Stanford Football: Ryan Burns

STANFORD, Calif. -- With just one practice remaining before Saturday's spring game, Stanford associate head coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren is confident the Cardinal has taken significant strides towards replacing several pieces that left the team following last season.

[+] EnlargeMike Bloomgren
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsStanford OC Mike Bloomgren is pleased to see the progress his QBs are making this spring.
Bloomgren took some time on Tuesday and told ESPN.com some of his major impressions up to this point.

With QB Evan Crower limited in the second session [deviated septum], what kind of progress has redshirt freshman QB Ryan Burns made working with the second team and how has Kevin Hogan looked?

Bloomgren: It's been a little trial-by-fire for Burnsy a little bit, jumping in there with the second group from the time he got back last Monday. And our defense is not the easiest one to jump in there against and try to decipher everything they're showing you. He's done a much better job. Every day he's gotten better. We've gone from a week ago to not being able to take the center-quarterback snap to start a play to now where we're doing that consistently well. As far as No. 8 [Hogan] goes, No. 8's been great all spring with very, very few exceptions. Leadership has been great, the way he's seeing and thinking this game right is outstanding. The things he's doing with us from a protection standpoint, getting us in the right protection, making the right adjustment to routes and is just throwing the ball really well.

RB Kelsey Young looked really good in the open scrimmage … has that been a consistent thing?

MB: I think that might have been Kelsey's best day. It's great to see it. He's taking steps every day at the running back position. The thing that you saw was the explosive runs and the consistent runs out of Kelsey, which was great to see ... the leg drive and the way he was finishing runs was outstanding and the things that's he's doing is getting better at protection every day.

What has the transition been like for Young converting back from wide receiver?

MB: When you talk about what Kelsey's done for us, Kelsey's always been an explosive runner. We've loved getting the ball in his hands, whether it was on a speed sweeps or on a screen, but the thing he wasn't the master of was running the ball from seven yards behind the quarterback, and it's taken a lot of work and he's seeing things really well. He's slowed his footwork down. I'm really pleased with how he's coming along.

The offensive line is going to look a lot different, but are you confident it will still be a very good unit?

MB: We're breaking in four new starters, and I don't know if I've ever been a part of doing that before. I wouldn't say for a second that it's been easy, but it's probably been easier than any other four you could break in. The five guys we're working with right now -- being those five guys from the class of 2012, [RG] Johnny Caspers, [RT] Kyle Murphy, [C] Graham Shuler, [LG] Josh Garnett stepping in besides [LT] Andrus [Peat] -- and then you've got people working in that are doing a great job. Brendon Austin, when he's healthy has been really good, playing the best football of his career.

Are there inherent advantages of those guys all being from the same recruiting class?

MB: Absolutely, but again, we've always had that regardless of class. Our offensive line has been so tight. I don't necessarily think it's just a product of them being in the same class.

How has the group of young tight ends developed?

MB: Austin Hooper has really stepped up. Unbelievable job at the Y position. Eric Cotton is doing some unbelievable things as a movement tight end, whether it's lining up extended and running great routes or sticking his face in there doing a great job in the run game. Then you have Greg Taboada still learning, and he's learning a lot, doing great things. When Greg knows what to do, he's really hard to stop.

What are you looking forward to getting out of Saturday's spring game?

MB: It's just another chance for us to go out there in our stadium, to put on our gear [on] and go through the motions and exercise playing a football game. Whether you're talking about X's and O's, we'll probably be limited in terms of what we do, but I want to see us go out there and put our best foot forward and play incredibly hard and finish the plays.
This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Cory in Phoenix writes: Kevin, on Athlon's coaches rating it seemed that much of the ratings for new coaches are based on the talent in place before they arrived. Is Todd Graham really a better coach than Rich Rod or is Jim Mora really better than Mike Leach? So my question, if you were the AD of Generic University, a hypothetical university in the Pac-12 that finished 6-6 (i.e., this is an average team with average talent), and could steal one Pac-12 coach to rebuild your program, which coach do you hire to lead your program to the Rose Bowl?

Kevin Gemmell: I get this question a lot in chats. And if I were running the show for the Generic U Fighting Millers, I would probably select David Shaw as my head coach for one very simple reason: We believe the same thing philosophically.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkIf you prefer a power game and a 3-4 defense, then your outlook is rosy with David Shaw.
I grew up in the Bay Area in the heyday of Joe Montana and Steve Young to Jerry Rice. I grew up watching Tom Rathman block for Roger Craig and Bar None Floyd blocking for Ricky Watters. I believe in the West Coast offense. So does Shaw.

I’ve been a beat writer for football teams that have run the spread and the option and the pro style. And the pro style is what I would run if I were a coach. Because I believe that a strong, power-based rushing attack wears teams downs over a 60-minute game; that 3-yard carries in the first quarter become 6-yard carries in the fourth. The ability to run power up and down the field is demoralizing to an opposition. It’s not just X's and O's. It’s a mentality.

Defensively, I believe in the 3-4, especially in the Pac-12, where talented edge rushers are invaluable and perimeter speed is critical.

Of course, that’s what makes this such a fun debate. Say what you want about Utah’s offensive inefficiencies the last few years, Kyle Whittingham can coach up an even front as well as any coach in the country. If I were running a 4-3, I’d snag Whittingham in a heartbeat. If I wanted uptempo, I’d tap Mark Helfrich. If I wanted to raid, I’d go with Mike Leach.

You get where I’m going with this. It’s a question of personal preference. It has less to do with the man and more of what the man believes and whether that’s simpatico with what you believe.


