Video: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
5:30
PM ET
video

Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly talks about spring practice and defending their Pac-12 South crown.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
2:30
PM ET
Oh, you mean my pilot's license? That's out back in the Cessna. Or perhaps you're referring to my license to kill. Revoked. Trouble at the Kazakhstan border. I could give you the details but then I'd have to kill you, which I can't do because my license to kill has been revoked.

Reviewing the Pac-12 pro days

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:00
PM ET
Washington was the final Pac-12 school to host its pro day Wednesday, essentially putting an end to 40-yard-dash season. Here is a look at some of the conference's top prospects and a few others who helped their cause over the past month.

Arizona (March 6)
Big name: RB Ka'Deem Carey. After getting clocked at 4.70 in the 40 at the combine, Carey's pro day was a bit more intriguing than some of the other big-name players. There was some improvement -- various reports had him in the high 4.6-range -- but it wasn't enough to change the book on him. Still, Carey's production should make up for his perceived shortcomings.
Sleeper: OLB Marquis Flowers. Flowers reportedly ran in the 4.4s and had a good showing in position drills.

Arizona State (March 7)
Big name: DT Will Sutton. The Sun Devils' pro day further cemented what scouts learned at the combine, when he turned in below average numbers. There was slight improvement at the pro day, according to several reports, but nothing to save his falling stock.
Sleeper: RB Marion Grice. Grice was invited to the combine, but didn't participate as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late in the season. He also didn't participate at the pro day, but will hold an individual workout for NFL scouts on April 8.

California (March 19)
Big name: DT Deandre Coleman. Coleman only participated in the bench press at the combine, but fared well in field drills on campus with a reported 40 time in the mid 4.9-range. Coleman is projected by most to be a mid-round selection.
Sleeper: RB Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was perhaps the player with the most to gain at pro day. The book on him has always been that he's loaded with talent and the physical skills necessary to be an impact player. It didn't happen for the Bears before he decided to leave early for a shot at Sunday football. Despite injuring his hamstring midway through his 40, Bigelow still was reported as running in the high 4.4-range with former Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best looking on.

Colorado (March 12)
Big name: WR Paul Richardson. There were 24 teams on hand, with Richardson the obvious prize of the nine that worked out. He only participated in the vertical jump, short shuttle and three-cone drills.
Sleeper: LS Ryan Iverson. Iverson will not be drafted, but after four years as the Colorado long snapper he has a chance to make some money at the next level. His 27 reps on the bench press were a team high. All the Colorado results can be viewed here.

Oregon (March 13)
Big name: RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas' 4.50 40 time at the combine was among the disappointments for the conference and turned a perceived strength into average attribute. After his showing in Eugene -- a 4.34 40 time -- the world is back on its axis. On his combine performance, Thomas told the Ducks' official website: “I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. I feel like that made me train harder and I used it as motivation.”
Sleeper: CB Avery Patterson. Patterson was left puzzled by his own performance after putting up just 10 repetitions in the bench press, but the two-year starter remains focused on making the jump to the next level. He's likely the type of player that will have to earn his way on a team via a training camp invitation and possibly a practice squad.

Oregon State (March 14)
Big name: WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner could have showed up to the Beavers' pro day as a spectator and it likely wouldn't have mattered. His showing at the combine was enough to solidify his stock as a first-round pick. Cooks didn't take part in field drills, but did run routes.
Sleeper: WR Micah Hatfield. Yes, a receiver with 20 career catches helped his cause. One scout told the Oregonian he had Hatfield at 4.33 in the 40 -- the same times Cooks clocked when he was the fastest receiver at the combine.

Stanford (March 20)
Big name: OL David Yankey. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis were the only no-shows at Stanford. If the mock drafts are to be trusted, Yankey figures to be the first Stanford player of the board. He improved slightly on the bench press (22 to 25) and clocked the same 40 time (5.48) from the combine.
Sleeper: DE Ben Gardner. Is it fair to call Gardner a sleeper after earning some form of all-Pac-12 recognition the past three years? Probably not, but after not being invited to the NFL combine we'll go ahead and list him here anyways. Gardner benefitted most from the day, quantifying his explosiveness and athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

UCLA (March 11)
Big name: OLB Anthony Barr. After running a 4.66 40 at the combine, Barr was clocked at 4.45 to ease any lingering doubt about his straight-line speed. Barr helped his case to become a top-10 pick and will likely be the first player from the Pac-12 selected.
Sleeper: RB Malcolm Jones. The Gatorade national high school player of the year never developed into the player UCLA fans were hoping for, but he's still hanging on to hopes of an NFL career. He was credited with a 4.57 40 at the Bruins' pro day.

