Stanford's tight ends announced their return to the Cardinal offense in a major way in Stanford's 45-0 victory over UC Davis last Saturday.
The position group, led by a trio of redshirt freshmen, accounted for six receptions, 90 yards and a touchdown. The tight ends combined for only 10 catches and 69 receiving yards in the entire 2013 season.
"(There were) a lot of good things and then some bad things," Cardinal tight ends coach Morgan Turner said. "A lot of things to clean up, but that's going to happen with young guys playing for the first time. I was happy with it, but it could be a lot better."
Specifically, Turner praised redshirt freshman Austin Hooper's leaping scoring grab as well as the tight ends' blocking; knowledge of the offense, however, continues to be a point of emphasis.
"You saw (Austin Hooper's) touchdown catch," Turner said. "There was some good blocking out there by all of them. (What needs) improvement, just scheme-wise, knowing where to go every single time and just getting better with footwork, being consistent every single time."
All three of the Cardinal's touted tight ends made at least one catch against UC Davis, and each has made improvements to his game since arriving on campus.
Turner discussed the areas in which each of Stanford's redshirt freshmen have progressed the farthest.
Greg Taboada: "Greg has really started to become more physical and he got comfortable in the offense and has started to play fast. I think he was a little tentative at first and you could see him get over that and become who we saw on film."
Eric Cotton: "He's just come a long way knowing the offense and then he's naturally fast and he shows it. It's just building on that because he's a great blocker, too. He's done well with that.
Austin Hooper: "Really, just all-around. In high school they didn't have much variation at the tight end spot. They were firing off the ball and dominating the man in front of them and that's about it. So he's really picked up what we do and just taken off with it."
Interestingly enough, the most highly ranked of Stanford's current crop of tight ends has yet to take a college snap, and it might be a while before that happens.
Turner said that Stanford is "leaning" towards redshirting Dalton Schultz, while adding that no final decision has been made.
"His transition (from Bingham High School to Stanford) was very good," Turner said. "They did a lot of things at Bingham that we do here. And so it's been pretty easy for him. He's come along pretty far and will just spend the year getting even better. We're excited about him."
As for the possibility of Stanford implementing a four tight end set into its gameplan when Schultz is ready for game action?
"I'm trying to get them in now," Turner smiled. "We're always for that."
One on one with: Eric Cotton
Cardinal Sports Report spoke with redshirt freshman tight end Eric Cotton after Tuesday's practice.
Cardinal Sports Report: You got the start last week and made your first career catch. Take me through that moment, that first career catch - what play was it, how did all that go down?
Eric Cotton: in practice we go over the plays that we're going to run during the game that week. We had run that play multiple times, went through just like I had been in practice. The ball was fortunately thrown to me and I just made the catch.
CSR: What was your reaction when you realized, 'Hey, I just made my first college catch?
EC: It was nice. Making your first college catch is always really nice. I tried not to celebrate in the moment too much, just focus on the next task at hand like you have to do in every single game, so that's really what my mindset was.
CSR: Where do you feel like you've progressed the most since day one on campus?
EC: Probably blocking. I played wide receiver a lot in high school. Coming in and having to block at the college level was a difficult challenge for me. I feel like I'm improving on that.
CSR: Looking towards USC, to what degree in high school and before were you aware of the Stanford/USC rivalry? How big of an impression did that make on you growing up?
EC: I was definitely aware of that. Everyone is, honestly. Preparing for SC, we're going to prepare like any other team. They definitely deserve the respect that they're going to get, but we're going to prepare for them like we would prepare for anyone else.
CSR: With you Greg and Austin, how much pride do you guys take in what you have done so far and in the future; is that something you talk about?
EC: It's like something that's not talked about but it's definitely a competition and we love seeing each other succeed and make plays on the field. We were fortunate enough to all three of us make plays on Saturday, so that was really cool to see. Like I said, it's a competition between all of us, which I feel like gets us all better.
CSR: In practice, who is the hardest linebacker for you to block?
We're going against the Sam's all the time, Sam and Will, Vaughters is such a strong guy. Very hard to block. Kevin Anderson definitely is very shifty, so they are two different animals, but they're both really, really hard to block.
CSR: Who gives you the most trouble in coverage?
EC: AJ Tarpley is really good in coverage, really, really good in coverage. Jordan Richards is really good at reading our vert routes. So we have guys that challenge us every single day.