Debniak: A reverse Marecic?

One of the big stories of Stanford spring practices was Owen Marecic -- the Pac-10's best fullback -- changing his lead position to linebacker.

(We say "lead" because Marecic saw action at both spots in 2009 and also will in 2010).

While it was a quieter story, Alex Debniak may make the move from outside linebacker to running back -- or, at least, make the latter his "lead" position -- where the 233-pound sophomore could fill the power running void left by the departure of Toby Gerhart.

"That's something I talked to Alex and our coaches about," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Right now, he's behind Chase Thomas and Tom Keiser [at outside linebacker]. If the way to get him on the field is on the offensive side, we're going to look at that."

Stanford switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 look under new coordinator Vic Fangio this spring. That meant Keiser and Thomas, starting defensive ends last fall, moved into outside linebacker spots. Debniak is more suited to be an outside linebacker in a 4-3. In fact, he was fighting for a starting spot last year on the strong side before hurting his knee.

Debniak had a solid spring at linebacker. In the spring game, he forced a fumble. He could add quality depth at the position. But Harbaugh, perhaps recalling that Debniak starred in the 2009 spring game with 91 yards rushing on just four carries, inserted him at running back in the fourth quarter of the spring game on April 17 and, with just four carries for 21 yards, Debniak made an impression.

The competition to replace Gerhart includes four other players: Jeremy Stewart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam. But after spring practices concluded, the depth chart remained a logjam with none of the candidates decisively asserting himself. And none can match Debniak's physical style, which would be a nice complement to what might be the conference's best O-line.

Harbaugh has never been afraid of moving players around and even playing them both ways. And Debniak is too good to play a bit part as a reserve.

"Alex is one of best 22 players," Harbaugh said. "You've got to find a way to get him on the field as much as possible."