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February 28, 2013

Spring Ball Question No. 1: Receiver

Though Stanford will have to address several roster vacancies before the start of next season, the biggest concern about the 2013 squad is, unquestionably, the passing game.

The team's top five - yes, five - receivers from 2012 exhausted their eligibility. The nine returning players on the roster who did record receptions in 2012 combined to haul in 56 passes for 491 yards and only one touchdown.

Suffice it to say, Stanford has little in the way of proven talent at both receiver and tight end.

Cardinal Sports Report examined the tight end outlook earlier this week. In contrast to tight end, which only has one scholarship player actually recruited as a tight end on the roster (Davis Dudchock), there are a number of highly recruited and physically capable receivers.

Whether the talent results in production remains to be seen, but it's easy to be excited about the possibilities. The infusion of arguably the best high school receiver on the West Coast (Francis Owusu), the development of a pair of touted freshmen (Kodi Whitfield and Michael Rector), and a healthy Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste does present some intriguing possibilities. And that's not to mention perhaps the team's most dynamic athlete, Kelsey Young, who will certainly be used in the passing game.

"This spring it's a great opportunity for our receivers," Stanford receivers coach Mike Sanford told Cardinal Sports Report earlier this month. "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."

One would imagine that for the wide receivers to be an asset to the 2013 Stanford football team, Montgomery will need to have a breakout season. Expectations were high for the Texan after he tallied 350 receiving yards, including 120 in the Fiesta Bowl, in 2011. But a combination of injuries and lackluster play slowed Montgomery in 2012, and he failed to even meet his freshman year projection.

When healthy, however, Montgomery has the physical tools to be the big-play receiver Stanford has lacked in recent years.

The same could be said about 2013 signee Francis Owusu. Francis isn't as fast as his older brother Chris, but is several inches taller and probably has better hands. If Francis can grasp Stanford's playbook early, he has the physical tools to make a major impact in year one on The Farm.

A pair of receivers from the 2012 recruiting class will also be counted on to contribute. Kodi Whitfield, the lone player from the four-person 2012 receiver class to play as a true freshman, and Michael Rector, who might have joined Whitfield on the field if not for a knee injury, both garnered significant buzz last season. As it is for all freshmen, spring ball will be a critical time for both Whitfield and Rector.

Then there's Devon Cajuste. Cajuste was rumored to be on the move to tight end, and may have in fact been moved if Pep Hamilton was still on staff, but now will stay at receiver. Before suffering a knee injury during his first fall camp on The Farm (in 2011), Cajuste was on track to have a major role as a receiver as just a true freshman. If Cajuste, who might be the team's best blocking receiver, stays healthy, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to contribute in 2013.

As for the other receivers on the roster? Keanu Nelson has some ability as a slot receiver, but will miss at least the first half of spring ball. It would be a mild surprise to see either Conner Crane (size) and Dontonio Jordan (transition from playing running back in high school) crack the two-deep this early in their careers. Several walk-ons (Rollins Stallworth, Jeff Trojan and Jordan Pratt) have garnered buzz at various times during their careers, but haven't done much in actual games.

But with a position group that does not face a shortage of bodies or recruiting pedigree, spring ball will be a significant step in assessing the development of the wide receiver position group. There is potential for Stanford to have one of its best receiving units in years, but that potential is matched by uncertainty.


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