Gerry in Elko, Nevada writes: This isn't really a question, but rather giving praise to the blog. Year after year I hear Oregon State "fans" calling for the firing of Mike Riley because Oregon State doesn't achieve the same success that Oregon does. You all at the blog always seem to praise him for the job he has done for OSU. Anyway, I just got done reading the Athlon Coaches list and [Chris] Petersen at No. 2 sounds a bit high, but I'm OK with that. I expect him to drop a bit because I don't see him having much success in Year 1. The list for the most part is sound in my opinion, though. Keep up the good work!

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks for the kind words, Gerry. I had a great talk with Rick Neuheisel a couple of months back about Mike Riley and one of the things he said was that “Corvallis isn’t getting any closer to the best athletes.” And yet Riley has recruited a quarterback who is on pace to become the league’s all-time leading passer and a receiver who was last year’s Biletnikoff winner. That ain’t bad. Anyone question whether he’s still got “it?” I might be biased (oh wait, I am) because I’ve known Riley since I was covering the Chargers pre-Y2K. But the guy is one of the most respected coaches in the country for a reason. And I hope OSU fans will always appreciate what he has done for that program.

As for Petersen, as I noted in the piece, my first thought as well was that he was a bit high on the list for having never coached in the conference. But when you look at his resume, it’s as strong as anyone else and a good reminder for just how deep the roster of coaches is in this conference.

Consider the current Pac-12 coaches who have won BCS bowl games:

  • Petersen: 2 (2006 Fiesta, 2009 Fiesta)
  • Whittingham: 2 (2004 Fiesta, 2008 Sugar)
  • Rich Rodriguez: 2 (2005 Sugar, 2007 Fiesta)
  • Shaw: 1 (2012 Rose)

Others have won as coordinators or assistants. You can argue that Leach got hosed out of a BCS bowl game at Texas Tech in 2008 (and he’d agree with you). Ask Bob Stoops if he thinks Petersen is a good coach.

As someone who covers the conference, I talk to a lot of folks about other folks. Comes with the job. And so far I’ve yet to hear someone say anything other than glowing about Petersen and what he brings. Oh yeah, don't forget about that whole two-time national coach of the year thing.

Now, will that translate to a playoff berth in Year 1? Probably not. But the guy has a proven system, and I think the rest of the Pac-12 coaches realize that while it was tough before to go to Seattle, it’s about to get a lot tougher.


Justin in Denver writes: What is the deal with Stanford not showing interest in ESPN No. 1-rated QB Josh Rosen? It appears he wanted to go there and then decided on UCLA because Stanford was giving him no love. Does Stanford feel they have too many quarterbacks or did Rosen simply want to know too early from a school that takes its time? Any chance Stanford lures him out of his commitment?

Kevin Gemmell: There is so much insider baseball that goes on with recruiting that, honest answer, I have no clue what happened. Coaches aren’t allowed to talk about players they are recruiting, so we’re only getting one side of the story. Here’s what we got from Erik McKinney’s story when Rosen committed to UCLA last month.
While Rosen began his recruitment as a strong lean to Stanford, Cal actually emerged as the team to beat for a moment after Rosen's relationship with the Cardinal faded due to him not receiving an offer. But a poor season by the Golden Bears allowed UCLA to jump into the picture.

In the interest of giving you the best answer possible, I talked to McKinney this morning. Essentially Stanford looked at Rosen and Ricky Town and opted to offer a scholarship to Town (who has since committed to USC). Simple as that. One seemed like a good fit for the school. Another didn’t.

Just because a recruiting service (yes, even ours) ranks a quarterback as the No. 1 guy, that doesn’t mean he’s right for your program. And sure, you’d like to have a quarterback in every class. But Stanford brought in Ryan Burns two years ago and Keller Chryst last year, so it’s not like the cupboards are completely empty.

And let’s also remember this very important point. It’s only April! A lot can happen between now and next February. Stanford could decide to offer Rosen after all and he might swing back. UCLA could win the national championship and Rosen could be the Bruins QB of the future. Jim Mora, Steve Sarkisian and David Shaw might all quit the business and form a middle-aged boy band called West Coast Pro $tyle (their first single, "TempOh," is gonna be huge). A lot can change between now and signing day -- especially when we’re talking about fickle teens. So while it’s nice to have feathers in your cap in April. It’s better to put ink to quill in February.


TNT in Los Angeles writes: WSU QB recruiting. I would have thought it would be easier to get a quality QB to commit to the Cougs, considering Leach's air-raid system being so stat friendly. We were on two four-star guys and one committed to UW and the other then went to BSU. People are trying to write it off as no problem. When Jake Browning committed to UW, they said we would rather have Brett Rypien. When Rypien committed to BSU, they said he was afraid of the depth we have. Is any of that true?

Kevin Gemmell: Again, because coaches can’t talk about it, we’ll never really know the whole story.

As for depth, after incumbent Connor Halliday, you’ve got a pair of redshirt freshmen in Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk. And Peyton Bender is set to arrive in the fall. Then you’ve got a few other quarterbacks behind them jockeying for a seat at the table. Bruggman and Bender were both rated as top-30 pocket passers nationally. I would think Leach could work with that.

Nick Nordi of All Coug’d Up had a good summary on the QB situation this morning which you can check out here. His take: Don’t stress about it. I tend to agree.

