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Stanford football: Cardinal receivers, tight ends a big concern

Kevin Hogan may be battle tested, but who will he throw passes to on the outside? We asked David Lombardi of The Bootleg in the second part of our three-part Q&A!

USA TODAY Sports

To see part I of this Q&A, click here!

4. The Stanford tight end trio that terrorized the conference the last three years is gone. Who will take their place? Will the offense change?

It's been a long time since Stanford last returned zero catches at the tight end position. Shaw envisions up to four players taking the place of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. The two guys at the top of the depth chart are Luke Kaumatule (6-7, 265) and Charlie Hopkins (6-6, 260). Both of them are huge, but both are essentially converted defensive players adapting to the nuances of the passing game. You can be sure that Stanford will use their physicality to pave the way for the rushing attack while they hope to scratch out receiving production from them as well.

We'll see the offense morph into a more versatile unit to complement the production that those two bruisers will supply at tight end. Wide receiver Devon Cajuste is 6-4 and weighs 230 pounds, so he's able to move into the slot and physically replicate some of things Ertz did blocking last year (Davis Dudchock may also see playing time in this role). Meanwhile, fullback Ryan Hewitt (6-4, 246), who was recruited as a tight end, will certainly compensate for lost production by running more patterns out of the backfield. He was one of Hogan's favorite targets in 2012 and will be even more important downfield in 2013.

5. Outside of Ty Montgomery, who is Stanford relying on to catch passes on the outside?

Since 88 percent of Stanford's 2012 receiving production graduated, there's plenty of room on the outside. The aforementioned big bodies will all be asked to produce, while redshirt freshman Michael Rector, Kelsey Young, Jordan Pratt and Kodi Whitfield will be called upon to make plays on the outside. For the first time in recent memory, the Cardinal has three receivers running 4.4 40-yard dashes (Montgomery, Young, and Rector). The talent is there, but the experience isn't.

6. The defense is so strong. Who would you say is the most critical defender in the overall scheme?

This question may be impossible to answer. Last season, Stanford recorded the most sacks (57) and tackles for loss (124) of any team in at least 10 years, yet they didn't feature a single player in the NCAA top 25 for sacks. That illustrates the all-around power of this defense. If you're going to force me to pick one player, I'll take Shayne Skov. He's the emotional leader; but then again, this defense seems to feature 11 emotional leaders.

7. Who are the newcomers on defense we need to watch out for?

Since so many veterans are returning to Stanford's 2013 defense, first-time action for some younger players in 2013 will be rare. That being said, it looks like sophomore gigantic nose tackle Ikenna Nwafor (6-6, 300) will see time in the defensive line rotation. Outside linebacker Blake Lueders missed all of 2012 with injury, but he'll play a significant role on the second level this season. Defensive end Aziz Shittu played a bit last season. We'll see if his role increases after an impressive offseason; he's built like a tank.