USC (March 12)
Big name: WR Marqise Lee. Lee went Jerry Seinfeld and chose not to run, letting his combine performance serve as the final measurement of his ability. After not lifting in Indianapolis, Lee finished with 11 reps in the bench. He's tagged for the first round.
Sleeper: DE Morgan Breslin. Like Gardner, who he has been working out with in San Ramon, Calif., Breslin was a combine snub. He ran a 4.75 40, put up 26 reps on the bench and registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump. Here are the complete results for the 18 players who took part.

Utah (March 19)
Big name: CB Keith McGill. One of the fastest risers since the season has ended, McGill decided to participate in every drill despite a good showing at the combine. His 40 time (4.52) was a hundredth of second slower than what he did at combine, and his vertical leap (35.5) was about four inches less.
Sleeper: FB Karl Williams. The 240-pound former walk-on clocked a 4.5, which will could give him a shot to get in a training camp.

Washington (April 2)
Big name: RB Bishop Sankey. Content with his good showing in Indy, Sankey elected to just run the 60-yard shuttle and catch passes. Most mock drafts have Sankey, who left with a year of eligibility remaining, as the No. 2 running back.
Sleeper: QB Keith Price. There were 19 quarterbacks at the combine, but Price was not one of them, marking the first time since at least 1999 that the conference didn't send a quarterback -- and it could be longer -- we could only find combine rosters dating back that far. Price got good reviews for his performance Wednesday, but it would still be surprising if he gets drafted.

Washington State (March 13)
Big name: S Deone Bucannon. WSU's remote location and limited number of pro prospects resulted in less than a dozen scouts on hand, but those that were there got to see one of the conference's most intriguing prospects. Bucannon just participated in position drills after performing well across the board in Indianapolis.
Sleeper: K Andrew Furney. Furney showed a leg capable of hitting from beyond 60 yards and further established himself as a potential candidate for training camp invitations.
The true mark of a great offensive line is for it to never be talked about, for it to be the silent wall that moves the pile and allows for others -- the running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers -- to shine.

It’s an unfortunate position in that regard because it means really the only time people will talk about it is when it’s playing poorly -- none of the fame, all of the blame.

But it’s a part of the position. For players like Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, it’s almost better because rather than just having receiving stats or passing stats or rushing stats, the O-line gets to celebrate all three.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiSenior center Hroniss Grasu has taken it upon himself to be a vocal leader on Oregon's O-line.
“As an offensive lineman, that’s your characteristic,” Grasu said. “When our running backs score a touchdown, we take a lot of pride in that or when Marcus [Mariota] has six, seven seconds to sit in the pocket and throw a touchdown, we feel like that’s ... our moment of glory. A lot of people don’t see it that way but as offensive linemen, we understand it.”

So from that perspective, the Oregon offensive line racked up the stats last season. It was top 20 in the nation in passing yardage, top five in the nation in passer efficiency, and top 10 in the nation in rushing yardage.

But it was in the losses when the O-line gained its moments of bigger recognition that stand out the most clearly to Grasu and his group.

“They wanted it more,” Grasu said of the opposing defensive lines. “That’s very hard to say.”

They didn’t win the line of scrimmage, didn’t hold their blocks as long as they should’ve, didn’t play with a low enough pad level. All of the basics, all of the things that group needs to go unrecognized, weren't executed. And suddenly, they’re deficiencies, and recognizable ones at that.

The Ducks rushed for 198 yards in their loss to Arizona, averaging 5.1 yards per rush. However, when the three longest runs of the game are taken out of the equation that statistic drops to 4.1 yards per rush, more than two yards below their season average.

The same was true in the Ducks’ loss to Stanford, except that they only rushed for 62 yards (2.6 yards per rush). And when the three longest runs in that game are taken out, that number drops to just 1 yard per rush.

Against the Wildcats, Oregon reached the red zone five times but only converted on three of those attempts (two touchdowns, one field goal). Against the Cardinal, the Ducks got there just three times and only scored one touchdown.

“When we’re getting down in the red zone it’s on the offensive line,” Grasu said. “We have to score the ball. When we get down on the 5-yard line against Stanford or the 1-yard line against Arizona, that just, for an offensive lineman, takes a lot of pride out of you.”

So re-instating that pride became a focal point for Grasu and the rest of the line during the offseason, which means they want to go back to being as anonymous as possible in the public while providing obvious production.

They started in the weight room, packing on more than 100 pounds as a unit. The competition started there, with each guy trying to one up the other on each rep each week, resulting in a much bigger O-line at the start of spring practices.

“I think as far as from the size aspect we’ve always gotten a little bit of bad press for being a little undersized,” left tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “And I think we’re turning that around this year. ... We’re bigger and stronger and a little more fierce this spring ball for sure.”

Johnstone, who isn’t participating in spring practices as he rehabs his knee, has become a player-coach of sorts, coaching the group up from the sideline.

He, like Grasu, is becoming more vocal, pointing out the smallest of errors on the line. After the size gain in the offseason, that has become the focus of his spring -- making the minutiae the most important and making sure every member in the offensive line meeting room feels the same way.

Being that vocal enforcer isn’t always easy, though.

“The issue was that since we’re all such good friends, we don’t want to upset someone else,” Grasu said. “If someone isn’t playing hard enough we don’t want to get on their case, we’re going to wait until the coach does so we don’t look like the bad guy.”

Grasu said that winning games now trumps being the “bad guy,” and that players are pushing each other more and more as they look back and film and realize how different a play could’ve been if they had just held a block a moment longer or stayed in the film room to study gap assignments for just 10 more minutes after practice one day.

“It’s very easy to look back and say ‘Hey, if we just move our feet six inches and don’t hold on this play, it’s a touchdown,’ ‘If you execute here it’s the difference between a huge win or not,’” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “We need to get a little edge of toughness, a little edge of physicality while still being extremely disciplined. That absolutely is a topic this spring.”

And as long as the O-line gets edgier and more physical on the field, they’ll be as anonymous as they want everywhere else.
As you might be aware, Oregon and Stanford are in the midst of two very impressive runs having combined to appear in eight BCS bowls over the past five years.

The reasons are aplenty, but ESPN Insider's Brian Fremeau provided a fascinating look Insider at how the two programs have measured up offensively compared to the rest of the country over that time frame.

It's not just yards, yards per play, points -- you know, the simple stuff -- that he takes a look at, either. Fremeau's Offensive FEI ratings take into account a whole lot more than that. Starting field position and defensive strength are factors, while drives that are killed by the clock are not.

A more detailed explanation for the metric can be found here and the more I read about it, the more I shook my head in agreement. Especially this part:
A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.

In looking at every program in the country, it was determined the Ducks ranked No. 4 and Cardinal No. 5.

While last year might have been the only year in the five-year range Oregon didn't qualify for a BCS bowl, the data suggests the Ducks took a step forward offensively and appear destined to get even better next season.
The team with the best opportunity to rank first in opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency this year is the Ducks. Oregon returns nine offensive starters, including quarterback Marcus Mariota, the nation's leader in total offense yards per play last season (9.1). Oregon has had a top-20 opponent-adjusted offense every year since 2007, and the Ducks' 2013 version was the best according to FEI.

