How inexperienced is Stanford's tight end unit? The most experienced player in the group is Alex Frkovic, and he's only a few months removed from the conclusion of his redshirt freshman season.
The rest of the group includes three freshmen (Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton) and a converted defensive end (Charlie Hopkins). Class of 2014 recruit Dalton Schultz will join the Cardinal this summer.
Stanford is working hard to get the unit up to speed.
"We're trying to put a lot of pressure on them," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We really are. Since we don't have a lot of experience there we're trying to make everything as game-like and pressure-packed as possible to just to put them in those positions. It's tough - you've got James Vaughters and Kevin Anderson who have played a lot of football. Those guys are hard to block. But we're not pulling any punches. We're throwing them in there and they have to get used to it. Because we need these guys to play. And if we can get them to play, we just became extremely athletic at the tight end position which matches with our athleticism at the receiver position, which can make us really dangerous."
Hopkins is the only tight end with significant game experience, but the Cardinal hasn't named him, or anyone in the unit, a starter, or even leader. Everyone in the group is sharing reps this spring.
"(The tight ends are) rotating with the older guys and the younger guys when we split," Shaw said. "They're all getting reps with everybody. But I've been very impressed with the young tight ends - their athleticism, their playmaking ability. They've showed the beginnings of being physical, which is great. All of them need to get stronger just because they're not old enough yet, haven't been through enough offseasons with Coach Turley. But I'm excited about them. They can make some plays that some guys that were here a couple of years ago had made. We're excited about them."
Several of Stanford's tight ends backed up Shaw's excitement with their play during the Cardinal's two open practices in the first session of spring ball.
Although Austin Hooper was forced to miss the first scrimmage of spring ball due to an academic obligation, he was one of the team's leading receivers during last weekend's scrimmage.
What does Hooper do well?
"Athleticism and explosion," said Morgan Turner, Stanford's tight ends coach. "He's got great quickness and when he fires off the ball and is sure of what he's doing, he does a great job. When he's thinking and working on technique it's a little slower but that's to be expected."
Though he did lose a fumble during Saturday's scrimmage, Cotton has been a frequent target in the passing game. He might be the most talented receiver of the group.
"(What Cotton does well is) running," Turner said. "He's got some speed. He has a good feel in the passing game ad he's done a good job in the blocking game too, in the running game."
Along with Cotton, Greg Taboada plays the 'F' tight end position. Hooper plays the 'Y'. The 'F' tight end more frequently splits out and is more heavily used in the passing game, while the 'Y' more frequently plays inline and serves as a blocker.
"(Taboada is) more passing game right now, still focused on bulking up and working in the running game and really doing a good job with his feet," Turner said.
Two former Stanford tight ends changed positions for spring ball. Eddie Plantaric and Chris Harrell moved to fullback.
"(They moved) just (because of positional) needs," Turner said. "We thought they could help the team more there (at fullback) and we use fullback a lot. It's a hard position and the more bodies in the room the better to really help us get through the year. And they'll have a chance to contribute."
Dalton Schultz will likely begin his Stanford career at the 'Y' tight end spot, but he has the versatility to play both tight end positions, Turner said.
"He could really do everything," Turner said. "He's got that big frame and size and shown the ability to block, so we could line up inline and not worry about it and then split him out when we need to and flex him out. We could do both."
Do any comparisons between Schultz and current or former Stanford tight ends come to mind?
"I'd like to think he's going to be somewhat like Hooper," Turner said. "He's bigger than Hooper but he can get down there and play in the trenches and do both."
Turner said that Alex Frkovic is "pretty much back physically" from the severe knee injury he suffered during his first training camp at Stanford, back in the summer of 2012.
"(He's) still working to get in shape a little bit from it," Turner said. "But he's done a good job. He knows the offense probably best out of everyone (currently playing the position). He's been here I think the longest so he's done a great job with that and just working on getting stronger and getting it done on the field."