If there is one position group on Nebraska’s roster that is relatively free of drama this spring, it’s the tight ends group. Tight ends coach Sean Beckton has returned virtually everyone. Beckton also added Omaha Burke’s Chris Hickman to his group as an early enrollee for the spring.
After talking with Beckton and other players on the team during spring football media availabilities, it’s clear that junior tight end Jack Stoll is the leader of this group. He had 21 catches for 245 yards in 2018. Behind him, Austin Allen, Kurt Rafdal and Katerian Legrone added another seven catches for 129 yards. The tight ends also had three touchdowns, but Stoll was behind them all.
Stoll can’t do it all. Both Coach Scott Frost and Beckton have the stressed the need for the tight ends to be a threat to stretch the field in this offense. That skill seems to be developing this spring.
“We are doing a better job of understanding what’s in front of us pre-snap so we can attack the defender underneath so he doesn’t re-route us so we can really get down the field quicker,” Beckton said. “I always tell those guys there is a triangle in front of you. Whether it’s the underneath coverage guy or one-high safety or two. There are clues in front of us before we take off from the line of scrimmage. Once we learn that, it will help us play faster and get down the field quicker.
“We aren’t where we want to be but we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year as far as being able to get down the field.”
Much of that improvement in pre-snap identification comes from being more comfortable in the offense. That’s not just the case for the tight ends either. Beckton sees it improving across the offense as a whole.
The players understand what they are doing scheme-wise in the second year of Frost’s system. They are getting the signal and turning right away, allowing them to execute a lot quicker. That then allows the offense to play faster as a whole.
Another factor involved in the tight ends taking the next step in the offense is quarterback Adrian Martinez. He was solid as a true freshman in 2018, but a majority of the targets went to wide receivers Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman. The ability to effectively spread the ball around is part of the expected huge jump for Martinez in Year 2.
However, the tight ends still must do their part for Martinez to throw them the ball.
“In our offensive scheme, the tight ends are a huge portion of it,” Beckton said. “We try to use everyone in our scheme. We don’t want to be one-dimensional. The tight ends have to understand if they aren’t getting open, the QB won’t throw to them. A lot of times we are the QBs first read. We need to show more in our vertical routes and we will get more balls thrown to us.”
The tight end position was a successful one for Frost at Central Florida, so there’s reason to believe the numbers will improve as this group gets the hang of what’s being asked of them. Stoll may be the leader now, but guys like Allen and Rafdal have been challenged to close the gap. That’s what they’re working on this spring.
There’s work to do between now and the start of the season. For now, it appears the tight ends are on the right track.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.