Stanford's remarkable run of elite-level tight end play continued in a major way in the 2012 season. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were the team's first and third leading receivers, respectively, and combined to haul in 10 of the team's 19 passing touchdowns.
There's a good chance Stanford might be forced to look elsewhere for tight end production in 2013, however. Ertz and Toilolo have a year of eligibility remaining, but both players seem likely to try their hand at the NFL rather than returning to Stanford for another year.
Where does the Cardinal look to fill the massive void at tight end in the future? Cardinal Sports Report caught up with tight ends coach Ron Crook at Rose Bowl media day to address that topic and several others.
Cardinal Sports Report: This is kind of interesting for you personally I imagine, spending so much time and having so much success at Harvard and then moving to the opposite end of the country. Been a pretty solid two years for you?
Ron Crook: It has been a lot of fun, very enjoyable. And I've learned a lot of football and I've learned a new way of approaching things and I've really enjoyed it.
CSR: Any surprises out here with Stanford and the Pac-12? Anything you didn't expect when you made the move?
RC: I would say that the biggest surprise is realizing that you kind of coach the same stuff regardless of the level of football because it's what you believe in and you've had success with it. And the mentality of the players are the same, it's still important to them at all of the levels. So I don't know if it's a surprise, but that's been a good thing for me to see.
CSR: With Zach Ertz, what areas of his game did he really take the next step in this year?
RC: You know what, there's really not an area that he didn't, but the thing that he puts a lot of emphasis on and a lot of work in is blocking and being successful in the run game. He takes a lot of pride in being a complete tight end and doesn't want to be known as a guy who's just a receiving tight end. That comes through work in the weight room with Coach Turley and his staff and getting stronger and flexibility and quickness and things like that, so that's where he's put a lot of emphasis into his game.
CSR: How would you describe Levine's season?
RC: Levine's had a really good season. He hasn't had the numbers that Zach has because Zach has been able to create some bigger plays in the pass game, but Levine is still one of our guys and we try to figure out ways to get him the football. And we have a lot of confidence in him in the pass game as well as the run game.
CSR: With Luke Kaumatule, there certainly has been a lot of encouraging buzz on him through the grapevine. How has he progressed this year?
RC: His development is going well. He is a guy that needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room with Coach Turley and his staff. He needs to develop a lot of strength, but he has a very bright future and we're really excited about seeing where he goes.
CSR: Aside from the strength, in terms of functional, on the field stuff, what is the biggest leap for Luke from now into maybe a more prominent role?
RC: Hopefully he'll develop a little bit more of an ability to keep his knees bent and strain through people in the run game. But again, a lot of that goes back to working in the weight room and getting stronger.
CSR: Can you talk about the other young tight ends, Davis Dudchock and some of the walk-ons that are new to the program?
RC: Davis has a lot of potential. He's a very athletic guy who catches the ball well and when he catches it he can run with it well. He's another one that needs to do a good job this spring of staying focused on becoming a better blocker and straining through people. The young guys, we've got Matt Kasner, who has been here for a couple of years, needs to put some size and strength on. He has a chance to help us out down the road. The two guys who came to us this year, Alex Frkovic and Chris Harrell, are both exciting to watch. Frkovic injured his knee so he'll be out a while but was doing some good things before he was injured and Harrell is coming along and progressing really well, so we're excited about them. We're going to have to replace obviously Zach and Levine and the depth that Jemari Roberts gave us, so having somebody to be able to step into those roles is something we're excited about.
CSR: With the possibility that Levine and Zach leave, has bowl practice been somewhat of starting to look for a guy or two guys that can fill that starting role?
RC: It did early on, you always like to get those young guys a little bit of work and see what they're capable of, because you kind of lose sight of them a little bit going from preseason camp throughout the season. So it's been good to go back and evaluate these guys and see where they're at and see where they're headed for spring.
CSR: You guys will probably sign two or three tight ends in the 2013 class, maybe even four. Given the situation, is there maybe a larger opportunity for one of those guys to contribute next year than there would be normally?
RC: I think there definitely is. I don't know if it's more than normal but with as many tight ends as we use throughout the course of the season I think there's always potential to play early in your career at that position.