Photo Credit: John Peterson

Husker Tight Ends Growing Together, Showing Versatility Throughout Spring

April 06, 2023

Nebraska football’s tight end group is seeing more change this offseason than it has in recent years.

There’s a new position coach for the first time since 2018, which can’t be said for any other spot on offense. The Huskers also have less experience than usual, with only one of the team’s tight ends having recorded a catch at Nebraska.

Still, tight ends coach Bob Wager has been impressed with what he’s seen so far this spring.

“It’s a highly competitive room,” Wager said at Thursday’s press conference. “They root for each other. They’re building a great bond with one another and they’re eager to be developed and eager to get better. I’m proud of the way that they immerse themselves in the playbook and proud of the way that they come out to compete every day.”

Nate Boerkircher is the only returning tight end that saw significant playing time last season, putting up 52 yards and a touchdown on six catches in 2022. Most of that production came against North Dakota, where he had a pair of grabs for 32 yards and a score with starting tight end Travis Vokolek out due to injury.

Entering his fourth college season, the redshirt sophomore has a chance to further expand his role in the offense. Over his college career, Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek were the steady presences and leaders in the tight end room. Now, it’s much different, but the group has grown together with a new coaching staff.

“Spring’s been good. We’re getting to the midway point now,” Boerkircher said. “There’s a lot of new faces. That’s kind of the biggest thing. But it’s been great to kind of grow with them and learn together and I’m hoping they’ve learned a lot from me because I’ve learned a lot from them.”

A newcomer with a chance to highlight the room is Arik Gilbert, a fourth-year transfer who had a solid season with LSU in 2020 before departing for Georgia and not making much of an impact with the Bulldogs.

Wager praised the 6-foot-5, 275-pound tight end’s versatility, saying he runs well and has put together strong showings in practice.

“Just trying to find the things that he does best and put him in those roles,” Wager said. “But he’s a great guy to have in the team room. He spent a lot of extra time up here studying and trying to master the playbook and I’ve been proud of the transition that he’s made.”

Players like Thomas Fidone II and Janiran Bonner aren’t necessarily new faces on the team, but both haven’t had much chance to make a mark at tight end until this offseason. The former has been hampered by injury through two seasons with the Huskers after coming in as a four-star recruit. Fidone saw limited snaps in one game in 2021, but is now at full health for the spring and will hope to continue that into the fall.

Meanwhile, Bonner recently switched from wide receiver to tight end. Just like Gilbert and Fidone, Wager is a fan of his versatility.

“He has ability to split out, play in the backfield, we had him at fullback some today,” Wager said. “Playing the traditional tight end alignment. Really good as a motion guy, does a nice job in the lead and counter, so great versatility and trying to put him in as many possible situations as we can to utilize his talents.”

Putting players in the right spots and moving them around to maximize their talents has been a key in the spring. As the position coach said, the tight ends can even see some action at fullback. The adaptability of the position also has made things hard for the defense.

“It’s definitely confusing,” linebacker John Bullock said. “There’s some defenses where they’ll confuse us because we’ll be in man and they’ll shift their guys around a lot.”

Tight ends have consistently been a factor at Nebraska in recent years, and Wager and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield will continue to make use of the position in their own way.

“We’re trying to maximize our skill set,” Wager said. “And utilizing those guys in multiple ways helps us learn about who they are and what they can do.”

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