And I’ll go back to what I said in the previous mailbag. It’s April, folks. Suppose Washington State goes 9-4 with a bowl in win in Las Vegas or San Diego? That would make a lot of QBs think twice about their commitments. Let’s not stress too much about commitments in the spring. As with most things in life, it matters how you finish.
We continue our list of five predictions for the second half of Stanford's spring practice.

No. 4: Backup quarterback competition begins

With Ryan Burns sidelined for the first half of spring football due to disciplinary reasons, Evan Crower was able to strengthen his grip on the backup quarterback job behind starter Kevin Hogan.

When the second session begins on March 31, Burns must take advantage. It's the last stretch of football the Cardinal will have before highly-touted freshman Keller Chryst crosses the street from Palo Alto High and ultimately becomes Burns’ biggest competition.

Pending a serious injury or some sort of breakout season that ends with Hogan leaving early for the NFL, he still has two years left as the team's starter. And since Crower is from the same class, the starting job in 2016 figures to be a competition between Burns and Chryst.

In the short term, establishing himself as the primary backup to Hogan would help Burns' longterm development. He'll take more first-team reps, he could see the occasional mop-up duty and obviously would be in position to play if something were to happen to Hogan. Being the backup didn't work out for Brett Nottingham, who backed up Andrew Luck in 2011 as a redshirt freshman before being beat out by Josh Nunes and Hogan the following season, but it would still an advantageous position to be in for two seasons before 2016.

Burns arrived at Stanford the No. 4-ranked pocket passer in the nation in 2013, and, at the time, received the highest scout grade (85) ESPN had assigned to a Stanford recruit dating back to 2006.

His suspension doesn't help his pursuit of the backup job, but he's a talented player and should make the backup quarterback competition worth paying attention to the rest of spring and into fall camp.

Chryst is the same caliber recruit. He was the No. 3-ranked pocket passer in the most recent recruiting cycle and the No. 3-ranked player overall in California.

On signing day, Cardinal coach David Shaw spoke glowingly of Chryst, whose father is 49ers quarterback coach Geep Chyrst: "There are things you can teach playing the quarterback position and things you can't. You can't teach 6-4, 235 and athleticism that can throw the ball 70 yards. You just can't teach that stuff. You see a young man with ability and physical tools and toughness. Best thing for us is that we don't feel the need to rush his development."

Countdown

No. 5: Whitfield will emerge at safety
The countdown of five things we learned from the first half of Stanford spring practice continues.

No. 3: Crower makes strides; Burns in doghouse

When Evan Crower served as Stanford's No. 2 quarterback a year ago, he won the job largely by default. Dallas Lloyd had his own packages and Ryan Burns was on campus, but it was Crower taking the reps behind Hogan.

Heading into the spring behind starter Kevin Hogan, who will also be a redshirt junior, Crower figured to welcome some competition for the backup job with Burns coming off his redshirt. So far, it hasn't played out that way.

With Burns held out for disciplinary reasons, Crower took an important step toward reclaiming the role he held last season. It's clear he's much more comfortable compared to where he was a year ago. Stanford coach David Shaw was complimentary of Crower's progress, but acknowledged he didn't play his best in the team's open scrimmage March 8. Then again, no one on offense did much of anything that day.

Burns will return next session, but he's got some ground to make up both in reps and to get back into the coaching staff's good graces. Shaw isn't usually one to call out a player, but twice mentioned how Burns was missing critical practice time when the topic could have been avoided. Burns needs a strong second session to build some momentum going into the summer and fall, when freshman Keller Chryst arrives.

Countdown

No. 4: No clear leader at running back

No. 5: The offensive line is set
STANFORD, Calif. -- In the grand scheme of things, a single football practice in March during the course of a college career or season registers near irrelevant. For several Stanford players, it probably didn't seem like that Saturday.

With many jobs up for grabs and the team in pads for the second time since its 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, the day felt like it opened up real competition for next season's starting jobs. It also served as one of three practices this spring open to spectators and the media.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw's team was in pads for the first time since the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
Here are some observations and takeaways from Saturday:

OL already set?: It's clear who is expected to make up the starting offensive line: LT Andrus Peat, LG Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, RG Johnny Caspers and RT Kyle Murphy. Before Saturday, the only spot that seemed potentially up for grabs was at center, but Shuler, not Kevin Reihner, worked almost exclusively with the first group. Shuler, along with Garnett, were the vocal leaders of the group. It wasn't clear if there is an unofficial pecking order yet for the other positions in the team's extra-OL sets.

On Shuler and the center competition, coach David Shaw said: "We're putting the pressure on Graham. He's got all the ability in the world and needs experience and we got to get him ready to go. He's got a chance at one point to be extremely good. One of the best, we believe, around."

Burns missing vital reps: With Ryan Burns suspended for the first spring session for what has been explained only as a "disciplinary issue," starting QB Kevin Hogan and backup Evan Crower split all the reps. It felt like status quo for Hogan, but Crower looked as comfortable as he ever has in a Cardinal uniform.

"All and all, I think we have two guys that are capable starters," Shaw said. "Evan Crower can play football. If it comes to the point where he plays, we're very confident in him."

His message in regards to Burns was strikingly different.

Asked if having just two quarterbacks limits how the team practices, Shaw replied: "Not really. It just means two guys get a bunch of reps. That's the sad part, we have to have our rules, and we have to have our discipline and that's the sad part for a young quarterback that missed these because these are valuable reps that you can't get back. When he does get back, he better be busting his tail because these are vital reps that he's missing."

It was clear Shaw wanted to send a message to Burns on Monday when he publicized the freshman's suspension and made it even more so Saturday.

