Is it too soon to say that the tight end position is seeing a rebirth in Lincoln?
That might be too strong considering there haven’t been any games played yet this season, but there is certainly an emphasis on getting the position more involved in the offense for the 2017 season.
Looking back at Mike Riley’s final four years at Oregon State, the tight ends in Corvallis averaged 55 catches for 569 yards and five touchdowns per season. Last season Nebraska’s tight ends had 28 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns.
Based on spring practices, the spring game and fall camp we can expect the tight end numbers to look at least a little more like the Oregon State production. One big reason for that is Tanner Lee.
“I think we’re really good [as receivers] especially with Tanner Lee at quarterback, we’re going to make plays,” senior tight end Connor Ketter said. “He’s going to get the ball to us and it’s going to be a fun year.”
The man who will likely be the starter at the tight end position is senior Tyler Hoppes. He’s burst onto the scene this year but how did he get there? Let tight ends coach Tavita Thompson tell you.
“Last year we knew what he could do athletically. He’s fluid in his route running,” Thompson said. “But last year we told him you need to get more physical. You need to stick your face in the fan and hold the edge.
“He really took it upon to himself to show that he could do that and he’s proven himself. That’s what’s really nice to see. He’s by far the most physical he’s ever been.”
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf echoed those sentiments, calling Hoppes a “big weapon” who is dangerous in the red zone, a tough matchup for linebackers and safeties with his athleticism and route-running ability and an improved blocker.
“He really has become an all-around player and it’s been great to see,” Langsdorf said. “He’s probably playing as well as anybody on the offense. That kind of player at that position can be tough on defenses, especially in the red zone. We’re looking forward to seeing him make those plays.”
While Hoppes needed to be more physical to make his way onto the field, its his pass-catching ability that sets him apart for the pack. Thompson raved about Hoppes’ ability to run routes and pick things up quickly.
“His route running is very good,” he said. “He’s one of those guys you can tell him, ‘why don’t you try this,’ [or] ‘do you see that?’ He knows what you are talking about and he gets it. He knows what he’s doing.”
Riley said on Saturday that the tight end position could end up being a position of strength even though he was worried about it coming into spring ball. If he’s correct, Hoppes’ emergence will help get that position where it needs to be in this pro-style offense.