Life Without Ertz: Hogan's New Hero?
Stanford’s offense stressed the tight end role more than ever — and why wouldn’t they? Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo overwhelmed defenses. Ertz lived in the center of the field. He was the centerpiece of the offense, leading the Cardinal in receiving last year with 69 catches, 898 yards and 6 touchdowns. He stepped up in big games with 35 receptions, 397 yards and 3 touchdowns against Stanford’s six ranked opponents.
The five leading receivers graduated, including the aforementioned tight ends, receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal Rashad-Patterson and Stepfan Taylor. The incumbent leading receiver, Ty Montgomery had 26 catches for 213 yards (0 TDs). Hogan is the new centerpiece of a baby-faced offense.
If the Cardinal are going to succeed this season, head coach David Shaw will transform this young receiver crop to meet their athletic potential. The passing offense will undergo transition. It will work outside-in with the more experienced, athletic receivers — as opposed to inside-out with the graduated bruisers at tight end and running back.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan cannot do it all yet; he’s not Andrew Luck (yet). However, he proved how efficient he is with the deep ball last year, tossing 11-for-15 on passes 11 or more yards from scrimmage. He is prone to check down, but age and confidence should combine for a wilder and sometimes more chaotic passing attack.
But he will need someone to catch the ball … anyone … Bueller?
The receivers given the most reps at the spring game include Montgomery, Michael Rector and Kodi Whitfield. Montgomery and Rector spread the defense with their vertical speed, reining in deep catches from Hogan. While the receivers have a similar skill set and size, Montgomery’s extra year of experience with the offense, coaching staff and Hogan makes him the more dynamic receiver with a more extensive route tree. An injury limited him last season and he seems eager to accept the role of No. 1 receiver.
Whitfield should churn out yards in the slot. He’s big, physical and after some hard work with Hogan, he could have sharp enough timing to open up the middle of the field. Montgomery and Whitfield, at 6-foot-2, are the most likely candidates to fill Ertz’s shoes in the red zone.
None of these players are household names or sure things. It appears that all bets are off as to who can make plays on offense. I’ll take some bigger risks. I’ll reach deeper into this raffle of a depth chart for some X-factor players.
I’ll stick with wide receivers. Dynamic freshmen Devon Cajuste and Francis Owusu — brother of Chris — have the athleticism to pop. Cajuste’s size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) allows him play a hybrid role in the offense. Hogan could look to him as a red-zone target. He catches the ball well on fade routes and in jump ball situations. Owusu is a straight-line, sometimes untouchable burner. Both have experience running the ball in high school.
Freshman Luke Kaumatule and sophomore Davis Dudchock are shadows of the tight ends they replace on the depth chart. The pair has no expectation of duplicating that production, but Kaumatule resembles Toilolo and Dudchock, Ertz in stature and skill set. Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomberg must develop these young men throughout the year.
Last year the tight end position accounted for nearly 40 percent of receptions and 46 percent of yardage. This year, expect those numbers to split in half. Expect growing pains. Expect a sink or swim situation for this group in week five against Washington.
Stanford's lack of receivers will make their matchup with Utah interesting since the Utes have almost literally no experience at cornerback.