Nebraska currently lists seven tight ends on its spring roster. The Huskers will add two more to that total in the summer when freshmen Cameron Jurgens and Bryson Krull (walk-on) arrive. That total will not include Justin McGriff or Katerian Legrone. Both have the size to eventually end up at tight end, but are starting out at wide receiver.
So seven it is for now, and that’s where it gets interesting. That group has combined for eight catches, 89 yards and two touchdowns. Not a ton of returning production, and it’s only technically true. All eight catches, 89 yards and two touchdowns belong to sophomore Jack Stoll, who tallied those numbers over the last six games of 2017.
For comparison’s sake, Central Florida had three tight ends tally at least 10 catches in 2017. There are balls to be had if Nebraska has the tight ends to have them. Should make for an interesting spring for tight ends coach Sean Beckton who says he has been able to focus more heavily on one specific half of the tight end equation.
“The biggest thing for those guys is understanding everything we do schematically,” Beckton said. “They have to be in-line blockers and they have to play like a receiver. In years past those guys were primarily in-line, point-of-attack blockers . . . They already know how to block as far as point of attack. The biggest thing for us is getting those guys to play like receivers.”
According to Beckton Nebraska’s tight ends spent most of their time leading up to the start of spring practice on pass-catching drills, and made some strides. But it’s probably fair to expect some ups-and-downs this spring. The Huskers have just two upperclassmen in the room.
Bo Kitrell, a former fullback and walk-on, is a senior who has yet to record a catch. Junior Matt Snyder, who chose the Huskers over Michigan and nearly landed an Alabama offer in 2015, is still looking for the first catch of his career, too. Sophomore David Engelhaupt, one of the last pieces of the 2016 recruiting class, should be in the mix this spring as will be two redshirt freshmen, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal. The pair are hard to miss at 6-8 and 6-7 respectively.
“The biggest thing with those guys is length and it makes me smile,” Beckton said of Allen and Rafdal. “If I can just teach those guys basically how to maneuver off linebackers because of their length alone the quarterback is going to be able to throw the ball where nobody else can reach it. I have those guys pretty much daily working on how not to get re-routed. That’s the biggest thing for those guys.”
While none of Nebraska’s current tight ends has played a ton, the new scheme and its focus on pass catching should be met with some enthusiasm as a departure from the previous three seasons. (You don’t meet many tight ends who complain about not getting to block enough.) It’s a more modern approach to tight end-play, and the Huskers aren’t short on options, they're just unproven at this point.
But having a “big room” is fine by Beckton.
“That’s my job as a coach to really keep them involved, to make those guys all feel that they’re a part of it,” he said. “When I first met them all as a group that’s one of the things I told them. We’re a big family. We’re going to act like it. Somebody’s got to be the starter, somebody’s got to be the sixth guy. We can all contribute to this football team.”
The competition will ramp back up next week, though with a new staff in place it never truly goes away. Beckton prefers it that way. He said he has “one that thinks he’s the guy already.”
That guy is Stoll.
Makes sense. He’s the only one who has actually felt what it’s like to find the end zone and hear the roar or groans – he had touchdowns against Northwestern in Lincoln and at Penn State – of 80,000-plus. That’ll make you want more.
The Grab Bag
- ICYMI: Great story from Jacob Padilla on Millard South's Kyle Perry. He'll pitch for the Huskers next season, but is a heckuva of a basketball player in his spare time.
- Purdue big man Isaac Haas may still be able to return in this NCAA Tournament after injuring his elbow, but he needs an NCAA-approved brace. Luckily the Boilermakers have a campus full of engineers.
- Cleveland Cavaliers coach Ty Lue announced Monday that he is taking a leave of absence to deal with health issues. He told ESPN he hopes to return in a week.
- Whether in football or basketball, Bill Connelly of SB Nation writes that mid-majors deserve more chances than they're currently getting.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.