STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Stanford coach David Shaw is beginning this season the same way he has his first three: preaching a running back-by-committee approach in training camp.
That never seems to last long on The Farm.
From Toby Gerhart to Stepfan Taylor to Tyler Gaffney, Stanford has seamlessly replaced one NFL draft pick in the backfield with another in recent years. The Cardinal's commitment to the run game has been relentless, and so has the competition to be the next guy anchoring it each fall.
"I don't know who's ready to get more than their even share," Shaw said. "I don't know that we'll know that, honestly, until we start playing games."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said junior Kelsey Young created some separation in spring practices and headed into training camp this week as the slight favorite. But sophomore Barry Sanders — yes, the son of the Hall of Famer with the same name — also is likely to get carries along with junior Remound Wright and senior Ricky Seale.
Somewhere in that foursome — whether it's one player or as a group — the two-time defending Pac-12 champions will need to replace the production Gaffney gave them last season. Gaffney, who didn't become the featured running back until October, ran for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Bloomgren said the competition has been so close that Stanford might truly shuffle running backs all season.
"I'm not sure how we're going to get one runner 20 carries (in a game) this year, as good as these guys have shown to be," Bloomgren said.
None of the four players vying for carries are the traditional up-the-middle power backs Stanford has been known to let loose. They are all about 20 pounds smaller and make-you-miss type of runners.
And their experience is limited.
Young, who had been mostly Stanford's fly sweep specialist, ran for 110 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries last season. Sanders had five rushes for 34 yards and a touchdown and emerged late last year as a punt returner.
Wright had 102 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries. But he has lost ground in the competition after missing the second half of spring practice serving a suspension for an undisclosed disciplinary violation that will keep him out until next week. And Seale ran for 34 yards on 11 carries.
Shaw said the gap-based running scheme won't change, but Stanford might emphasize different things — such as misdirection plays — to tap into its running backs' strengths. The smash-mouth style will still be the Cardinal's calling card.
"We want to come right at people," Bloomgren said.
The competition has been a typical one in training camp: friendly off the field and fierce on it. But they're all doing what they can to find an edge.
Young said he spent the offseason studying video of Gerhart, Taylor and Gaffney, particularly on how each picked up blocks on passing plays, which Shaw said will be a major factor on who plays.
Sanders bulked up from 185 pounds when he arrived on campus two years ago to 200 pounds now. He also wasn't afraid to call his famous father for advice.
"He did tell me, 'Once you get the job, you can't give it back. There's no rush, but just to work your butt off and compete,'" Sanders said.
And while they call each other close friends, they all want to start over the other.
"The running back position is usually known as a position you have one headline running back or something like that. Just by its nature, you want to be that guy that's headlining," Young said. "That pushes you to focus and work even harder so that you can potentially get the one-line role."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP