Aug. 5, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. -
The three-way battle for the starting quarterback position has perhaps drawn attention away from an equally main point of emphasis for Stanford heading into the 2008 season--the need to establish a consistent and productive running game.
Dating back to the 2003 season, Stanford has not finished higher than ninth among Pac-10 teams in rushing offense and has not had a back rush for more than 524 yards since Brian Allen finished with 899 yards in 2001. The last Stanford back to go over the 1,000-yard mark was Tommy Vardell, who finished with 1,084 yards in 1991. Another point to keep in mind is five of Stanford's last six bowl teams have relied on a running back gaining at least 800 yards.
Last year, injuries decimated the team's running game. Anthony Kimble missed five games and Toby Gerhart went down with a season-ending injury after rushing for 140 yards on 12 carries in the second game of the season against San Jose State. Jeremy Stewart, who finished with 343 yards to rank as the team's second leading rusher a year ago, also battled his share of nagging injuries. Senior Jason Evans filled in admirably in spots, but was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury against Arizona.
Five sessions into fall camp, Kimble and Gerhart are showing no ill-effects from last year's injuries. Kimble looked especially impressive today, shaking off three tacklers to gain 30 yards early in full squad drills. Stewart, along with freshman Delano Howell, are also seeing plenty of action.
A fifth-year senior, Kimble has made 24 starts at running back over the last three years and has led the team in rushing each of the past two seasons. However, he has missed eight games due to injury over the last three seasons, including five contests a year ago. Last season, he finished with 509 yards (72.7 per game) and led the team in rushing in six of the seven games he played. His eight rushing touchdowns were the most by a Stanford back since Brian Allen
and Kerry Carter
had nine rushing TDs in 2001. A multi-purpose threat out of the backfield, Kimble has tallied 45 career catches for 365 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
"Staying healthy is the biggest key for Anthony," said running backs coach Willie Taggart. "He is the veteran of the group. He is a dual threat as a runner and receiver and is also an excellent blocker."
After gaining 140 yards on just 12 carries last season against San Jose State, Gerhart was well on his way to making serious run at Jon Volpe's single-game rushing record of 220 yards. However, Gerhart went down with a knee injury in the third quarter and was lost for the season. He did not participate in spring drills but was able to heal in time to log nearly a full season with Stanford's baseball team.
"Toby is a complete back," said Taggart. "He has great vision and a feel for the running game. He is a big, bruising back who has the ability to pick up yards after contact."
With Kimble and Gerhart both sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, Stewart was called upon to fill the void in Stanford's running game. He finished as the team's second-leading ground gainer with 343 yards and two touchdowns and gained confidence as the season progressed, as he combined for 178 yards in the final three games of the season against Washington State (54), Notre Dame (54) and California (70).
"Jeremy gained some valuable experience last season and he continues to grow into his role," said Taggart. "He's one of our better pass blockers."
Sophomore Owen Marecic and senior Josh Catron figure to see the majority of action at fullback. Marecic started all 12 games last season and earned honorable mention All-Pacific-10 honors, despite the fact he carried the ball only five times for six yards. Catron, who enters his fourth year in the program, is a converted linebacker who has seen most of his action thus far on Stanford's special teams units. Blaise Johnson will also provide solid depth.
Cardinal Clips: Stanford worked out in full pads for three hours this morning on Elliott Field...the Cardinal is scheduled to hold its first two-a-day workout sessions on Thursday.