Having Andrew Luck's entire career apart of the dataset certainly helped the Cardinal, which trended backwards last season. Still, compared to what the traditional stats say, Stanford still was pretty good last year coming in at No. 22.
The Cardinal are the biggest surprise in our Program Offense ratings, propped up by the strength of the opposing defenses Stanford has faced in the past few years. The Cardinal played the fourth-toughest set of opponent offenses last year according to our data, and performed admirably, ranking 12th nationally in explosive drives (21 percent of possessions) and 23rd in available yards.
Here is how the Pac-12 teams stacked up nationally in 2013, according to the index:

No. 4 Oregon
No. 6 Arizona State
No. 11 UCLA
No. 13 Washington
No. 19 Arizona
No. 22 Stanford
No. 28 USC
No. 35 Utah
No. 39 Oregon State
No. 55 Washington State
No. 85 Colorado
No. 89 California

My math isn't advanced as Fremeau's, but I can tell you 22.5 percent of the top 40 offenses came from the Pac-12 and that's pretty impressive.

New Washington coach Chris Petersen's former team, Boise State, checked in at No. 49.
One of the ways a football team transitions from a group of wishful maybes to a sense of near-ontological certainty is when its collection of spring practice questions becomes mostly an array of appealing potential options.

So we have UCLA as it transitions from an underachieving program (1999-2011) to a good one (2012-2013) to one that has the makings of a national contender in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesWith few questions to answer this spring, Jim Mora has the makings of a special 2014 season with UCLA.
While the Bruins have questions on their depth chart, there isn't any particular area of vexing concern. The five positions where starters need to be replaced seem likely to be filled by promising athletes with playing experience. If those more veteran players don't rise to the fore during spring practices, that mostly speaks to the program's strong recruiting under Jim Mora.

Further, it's reasonable to project that those 20 or so freshmen and sophomores who saw significant playing time last year will physically and mentally mature into their primes.

There simply aren't any worrisome voids on this team.

As in:
There are, of course, important questions.

Is defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa fully healthy? He told reporters Tuesday that he is. So then is the former A-list recruit ready to break through as a senior?

What does LB/RB Myles Jack do for an encore after one of the best true freshman seasons in recent memory?

And speaking of what's next, is it reasonable to project Hundley taking a strong step forward as a third-year starter? Of course, that's why the program has already launched a Heisman Trophy campaign.

A lot of variables beyond personnel go into a special season -- a Rose Bowl-, College Football Playoff-type season. A team needs a great offseason. It needs positive chemistry and leadership. It needs to avoid injuries. It needs to stay hungry. It needs laser-like focus every week.

Returning starters do not guarantee anything. National champion Florida State only had 11 of them last year.

But on paper, UCLA appears to be the most likely candidate to break the five-year Stanford-Oregon Pac-12 hegemony atop the Pac-12. The Bruins might even be a team that catches the notice of the CFP selection committee in December.
No one will ever confuse Chris Petersen’s comedic timing with that of a Rodney Dangerfield or Louis C.K., but give the new Washington coach props for trying.

Petersen pulled a fast one on his guys on Tuesday -- which happened to be April Fools' Day -- when he presented some new uniforms to his players during a team meeting. The new unis, complete with multiple block Ws, had a new logo and “Dawgs” written across the posterior. At least it didn’t say “Juicy.”



The players look apprehensive, if not underwhelmed, during the presentation. Then Petersen gives us the punchline -- telling his players to focus on the now. “What is now? It’s April Fools!”

You can hear collective relief from the players and thanks to deities. Don’t forget, this was one of the schools that brought us the Swagga Suit a couple of years ago.

For the presentation, Petersen gets a B. For the effort, the Pac-12 blog awards him four out of four Woofs.
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.

Q&A: Oregon DC Don Pellum

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
1:00
PM ET
Don Pellum has been around the Oregon football program for decades, first as a player and then as a coach. Following the Valero Alamo Bowl, coach Mark Helfrich announced that Pellum would be taking over for defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. On Monday, following the Ducks' first spring practice, he sat down with ESPN.com to talk about his new coaching duties, the 3-4 defense and improvements from Day 1.

How different is it coming into this spring season as a coordinator instead of a position coach?

[+] EnlargeDon Pellum
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsNew Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum has a lot more on his plate this spring.
Don Pellum: The biggest difference is that you’re looking at the big picture. Prior to this year the focus was just on the run game and the inside. Now, you have to continue to look at the big picture. It’s going to stretch you a little bit more because you have to continue to take care of your position group, but you have a lot more people that you need to see, a lot more things you need to see on the field. It’s exciting.

Many more meetings?

