With Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, Stanford had arguably the best pair of tight end in college football last season. Now the two underclassmen are on their path to the NFL.
Both Ertz and Toilolo met with the media Tuesday at the NFL Combine. They were quick to praise their college, which has gone from one of the nation's worst to one of the best. What helped push Stanford ahead under Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw?
"The way the coaches recruit," Toilolo said. "Stanford has a little bit different standards than other programs throughout the country. But at the same time, I think the foundation that was laid, and the coaches that were there, they really established that blue collar work ethic when they first got there and it's something our strength coaches and position coaches continue to emphasize."
Part of that blue collar mentality comes from utilizing a run-first pro style offense that's dependent on tight end play.
"I think it helps a lot. At Stanford, we had coach Harbaugh my first two years there and he runs the same offense essentially for the 49ers," Ertz said. "I think that helps all the players coming out of Stanford."
Because they ran a pro style offense, Ertz and Toilolo routinely watched NFL tape to learn different routes. Toilolo said they ran some of the same routes as the 49ers and Packers, but watched a lot Patriots tape to see how they utilized two tight ends.
"Throughout the season, I'd see similar concepts or run plays that we ran," Toilolo said. "A lot concepts we ran were the same they run in the NFL today."
At run-first Stanford, both Ertz and Toilolo was used as blockers. As Toilolo pointed out, he was more the in-line player while Ertz played the Joker role in the slot. Ertz said NFL teams have brought up his in-line play "a lot."
"(Toilolo) was more of the in-line guy per se but I don't want to say that I didn't do it at all," Ertz said. "I had my hand in the dirt a lot. Being from Stanford, we were a run-first team so I think that kind of helped me in that aspect."
When asked what player he patterns himself after, Toilolo mentioned Rob Gronkowski because they're of similar size and can be used in the same way. He also mentioned future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez as someone he follows.
"Tony Gonzalez is probably one of the best all-around tight ends, and that's something I try to take pride in and doing with my game," Toiolo said. "Just be someone who is in there when you want to pound the rock, but also be a pass threat on third downs, or whenever it may be."
When asked about his NFL comparison, Ertz said Jason Wittten of the Dallas Cowboys.
"He truly is a complete tight end," Ertz said. "A very good run blocker and a very good pass catcher. I think that's something that I kind of try and emulate."