Practice Report: Tall Tree tight ends

Tight ends Fleener, Ertz and Toilolo offer Stanford unparalleled versatility on offense without changing personnel.

LOS ANGELES – Innovation has always been found in abundance up in Silicon Valley, but when it comes to naming things, that creativity seems to dry up.

Such is the case with the trio of Stanford tight ends, nicknamed "Tree's Company" by redshirt senior Coby Fleener.

Fleener and juniors Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have caught 12 of Andrew Luck's 20 touchdown passes this season. Fleener leads the team with 384 receiving yards. The three are averaging an obscene 18.4 yards per catch combined.

"I've never seen so many tight ends," assistant head coach Monte Kiffin said. "They look like offensive tackles."

"We brag because we have a guy like Rhett Ellison and Rhett wears a lot of hats for us in our offensive packages," linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "We have one of them. They have fricking five of them. They do a great job."

Ellison plays fullback, tight end and H-back for USC, but Stanford takes versatility to the next level. The Cardinal can go from having all 11 offensive players lined up between the hash marks to a five-wide empty set without ever changing personnel.

"It's definitely a different mindset we have to prepare for," Barry said.

That will test the USC secondary in ways it won't see again this season. Head coach Lane Kiffin compared it to playing goal-line defense.

"And then the difference is down there you don't worry much about play-action here you got to worry about play-action because they got the whole length of the field so it's very unique," Kiffin said.

It could also expose mismatches between the 6-foot-6 Fleener, 6-6 Ertz and 6-8 Toilolo and smaller defenders like 5-8 corner Nickell Robey and 6-0 linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.

"They have size and height, we have speed and quickness, so we got to take advantage of that and use it," Barry said. "From an athleticism standpoint, I think we match up pretty well."

Woods, Heidari Limited
Wide receiver Robert Woods (undisclosed) and kicker Andre Heidari (ankle) were limited in practice Thursday.

Heidari showed good length on kickoffs, but did not attempt a field goal. He missed a 32-yard try at Notre Dame after being stepped on during a kick return in the second quarter.

Kiffin labeled Heidari a game-time decision and even auditioned possible replacements after practice.

"We asked anybody if they'd kicked in high school," he said. "Of course (defensive tackle) Da'John Harris was the first one to raise his hand."

Woods had been sitting out some practices near the end of the week to rest nagging ankle and elbow injures this season, but Kiffin said that was not the case this time.

"We wish he would have went today, especially because today was so much red zone stuff we hadn't done yet with a normal week," he said.

Freshman running back George Farmer (ankle) did not practice and is doubtful to play.


USCFootball.com Top Stories