RB depth: Remound Wright took the first reps with the first team, but there was a lot of rotation with him, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young. Shaw lauded Wright and Seale for their steadiness and smart decision-making and Sanders and Young for their big-play potential.

Not much can be gleaned from one spring practice, but it's clear there isn't a significant talent discrepancy between the four players. Their lack of separation provides a sense that the competition will ultimately be decided by other factors. Shaw gave Wright the edge in pass protection.

"That guy, that's a great pass protector is going to play and play a lot," Shaw said.

Lyons to nickel: With Usua Amanam gone, CB Wayne Lyons is in line to be the team's new nickleback. He'll remain a starter at corner, but when the team uses an extra defensive back, he'll slide over and cover the slot. It's similar to how the Cardinal used current Miami Dolphin Michael Thomas, when he moved from safety in 2011, and how the San Francisco 49ers use Carlos Rogers. Thomas, before he left, predicted Lyons would win a Thorpe Award before his career was over. Taijuan Thomas also worked at nickel.

Carter out for spring: Junior CB Alex Carter will miss the spring with a hip injury, but is expected to be ready for fall camp. The silver lining is that it creates more reps for guys like Ronnie Harris and Ra'Chard Pippens, who are trying to break into the rotation in the secondary.

Number changes: Kodi Whitfield's position change from WR to FS meant he could longer share No. 9 with LB James Vaughters. He wore No. 5 Saturday, but it isn't clear if that's a full-time move or trial run. Former QB Dallas Lloyd, who also switched to safety, is still wearing No. 2, which belongs to Lyons.

Three-man competition at ILB: Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot and Noor Davis make up the three-man competition to replace Shayne Skov.

Other notes

  • With David Parry limited, Aziz Shittu played inside defensive ends Henry Anderson and Blake Leuders at tackle with the first defensive unit.
  • Kyle Olugbode took the first reps at safety next to Jordan Richards.
  • Kevin Anderson worked with the first team and remains in position to replace Trent Murphy.
  • Harris and WR Dontonio Jordan both wore yellow noncontact jerseys.
  • David Yankey, Trent Murphy, Cam Fleming, Jarek Lancaster, Sam Schwartzstein and Owen Marecic were part of a small contingent of formers players at practice.
  • Freshman TE Austin Hooper, who is coming off his redshirt, did not attend due to a mandatory academic field trip.
  • Stanford's next open practice is March 8 at 9 a.m. PT. The spring game is on April 12.

Stanford looks to sustain success

February, 25, 2014
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STANFORD, Calif. -- As Stanford players jogged off the practice field Monday evening, nothing stood out in particular. Significant only because it marked the first spring practice of the year, and it had the look and feel of just another day on the Farm.

Maybe temperatures don't always hover around 70 degrees until just past sunset in late February, but there was no fanfare or anything ceremonious about the day.

In that respect, nothing has changed over the past five years.

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJames Vaughters spurned the SEC to join a Stanford team that, at the time of his commitment, was just beginning its upswing.
"It was a good start. The tempo I thought was outstanding for a first day, which is always what you're looking for when you lose so many seniors," coach David Shaw said. "It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was fast and that's what we were looking for Day 1."

As the only program to play in BCS bowls the past four seasons, there is no denying Stanford's place in the current hierarchy of college football. Any list of the nation's elite must include the Cardinal or it would be incomplete.

In that respect, everything has changed.

Former coach Jim Harbaugh recruited with an offer for a world-class education and the chance to turn things around. When Stanford signed outgoing fifth-year seniors such as Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Ryan Hewitt in 2009, it did so following a 5-7 season.

That group leaves Stanford not knowing what it's like to be a part of a losing team.

Only the 13 fifth-year seniors on the spring roster were on the 2010 team, Harbaugh's last season, and only defensive end Blake Leuders saw action that season. They're the last group that bought into a program that had yet to play in a major bowl game and, as a byproduct of that, the first not to miss one.

Senior outside linebacker James Vaughters is in a different boat. He spurned several SEC offers and left his home state of Georgia to sign with Stanford following its Orange Bowl victory to cap the 2010 season.

"They showed me they were just as committed to winning as the schools that were recruiting me from the South," Vaughters said.

He got what he signed up for.

"If you see success, it's a challenge to sustain it," Vaughters said. "It's a matter of finding a formula that works. When you have so many guys that started for so many years, we just have to find our way to be successful."

One could worry about a sense of entitlement creeping into a program with as much success as the Cardinal has experienced over the past four years, but both Vaughters and Shaw didn't seem to think that it would be a problem.

Shaw pointed to senior running back Ricky Seale as an example.

"[Last year] he would just be on the sidelines on his toes," Shaw said. "So now we have the anxiety and that energy because they all want a chance to play. I think we're in a great spot because we're going to get their best because they all want to get on the field."

Senior receiver Ty Montgomery (knee) and senior nose tackle David Parry (midsection) will both miss the first session of two spring sessions with minor injuries.

Backup quarterback Ryan Burns will miss the first session to due a disciplinary reason, according to Shaw.

Shaw has still not hired a defensive backs coach, but he said it "should be solved in the next week or so." For the time being, graduate assistant Marc Mattioli will coach defensive backs.

Spring position breakdown: QBs

February, 24, 2014
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Spring has sprung in the Pac-12, with Stanford starting spring practices this week and several schools following suit next week.

Ergo, we break down where teams stand with each position group, starting with quarterbacks.

