The sobering reality is that 82.5 percent of Stanford's pass production graduates this June. The Cardinal racked up 2,802 receiving yards last season, 2,312 of them came courtesy of seniors. Furthermore, tight ends Ertz and Toilolo amassed 93 of the Farm Boys' 240 catches and 1,291 of 2,802 reception yards. Both stalwarts are among the troops leaving to pursue careers at the next level, so there's a looming production void at tight end that the Stanford coaching staff must address.
Speed and Power: Kaumatule Filling Tight End Shoes
The brain trust's favorite option right now is incoming sophomore Luke Kaumatule, whose six-foot-seven inch frame oozes with potential.
"His size definitely makes him an asset," Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. "He has to get better from a technique standpoint. He needs to keep working with Shannon Turley in the weight room, keep doing all those things regarding flexibility so he can generate the power necessary."
The staff has been impressed with Kaumatule's soft hands and savage football instincts, a combination that prompted them to move the Hawaiian over from defensive end when he first arrived on campus last year. But replicating Toilolo's and Ertz's run-blocking efficiency is the one vital goal for his development, and it's something that Stanford is confident will happen with work in the coming months before the 2013 season kicks off.
"With Luke's speed and size, he's always been good about being violent. He likes that part of the game. What he's got to get better at is the one-on-one block at the point of attack," Bloomgren explained. "He just needs the 1,000 reps that we're going to give him time and time again in spring ball. He needs to be a touch lower. He needs to get better with his hands and targets."
A Cajuste Boost?
There's been plenty of speculation that receiver Devon Cajuste or fullback Ryan Hewitt could shift back to tight end in 2013. Both players, after all, were initially recruited to The Farm at that position. At this point, though, the plan is to keep both at their current spots -- though Bloomgren acknowledged that further development could change that blueprint.
"Now, there may come a time when Devon's body just decides it's no longer going to be a receiver," he said. "If he gets over 240, 245 pounds, then he's going to fall into that role of a Coby Fleener. He's going to have to do some of that wing blocking, and Fleener even did some stuff at the point of attack."
Though he is bulking up, Cajuste currently only weighs in a tad over 220 pounds, a figure which makes his 6-4 height a "mismatch waiting to happen" at the receiver position, according to QB/WR coach Mike Sanford. Still, Bloomgren says he can see Cajuste following Fleener's trajectory toward the tight end position.
"Coby was really a glorified receiver, especially if you watched him early in his career. He didn't do any blocking at the point of attack early in his career," Bloomgren said. "But by the end, especially with Zach hurt and Levine banged up, he had to block at the point of attack and he did a nice job. It's just a natural progression for those guys, to start doing more and more in-line blocking."
Cajuste's situation is especially promising because of the stellar run blocking he displayed on the perimeter in the second half of the 2012 season, which included excellent work during Stanford's two touchdown drives early in the Rose Bowl.
"Devon loves blocking," Bloomgren said. "Whether it was cracking down on a linebacker or blocking a defensive end to get a toss play started, he does that stuff so willingly and he's such a tough kid. You talk about him and Ty Montgomery out there as receivers, they can get those hits on safeties."
The U Tight End: Hewitt's Plan, Dudchock, Frkovic
Meanwhile, Stanford has been so thrilled with Hewitt's work at the fullback spot that they intend to keep him there, though the staff understands that necessity may occasionally force him out of the backfield.
"[Hewitt] does so many great things for us at fullback that we really don't want to move him," head coach David Shaw said.
Of course, the bruising Braveheart warrior has shown the ability to be effective in the passing game, particularly on short play-action passes to the flat. Though his receiving production dropped from 34 catches in 2011 to 14 receptions in 2012, it kicked back into gear when Hogan took over at the quarterback position in November.
A promising trio of incoming freshman recently signed with the Cardinal at the tight end position, but the likelihood Eric Cotton, Greg Taboada, or Austin Hooper are physically ready for significant offensive contributions next season is slim. Shaw expects them to provide depth at special teams, while fourth tight end recruit Kevin Palma will at least begin his Stanford career at linebacker.
"We're going to get through spring with some smoke and mirrors," Bloomgren said of his offense. "Hewitt can play some of that U tight end like he's always done, but the big thing is we've got guys who have got to come and get better."
One of those intriguing players is Alabama native Davis Dudchock, whose playing time dropped precipitously in 2012 after a 2011 season in which he saw action due to the Ertz and Toilolo injuries.
"We really hope [Dudchock can develop to contribute]," Bloomgren said of the 6-foot-4, 242-pound incoming senior who turned down offers in the Southeast to come to Stanford. "He is a guy who has proven that he can catch the ball well and catch it in traffic. He runs routes well. He has to get better at those blocks, but he can do it. He can have a role as a U tight end in our offense without question."
