After Kevin Hogan struggled through Saturday's first two
possessions, David Shaw approached him with a simple message.
"You started in the Rose Bowl," the master told his pupil. "You
can't be nervous about the spring game."
Hogan smiled at his coach and trotted back out onto the field. He
heaved a ball into the air and let Michael Rector do the rest. The
freshman wrestled the 44-yard floater away from safety Kyle Olugbode
in one motion before diving to secure the end zone deflection in the
next, cementing his spot on national television highlight segments.
Rector's touchdown, the quintessential first-team effort, came
against Stanford's second-team defense. It coaxed the loudest roar
out of the Stanford Stadium crowd on an afternoon that featured 58
Stanford passes and only 18 runs, a ratio that definitely isn't the
norm for the Cardinal's blue-collar course.
"There was no reason to have Gaffney and Wilkerson come in here and
carry the ball 30-plus times," Shaw said. "We've got some young
receivers that can do some things for us, and I wanted to make sure
those guys had some opportunities."
Despite the new aerial focus, the Farm Boys minimized intrigue
Saturday. They spent most of the afternoon pitting their first-team
offense against the defensive reserves, and vice versa. A number of
players said that Stanford stuck exclusively to its simple "Day One"
offensive playbook, and Shaw essentially confirmed this notion
"This was on national TV," he said. "We're not going to do
everything that we're going to do during the course of the year."
So, if there existed a spring day to thoroughly evaluate Stanford
football's 2013 plan, Saturday was not it. Hogan, though inaccurate
at times, played mostly without his signature mobility threat
because of special rules designed to protect the quarterback. And
Kelsey Young, perhaps the team's most-discussed potential
"X-factor", watched in street clothes after tweaking his hamstring
in practice. That further curtailed an already-limited offensive
The spring game was still good for a peak into Shaw's mindset
regarding the complexion of his team moving forward. Whereas the 13
spring practices leading up to Saturday had divulged much more, this
final session hammered home some critical overarching themes.
The 2013 Offense: The Ideal Complexion
Stanford's offensive vision is now clearer than ever. David Shaw
considers the 2010 Orange Bowl champion team a prototype for the 2013 club, and he elaborated on that thought
following Saturday's festivities.
The Cardinal's tight end production in 2010 was powerful: the group
racked up 860 yards on 66 catches, an effort that included Coby
Fleener's six-catch, 173-yard South Florida effort. But Stanford's
wide receiver output that year was even better: Doug Baldwin led a
diverse receiving corps (featuring Ryan Whalen, Chris Owusu and Griff Whalen) that accumulated 2,015 yards over 147 catches.
In 2012, on the other hand, the combined numbers of six different
receivers did not come close to equaling the production of just two
Stanford tight ends. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo combined for 1,291
yards on 93 catches, while the entire receiving corp hauled in just
79 passes for 969 yards.
"I'm going to shoot for balance," Shaw said. "I think we had it two
[and three] years ago, but I don't think we had it [in 2012]."
Saturday's action featured a bevy of emerging pass-catchers who
combined to haul in 40 receptions. That crew is reinforcing the
staff's confidence as it strives to implement a more explosive
offense that possesses a big-gain, quick-strike ability on top of
the existing, clock-chewing structure.
"We have a better opportunity to be more versatile, very similar to
what we were the Orange Bowl year, where we could go two or three
tight ends but we could also go three or four receivers," Shaw
explained. "In the perfect world, that's where I would love to be."
Rector's speedy play has aided that effort.
Meanwhile, the resurgence of a healthy Ty Montgomery (five catches, 59 fluid
yards) gives the Cardinal a veteran leader at the position, with Montgomery the firm No. 1 at the position. There's much more
potential ammunition: Devon Cajuste, Kodi Whitfield, Jordan Pratt (five
catches, 78 yards), and Jeff Trojan (six catches, 41 yards, and an
excellent rapport with Evan Crower) all showed significant
potential. Of course, Kelsey Young will also be
reinserted into the pass-catching mix on the outside.
"We used to talk about our games feeling like a hockey game," Shaw
said. "I want line changes. I'd love to be able to throw our big
jumbo personnel out there [on one play]: extra tight ends, extra
tackles. [Then] the next play might be five receivers. The next play
might be three backs."
Tight End Position: Dudchock's Strides
Such 2010-like versatility could certainly flummox opposing
defenses, but reaching that level of performance will require more than Stanford's new receivers. Stanford's tight
ends must bring bruising production, too. With Ertz and Toilolo are
both gone, the situation becomes dicier at this position group.