Arizona: The Wildcats probably have the most wide-open QB competition, with four guys having a legitimate chance to replace the departed B.J. Denker. Three are transfers from big-time programs: senior Jesse Scroggins (USC), sophomore Connor Brewer (Texas) and junior Jerrard Randall (LSU). The fourth, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, was one of the biggest stars in the 2013 recruiting class. Don't expect much to be settled by the end of spring, though coach Rich Rodriguez might at least allude to some sort of pecking order. Or a top three.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are strong at QB with senior Taylor Kelly, a third-year starter who has put up big numbers the past two seasons, and junior Mike Bercovici, a big-armed backup -- perhaps, in fact, the best backup in the Pac-12. That's why Michael Eubank opted to transfer to Samford in Birmingham, Ala. It will be interesting to see which of the youngsters on the roster emerge as a No.3, a guy who might challenge Bercovici in 2015.

California: It seems unlikely that sophomore Jared Goff will be unseated, particularly after Zach Kline opted to transfer. Goff was uneven last season -- his entire team was -- but flashed plenty of potential. He and a talented crew of receivers should get better this spring. The big question might be whether anyone challenges senior Austin Hinder for the backup job.

Colorado: Sophomore Sefo Liufau is solid as the returning starter. He took some lumps last season but also flashed plenty of promise -- as both a player and leader. After him, there's junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, a redshirt sophomore, the likely backup. Depth is a problem, at least this spring. As the Boulder Daily Camera noted, "Five quarterbacks have left the CU program either to transfer to other schools or give up the sport entirely since the start of spring football last year. A sixth completed his eligibility last season." That's why the Buffs added walk-on Trent Sessions to the roster. He worked with the equipment staff last year.

Oregon: The Ducks probably feel pretty good about their third-year starter, junior Marcus Mariota, a leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate who would have been a first-round pick if he'd entered the 2014 NFL draft. The competition for the backup spot, however, will be interesting because Mariota is almost certain to enter the NFL draft after the season. Sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are 2A and 2B, with Lockie first off the bench as the backup in 2013, but Rodrigues the more physically talented player as a runner and passer.

Oregon State: Like their friends to the north, Oregon State is fortunate its 2013 starter, Sean Mannion, decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft. Mannion's chief focus will be finding some receivers to replace the production of the departed Brandin Cooks. The battle for the backup job also will be interesting between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt. Of course, their battle might not resolve things much for 2015, with incoming Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio joining the fray after sitting out a season.

Stanford: It seems unlikely that two-year starter Kevin Hogan will be challenged for the starting job this spring, even though he had some ups and downs in 2013, but there is no lack of talent battling for the backup job. Junior Evan Crower was the backup in 2013, but redshirt freshman Ryan Burns is a big-time talent. As is incoming freshman Keller Chryst, who officially will arrive in the fall but, as a Palo Alto resident, figures to hang around spring practices.

UCLA: Heading into his third season running the offense, Brett Hundley gives the Bruins one of the best starting quarterbacks in the nation. He's a proven dual threat and leader who will be refining his game this spring and building chemistry with his receivers. After him, however, things are a bit iffy, in large part because of the 2013 preseason transfer of T.J. Millweard to Kansas. The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Of course, there is another QB out there some UCLA fans might be thinking about.

USC: The returning starter facing the most formidable challenge to his starting job this spring is probably Cody Kessler, even though Kessler played well in the second half of the 2013 season. With the transfer of Max Wittek, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, at the very least, sets up to be a high-quality backup next season. But plenty of folks think Browne has a legitimate shot to unseat Kessler, particularly with new coach Steve Sarkisian taking over.

Utah: There's still no final word on the long-term health issue that might end QB Travis Wilson's career, though you'd think something would be announced before the Utes begin spring practices on March 18. If Wilson gets cleared, the good bet is on him returning to the starting job. If not, a spring competition will begin between Adam Schulz, who stepped in when Wilson went down, and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. In the fall, dual-threat QB Donovan Isom arrives.

Washington: Keith Price, a three-year starter, is gone, but the Huskies seemed fairly set at QB with sophomore backup Cyler Miles appearing plenty capable of stepping into the cockpit this spring. In limited action last season, Miles completed 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four TDs and two picks, and he also showed good mobility, rushing for 200 yards. The pecking order at least seemed set, that is, until Miles got into some off-field trouble that threatens his status for spring practice and perhaps beyond. If Miles is still suspended, that means opportunity comes knocking for sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams to make an impression.

Washington State: Connor Halliday will be a senior, three-year starter and the Cougars' top leader in the third season running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense. He figures to put up huge numbers this fall with a strong crew of receivers. His 2013 backup, sophomore Austin Apodaca, opted to transfer, perhaps believing that redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman had the inside track to the starting job in 2015. Depth is a bit of a question, with the No. 3 this fall likely being true freshman Peyton Bender.
The countdown of Stanford's top 5 position battles continues.

One position battle will be highlighted each day this week.

No. 2: Backup quarterback

Who to watch: Evan Crower, Ryan Burns, Keller Chryst

Outlook: Incumbent Kevin Hogan still has two years of eligibility remaining, but it's worth diving into what's happening behind him on the depth chart. Stanford hasn't needed to play a backup quarterback as a result of injury since the Sun Bowl in 2009, but if it needs to in 2014, it'll be between Crower and Burns. Crower, a lefty, came in with Hogan as a part of the recruiting class in 2011 and served as the primary backup last year after Josh Nunes retired due to injury and Brett Nottingham transferred to Columbia. He appeared in four games and completed 10-of-15 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in mop-up duty while Burns redshirted.

