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February 19, 2013

Stanford offense report: Passing Game

It's hard to imagine any coach has a better quarterback coaching pedigree than the one Mike Sanford possesses.

Sanford's quarterback education began early in his football career when the newly minted Cardinal quarterback coach was tutored by John Barnes at Los Alamitos High School. Barnes has more than 300 high school victories to his credit and is regarded as a top passing game instructor.

At Boise State, Sanford played under three coaches now universally regarded as some of the brightest offensive minds in the nation: current Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, current Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Then, as an offensive assistant at Stanford in 2007 and 2008, he worked alongside Jim Harbaugh

"Coach Harbaugh's style of coaching quarterbacks is very unique and every passionate and very competitive," Sanford said. "So I learned just a totally different style from him and had a chance to be under him in an offensive assistant type of capacity."

After Sanford returned to Stanford for the 2011 season, he worked with a pair of former NFL quarterback coaches in Shaw and Pep Hamilton.

"Coach Shaw has such a great understanding for the cerebral part of the game," Sanford said. "I don't know if I've been around a better football coach in terms of understanding just what goes into the quarterback position from a mental standpoint and the reads that they have to make and the grasp that they have to have of the offense."

"And then just being around Coach Pep last year and some of the ideas he has and his understanding of the red zone is just really impressive, staying cutting edge in the NFL with all of the different schemes that are being employed in the NFL and adding them as we see fit to the Stanford offense was just really good. He's a really good research and development guy in terms of keeping up with the trends of NFL football and all of the routes."

Sanford also counts his time at Western Kentucky, where he helped install a Stanford-type offense alongside Willie Taggart, and as a graduate assistant at UNLV, where he became versed in the spread offense working for his father, as valuable experiences.

Now, it's Sanford's time to pass along the knowledge he has accrued. Sanford is tasked with the responsibility of mentoring one of the bright young quarterbacks in the conference, Kevin Hogan.

"He played in some really, really good football games, big games, some of the biggest games in the history of the program here," Sanford said. "He played well, he played adequately. I think he never really had a chance to catch his breath and say, 'Hey I'm going to master this offense. I'm not just going to play well in this offense but I'm going to be a complete master of every detail of this offense, not just what I have to do or not just my read, but understanding and appreciating the structure of the defense and how to attack those different looks that the defenses give you. So I think just his mastery of the defense.

"And then I think the biggest thing this spring and going into fall camp we want to see him develop into a complete leader of the offense. He has the field credibility now to be able to take over this offense and say, 'Hey, I'm going to coach you guys in the offseason when the coaches aren't around. I'm going to run these practices.' He has that field credibility but he's going to have to earn that right to lead in this offseason as a sophomore."

Optimism, uncertainty surround receiver group: Sanford's new position responsibilities also encompass the wide receiver position. Stanford will receive significant help at tight end this summer when Greg Taboada, Austin Hooper and Eric Cotton arrive on campus, but this spring, the position will be light in both numbers and proven talent.

In the meantime, spring practice will allow Stanford's wide receivers to make their park in the Cardinal's passing game.

"This spring it's a great opportunity for our receivers," Sanford said. "We have a really talented young group of unproven wide receivers in addition to of course Ty Montgomery and Kelsey Young that have some field credibility. It's an exciting group. I'm as excited to coach that group as I've ever been in my coaching career. There are a lot of untapped resources and just daily going to challenge each one of those guys to compete and try to separate yourself from the group because it's a big pack of talented guys, but we need somebody to separate a little bit. We also need that whole group to step up as a whole and walk around like they have something to prove, have a chip on their shoulder the way they go about their work.

While each has shown flashes of greatness, Young and Montgomery are still somewhat unproven players, albeit each for different reasons. After coming on strong at the end of his freshman season, Montgomery struggled with drops and injuries in 2012.

"I know Ty Montgomery is looking forward to this year and the opportunity he has to establish himself as a premier player. When he's healthy he's shown that he's one heck of a football player. He's really difficult to tackle and tough to catch when he gets out in open space."

