STANFORD -- Competition for backup quarterback gained clarity Saturday in No. 4 Stanford's only publicly scheduled workout of the season.
Once considered the domain of former starter Josh Nunes, the Cardinal advances toward the season opener Sept. 7 against San Jose State with Evan Crower at No. 2.
Crower is only 19 and has never played in a college game.
Here's how it happened:
Brett Nottingham, Andrew Luck's backup in 2011, transferred to Columbia when it became clear that starter Kevin Hogan and Nunes had passed him on the depth chart last year.
Then Nunes, who started the first nine games last year before being replaced by Hogan, suffered a biceps muscle injury to his throwing arm in January while lifting weights. He medically retired four months later.
Crower, a redshirt sophomore from San Diego, was something of an afterthought until a strong performance in spring that has carried through to August.
"The thing is he's playing at all times at a gamelike level," quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford said. "The speed, the way he goes through his drops, the progression. He's making everything about himself more high-tempo."
The 6-foot-5 left-hander distinguished himself Saturday with two nice completions to backup receiver Jordan Pratt. But Crower threw one interception and a handful of incompletions against one of the country's best defenses.
"It's a little intimidating, but they appreciate it," coach David Shaw said of the backups going against the first-string defense. "We played about one-tenth of our defense, and it is still very difficult."
Freshman Ryan Burns, Dallas Lloyd and David Olson are Stanford's other backup quarterbacks. On Saturday, Burns enjoyed the biggest moment after fumbling the final snap. He rolled right and threw 12 yards to Eric Cotton for the only touchdown in the controlled scrimmage.
But Burns is Stanford's future. Crower is one bad injury to Hogan from taking the reins.
"He's throwing the ball like he could start at any other school right now," sophomore receiver Michael Rector said of Crower. "He just slings it."
Shaw said: "I thought Evan was great in the pocket sliding around, because you have to find that sweet spot in the pocket and still be able to get the ball downfield. And he did that."
"I'm not sure what Coach Shaw has in store for the offense this season, but I'm looking forward to executing whatever it is," he said.
"He knows he's in a progression," Shaw said. "He also knows he's earned the right to play."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865.