The only sure thing about Nebraska’s tight end room is a player who won’t be fully involved this spring.
To start the group’s meeting today, coach Sean Beckton made clear that only senior Travis Vokolek has secured his spot at the top of the depth chart. Vokolek has caught 20 passes for 218 yards during his two years playing for the Huskers, which is more than the rest of the tight end group combined.
However, Vokolek is dealing with a shoulder injury that will keep him from doing anything that involves contact until this summer. While he’s out, Beckton will be looking for someone else to step up, and anyone could fill that role.
“I’m still looking for a guy that’s going to be the guy right now,” Beckton said at Monday’s press conference. “I told them I didn’t care. Whoever out of this bunch that steps up, I don’t care if you’re on scholarship or not. I’m looking for guys to come in and push Travis right now.”
The main thing Beckton wants to see the group improve on is confidence. He said that some players were feeling their way through the offense last year, and they need to be able to react to things as they happen.
More simply put, Beckton doesn’t want his players to play “like robots.”
“Most defenses give you a clue. And that’s based on watching film, being able to see how people line up,” he said. “The key for us route-running is pre-snap, being able to see what’s in front of you, who am I working at the front line, and then who I need to work on the second line to win a route.”
Beckton named highly-touted redshirt freshman Thomas Fidone as one player he felt didn’t really understand that last season, saying he was “a little timid” and second-guessed himself. Fidone, who was a four-star and top tight end in the country coming out of high school, wasn’t able to play for most of last year due to a major knee injury.
However, Beckton said Fidone has been improving, and picked up where he left off prior to his injury.
“The few practices and a couple of games that he played in at the end of the year has paid dividends for him,” he said. “Today, he actually moved around, understood what was going on. Played a lot faster and was able to adjust on some things that you know, when he first got here he would never do.”
Vokolek also had praise for the young tight end, saying that he “works his behind off.” While he’s been injured, Vokolek has stepped up as a leader in the room. When Beckton is out recruiting or otherwise can’t oversee every part of his group’s practice, he trusts that Vokolek will be able to handle things.
“It’s been beautiful for me,” Beckton said. “I think we try to assign guys in every position group. For me, it was Jack Stoll a couple of years ago, Austin took it over last year and now Travis has kind of naturally taken it over.”
Beckton also mentioned senior Chancellor Brewington and sophomore Chris Hickman as players that have made their voices heard out of the tight end position.
The consistency of Nebraska’s tight end room is fairly unique within the program. Beckton is the only offensive assistant to return from last season, and while the most productive member of the room moved onto the NFL, the coach is confident in the foundation that has been built.
“The continuity is not going to always be there and that’s why you always have a strong foundation of what your core offense is going to be, core defense is gonna be,” he said. “Then if guys leave you still got that foundation.”