Stanford looking to Christian McCaffrey for offensive boost

Buzz words like "shifty," "slippery," "elusive" are generally reserved for running backs a bit smaller in stature. Think Napoleon Kaufman (incoming Washington freshmen, please look him up). Perhaps more recently, LaMichael James or De'Anthony Thomas.

But those same words are now being used to describe another Pac-12 running back. Only this one is 6-foot and a nickel more than 200 pounds. And Stanford's Christian McCaffrey is more than happy with the comparison.

"Any time you're a bigger back and you're called elusive, that's a good thing," McCaffrey said. "That means you're fast. And I want to be the most complete back I can be."

Complete might be the best way to describe McCaffrey's role for the upcoming season. When talking about his role, offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren was quick not to assign him a number of "carries." Rather "touches," preferably in the 20-25 range, is the more appropriate word. Because he sees the sophomore contributing so much more than just between the tackles. Sure, he'll get a few of those carries each week. But they'll also use him on screens, they'll split him out and put him in the slot, and he'll likely make an impact in the return game.

"We don't want to handcuff ourselves to a number first and foremost," Bloomgren said. "But he needs to touch the ball that many times. Whether that's screens or a punt return, however we need to do it, the ball needs to be in his hands. Some of those will be runs under center. Some of them will be runs from the gun. He's a receiver, too. He's too freaking valuable. He's going to be all over the place."

Bloomgren isn't giving away trade secrets. Any defensive coordinator who saw McCaffrey surge at the end of last season knows what's coming. Used judiciously as a freshman, McCaffrey totaled 796 all-purpose yards last season, 300 rushing, 251 receiving and the rest on punt and kick returns. His first career touch was a 52-yard touchdown reception and he had a team-high 138 all-purpose yards in the bowl win against Maryland.

McCaffrey is coming into his own at a time when Stanford needs him most. Last season, the Cardinal averaged just 158.7 yards on the ground, 4.3 yards per carry and only 22 rushing touchdowns. Those are the lowest totals of the David Shaw era. It was also the first time since 2007 that the Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher. And since Stanford makes it's living on the ground, that didn't bode well as the offense averaged just 27.2 points per game -- 11th in the conference.

"I think all of us are looking at it as an opportunity to improve and prove a lot of people wrong," McCaffrey said. "We've improved on a lot of different areas and we're excited to get back to running the football.

"Some of those games we felt like we gave away, it was one little thing away from being a big play. It was definitely frustrating for us because we knew what we could do. But a little thing would happen that would change the entire play. But I think this offseason we've done such a good job of realizing it takes all 11 guys on the field to make a play happen. That's been a big emphasis for us."

McCaffrey's arrival at Stanford wasn't exactly a foregone conclusion. His father, Ed, was a wide receiver with Stanford before going on to a highly successful NFL career. His mother, Lisa, was a soccer player for the Cardinal. And his grandfather, David Sime, was the 100-yard dash world record holder in 1956 -- becoming the first person to run sub 10 seconds. He went on to claim a silver medal in the 1960 Olympics in the 100. In other words, McCaffrey's got genetics that would make Charles Darwin salivate.

"I wanted it to be my decision," McCaffrey said on choosing Stanford. "People thought that just because my parents went there that it was in my blood. I visited a couple other schools. But when I visited Stanford, I knew why they loved it."

And Stanford is glad he did. McCaffrey, like any running back worth his salt, praised the work of his offensive line and called them "the best in the country." And while he might be used differently than some of Stanford's previous backs -- 1,000-yard rushers Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney -- he said he doesn't care about carving out his own name. He just wants to win football games.

"Those are all incredible running backs who are the full package," he said. "They are big, strong, fast, great, great vision, great hands and great runners. I don't look at it like I need to do things differently. I look up to them and want to emulate their skills.

"The more you can do as an offensive skill player, the more versatile you can be for your team. It spreads our offense out a little and it make us less predictable. We've got some room to do different things. The more I can do, the more it can help our team."