STANFORD, Calif. – Kevin Hogan leaned back on the fence that surrounds the Stanford practice field late Monday afternoon, cracked a smile and laughed at the difference between how he feels now versus a year ago.
"I'm more comfortable," he said.
Entering his first full year as the starting quarterback, Hogan sure looks that way — and will need to be. He has almost all new wide receivers and tight ends and will be expected to carry the Cardinal offense even more this season.
Hogan's presence alone already had the defending Pac-12 champions and Rose Bowl winners ahead of schedule on the first day of training camp. The race to replace record-setting Andrew Luck had not been decided at this time last August, and the uncertainty delayed the offense's progression.
This year, Stanford coach David Shaw can install the offense — and more of it — at a rapid pace. Hogan spent the summer organizing voluntary workouts — dubbed the "Captains' Practices" — and taking leadership of the offense.
"I think it forced him to get a good handle on everything that we're doing," Shaw said. "He put together all the scripts. He decided what they were doing every day, and he did it all summer."
Shaw said he noticed a change Hogan's command on the field from the first conversation they had before camp.
"I was really, really vague. I said, 'How'd it go?' I wanted to hear what he had to say, and then I asked him what his top five pass ideas were," Shaw said. "And he told me those, whereas a year ago, I'd ask him for five, and he had to kind of think. But after all summer going through everything that we've got, he's got a comfort level now. It's nice to know what those are now so we can work them into the game plan every week."
For all his success, Hogan still has limited experience in the huddle.
Hogan was 5-0 as the starter after taking over for Josh Nunes late last season. He finished off the 12-2 campaign in spectacular fashion, toppling top-ranked Oregon, beating UCLA in back-to-back weeks for the conference crown and holding off Wisconsin for Stanford's first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years.
Hogan threw for 1,096 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions last season. He completed 71.7 percent of his passes and also was the team's second-leading rusher with 263 yards and two touchdowns.
But he wasn't even a finalist in the competition between Nunes and Brett Nottingham last August. On the first day of camp a year ago, Hogan said he worked with the younger players and might've had "a snap or two" with the first-team offense.
Hogan's role increased more each week in the fall, starting with wildcat and read-option packages, and then moving into the prototypical sets of Stanford's complicated offense to take the job in one of the smoothest midseason quarterback transitions ever for a contending team.
Shaw said Hogan ran a "pretty substantial" amount of the offense by the end of the season — but nowhere near the call-any-play-you-want freedom Luck had at the line of scrimmage, which will forever be the standard on The Farm.
"There's the Andrew category, which is carte blanche, which is anything and everything. The next step for Kevin, honestly, is just giving him more and not feeling like we need to put him in a small box," Shaw said. "Now we want to give him a bigger chunk of the offense and not really hold back as much."
Stanford has no choice but to lean on Hogan more.
Last year's tight ends, All-American Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 target Levine Toilolo, are in NFL training camps now along with school-rushing leader Stepfan Taylor. Wide receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson also are gone. Together, the quintet accounted for 18 of Stanford's 19 touchdowns receiving last season.
Ty Montgomery, who showed promise as a freshman but injured a knee and missed most of last year, likely will be the No. 1 receiver. Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector, Kodi Whitfield and tight end Luke Kaumatule have played sparingly — or not at all — but will now be key players.
Hogan said the lack of experience from his receivers is not as big a deal as it might seem. He spent most of his first two years throwing to them in practice and had the entire summer to develop chemistry.
"I've been out there with these guys. I feel comfortable with them. I've actually probably thrown more with these guys than I did with all those guys who graduated," Hogan said.
Hogan said he hasn't noticed a difference in attention he's receiving this year. He still lives a life of relative anonymity, attributing that to the quant Stanford campus, which is filled with future Olympians, venture capitalist and politicians.
"Kevin's still Kevin," Montgomery said. "He's a cool guy, laid back, confident. None of this is new to him anymore."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP