May 1, 2009

Spring grade out: Tight ends

As the Nebraska football team moves closer to the start of summer conditioning, will begin our daily position grade outs of where things are at out of spring ball. Today we breakdown the tight end position and the positives and the negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice, and we also preview what lies ahead.

Overall spring grade: A
There might not be a more loaded offensive position on Nebraska's depth chart coming out of spring ball than tight end. Led by junior Mike McNeill, the Huskers have at least five players at the position that could not only be serviceable options in the passing game, but legitimate threats. McNeill just might be NU's best receiver on the entire team, and guys like junior Dreu Young, redshirt freshmen Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed and sophomore Ryan Hill all had impressive springs. They were so good, in fact, that offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said he might consider using a five-tight end set this season.
Spring surprise: Emerging redshirts
All one has to do is look at the receiving stats in the Spring Game box score to see the potential impact Nebraska's redshirt freshmen tight ends could have this season and for years to come. Together, Cotton, Reed and even Mychael McClure combined for eight receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Cotton has shown good potential since he first stepped on campus, and his big, physical style is complimented with solid speed and dependable hands. Reed on the other hand could be the versatile playmaker that can stretch the middle of the field, and he showed his exceptional speed in the Spring Game with his 71-yard touchdown sprint down the sideline. McClure had a nice day with three catches for 34 yards, adding even more depth to an already stacked unit.
Question that still needs answered: How do you utilize them all?
It's definitely not a bad problem to have, but Nebraska's coaching staff will be stuck with the task of trying to figure out exactly how to use all of its talent at tight end. Watson already showed just how creative the Huskers might get to put as many of them on the field as possible with the five-tight end set, but there will certainly be several other wrinkles added to the playbook do it. Look for Reed to line up both in the slot and in the backfield as an H-back, while as many as two or three tight ends could be on the field together regularly, especially in short-yardage situations.
What does the future hold at tight end?
Unless something unexpected happens, the entire unit will be back next year, with the additions of this year's true freshmen like J.T. Kerr, who will likely redshirt this year. Obviously the redshirt freshmen are just getting their careers started, and with guys like McNeill and Young leading the position for the next two years, they will only continue to grow and get even better. Needless to say, Nebraska should be set at tight end for years to come.

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