Burns was the No. 4-ranked pocket passer in the class of 2013 and drew glowing reviews from the coaching staff for his play on the scout team, however, despite his accolades, there's no clear path to a starting job. It's much like the situation Nottingham faced after serving as Luck's backup in 2011. Even when Hogan and Crower leave, Burns will have to contend with Chryst, a recent-signee who was every bit the caliber recruit of Burns. Stanford doesn't allow early enrollees, so that competition won't truly begin until the fall. However, because Chryst lives in Palo Alto attending spring practices and meetings wouldn't be difficult. He is expected to redshirt in 2014.

The countdown

No. 3: Center
No. 4: Safety
No. 5: Fullback
 
Continuing with the hits and misses from Pac-12 recruiting.

CALIFORNIA

Needs filled: The Bears added nice depth to the offensive line with tackles Aaron Cochran and Erik Bunte. Junior-college transfer Sione Sina can also be a nice stopgap at defensive end. They went heavy in the trenches with five offensive linemen and seven defensive linemen.

Holes remaining: Cal is looking for a quarterback to run the new-look offense under new head coach Sonny Dykes. Could be Zach Kline of the 2012 recruiting class. Could be Jared Goff of this year's class, an early enrollee. The Bears addressed a lot of positions, but whether some youngsters can step up remains to be seen. The 11th-hour flip of offensive guard Cameron Hunt to Oregon has to sting.

OREGON

Needs filled: The Ducks went heavy on offense, and running back Thomas Tyner highlights a group that is loaded with speed (what did you expect, it's Oregon). They added two stellar offensive guards in Hunt and Evan Voeller and a premier defensive end in Torrodney Prevot, previously a USC commit. There are speedy receivers down the line like Darren Carrington. And they added kicker Matt Wogan. The Ducks were 11th in the conference in field goals made in 2012.

Holes remaining: The Ducks still have holes to fill at linebacker. Junior-college transfer Joe Walker, an outside linebacker, could step in to help immediately. But with the losses of inside linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, the Ducks have mostly untested talent at the position and this year's class didn't add much depth to a position that is already a question mark.

OREGON STATE

Needs filled: When you look at the top two players the Beavers lost -- Jordan Poyer and Markus Wheaton -- it's nice to look at their recruiting class and see a cornerback and wide receiver as the two highest-rated players. Dashon Hunt and Hunter Jarmon might never develop into a Poyer or a Wheaton, but the Beavers saw the holes and addressed them. JC defensive tackles Kyle Peko and Edwin Delva should help immediately and Kyle Kempt could develop into the quarterback of the future in a couple of years. a href="http://espn.go.com/college-sports/football/recruiting/player/_/id/136903/jordan-villamin">Jordan Villamin, 6-foot-4 wide receiver, might also develop into a nice red zone target.

Holes remaining: The JC transfers help with the defensive line in the immediate future, but the Beavers signed only two high school defensive linemen, leaving some questions about depth in the future. It's likely a position they'll address heavily next season.

STANFORD

Needs filled: This is a class low on numbers, but extremely high on potential. If quarterback Ryan Burns is as advertised, it's possible he could challenge for the starting job as early as 2014. Francis Owusu has tremendous upside as a receiver and Peter Kalambayi adds depth to one of the best front sevens in the nation. Plus, three tight ends (Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton Jr.). How very Stanfordish of them.

Holes remaining: The Cardinal loaded up on defensive linemen with five last year and there is plenty of depth, albeit untested, at running back. The Cardinal didn't sign any running backs or defensive linemen this year. It's not a bad thing -- for now. But if a couple of guys get injured or if there is any attrition, it could bite them. For now, the Cardinal seem to be in good shape across all positions.

WASHINGTON

Needs filled: The Huskies added some much-needed depth on the defensive line with five linemen -- headlined by ESPN 150 defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. Damore'ea Stringfellow and Darrell Daniels -- both ESPN 150 wide receivers -- provide a nice one-two offensive punch. Troy Williams, the nation's No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback -- could potentially be the heir apparent to Keith Price. It was a good class that fills a lot of needs.

Holes remaining: For solid as the defensive line class was, the Huskies signed only three offensive linemen -- though one of them is Dane Crane, the nation's No. 4-rated center. If you recall, however, the Huskies were decimated with offensive line injuries this year and coach Steve Sarkisian made it a point to talk about the team needing more depth to be able to absorb that kind of injury hit. Three more guys helps; but is it enough to sustain them if another injury bug ravishes the line?

WASHINGTON STATE

Needs filled: This was quietly a very good encore recruiting class for Mike Leach in his second season at the helm. It's heavy on linemen, heavy in the secondary and it's headlined by a four-star wide receiver in Vince Mayle -- a JC transfer from Rocklin, Calif. Interestingly enough, it also has two fairly highly rated running backs. We know Leach isn't going to be a run-first guy -- but the Cougars could certainly use the help after rushing for 29.1 yards per game last season.

Holes remaining: Who is going to run the offense? It could be Connor Halliday. But it's also possible Leach pulls the trigger on Tyler Bruggman, the No. 22-rated pocket passer in the country from Phoenix. That remains the No. 1 priority for the Cougars in the offseason. Otherwise, this recruiting class plugged a lot of holes. The question is whether they are the right guys to help immediately.

Stanford Cardinal ink 12

February, 6, 2013
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The Stanford Cardinal officially announced the 12 members of its 2013 recruiting class.