DP: Just longer meetings. We’ll have the same meetings but before when you sat in that room, you watched your guys. You pay attention to everything but you didn’t focus as hard; now you’re focusing on everything. It’s longer meetings, and then prior to some of these meetings, you have to go watch the film and be prepared to discuss everything. But it’s going well. No complaints.

Is the transition to defensive coordinator made easier because the linebackers have the most depth of any defensive position group?

DP: Having a veteran group helps from the standpoint of the fact that some of they understand the way we want to teach things, so there’s flexibility with that group because I can tell them one thing and they get it. They understand exactly where I’m coming from. So from that standpoint, the veteran group helps. I still have to spend the same amount of time getting them ready because those are my guys. I can’t let those guys not be prepared. But it’s comforting because it is a veteran group. If it were a freshman group or just a young group, it’d be a bit more difficult because I’d have to spend some extra time with them.

Even though the depth is in the linebacker group, with how much the Ducks struggled against the run last season, would you consider playing a 4-3 defense instead of a 3-4 this season?

DP: I’m not familiar with the debate at all. I don’t watch as much TV as I should and I read a lot of things, but I don’t read that news. The debate between the 3-4 and the 4-3, it varies. I honestly believe that we need to be smart enough to look at your players and your talent and your abilities and ask, ‘What can we do?’ We run some 4-3, but we’re more 3-4. I think everyone has a package where you run both, but some teams are much more predominant with one or the other. But our personnel, if you say the strength of our team or the strength in terms of veteran players on our team is at the linebackers, then we should be in a 3-4. Because that’s going to put more of those guys on the field. I think both of those defenses are good. I don’t think there’s any bad defense, as long as you understand it. I don’t think you can declare, ‘I’m going to run this defense,’ but then not know it and not have the personnel -- I think that’s a recipe for disaster.

Which part of the game needs to make the biggest strides this spring in order to be successful next fall?

DP: Fundamentals. You look at our defense, and I’d suspect this is everywhere, you look at the big plays and lot of the big plays are from a missed tackle, poor angles -- those are fundamentals. To improve this defense from where we are right now to where we want to get, we’ve got to improve our fundamentals. So that’s tackling, shedding blocks, getting off blocks and running like maniacs. That’s what defense is.

Even though you were only able to see the group for one day, are you starting to see the early forms of that?

DP: Was it near where we want? No. But for the first day was it pretty good? It was pretty good. The communication was really good. You could tell that although we appear to be a young group, you could tell that the guys have been paying attention because across the board they were pretty savvy today about what we were asking them to do. The communication was good. The angles were good. As you walk down the sideline, they weren’t talking about what happened yesterday; they were talking about today and the next [practice], so they’re thinking like you do in a game situation. That’s what we’re trying to create because that’s the culture we need on the sideline. It was encouraging.

Helfrich also said he was impressed with the communication on Day 1. What can that be attributed to?

DP: I think we’ve made that a point as a staff. We’ve made that a concise point to the team that we need to be smarter. We need to increase our knowledge and understanding. As a coaching staff we’ve done a phenomenal job of going through everything, nit-picking everything and making sure that we’re really on the same page with a lot of different things. We changed some things. We’ve reduced some of the words. We’ve tried to make some of the words friendlier for the players and more specific to those techniques. So we’ve done a lot of things ourselves as coaches. We looked at what we were telling them, looked at what we were talking about. Let’s break that down and then go and reteach it to them and give it to them in a different form. So that’s what we’ve done. And it was kind of neat because it was just the first day, but there was some evidence of it.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez probably has a pretty good idea of a loose pecking order this spring for his seven competing quarterbacks, a number that will jump to nine in the fall, but it appears increasingly unlikely he will provide reporters too many clues to his thinking, even after the spring game on April 12.

The best estimate is the Wildcats QB competition comes down to no more than five guys: Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall and Nick Isham.

[+] EnlargeAizona Wildcats
Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez is sifting through a horde of QBs, with no front runner at this point.
That order might be how the Pac-12 blog is handicapping the competition. Or it might not. Why does Rodriguez get to be the only mysterious guy on the question?

