Pritchard breaks down Cardinal passing attack
Stanford named redshirt junior Ryan Burns its starting quarterback last week, though backup Keller Chryst is also expected to play in the season opener against Kansas State.
Ultimately, the Cardinal's decision came down to one key attribute, according to quarterbacks/receivers coach Tavita Pritchard.
"I read some of coach (Shaw's) comments, and we obviously talked about it early in training camp: I think the word that kept coming up when talking about who was the guy that was going to ultimately win the job was just the guy who was the most consistent," Pritchard said. "I think what you've seen is two very, very talented guys. And you see one who is a little bit older, and I think overall Ryan consistently had great days. I think he strung some together, and I think at the end of the day that's what this position calls for, is to not be a flash player, necessarily, but be a guy who you can count on play in and play out and game after game and for the whole season."
Burns' consistency was a marked difference from earlier in his career when he struggled to manage the offense.
"You always anticipate a learning curve - with any player, with any quarterback you anticipate a learning curve," Pritchard said. "Ryan, coming from the offense he came from in high school, we knew to a certain extent that there was going to be a learning curve for him as well. So I think more than anything, he's done a great job of working himself into this offense - learning the read progressions, learning the kill packages, being able to play the position like we talk about. Not having to go above and beyond and make plays himself, but just add to the cohesiveness of the unit. I think that's what the quarterback position, especially in our offense, calls for. Yeah, that guy calls a lot of the shots in terms of getting us to the right play, but it all fits within what we do. So I think his greatest growth has come there - just his ability to fit within what we do. He's really taken that."
Burns' growth within the offense has extended to his on-field demeanor, Cardinal wide receiver Michael Rector said.
"I think just how comfortable he is in the huddle and on the field (is his biggest area of growth)," Rector said. "It really shows. At first he was a little nervous, trying to obviously step into big shoes. But he really has an ease about him now and it shows. He's playing with confidence, and what we talk about a lot is he's actively seeking to make plays to help this team win. He's not really trying to seek to avoid mistakes to help the team not lose. He's trying to help the team win."
Burns will have plenty of help in accomplishing that goal. In addition to the dynamic duo of Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love at running back, Stanford has three players it considers starting receivers: Rector, Trent Irwin and Francis Owusu.
Irwin, a starter in only his second year in the program, may be the most naturally gifted receiver of the trio. Rector and Owusu have made major strides over the course of their careers.
"Both of those guys (Rector and Owusu) are a little bit different, but I think one thing that you've seen with both of them is maturity on and off the field," Pritchard said. "And I think that's shown up on the field. With Michael, he's been a big play guy forever for us. And he still absolutely has that element. But he's able to now step in and be a complete receiver - run short, intermediate routes, block in the running game. He adds elements now to where when he first came up he was a specialist. Now he's worked himself into being a full-time receiver.
"Francis, on the other hand, is a guy who's had some guys ahead of him. He's worked himself into spots. But with the departure of Devon Cajuste, he's really taken on a lot of that role, and I think his maturity has played a big part in that, too, just because the way he's coming to work on the practice field now is different from his freshman year and his sophomore year. He's practicing full speed. He's making it game-like, and I think you're really going to see it show up in the fall."
Stanford listed three receivers as backups on its depth chart - J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Jay Tyler and Taijuan Thomas. Isaiah Brandt-Sims could also figure into the depth at the position.
"I think all the names behind those three (starters) have really done great things in camp," Pritchard said. "You talk about a guy like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside - he had a tremendous camp. Coming off his freshman year, you talk that second year making the biggest leap from year one to year two, and he's really a great example of that. Taijuan Thomas is a guy that came over from defense and is really going to add an element to our offense that we need. Jay Tyler, Isaiah Brandt-Sims, a couple other guys who provide depth for us that we feel comfortable going in and playing in games. So I think when you talk about that group as a whole and the depth that we have - coach talked about at multiple positions being able to roll guys in. That's going to pay dividends for those top three guys that you talked about in giving them plays off, giving them a blow so they can go in and play absolutely full speed."
If all goes according to plan, true freshman quarterback K.J. Costello likely won't see the field at all in 2016. But this season is still key in the Southern California native's development as he immerses himself in the complexities of Stanford's offense.
Pritchard said that Costello's best attribute thus far has been his ability to absorb knowledge.
"K.J. is doing a great job learning," Pritchard said. "So much of this offense is about learning the foundation. He's doing a great job picking up the foundation and progressing. He's getting better every day, and that's what's most important for him right now."