Pro-style quarterback Ryan Burns headlines the list of 12 players from eight different states. Seven of the 12 are on the offensive side of the ball, including three tight ends.

To see complete bios and videos of the new Cardinal players, click here. For ratings and analysis, you can check out Stanford's ESPN.com page here.
Not sure if anyone caught this in Ted Miller's Pac-12 lunch links last week, but it's worth taking a look at.

Mighty Hank, a friend of the Stanford blog who does a great job with Go Mighty Card, projected a potential depth chart for Stanford in 2014 -- the first year college football will have its four-team playoff system.

Here's his projections:
  • Quarterback: Brett Nottingham, RS Sr.
  • Running backs: Kelsey Young, Sr.; Barry J. Sanders, Jr.; Remound Wright, Sr.
  • Wide receivers: Ty Montgomery, Sr.; Kodi Whitfield, Jr.; Francis Owusu, So.
  • Offensive line: Andrus Peat, Jr; Josh Garnett, Jr.; Kyle Murphy, Jr.; Nick Davidson, Jr.; Graham Shuler, Jr.
  • Defensive line: Aziz Shittu, Jr.; Jordan Watkins, Jr.; Luke Kaumatule, Jr.
  • Linebackers: AJ Tarpley, RS Sr.; James Vaughters, Sr.; Noor Davis, Jr.
  • Defensive backs: Wayne Lyons, RS Sr.; Alex Carter, Jr.; Zach Hoffpauir, Jr.

As Hank points out, there really is no way to fully project what the team is going to look like two seasons from now. But here is my first thought: nasty!

Owusu is the only player mentioned from the 2013 class. It will be interesting to see where players like QB Ryan Burns, ILB Isaac Savaiinaea and OLB Doug Randolph factor in.

A little more from Hank:
With the experience of a three-year starter at quarterback in Nottingham, a possible Heisman candidate in Sanders, and the best offensive line in the country, the offense promises to be dominant. Defensively, the front seven will have the strength to stifle the best running backs the Pac-12 has to offer, even if Vaughters has already made the leap to the NFL, and the defensive backfield will be skilled enough to do more than just keep up. All three levels of the defense could be at or near the top of the conference.

The offensive line is what stands out most to me. It's one thing to project what kind of impact Peat or Murphy could make in the 2012 season -- where the Cardinal are still trying to plug a couple of holes on the line. It's another to imagine them -- with a couple of years experience -- starting alongside other big-time recruits from the 2012 class. This group won't all come up together, but will likely see some spot starts along the way.

Then you put Sanders behind them and you have a powerful, explosive running game that is the envy of every B1G program. And if some of the 2013 guys are as advertised, the defense will be SEC worthy.

Of course, when you look at the recruiting classes USC and Oregon have brought in the last two years and the projected 2013 classes of the Trojans, Ducks and Washington, it's clear that this won't exactly be an easy road for the Cardinal. Expect the Pac-12 to ultra-competitive in 2014 with Stanford right in the mix.

Stanford mailbag

May, 22, 2012
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Lots of mailbag to catch up on. Will try to squeeze out a few more later in the week. For now, to the questions.

Eric in San Francisco writes: You mentioned that it remains to be seen if the three-tight-end plan can continue. It seems that if there was a "next up" young tight end that was sharp enough, then we might be able to hang on to some of those great plays in the playbook. Who is "next up" in the tight end position, and could they be good enough to preserve that 3 TE plan?

Kevin Gemmell: I don't think it's as much the actual playbook as it is the players -- specifically what Coby Fleener was able to do in the offense and the way he could exploit almost every defender who tried to cover him. Stanford has other tight ends -- but no one who is 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and out-run cornerbacks and out-jump safeties. Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will continue to bring what they bring -- phenomenal athleticism for their size -- but neither is as fast as Fleener. And to their credit, I think Ertz has better hands than Fleener and I think Toilolo was a better blocker. That's what made the three of them so great. No one on the roster has Fleener's rare combination of size and speed. I do think we'll see some special packages with Ryan Hewitt as a third tight end and Geoff Meinken at fullback. And we have to see if David Dudchock steps up. I don't think the scheme is going to change -- but without Fleener splitting the middle on the deep go route, it's not going to look as pretty.


Scott in Redwood City, Calif., writes: No, I haven't been predicting a national championship for the 2012 Card. However, I do think they'll be darn good, maybe even great. And then I heard it mentioned somewhere that Tennessee - in its first season without Peyton Manning - won the national title in 1998. So, would you care to get me all goofy and tell me how many other parallels there are between the '98 Vols and '12 Card?

Kevin Gemmell: Well, hmmm. Tennessee started the year ranked No. 10 in the AP poll. I'd imagine Stanford will be anywhere between 10-15. Both teams are/were pro-style offenses. Tennessee faced the No. 2 team in the country in Week 2. Stanford might face the No. 2 team in the country in Week 3. Uhm, let's see... both schools have well-regarded women's basketball programs ... "S" and "T" are consecutive letters in the alphabet ... I don't know. I got nothing else ... have fun with that one, though.


John in Phoenix writes: All things being equal, wouldn't it make more sense to give Brett Nottingham the nod to be the starter over Josh Nunes given he has another year of eligibility?

