One in a series of articles looking back at the 2013 season and evaluating each position group.
In Stanford's 17-14 overtime win over Oregon last season, tight end Zach Ertz enjoyed one of the best days of his Cardinal career. He made a circus catch in the end zone to tie the game at 14 in the final moments, and he finished with 11 catches for 106 yards.
Why do I mention those single-game totals? In thirteen games this season, Stanford tight ends weren't able to match those numbers. They accounted for a total of only ten receptions for 69 yards, and that tells you all you need to know about how the offense changed from last season to this.
Much was made of Stanford's three-tight end offense in 2011 and the dual-threat in 2012, but I never really believed that the passing game centered around Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo just because David Shaw liked tight ends. He simply realized that those three players posed huge matchup problems for defenses, and it made sense to have them all out on the field as often as possible. (Also, there weren't any clear standouts at wide receiver.) The reliance on the tight ends was more necessity than creativity.
With all three of those players gone in 2013 (Fleener had left after the 2011 season, Ertz and Toilolo after '12), the tight end cupboard was essentially bare. Only one true tight end, senior Davis Dudchock, caught a ball, and his first reception didn't come until October 26th against Oregon State. (His three catches for 24 yards against Notre Dame three weeks ago raised some eyebrows, but he was silent a week later in the Pac-12 championship game.)
But Dudchock only got his shot because two previous tight ends had already washed out. The coaches had been so desperate to find tight end talent that they poached the defensive line ranks, first converting Luke Kaumatule and then Charlie Hopkins. Neither player ever showed any promise (they combined for five catches and 26 yards), and Kaumatule was eventually returned to defensive end.
The lack of pass-catching tight ends didn't really affect the running game, however, as the Cardinal routinely disguised offensive linemen with eligible numbers and sent them in to block like tight ends. One of them, 6'7" 272-pound sophomore Kyle Murphy, even ran a few pass routes and was targetted once or twice.
You can view all this as creative personnel management if you're feeling generous, or paint it as blind desperation if you're not. Either way, the results were abysmal.
But does that really matter? Some observers have said that Kevin Hogan's inconsistency can be traced to the lack of a consistent possession receiver, a security that tight ends typcially provide. But the offense adapted to this new reality, and wide receiver Devon Cajuste -- about as big a wide receiver as you'll ever see at 6'4" and 232 -- often ran the same routes we had gotten used to seeing from Ertz.
So while this was clearly a down year for the tight ends, the offense was still successful -- in fact, it was probably better than last season. Still, after three years of watching dominant play from the position, 2013 was a clear disappointment.
Overall Grade: No Credit
Future Outlook for the Position: B
There are several tight ends currently on the roster, and there have been good reports on freshman Greg Taboada, a highly-touted prospect from last year's recruiting class. Beyond that, there are encouraging signs regarding one of the nation's top prep tight ends, Dalton Schultz. There is hope.