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Crower top candidate for backup quarterback

CASEY VALENTINE/ (stanfordphoto.com)

Junior quarterback Evan Crower is separating himself from fifth year senior Josh Nunes in the competition for second string play caller. CASEY VALENTINE/ (stanfordphoto.com)

In Stanford football’s first session back on the field since Saturday’s open practice, junior quarterback Evan Crower continued to take advantage of his extra reps caused by fifth-year senior Josh Nunes’ injury.

“I thought Evan Crower did very well,” head coach David Shaw said. “He’s gotten more reps, and what we’ve always said about Evan is we know he can play, we just needed him to practice and play with a sense of urgency, and he’s had that, really, the last three practices.”

The six-foot five-inch left-hander from San Diego has drawn Shaw’s post-practice praise consistently over the first spring session. Though fellow junior Kevin Hogan is the heavy favorite to keep his starting quarterback job, Crower’s performance could give him the inside track for the second-string spot.

Considering the number of injuries quarterbacks face, whoever wins the competition for the backup job could play a big role. That backup quarterback is always just “one play away” from getting in the action, Shaw said.

Crower’s challenge in winning that spot will be to get his mental grasp of the offense to match his physical capabilities. According to Shaw, Crower is making progress in his third year on the Farm.

“Now that he knows the offense better, he’s making quicker decisions, which helps [his] accuracy,” Shaw said. “A lot of times when you’re not sure what you’re doing, you’re a little bit late. Right now he’s on time.”

On the defensive side of the ball, fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy made a splash.

“Trent Murphy decided not to be blocked about four times today,” Shaw said.

Murphy’s play comes as no surprise. After leading the Cardinal with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss in 2012, many expect Murphy to be one of the best pass rushers in the country in 2013.

Defensive coordinator Derek Mason’s focus is on adding depth to the positional groups where he lost a few players to graduation and the NFL Draft. Mason is looking for “position flexibility” in the spring so he can have pieces to move around when putting together his defense.

One of the interesting moves to watch by Mason this session has been his decision to try fifth-year senior Usua Amanam and junior Ronnie Harris at cornerback in addition to their usual nickelback position.

“Those guys are giving Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons a run for their money,” Mason said. “Both those guys could step outside and play at corner and then shift back inside and play nickel.”

In addition to receiving praise for his play at corner from his coaches, Harris has earned the respect of Stanford’s receivers as well. On Saturday, sophomore wide receiver Kodi Whitfield called Harris one of the toughest defenders to beat on the outside, high praise for a group with three of four starters returning.

For Harris, the transition from nickel to corner has gone smoothly. Nickelback is a bit of a hybrid between linebacker and corner, giving Harris some extra experience to take with him to the outside. Harris believes the biggest thing that he is bringing with him to corner from nickel is “quick feet.”

“You’ve got to always keep your feet moving. Your feet can never go dead when you’re jamming somebody,” Harris continued. According to Mason, Shaw and Whitfield, those quick feet seem to be working.

Stanford will hold an open practice Saturday before a three-week break for finals and spring break. Saturday’s practice is scheduled to run from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The second and final two-week session of spring practice will begin on April 1.

Contact Sam Fisher at safisher@stanford.edu.

About Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.