Position Battle to Watch: Tight End

You know when you pick up a rental car and they give you the little 2-D diagram of your car where you’re supposed to indicate all the preexisting damage to the vehicle? This is your time to be picky. Every little scratch and dent– the sort of thing you might not even notice on your own car — must be noted or it could cost you down the line.

Now imagine doing the same thing with the 2013 Nebraska offense. There’s not a lot to indicate on the diagram. With seven starters, two 1,000-yard rushers (first time in school history), and what Bo Pelini called potentially the best offensive line of his tenure all returning, the Huskers are in remarkably good shape on that side of the ball. It’s a pretty clean diagram.

But if you had to circle something, it might be the tight end position. Senior Jake Long is the only real experience returning and, as we found out Monday, he’s out for two weeks with an undisclosed injury.

What was truly interesting about that piece of information, however, was Pelini’s response:

“That’s actually pretty good for us. Jake’s played a lot of football. We’ve got to figure out who out of those young tight ends is going to step up.”

Interesting because, one, it’s totally honest and, two, it’s true. Nebraska needs more than just Jake Long in 2013. Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed (two touchdowns each, 42 total receptions) didn’t put up huge numbers in 2012 but they were vital to Tim Beck’s offensive attack. Long fits the Cotton mold pretty well, but, and this is what makes the tight end position one to watch this fall, so does most everyone else on the roster.

Or, at least, the tight ends Nebraska currently has look more like Cotton-types than Reed-types. Of the players listed — minus the true freshmen and Trey Foster, who seems like the perfect sort of H-back on running downs — all of the Huskers’ tight ends are between 6-4 and 6-5, 230 to 240 pounds. They’re remarkably similar, which is by design of course, but when you consider the flexibility Reed offered last year, it’s fair to ask who, if anyone, will replicate it?

A lot of hopes will be pinned on Cethan Carter. As a true freshman, he’s already the exact same size as Reed was as a senior and, given his high school experience lining up in the backfield, perceived as that sort of tight end who can split out and be too fast for linebackers and too big for defensive backs.

Is he? We’ll see, but Carter’s quarterback is already a believer.

“He’ll play for us this year,” Martinez said at Big Ten media days.

He might have to if Beck intends the offense to look similar to what it looked like last year, but at this point it’s probably safe to say Beck doesn’t intend on much. He’s as flexible as they come.

Tight end isn’t an issue for the Huskers. Not yet, but there are some questions to be answered here over the next couple of weeks.