Burns, Chryst, Crower, Lloyd
After Brett Nottingham transferred to Columbia and Josh Nunes suffered a career-ending injury about a year ago, there was legitimate concern regarding depth at Stanford's quarterback position. Junior Evan Crower was thrust into Kevin Hogan's back-up spot last year, and though Crower threw the ball accurately in the spring of 2013, there wasn't a single snap of real-game experience beyond No. 8 on the roster.
Crower now has game repetitions under his belt heading into 2014, but he's still expected to face a dogfight for the back-up job, even though Dallas Lloyd is taking his talents to safety. Ryan Burns, the six-foot-five, 220-plus pound quarterback of the Cardinal's 2013 recruiting class, is set to emerge from his redshirt season with an imposing physical frame and a full year of knowledge in Stanford's system under his belt. Spring practice should provide an interesting indication of where exactly Burns stands in his development. Physically, he definitely looks the part right now.
Speaking of ready-made frames, David Shaw is certainly thrilled that Keller Chryst will cross the street to enter the mix next season.
"You can't teach six-four, 235 [pounds] and athleticism that can throw the ball 70 yards," he raved.
The Cardinal staff can, however, teach Chryst and Burns the nuances of the college playbook and the intricacies of football at the Division I level. The rate at which these two specimens catch on will determine the look of Stanford's depth chart at the quarterback position come August. The talent and potential physical sizzle certainly pops off the film below.
Prior experience suggests that quarterback maturation within the Stanford system isn't an overnight process. At this point, it appears certain that Hogan will again be the starter next season. Though tight end production disappeared (only 10 total catches) in 2013, the Cardinal's passing game made significant progress last year when it came to downfield explosiveness. Hogan's touch on deep throws noticeably improved over the course of the year, while increases in yards per play during his time under center (5.6 in 2013 to 6.4 last season) underscored the greater general efficiency of the Cardinal's offense, as did improvement in third down efficiency (from 45 percent to 51 percent).
However, the unit did regress significantly in red zone efficiency (a 73 percent touchdown percentage under Hogan in 2012 fell to 53 percent in 2013), while No. 8's interception rate also took a big hit (it increased from a pick every 50 attempts in 2012 to one about every 30 attempts in 2013). A possible explanation for both issues lies in the precipitous decline of Stanford's safer short-passing game and resulting greater reliance on the more aggressive downfield strike this past season. Both negative trends will have to be reversed in 2014 if Hogan is to take the next step as the Cardinal's stable leader under center.
The bright side: Improvement in those regards seems possible, if not likely, and that's a big reason why Hogan seems firmly entrenched in the driver's seat right now. The tight end room of Eric Cotton, Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada, and Dalton Schultz (the 2014 class' top-ranked tight end) can be reasonably expected to improve this past season's woes in the intermediate passing game, while the full return of Stanford's wide receiver corps should also translate into more stable short-range aerial cohesion. Despite some frustrating dry spells, Hogan and the Cardinal targets showed flashes of promising potential in 2013, and 2014 is the season in which that connection will be counted on to fully mature.
The Look at Quarterback: Beyond 2014
The situation in Stanford's quarterback room will become very interesting beyond that. Hogan has two more years of eligibility remaining, so he may well still be around in 2015, Burns' junior year and Chryst's second go-round. Though it's far from being set in stone -- much positive development must occur within the next months for this to become a reality -- Shaw may well be looking at an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position at this time next year if all goes well.
That, of course, would represent a dramatic and welcome reversal from the depth concerns that caused worry on The Farm prior to 2013. It's certainly an exciting time for new Stanford quarterback coach Tavita Pritchard.
This is part of our extensive look into the state of Stanford football moving forward, given the infusion of talent that the 2014 recruiting class has provided. Be sure to check back frequently for our position-by-position updates.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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