,” Shaw said. “If one guy ends up getting more of the lion’s share, that means he’s earned it, and that would be great also.”

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