Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Ryan Burns of the Stanford Cardinal passes against the Colorado Buffaloes at Stanford Stadium. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Stanford’s spring scrimmage unfolded Saturday without the playmakers central to the Cardinal’s surge late last season: The absence of quarterback Keller Chryst (knee injury) and tailbacks Christian McCaffrey (NFL) and Bryce Love (held out as a precaution) provided role players an opportunity to make their case.
Several took advantage during the two-hour affair, including a familiar name: Senior quarterback Ryan Burns, the starter-turned-reserve who considered leaving the program this winter.
Burns replaced sophomore K.J. Costello and led the Cardinal offense to a 37-30 victory over the defense at Cagan Stadium. (Defensive points were awarded for stopping drives and forcing turnovers.)
Burns completed 10-of-15 passes and tossed a 38-yard touchdown to receiver Donald Stewart. Costello was 5 of 13.
“He has played better than he did early last year,” coach David Shaw said of Burns, who beat USC and UCLA before a mid-season regression.
The significance of Burns’ performance is unclear because of Chryst’s recovery from a severe knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl.
If Chryst is cleared for full contact during training camp and regains his timing prior to the season opener, he’s the starter.
If the recovery progresses slowly, then Burns could be in line to start against Rice in Sydney, Australia on Aug. 26.
Burns has attempted to apply the lessons learned in 2016 to his fifth and final season.
“A lot of times I didn’t give (receivers) a chance,” he said. “I need to put more on them … not try to throw the perfect (pass).”
*** All three of the tailbacks competing for the second-strong job (behind Love) produced big plays Saturday:
Cameron Scarlett had a 65-yard touchdown run; Dorian Maddox ripped off a 58-yarder; and Trevor Speights added a 33-yard run.
“It’s a phenomenal group,” Shaw said.
*** Also notable:
Jet Toner made all three field-goal attempts (from 42, 40 and 47 yards). He’s the favorite to fill the void left by the departure of multi-year starter Conrad Ukropina.
*** Starting cornerback Alijah Holder has recovered from a shoulder injury that cut short his 2016 season, but Holder was held out of the scrimmage as a precaution.
*** Shaw said he will likely add an offensive assistant when major college coaching staffs expand to 10 positions next winter under NCAA legislation approved this week.
The NCAA’s Division I Council also approved an early-signing window, allowing players to sign letters-of-intent in December.
“It’s not terrible,” Shaw said. “December’s not bad. Anything before December becomes really, really difficult for anybody who cares about the academics of the people they’re recruiting. You have to know if a kid’s going to be eligible.”