Davis Dudchock impressed Saturday (five catches, 36 yards) and
commanded noticeable respect as the leader of the tight end meeting
group after the game. Blocking strength remains his focus headed
into this conditioning phase. Meanwhile, youngster Luke Kaumatule,
already a bulldozer, will continue working on his hands over the
offseason. The 6-foot-8 Hawaiian must become a ball-gobbling machine
to milk the potential out of his massive frame. He struggled with a
pair of passes Saturday, but still has plenty of time to adapt to a
position that's relatively new to him. When he did catch the ball
during the spring, Kaumatule was a load to bring down.
"He eats a lot and he eats often," strength and conditioning
coordinator Shannon Turley said. "And he enjoys it."
Shaw also didn't rule out the possibility of true freshmen
contributions to the position. By extension, incomer Francis Owusu should have a shot to make noise in the crowded wide
receiver room too, though it's impossible to gauge how physically
ready the new talent will be.
"We've got three freshmen tight ends coming in," Shaw said, referring
to Eric Cotton, Greg Taboada, and Austin Hooper. "We're going to see
how ready they are to play."
A Primary Determinant: Quarterback Play
Perhaps most importantly, it must be noted that Hogan's accuracy is the
glue that Shaw is counting on to hold together his ambitious vision of
offensive versatility. (Of course, we can't forget offensive line play, which has been consistently good.) When Luck delivered two entire
seasons' worth of virtuoso performances in 2010 and 2011, he made
Stanford's offensive flexibility appear seamless. Though Hogan isn't
expected to replicate No. 12's level of mastery, he must perform
crisply enough to integrate the entire range of possibilities that
the Cardinal's roster has to offer.
By most accounts, Hogan is progressing toward that goal, though
Saturday's 14-for-23, 170-yard performance was a hard gauge to read:
good throws complemented early inaccuracies.
"He progresses every day," wide receiver Cajuste said of his
quarterback. "Maybe it's the torque of a fake pass, more power out
of his throw, the way he looks downfield, his presence in the pocket,
every day he has something that's improving."
That observation fits with the progress report of quarterbacks coach
Mike Sanford, who also emphasizes that a huge part of Hogan's
success depends upon his running game, something which has been
virtually absent outside of the live action the regular
season will bring.
During this restriction on Hogan's running game, Sanford has been
meticulously ingraining intricate fundamentals into No. 8's play
that he feels will help the quarterback's pick up the Cardinal's full offensive arsenal.
"With him, it's just about having his feet and his eyes in the right
place at all times," Sanford said. "And that's muscle memory. And we
train the heck out of the muscle memory of the quarterbacks in terms
of where they progress from [read] one to two to three."
Back-up Evan Crower has been another beneficiary of this
instruction, and the tall lefty enjoyed extensive playing time
Saturday in his accurate 26-for-35, 197-yard performance. Most of
Crower's work was short (he averaged only 5.63 yards per attempt),
but the tall lefty was accurate and poised working behind a second-team line against Stanford's first-team defense.
With news that Josh Nunes may not be back for 2013 camp because of
the same workout-related injury that kept him out of spring ball,
Crower has officially assumed the Cardinal's No. 2 quarterback role.
"I wanted to make sure that Evan Crower got opportunities," Shaw
said. "I wanted to make sure he got as much live feeling and action
Shaw also did not rule out the possibility of using athletic
third-stringer Dallas Lloyd in his own package, similar to how Hogan
debuted last season.
Though limited running made backfield evaluation a crapshoot on
Saturday, Ricky Seale (five carries, 29 yards) and Jackson Cummings (five
carries, 19 yards) both proved slippery and solid. Seale,
especially, frequently stands out at open exhibitions like the
spring game, and Shaw's mantra that multiple running backs will see
significant time in 2013 makes sense when Seale and Cummings put
their nifty moves on display. Barry Sanders had a rougher go of it
Saturday, fumbling a punt and struggling in pass-blocking
situations, but his talent in the open field is apparent too.
Since Remound Wright sat out for precautionary reasons (he was
banged up at the previous Saturday open practice), Stanford didn't
have a chance to experiment with its potential short-yardage running
back, but it's likely No. 22 will again fill that role. Much like Shaw talked
about mimicking the 2010 Orange Bowl squad in the passing game, his 2013 team will also strive to duplicate that team's
spread-the-wealth complexion out of the backfield. Though Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney find themselves atop the pack,
it's becoming clear that an entire load of bodies will have a chance
to contribute in a mix-and-match approach.
Stay tuned for The Bootleg's extensive spring report on Stanford's
defense and special teams units.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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