Meanwhile, the coaching staff will search far and wide to make sure the dynamic Young receives his fair share of touches.

"As a coaching staff we're going to research the entire country and see what people are doing to get guys like him the ball in space," Sanford said.

Outside of Young and Montgomery, the receivers on Stanford's roster have combined for a grand total of three receptions for 20 yards. But Sanford is excited about some of the younger players at the position, beginning with Devon Cajuste.

"Another guy with some field credibility is Devon Cajuste," Sanford said. "He had a nice role and did some good things blocking and being physical and big."

Cajuste might have even more "field credibility" if it weren't for a knee injury he suffered in his first fall camp on The Farm. Sanford said that Cajuste was actually ahead of Ty Montgomery when both were true freshman in 2011.

"He was probably the most ready to play of any of the freshmen receivers two season ago before he suffered the knee injury," Sanford said. "It took him a full year to come back and he's now healthy and weights 225-plus.

"Devon had a really good first couple of weeks in training camp and was coming along. Both Ty and he were really exciting. But for a while there, Devon was our starting "X" going into training camp a couple of years ago. (He's) a really talented kind and very competitive. He's had some adversity and he's been dealt a good share of adversity he's had to fight through, and he's maturing and growing up as a result of that adversity."

Though there was talk that Cajuste would move to tight end before former offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton left for the Colts, the new offensive braintrust seems determined to keep Cajuste at wide receiver.

"He is a receiver," Sanford said. "Like I told him the other day, 'Don't worry about us trying to move you to tight end. You are a wide receiver. We are going to treat you as a receiver, but if you happen to be a little bit bigger than the average receiver we're going to utilize that to the best of our abilities.'

"Formationally he was never going to be the tight end with his hand in the dirt coming off the base blocking 300 pound defensive ends. That was probably not going to be what he was going to do. Formationally, we can move him around to get him in positions that you would use a Zach Ertz or a Coby Fleener, that kind of a body type, but keep him in the receiver group. He doesn't need to make the wholesale change."

In search of a backup QB: With fifth-year senior Josh Nunes expected to miss spring football due to injury, there will be plenty of reps to be shared by the four Cardinal quarterbacks who will be healthy during spring ball: Hogan, Evan Crower, Dallas Lloyd and David Olson.

"I think you're going to see really the smallest group we've probably had in spring practice in quite a while, so there's going to be a lot of opportunity to get reps," Sanford said. "Kevin needs the most reps. He needs to become a master in this offense. And Josh is a leader, he's a mental leader for us. He's a big reason that we're standing where we are as Rose Bowl Champions and Pac-12 champions, because he did some great things early on.

"I think the other two guys (Lloyd and Crower) are going to have a chance to compete and see where they fit into the whole thing. We're always going to put the best guys on the field regardless of how it all stacks out, how they got here. That's what I tell them. I don't care how you got here, but if you're the best guy on the field, you're going to play for us."

While none of the aforementioned signal callers (outside of Hogan) have seen the field, several have shown flashes in practice, Sanford said.

"Dallas Lloyd's a really exciting player because he's a natural born leader," Sanford said. "He steps in the huddle and he commands the respect of the guys around him. He has a great personality and he's a really good athlete. He runs around makes plays. The scrimmages that he had were really impressive, along with Evan Crower.

"The two of those guys running the show for those freshman scrimmages, the sophomore scrimmages for the bowl preparation, I was really impressed with what those two guys did in moving the chains and just being efficient. It's an exciting group of young quarterbacks in addition to Kevin Hogan and Josh Nunes coming back for his fifth year. The thing I think with Dallas Lloyd that I believe he can do, I believe he can become a pocket passer as well, in addition to his abilities as a runner. That's going to take some time. He's going to develop that. He's going to be coached hard, but he's an exciting player. He's a spark plug kind of a personality. I think guys kind of gravitate towards him. Guys believe in him in the huddle. And he's just got to continue to refine his craft and become master at the quarterback position."

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