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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska 2023 Fall Camp Preview: Tight Ends

July 22, 2023

This is a series taking a look at each position on Nebraska’s 2023 roster. It’s a brief glimpse on the most intriguing aspects of each position. 

There’s no one quite like Thomas Fidone II. Forced to sit out multiple college seasons already with injuries, he wouldn’t let the new coaching staff keep him on the sidelines. The Council Bluffs native continually pushed back against limitations in spring ball. Head coach Matt Rhule eventually stopped limiting Fidone. He feels as good as ever.

Fidone’s potential is noted. The former No. 1 tight end in the country is a physical anomaly. He welcomed strength and conditioning coach Corey Campbell’s input in the winter and emerged in the best shape of his life. He’s continually working on his pass catching and blocking to do whatever is asked in Marcus Satterfield’s system. That system requires tight ends to do almost everything.

Along with Fidone is another former No. 1 tight end recruit, Arik Gilbert. Gilbert, however, may not play because the NCAA has yet to rule on his waiver. The timing, while close to the season, doesn’t signal one decision over another because the NCAA rulings can often move at a glacial pace. Should Gilbert be ruled eligible he would add an incredible potential playmaker at tight end. Gilbert dropped both passes his way in the Red-White Game but proved his catching abilities at LSU and his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame can block at nearly every level in the defense.

Capable tight ends exist outside those two. Nate Boerkircher earned a scholarship after spring ball and is carrying considerable momentum into the fall. He’s one of the few tight ends in Bob Wager’s position room with catches at Nebraska. That track record, along with his embrace of the new staff, has the Aurora native in a good position. Should Gilbert not be granted a waiver, expect Boerkircher to step into that second tight end spot when the Huskers line up in 12 personnel.

Then there’s some shifting athletes who make the tight end room intriguing. Janiran Bonner’s new H-back role gives him not only a potentially brighter future but gives Satterfield’s offense more layers. Bonner proved he can step back into a fullback spot and attack defenders in the spring game. Local Huskers Luke Lindenmeyer and Braden Klover provide depth at the position and grittiness of scout team contributions. John Goodwin and Chase Androff are also in the tight end room. Big fall camps out of either of them could shake something loose in the depth chart. Jake Appleget, a Lincoln Southeast graduate, moved to tight end in the spring and brings a proven pass-catching track record with length into the room.

This year’s roster also includes two fresh-face tight ends. Ismael Smith Flores played for Wager at Arlington-Martin. He’s a strong athlete who embraced the work ethic Wager implemented at the high school level. Then there’s walk-on Cayden Echternach of Bellevue West, whose 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame sparks imagination within the coaching staff.

Coaches ask Nebraska’s tight ends to play different roles. They need to catch, run and block from different positions. Tight ends showed a glimpse of what they’ll do in Satterfield’s offense in the Red-White Game. That was with just 14 fundamental-heavy spring practices. Expect a more dynamic look from the group, and the offense in general, this fall.

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