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Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Regular-season report card: Tight ends

By Kevin Gemmell

The regular season is over, which means grades are due. Here's part seven of the ongoing regular-season report card for Stanford.

TIGHT ENDS

Grade: A

Summary: Is there a better tight end corps in the country? Don't think so. Is there a better deep-threat tight end than Coby Fleener? Don't think so. The tight ends were the high point of Stanford's passing game this season, accounting for 39 percent of Andrew Luck's passing yards, 31 percent of his targets, 30 percent of the catches and 51 percent of the receiving touchdowns. In all, the tight ends caught 18 of Luck's 35 touchdowns.

Fleener headlined the group with 10 touchdown catches (nine via Luck) and was statistically the most offensively productive tight end in the nation. With his size and speed, he was a mismatch for every safety and defensive back that tried to cover him.

Until Zach Ertz was injured against USC, he was Luck's favorite target on third down. His strength was in the mid-range passing game and red zone. He had 23 catches for 308 yards and three touchdowns. Head coach David Shaw said he expects Ertz to be completely healthy by the Fiesta Bowl next month.

Levine Toilolo ended up being the most reliable of the tight ends, catching 24-of-33 balls thrown his way. While he proved to be an amazing red zone target at 6-foot-8 (how do you cover that!?), he also showed he can run just as well in the open field and over the middle.

Shaw said approximately 35 percent of Stanford's playbook revolves around the three-tight-end formations. And when the three of them were on the field and healthy, it was virtually impossible for teams to account for all three.

Each brought their own individual skill sets, and each became a stronger run blocker as the season progressed -- particularly Toilolo.

The only reason they don't get the "A+" was because in the Oregon game, when Luck needed them most, they had their worst performance as a unit and had critical drops that killed drives and kept points off the board. They caught just 10-of-18 balls thrown their way (a season low 55.6 completion percentage) and it was one of two games a tight end failed to score (Colorado was the other, though honorary tight end Ryan Hewitt had two scores in the game).

Outside of that one bad outing, they were dominant, powerful and clearly the best unit in the country. And let's be honest, is there a cooler nickname out there for a position group than The Tree Amigos?

Backups: All three could have been "starters" though none actually "started" all 12 games because Stanford uses so many different formations. The only other tight end to register a stat was Davis Dudchock, who couldn't connect with Luck on a touchdown pass against Cal -- his only target of the season.