"I would say one through five is pretty bunched up right now," Rodriguez told reporters after Monday's practice. "I have tried to rotate them through there like that. I thought by now there would be a little more separation, but there really hasn’t been."

Rodriguez was happy how his QBs played in a closed scrimmage on Saturday, and he seems satisfied with how the group is performing. You might recall that last spring, in the competition that B.J. Denker would eventually win, Rodriguez looked like he was sucking on lemons when asked to talk about his QBs.

So perhaps we can assume things are better than last year and at least on schedule.

"They’re a very conscientious group," Rodriguez said. "When I ask them questions, they give the right answers. It’s five practices and I’m going to continue putting them under the gun. I’m repping seven now and have nine scheduled for the fall. I can’t rep nine equally in the fall. I’ll pare it down as much as I can. If I don’t know the top three or four, I’ll keep repping them until I have that order.”

Meanwhile, the competition to replace running back Ka'Deem Carey seems to be meandering a bit. Pierre Cormier, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby have been participating in spring practices, but Rodriguez isn't throwing out any bouquets just yet.

“They’re OK," Rodriguez said. "They’re getting a lot of reps. From Daniel Jenkins and Ka’Deem Carey, two of the best guys that we had and veterans, they’re not going to be at that level yet. There’s some talent there. Coach [Calvin] Magee is pushing them through to get them to play at a higher level, so I think they’ve gotten better.”

Rodriguez isn't so shy, however, about expressing frustration with the NCAA, which has yet to clear early-enrolling true freshman running back Jonathan Haden to practice.

"It’s really frustrating because the information is in and has been into the NCAA for a week and a half now," Rodriguez said.
All indications are that Stanford is going to be a running-back-by-committee team in 2014.

You’ve heard this one before, right? Wasn’t that the word out of spring this time last year?

Then Tyler Gaffney galloped in, fresh off a minor league baseball career, and the Cardinal rode him to the tune of 330 carries, 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders is one of several Stanford running backs battling for carries this fall.
Now the Cardinal are once again looking for a “starting” running back. This time, however, there will be no Gaffney; no baseball transfers (does Mark Appel have any eligibility left?); no veteran back with tons of experience to carry the load for Stanford’s ground game.

With Stanford into its second session of spring ball, its running back competition is one of the most intriguing and hotly contested position battles in the Pac-12. Because recent history suggests that whichever of the four potential backs emerges as the No. 1 option, he’s likely to have a stellar season. Stanford has produced a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2008. But picking that No. 1 could take some time.

“I don’t know how you pick a starter today, because they all have something they do better than the other,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren.

When you think of Stanford’s rushing attack of late, it evokes images of bell cows and dust and a trio of yards. And the last couple of seasons, that’s exactly what it’s been. In 2013 Gaffney accounted for 56 percent of his team’s carries and 59 percent of its rushing yards. The year before that, Stepfan Taylor carried 322 times and accounted for 58 percent of the rushes and 62 percent of the yards on the ground.

But that’s not necessarily the identity that Stanford head coach David Shaw is most comfortable with. Sure, if he has a back who can haul it more than 300 times in a season, he’s already shown that’s what he’s going to do. But backs who can carry that kind of workload don’t grow on trees.

“When you hit the middle of the season, you’d like to have three or four guys who are still fresh,” Shaw said. “It’s just kind of how it happened the last couple of years. The 300-plus carries are gasping. But doggone it, Tyler Gaffney was 220 pounds and in great shape and he can carry it. That’s not normal. Toby Gerhart wasn’t normal. Fortunately we were OK with Tyler holding up. But I’d prefer not do that to anybody again if we don’t have to.”

This year’s quartet of potential backs -- Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders -- smacks more of Stanford’s 2011 stable. That year, Taylor carried 242 times. But other backs had their roles and niches. Gaffney (pre-baseball) and Anthony Wilkerson played supporting roles to Taylor. Jeremy Stewart was a short-yardage monster. Even the fullbacks combined for 22 carries. And of Stanford’s 518 rushing attempts that year, Taylor accounted for only 46 percent. That kind of distribution is more preferable to Shaw.

