Stanford WRs trying to speed up learning curve

The deep passing game that has eluded Stanford could finally be

rehabilitated this fall.

Speedy wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Michael Rector each

partially tore a posterior cruciate ligament last year. Both

recovered without surgery and are expected to be the top deep

threats for redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan when the

fourth-ranked Cardinal open the season against San Jose State on

Sept. 7.

They have to be.

Stanford lost starters Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson

to graduation. All-American tight end Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 tight

end Levine Toilolo are in the NFL now. And along with

school-rushing leader Stepfan Taylor, the quintet combined to catch

18 of Stanford’s 19 touchdown passes last season.

With a dominant defense and a promising quarterback, replacing

that production is by far the biggest question for the defending

Pac-12 champions and Rose Bowl winners.

”We take that really seriously,” said Rector, who redshirted

last season after injuring his right knee in training camp. ”If we

want to be a great team, then we need the receivers to step

up.”

Stanford coach David Shaw has touted his receivers since spring

practice.

He admits they are short on game experience, but he insists it’s

not because they lack talent. They just haven’t stayed healthy

enough to beat out others before.

Perhaps no position has confounded Shaw, a former Cardinal

wideout, more in his first two seasons at the helm. Stanford has

relied on short and intermediate passes – and mostly to tight ends

– to go with a run-first offense, and Shaw would love nothing more

to mix it up more downfield.

”We got two guys with some serious speed that are healthy

now,” Shaw said. ”It’s hopefully what we’ve been missing on our

offense for the last two years.”

While Montgomery and Rector rehabilitated the same injury last

season, they are at different stages in their development.

Montgomery is the unquestioned leader of the retooled receiving

group, which also includes Devon Cajuste, Kodi Whitfield, Keanu

Nelson and Jordan Pratt, among others. As a freshman two years ago,

Montgomery caught 24 passes for 350 yards, including a career-high

seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown from Andrew Luck in the

Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Much was expected of Montgomery last year. He started off slow

under new quarterback Josh Nunes and a nagging knee sidelined him

three games and slowed him down even when he played, finishing with

26 catches for 213 yards and no touchdowns.

”That was the first injury I ever had that’s taken me out of

football. That kind of hit me pretty hard,” Montgomery said. ”And

it was a knee injury, which scared me. Just coming back was a big

mental hurdle. It wasn’t a good season for me last year. I don’t

mean to sound like an individualist. I’m very happy with the Rose

Bowl. Mentally, I just wanted to come out here and help the team. I

couldn’t.”

Rector can relate.

He started out like ”gangbusters” in training camp, Shaw said,

before he partially tore his PCL in practice. By the time he

recovered, most of the season had expired and it made little sense

for the freshman from Gig Harbor, Wash., to waste an entire year of

eligibility.

Around that time in November, Montgomery’s knee problems

persisted. The diagnosis came back the same as Rector’s injury,

though not quite as serious, and he had to start his own

rehabilitation process.

The PCL ligament is located in the back of the knee and helps

connect the thighbone to the shinbone. Strengthening the muscles

around it helped the ligament heal on its own and allowed both to

avoid surgery, each said.

”When he got injured, he kept asking me little things to get

back and better. We kind of felt the same,” Rector said. ”And

now, it’s good to be back.”

The pair spent the summer catching pass from Hogan along with

the rest of the wide receivers to speed up the learning process.

Often, Hogan would just tell them to run any route they wanted to

learn what each prefers.

They also competed in races. Officially, coaches clocked

Montgomery’s 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds, and Rector was just a

”nose behind,” he said.

”I had a bad day,” Rector said.

Hogan said throwing more vertical passes will force defenses to

back off the line of scrimmage and open up the running game. He

also said the lack of experience from his receivers is not as big a

deal as it might seem because he spent most of his first two years

throwing to them in practice before he became the starter.

All of the receivers also said experience is not something they

think about.

”You know if you start fighting the idea with each other like,

`Oh, we don’t know.’ Or you’re kind of lacking or you’re kind of

worried like, `Oh, I haven’t thrown with Kevin before.’ Then that’s

when the sync never happens,” Cajuste said. ”But if you just know

that Kevin’s a great player, we as a receiver corps believe we’re

all great players together and we all support each other. We don’t

worry.”

Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at:

www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP