Last Friday, tight ends coach Sean Beckton and Dustin Haines, an offensive analyst for the Huskers who works closely with Beckton, were talking about junior tight end Jack Stoll. Not about the mullet (which absolutely needs to be cut, he’s setting a bad example for Garrett Nelson; I will go to war over this), no they were talking about Stoll’s development.
“How well he’s developed into a vertical stretch of a tight end,” Beckton said, to be a little more specific.
Stoll’s blocking ability is well known. Nebraska knows the 6-foot-4, 260-pound mountain of a man can run-block. He’s big and physical and Beckton says his demeanor on a football field is one of a man who wants to “dominate the guy that’s over him.” The next step he needed to take was in the passing game. Offensive coaches have talked at length this offseason about wanting to get the tight ends more involved, but the tight ends are also responsible for making themselves better targets.
“Last year we were held up way too much at the line of scrimmage, at the second level and working around because we were unsure,” Beckton said of his group. “That’s development and understanding what’s going on a little bit more.”
So, a major goal this spring, for Stoll at least, was getting better at displacing defenders with his eyes.
“He’s getting his eyes better on the front end of the coverage where he can understand how he needs to maneuver off linebackers and safeties so he can get down the field a lot quicker,” Beckton said. “He’s really, really improved in that area for us.
“Being able to understand what was going on in front of him, to dissect what type of coverage pre-snap and who he needs to work. His eyes were all over the place last year, and really all those guys were, but he’s really, really come on and been a guy that can get down the field.”
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Offensive coordinator Troy Walters says he can see Stoll taking to coaching, striving to get better. He’s becoming a guy who can make not just any play, but a contested play. “A lot of times as a tight end, you’re not open by 3, 4, 5 yards, there’s a linebacker or a safety on you and those guys have to make the difficult catch,” Walters said. “He’s done that so far this spring, so we’re happy with his progress.”
There’s been plenty of talk about leadership this spring. Nebraska lost a lot of it and needs some from new faces. Stoll falls in that camp of guys who are being asked to get comfortable speaking out and holding teammates accountable. Beckton says he’s a quiet type off the football field, but he’s making strides in that area.
Of course, it’s hard to hold others to an expectation if you aren’t meeting it yourself, so the coaching staff has been impressed with Stoll’s drive this spring.
From Year 1 to Year 2 in this offensive system at Central Florida, tight end improvement was interesting. The overall percentage of targets that went to Beckton’s group improved only slightly — from 16.7 percent in 2016 to 18.4 percent in 2017 — but the average depth of each target jumped from 7.4 yards to 11.4. Jordan Akins is the big name here, as he went from 23 catches and 347 yards as a junior to 32 catches for 515 yards as a senior.
The same thing could be happening in Lincoln. Asked if Stoll is becoming more of a consistent threat in the passing game could help soften the blow of losing Stanley Morgan Jr., Walters seemed to imply Stoll can play a similar deep-threat/over-the-top role and, if effective, that will help by opening things up for everyone else. Morgan made the lives of receivers around him easier; if Stoll can demand that same kind of safety attention in the middle of the field, it opens up one-on-one matchups for receivers on the perimeter. So, sort of.
“When the tight ends are playing well and they’re creating legitimate separation, that’s going to help the receivers on the outside,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways as a staff to get the tight ends more involved and if they do that, it’s going to open up opportunities on the outside.”
When Nebraska takes the field Saturday at 1 p.m. for its Red-White spring game, keep an eye on Stoll’s usage.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.