The staff is also excited by incoming sophomore Alex Frkovic, whose 6-foot-5 size makes him another candidate to contribute at tight end. He missed 2011 with an injury, though, making development evaluation difficult.
Tracking the Big Boys Up Front
The group of starting Farm Boy hogs will stay mostly intact with the exception of Schwartzstein's center position. Because of the responsibility assigned to the "quarterback of the offensive line," a veteran is expected to take that spot. Kevin Danser or Khalil Wilkes, who competed with Schwartzstein for the center job in the two seasons prior to 2012, is favored to shift over from one of the guard positions to snap the ball. That would allow left tackle David Yankey (a fantastic pull-blocker) to move back to his natural guard position, or potentially open up a guard spot for incoming sophomore behemoth Joshua Garnett.
Stanford's line shuffling decisions will play a large role in determining whether or not tackles Andrus Peat or Kyle Murphy will start in their second seasons. More on that matter will be known as spring development takes its effect.
Meanwhile, the depth of Stanford's offensive line is packing on the muscle to see more future playing time. While Peat, Murphy, and Garnett stole the show in 2012, a crop of other youngsters has yet to see playing time. Guard Johnny Caspers, tackle Nick Davidson and center Graham Shuler, each decorated members of the 2012 recruiting class, have strengthened their frames.
Caspers and Davidson, who arrived on campus last year at 287 and 282 pounds, respectively, have both added about 20 pounds of muscle. The early-morning grind of 2013 winter workouts is now taking its toll.
"When you have those 300 pound frames at your first 6 a.m., it's not a lot of fun," Bloomgren laughed. "And it probably wasn't a lot of fun for those guys, but they didn't let us see it."
The two offensive linemen in Stanford's 2011 recruiting class, tackle Brendon Austin and guard Kevin Reihner, have also been making strides.
"It's been about polishing technique for me," Reihner said. "On top of that, [it's] getting stronger, working on all the small things, especially my hands. The coaches really preach that."
Gaffney's Return: Running Back and Receiver Effects
As of last week, Sanford said that Anthony Wilkerson was the leading candidate for the Cardinal's top running back spot, in large part because of how well he ran the ball in the Rose Bowl. Tyler Gaffney's announced return from professional baseball, though, arms Stanford with another enviable combination of strength, speed, and polish at the position. Assuming Gaffney can shake off the rust associated with 13 months off the football field, Stanford will possess an embarrassment of riches in the backfield whose development will be closely tracked once spring competition begins. Ricky Seale, Remound Wright and Barry Sanders will all be in the mix, while fullbacks Lee Ward and Pat Skov may also get extended looks if Hewitt does indeed occasionally shift over to tight end.
And while tracking Stanford's off-season development at tight end will certainly be intriguing, the reloading job at wide receiver is every bit as vital. The team's slew of departures (and recent history of inconsistent performance at the position) suggests that Ty Montgomery must deliver a bounce-back junior campaign after only hauling in 26 passes in 2012. Terrell and Patterson are both graduating, so plenty of spots on the Cardinal perimeter are in flux.
As mentioned, the staff sees Cajuste as a legitimate downfield threat who can also be effective moving in motion to block. Incoming 6-foot-4 freshman Francis Owusu has the potential to be the best true freshman wide receiver on the West Coast, but the Farm Boys are counting on a quartet of relatively inexperienced sophomores to flesh out their passing attack -- on top of Kelsey Young, whose role looks to expand in 2013, of course.
Shaw praised Michael Rector, Conner Crane, and Kodi Whitfield for their drive thus far in winter workouts. Sanford also expressed enthusiasm about the improvement of Dontonio Jordan, the fourth receiver in the 2012 recruiting class. Rector, who spent much of this past redshirt campaign battling back from an early knee injury, has the speed the staff is looking for in a deep threat. The coaches regard Whitfield as the best all-around receiver of the group, while Crane's 6-foot-4 height and work ethic make him a darkhorse candidate for 2013 passes.
"Conner's the kind of guy who runs routes for hours every day in the summer," Sanford said. "He's really hungry to improve."
In the end, much of the receiver competition will follow a similar Stanford theme: the player who blocks most effectively should have a big leg up.
Offensive Development Report, Part 1: Winning the Chess Match
Defensive Development Report, Part 1: Interior Line (DT)
Defensive Development Report, Part 2: Exterior Line/LB
Defensive Development Report, Part 3: Secondary
David Lombardi is the Stanford Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
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