The 2014 Cardinal running game might have a similar look. And that’s not a bad thing. Unlike a quarterback competition, where a potential starter could be sitting on the bench because the guy in front of him is simply that much better, running backs have various roles they can fill. One guy might be better in short yardage. Another might be stronger in the screen game. Yet another can hit the edge better than the guy who goes up the middle. The ability to be multiple is more on par with what the Cardinal want to do.

“We have a lot of versatility at that position,” Shaw said. “But we also feel like any one of those guys in any given game could come in and carry it 20-plus times and potentially get over 100 yards. All of them have that ability. But we also feel good about the different combinations we can create with those guys.”

According to Bloomgren, Wright seems to be the “steadiest” of the four carrying the ball and in pass protection. Seale has improved his pass protection and has displayed good cutting and vision. Bloomgren described Young as “lightning in a bottle.” Recall he was used as more of a scat back before moving over to running back full time. And finally there’s Sanders.

“It’s hard to talk about Barry last, but when you talk about those other guys age-wise, that’s where he falls,” Bloomgren said. “He’s done some things that are unbelievable. He’s had a couple of those moments in scrimmages where he dead-legs people and leaves them in his wake … we just need him to be a better pass protector.”

So once again, the Stanford staff is preaching running back by committee. And this year, it looks like they really mean it.
On Monday, we took a look at how the Pac-12's offensive players stack up as NFL prospects in the eyes of ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Tuesday, it's the defense's turn.

Defensive line

  • DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: No. 4 (Kiper), No. 5 (McShay)
  • DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: No. 8 (Kiper), No. 10 (McShay)

If you've been following along since the end of the season, Sutton's spot isn't all too surprising. He didn't have a good showing at the combine and has taken heat about his physical condition, dating to before last season. Even with the concerns, it's hard to imagine he won't eventually find his way in the NFL. After all, he's only the second player in conference history to be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Washington's Steve Emtman (1990-91) was the other. That's not by accident.

Coincidentally, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, isn't ranked in the top 10 by either. See the list here. Insider

Other Pac-12 defensive linemen who figure to be in the mix in the draft are Cassius Marsh (UCLA), Taylor Hart (Oregon), Deandre Coleman (Cal), George Uko (USC), Tenny Palepoi (Utah), Morgan Breslin (USC), Ben Gardner (Stanford) and Josh Mauro (Stanford).

Linebacker

  • [+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr could be the first Pac-12 player to be drafted this year.
    OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: No. 2 (both)
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford: No. 6 (Kiper), No. 9 (McShay)
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford: No. 3 (both)
  • ILB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: No. 8 (Kiper)

Barr is widely considered the Pac-12's best hope at landing in the first 10 picks, but if McShay was drafting, that wouldn't be the case. On drafting Barr, McShay wrote:
[Barr] of UCLA is a speed-rusher who stalls out when attempting to convert speed to power, and there is too much finesse to his game for me to pay a top-15 price for him. He looks like he's on skates when he attempts to set the edge.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the same player Stanford coach David Shaw compared to Jevon Kearse. Shaw called Barr called the best (defensive) player the conference has had in the "last few years."

Murphy is in a similar boat to Sutton in that his college production isn't necessarily being viewed as a lock to translate to the NFL. He still figures to be a good fit for a 3-4 team and should be expected to contribute right away.

Outside of the four listed, it wasn't a very deep year for linebackers in the conference. Utah's Trevor Reilly, who can play both OLB and DE, Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford and USC's Devon Kennard headline the rest of the NFL hopefuls.

Defensive back

McGill should send a thank you card in Pete Carroll's direction. It's largely because of Seattle's use of big-bodied corners en route to a Super Bowl victory that the league appears to be trending in that direction. At 6-foot-4, McGill's size -- in addition to his solid showing at the combine -- is a rare asset among the group of corners.

Bucannon looks like he'll be the first defensive back off the board, but will he be a first-round pick? That's unlikely, but it would be a surprise if he lasts into the third round.

Another storyline to watch is where the three defensive backs who left early -- safety Ed Reynolds (Stanford), cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Oregon) and cornerback Kameron Jackson (Cal) -- wind up.

See the lists for linebackers and defensive backs here.Insider

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