Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Running Back – Stanford Cardinal

By Sam Saig, June 28, 2009 9:07 am

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh demands physical toughness out of his players. Next season, the Cardinal will showcase that toughness with a heavy dose of power running. Returning to the Farm will be a two-sport superstar at running back, ready to make his last season in Palo Alto a special one.

Senior Toby Gerhart will look to build on a phenomenal junior season. The 6-1 237 pound tailback finished third in the Pac-10 with 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2008. The 1,136 yards gave Gerhart a single-season rushing record at Stanford, while his 15 scores are second in school history for a single-season. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and totaled eight 100-yard games, more than any other running back in the Pac-10 last season. Gerhart earned 2nd team all-conference honors in 2008.

Toby Gerhart shreds the tackle

Toby Gerhart sheds the tackle

Cardinal fans felt a bit anxious as the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft approached. There was a chance that Gerhart would be taken high enough to warrant a decent signing bonus. Instead, the Cardinal outfielder went undrafted and can turn his full focus back to football.

The bruising Gerhart runs with relentless aggression. He rarely moves horizontally, preferring to plow through the opposition vertically instead. Defenses have a very difficult time bringing him down with one man, and Gerhart feasts on yards after contact. While his style is clearly effective, it also makes him conducive to injuries.

In 2007, Gerhart missed most of his sophomore campaign because of a knee injury suffered against San Jose State. For Stanford to have success in 2009, Gerhart must stay healthy.

One player that could help keep Gerhart healthy and clear his path is fullback Owen Marecic. The 6-1 237 pound junior is one of America’s best run-blocking fullbacks. His position is a dying breed in college football, but Stanford’s combination of Gerhart and Marecic brings us back to the days when the power-I formation dominated the playbook. Marecic will essentially act as an extra-offensive lineman for Gerhart and the other Cardinal tailbacks to run behind.

Last season, Gerhart’s rushing partner was Anthony Kimble. Kimble graduated in 2008, and his production must be replaced. Kimble rushed for 717 yards and 6 touchdowns in his ‘08 campaign. There are a few candidates on the Stanford roster that will vie for the role of Toby Gerhart’s sidekick in 2009.

Junior Jeremy Stewart heads into fall camp second on the depth chart. The 6-0 210 pound Louisiana native has a fair amount of experience. Stewart has 440 yards and two TDs in his career with the Cardinal. Last season, he carried the ball 14 times for 76 yards. He is a big running back that runs in between the tackles. His skill set mirrors Gerhart’s in many ways.

Jeremy Stewart makes his move towards the hole

Jeremy Stewart makes his move towards the hole

Fifth-year senior Blaise Johnson is currently listed third on the depth chart behind Gerhart and Stewart. Johnson has played special teams for most of his career and it is unclear how much playing time he will see this season. He had a nice spring, including catching a touchdown in the Cardinal and White game. With a talented group of true freshman runners arriving in the fall, Johnson’s spot on the depth chart is not guaranteed.

One of those talented true freshmen is Tyler Gaffney. The San Diego native rushed for an eye-popping 5,547 yards and 99 TD’s during his high school career at Cathedral Catholic HS. Many recruiting services rated him as the #1 fullback in the nation but he will play tailback for the Cardinal.

He was evaluated as a 4-star prospect by almost all major recruiting services. He possesses 4.4 speed and may provide the running game with an extra dimension next season.

Another highly regarded freshman that could have an impact in 2009 is Stepfan Taylor. The 5-11 205 pound Mansfield, Texas native ran for 2,463 yards and 33 TD’s as a senior in high school, breaking the school record for a single-season. Both Rivals.com and Scout.com gave him a 4-star rating. Taylor had offers from schools all over the country, and he may avoid a redshirt in 2009.

Other backs that will provide depth are true freshman Usua Amanam, and sophomore Alex Debniak. Debniak is an intriguing talent who could play on both sides of the ball. He had a very impressive showing in the spring game, rushing for 91 yards on only 4 carries.

My Take

I think John Elway would agree with me when I say that Toby Gerhart deserves to wear No.7 for the Cardinal. He is the consummate football player, exhibiting every quality that Jim Harbaugh looks for in a Stanford athlete. If he can stay healthy, I expect him to be near the top of the conference in rushing yards again.

Next to USC’s Stanley Havili, Owen Marecic is the best fullback in the conference (and arguably among the best in the country). I also love the true freshmen that Harbaugh has coming in. Gaffney’s high school numbers are mind-boggling, and it will be interesting to see if he gets a look this fall. If a change of pace back emerges to compliment Gerhart’s power running, look for Stanford to have a huge year on the ground.

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