At Stanford, Cardinal football players don’t just sit on their couches on Sundays and watch the NFL for their entertainment. It’s part of their homework. They watch it with a critical eye, learn from it, glean something from it.
For the Stanford quarterbacks, they’ll watch film on Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and take note of their footwork, one trait that makes them among the best players at their position in professional football.
Because Stanford had two very good tight ends both eligible for this year’s Draft, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo would watch Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez because the Patriots utilized two tight end sets so often.
But for Toilolo, he also remembers how he’d spend time watching the Packers as well.
“We would watch film with Jermichael Finley,” said Toilolo. “He’s a great tight end.”
Toilolo was the tallest tight end invited to this year’s NFL Combine, standing 6-8 and weighing 260 lbs. He admittedly knows he was used more as the in-line, blocking tight end at Stanford while the more heralded Zach Ertz was the one flexed out catching more passes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t learn something from watching video of players like Finley.
“Any tight end that I see being successful as part of their craft is something that I try to watch,” said Toilolo. “Green Bay has a great offense, as everybody knows.”
It’s not as if Toilolo wasn’t used as a receiver at Stanford. During his final two college seasons he caught 49 passes for 736 yards and 10 touchdowns. Indeed, his big frame makes him a good red-zone target.
Toilolo is also the type that’s going to use his blocking skills to his advantage, however. For that, he has to thank 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman who was the tight ends coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh.
“He’s a great teacher especially in the line game,” said Toilolo. “He has a great line-guy mind; he’s a smart coach. I mean fundamentally, with run blocking and stuff like that, he’s definitely been a big help.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Toilolo was able to learn under the tutelage of Stanford coaches that have gone onto careers in the NFL like Roman, Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton who’s now the offensive coordinator of the Colts.
It also works in Toilolo’s favor that Stanford is gaining a recent reputation of developing tight ends. He credits former Cardinal and current Colts tight end Coby Fleener––a player who just missed out on being a first round draft choice last year––for giving him advice throughout the pre-draft process.
And, of course, having Andrew Luck as his quarterback prior to 2012 was a learning experience as well.
“I think the biggest part was seeing his preparation, a guy with his skills and seeing him approach the game as one of the hardest workers on the team,” said Toilolo. “It just makes you, for someone who’s not the best player at my position, approach a practice with a lot of things to work on. I think that’s what helped me.”
For a team like the Packers, it’s possible that they’ll be in the market for a blocking type tight end now that Tom Crabtree has moved onto the Buccaneers in free agency.
Holdovers like Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor will all be looking for increased playing time, but none of them would appear to have a roster spot guaranteed for them in 2013.
Perhaps a player like Toilolo could learn the ropes from Finley in person in 2013. Finley only has one year left remaining on his contract, and another tight end––no matter who it might be––could be looking at an even bigger role in Green Bay in years to come.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.