April 29, 2010

Spring grade out: Tight ends

Overall spring grade: C+

Arguably no other position had more to overcome this spring than Nebraska's tight ends. For one, the unit had to find a way to replace the presence of senior Mike McNeill, who moved out to the "adjuster" position prior to the start of spring practice. Then, all but one player - sophomore Kyler Reed - missed at least one practice due to injury, with most missing nearly a week each, if not the whole spring. Still, despite all the setbacks the Huskers' tight ends still managed to make some strides. Because he was able to stay healthy, Reed made the most progress of anyone, as he got more work with NU's No. 1 offense than he ever had before. Sophomore Ben Cotton missed more than a week with an injury, but he debuted his new bulked up frame this spring, as he came in weighing nearly 260 pounds of pretty much solid muscle.
Spring surprise: McNeill's move

After emerging as one of Nebraska's top offensive threats over the course of the past three years, McNeill shocked fans when the team announced his move to adjuster before the start of spring practice. While he said he still took some reps at tight end this spring, McNeill spent most of his time split out wide as a receiver both in the slot and outside. His departure suddenly opened up a need for someone to emerge as the new leader of the unit. Senior Dreu Young was the first guy who came to mind, but he missed the first part of the spring with an injury. As it turned out, Reed probably ended the spring session as one of the more likely candidates to challenge Young for playing time, especially in passing situations.
Question that still needs answered: Who replaces McNeill?

Whether it's Young, Reed, Cotton or done by committee, Nebraska is going to have to find a viable threat at tight end to replace what McNeill brought to the table the past two seasons. Even if his numbers were down last year, opposing defenses still had to account for him on every play, especially over the middle. Without a true threat in the middle of the field, the Huskers won't be able to open things up as much and stretch out defenses. Reed looks like a guy who could provide that threat in the passing game, but his smaller frame makes him basically incapable of being an every-down tight end. If Young and Cotton can stay healthy, they could give NU more versatility at the position along with Reed, which will help fill the void McNeill left behind.
What does the future hold at tight end?

While there are plenty of questions still left to be answered at tight end, the good news is that the unit is still stacked with promising potential. With McNeill out of the picture, this year could be the perfect opportunity for both Reed and Cotton to take the next step and emerge as quality players in the Big 12 Conference. If they do, than Nebraska will have more to work with at the position than it could ask for for the next two years. Also, guys a little further down the depth chart like Mychael McClure and eventually J.T. Kerr and Chase Harper could also get some quality practice reps this fall and possibly make a case for playing time.

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