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Stanford's Christian McCaffrey showing off versatility

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STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Any Stanford fan who wondered why the Cardinal couldn't get the ball in Christian McCaffrey's hands more as a freshman should be encouraged by what's developing this spring.

The soon-to-be sophomore has been creating quite a stir in practices, taking snaps at running back, wide receiver and as a wildcat quarterback. He's fielding punts and kickoffs, too.

After a dazzling debut on The Farm, there will likely be fewer complaints about McCaffrey's minutes moving forward. By the looks of things this spring, Stanford seems intent on making McCaffrey - the son of former NFL wide receiver and Stanford star Ed McCaffrey - their do-it-all playmaker come fall.

''I'm wherever coach puts me,'' McCaffrey said. ''I think if you can be as versatile as you can be, you'll be the best player you can be.''

McCaffrey turned more than a few heads as a freshman, bursting onto the scene on his first touch - a 52-yard touchdown catch in the season opener against UC Davis.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan called it a ''very mature play.'' He noted how McCaffrey noticed a blitz coming, stopped his route and got his head around fast to make the catch before sprinting to the end zone.

''That's when we knew this kid's special,'' Hogan said. ''He'd done his homework and knows how to execute on the field.''

Hogan said every player recognized McCaffrey's talents even before training camp. He recalled going up to quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Tavita Pritchard last summer and telling him McCaffrey needed to play as a freshman, which is rare at Stanford, where players often redshirt and stay five years.

''Tavita already knew,'' Hogan said. ''It was known by everybody that he's a very special player and has got a lot of talent.''

Finding ways to get McCaffrey more involved proved to be a bigger challenge.

Stanford coach David Shaw indicated that McCaffrey, like most young running backs, needed to improve in pass protection. He also said McCaffrey didn't have a full grasp of the Cardinal's complicated offense, which constantly changes plays and protections at the line of scrimmage.

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Shaw and his staff gave McCaffrey a package of plays to learn, as they have with most freshmen to ease their transition. But McCaffrey wasn't most freshmen.

He averaged 9.3 yards per touch, often dodging defenders and running away from them. He had 59 touches - 42 rushes and 17 receptions - on offense, which left many fans frustrated during a season the two-time defending Pac-12 champions finished 8-5 in large part because of a lack of points.

McCaffrey said he knew ''100 percent'' of the playbook by the end of the season. As a result, Shaw said there are no restrictions on McCaffrey anymore.

''Now it's taking the reins off and let's go. He's got to know it all,'' Shaw said.

The Cardinal could certainly use McCaffrey more.

Stanford's rotation of running backs struggled to carry the offense last season the same way workhorses such as Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart had in the past. The offensive line had problems early on, and without a balanced attack, so did Hogan in the passing game.

Stanford figures to go with a running back-by-committee approach again, with McCaffrey, Barry Sanders and Remound Wright leading the way. But Shaw would love for one player to emerge from the group, which is why he asked each of them to bulk up and prepare their bodies for the grind of being an every-down back.

McCaffrey has heeded his coach's word already. He said he's at about 205 pounds - up from 197 at the end of last season - and his upper body looks noticeably more muscular.

McCaffrey still works out with the running backs group in practice. He studies video and gets repetitions at wide receiver before or after practice, catching passes from Hogan in the slot or out wide, which makes it tough to categorize exactly what position he plays.

''Just a playmaker. It doesn't matter where he is,'' Hogan said. ''He's just a playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands.''


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