Bur­kett uses brain, brawn to an­chor line

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTS - By Tom FitzGer­ald

Even on a team of very bright play­ers, Stan­ford cen­ter Jesse Bur­kett stands out. For one thing, he has a dou­ble ma­jor in sym­bolic sys­tems and Ja­panese.

“Sym­bolic sys­tems,” he ex­plains, “is an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ma­jor that com­bines com­puter sci­ence, lin­guis­tics, phi­los­o­phy and psy­chol­ogy. I can tie it in with my Ja­panese ma­jor, the lin­guis­tics part of it. It’s a nice in­ter­sec­tion of my in­ter­ests.”

An­other in­ter­est is the NFL. Af­ter a shot at pro foot­ball, he’d like to work in high tech in Ja­pan. “Hope­fully that’s a long way away,” he said.

Bur­kett is a 6-foot-4, 304pound red­shirt ju­nior. The cen­ter calls the block­ing sig­nals for the line, so Bur­kett has to be able to pre­dict what the de­fen­sive front is go­ing to do. That’s not al­ways easy, with peo­ple shift­ing around at the last sec­ond and lineback­ers try­ing to get him and the quar­ter­back to think they’re not blitz­ing when they are, and vice versa.

“You try to use the word ‘bril­liant’ very cau­tiously, but Jesse is so dog­gone smart,” head coach David Shaw said. “Be­ing able to see things and make calls — par­tic­u­larly the last cou­ple of years with in­ex­pe­ri­enced quar­ter­backs and mak­ing sure the pro­tec­tion is go­ing the right way.”

Ac­cord­ing to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and of­fen­sive line coach Mike Bloom­gren, Bur­kett is “ab­so­lutely our leader in terms of mak­ing the calls at the line of scrim­mage. He and (left guard) David Bright have put in so much time for this of­fen­sive line, go­ing back to last sum­mer, but week in and week out. What they do is so impressive. They pre­pare like pros.”

The Car­di­nal O-line has helped tail­back Bryce Love lead the na­tion with 1,240 rush­ing yards. Stan­ford is tops in the coun­try in yards per carry (8.1). A cynic might ar­gue that any of­fen­sive line would look good block­ing for Love, who leads the na­tion in yards af­ter con­tact with more than 600.

“It’s so much fun block­ing for him,” Bur­kett said, “be­cause you never know when he’s go­ing to go down the rest of the field.”

But don’t sell this line far short. It had to con­tend with the be­he­moths of Utah, a de­fen­sive front that Bloom­gren said was as big as any he saw in four sea­sons on the staff of the New York Jets. The Utes were No. 1 in the coun­try, al­low­ing just 87.0 yards per game, un­til Love and the Car­di­nal pierced them for 196 in a 23-20 win.

The line has im­proved ev­ery week since the USC game, Shaw said. That in­cludes the fol­low­ing game against San Diego State, when lit­tle else went right for the Car­di­nal. That week, Stan­ford had shuf­fled the line, bring­ing A.T. Hall back at right tackle, putting fresh­man Walker Lit­tle at left tackle, switch­ing Bright from left tackle to left guard and mov­ing Nate Her­big from left guard to right guard. The one con­stant was Bur­kett.

“You could say the USC game (a 42-24 trounc­ing) was kind of a wake-up call in terms of our pass pro­tec­tion,” Bur­kett said. “There were so many ball dis­rup­tions in that game that af­ter that game we had an in­tense fo­cus on pass pro­tec­tion and not get­ting beat any­more.”

He ad­mits there’s an el­e­ment of guess­work in call­ing out the pro­tec­tions. Bloom­gren pre­pares him for what’s com­ing, but ev­ery game the de­fense is go­ing to try “some­thing we haven’t seen be­fore. At that point you’ve just got to pick a call and go with it.” Tom FitzGer­ald is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: tfitzger­ald@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @tomg fitzger­ald

Paul Chinn / The Chron­i­cle 2016

Cen­ter Jesse Bur­kett (73) is the one who calls block­ing sig­nals for the line. “You try to use the word ‘bril­liant’ very cau­tiously, but Jesse is so dog­gone smart,” head coach David Shaw said.

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