Kevin Gemmell: In my experience, all things being equal rarely happens. One of the two will step up (or slip up) in the fall and someone will emerge as the starter. I'm just not sure which one. I've heard good things (and bad) about both from people in the know. My best guess though, is that whoever wins it will be keeping it warm for Ryan Burns. If they approach Burns the way they did Andrew Luck, he'll sit out his first year, which means he won't take the helm until 2014. Eligibility won't matter by that point. If you're Stanford, you want to win now and continue to capitalize on the momentum of back-to-back BCS appearances and a monster recruiting class. If that means swapping quarterbacks in consecutive years, so be it. Do what you can to win now and keep the ball rolling.


Alan in Palo Alto writes: Any plans to retire Luck's number?

Kevin Gemmell: None that I've heard, but you have to imagine it's coming -- and the sooner the better. From here on out, there should only be one No. 12 in the minds of Stanford fans.

Stanford recruiting roundup

April, 12, 2012
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Catching up on everything that happened in the world of Stanford recruiting over the past week. Sorry, not a ton of controversial recruiting news this week. No one comparing the academics of USC to Stanford to get you all riled up.

Stanford recruiting roundup

March, 6, 2012
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Catching up on what's been going on in the world of Stanford recruiting over the last couple of weeks.

Apparently this Ryan Burns guy is kind of good.

Here's a feature about him from Paul Tenorio of the Washington Post. Burns says that he once he found where he wanted to be, there was really no other reason to continue the recruiting process.
Everything about [Stanford] is perfect. It seemed like the perfect fit for me. From academics to football, everything is perfect in my mind. It was an easy decision really.

More importantly, it sounds like he's not even really going to entertain any other suitors.
With all these recruiters coming in with recruiting period coming, it's hard to talk to some of those guys and to say, "I'm really looking." when honestly I have my decision [made]. It's really what I felt and I'm glad it's my decision.

In a story that might be related in a couple of years, Burns might be throwing to tight end Durham Smythe (Belton, Texas). He might make his choice between Stanford and Texas as soon as this week, according to ESPN's Max Olson. Insider Smythe got a chance to speak with former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener during a visit this past weekend.
"I got to meet Coby and talk with him a little while and talk about his experience. That was cool. Like a lot of respectable athletes I've talked to so far, he told me to find a place that's right for you.

In other Stanford recruiting news:
  • The Cardinal don't appear to be done with their East Coast poaching. Linebacker Micah Kiser (Baltimore, Md.) has been offered a scholarship to and plans to visit in April, according to ESPN's Dave Hooker. Insider
  • His teammate, defensive tackle Henry Poggi, has also expressed interest Insider in the Cardinal.
  • USC and Stanford (and at least 27 others) appear headed for a showdown for linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa.). The Cardinal have already offered and he plans to visit in April, according to ESPN's Erik McKinney. Insider
  • More tight end news. Five-star tight end Adam Breneman (Camp Hill, Pa.) could trim his list of 33 offers down to five sometime soon according to ESPN's Jared Shanker. Insider Will Stanford be one of those five? The Cardinal do love their tight ends.
It was 33 days ago today that Stanford head coach David Shaw said it would be "safe to assume" that recruiting a quarterback for the 2013 class would be a priority.

Over the weekend, assumption turned to fact.

The Cardinal picked up a commitment Saturday from Ryan Burns of Ashburn, Va. -- a 6-foot-5, 220-pound pro-style prototype who looks the part with pads on, and without.

Commitments this early -- especially from top-flight players like Burns, who is on the ESPNU 150 watch list for 2013 -- come with a double-edged sword. On one hand, you feel pretty good about locking up a player who is projected to be one of the best in the country at his position. But that also means you have to work to keep him. No doubt, other programs will be swooping in over the next 11 months to try to lure him away.

At the same time, he could turn out to be one of Stanford's strongest cheerleaders, which was the case with outside linebacker Noor Davis, who committed to Stanford last May and worked tirelessly to bring in more talent to bolster the 2012 class.

"I think every program in the nation always has one or two guys who commit early and is determined to help build the class," Shaw said in a signing-day Q&A.

It sounds like Burns is pretty solid with his commitment though, telling Mike Farrell of Rivals.com that neither Andrew Luck's departure, nor the outstanding offensive line class the Cardinal picked up in 2012, had an impact on his decision.
I would have picked Stanford regardless of how the previous [quarterback] did, but I had a really good time meeting him last summer.

Burns on the offensive line class:
It is a big bonus, but I would have picked them regardless.

The news comes as the current Cardinal squad is in the thick of a quarterback competition to replace Luck. Stanford started the first of two spring sessions last week with an emphasis on base offense and defense. Shaw said he doesn't expect to have a quarterback named until close to the start of the season, but hopes he'll have at least a pecking order in mind by the time Stanford wraps up spring drills.

Brett Nottingham, Luck's understudy last season, and Josh Nunes took the majority of snaps in an 11-on-11 drill, according to Tom Fitzgerald of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Nottingham said his game "wasn't that sharp. Lots of things to clean up, but it's still relatively early in spring ball."

Shaw described Nottingham and Nunes as "not great, but solid."

The two are competing with Robbie Picazo, Kevin Hogan and Evan Crower to replace Luck, who graduated with most of Stanford's passing records and is all but inked in as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Burns is the second Cardinal commit to the 2013 class -- and also the second from Virginia. Linebacker Doug Randolph (Woodberry Forest), also on the ESPNU 150 watch list, committed to Stanford in June of 2011. Last year's Stanford media guide lists offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton as the primary recruiter in Virginia. The Cardinal appear to have a pretty good grasp of the region, having just signed defensive back Alex Carter (Ashburn, Va.) in the 2012 class. Carter, who Shaw called a "lock-down corner" was 111th on the 2012 ESPNU 150 list.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

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