Tight Ends Growing Into Bigger Role for Nebraska
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska’s Tight Ends Have Room to Grow, but Showing Good Progress

September 20, 2018

Through two weeks, the offensive production from the tight ends has been minimal but their involvement has been anything but as Nebraska has had at least one tight end on the field for basically every offensive snap.

“Overall, I thought they played hard,” tight ends coach Sean Beckton said about his unit’s performance so far. “I thought they went in to every game understanding the game plan. We haven’t executed out of the tight end group consistently enough for me, and that’s what we continue to work on a daily basis.

"As soon as we step on that grass, there’s something that we’re going to try to detail and I want those guys working hard and paying attention to it, and it’s got to start carrying over for us on the field to be more consistent. The biggest thing we’ve been working on is, as soon as we step on that grass, whatever we’re doing we’re going fast and we’re paying close detail of how we want that thing done on a daily basis.”

The group’s primary responsibility is to pave the way for the running game and through two games, the Huskers are third in the Big Ten in rushing yards.

“Jack [Stoll] has been consistent all year, starting from game one, the Colorado game. He’s really paved some big holes for us on a lot of our bigs runs,” Beckton said. “He did it last week also. Austin Allen has really increased his productivity as far as the run game. I’d like to get those guys some more passes but that’s going to come. If those continue to work and continue to block like they have this far, the pass game is going to come to them.”

The tight ends have only seen five targets come their way, four of which have been caught. One of those catches, a tough snag in traffic by Stoll against Troy, led to one of Nebraska’s three turnovers in that game as he tried to fight for extra yardage.

“That was the first play I showed to him on Monday as far as corrections,” Beckton said. “The biggest issue I had with him is he was trying to spin with the ball in his hands and ball-carriers shouldn’t spin — that’s been my motto as a receiving coach all my life, we shouldn’t spin. You spin, the ball’s coming loose from your body. We just showed him that and we worked drills to try to fix it … [I've] harped on that this week, carrying the ball high and tight and running through defenders instead of spinning.”

Beckton said ball security has been a big focus in practice this week after the Huskers gave the ball away three times in each of the first two games.

As for Allen, he threw a key block on a handful of Nebraska’s big plays against the Trojans and has established himself as the No. 2 guy behind Stoll early in the season, even though he hasn’t seen a ball thrown his way yet.

“He’s performed well pretty much all year this year,” Beckton said. “His detail needs to increase and pick up, which I’ve seen improvement in every week. The biggest thing for him is his strength levels have gotten better so his confidence is a lot better, much more improved. He’s a big target; we’re going to use him in some ways. We tried to do one thing down in the red zone last week with him to get him the ball. They covered it but there’s always going to be wrinkles in for all the guys on offense to make things work for us.”

The other redshirt freshman in the room, Kurt Rafdal, is third in snaps but has made the most of them by catching both of the balls thrown his way for gains of 14 and 26 yards.

“He’s a natural route-runner,” Beckton said. “I’ve said that since day one, since laying my eyes on him watching him work out there. He’s a natural route-runner. He’s been trained extremely well growing up. He’s got soft hands. The big thing for him is being more consistent in all phases, understanding the playbook a little bit better. That’s one of the reasons those guys — Austin and Jack — are ahead of him right now. But he’s pulling up the gap really, really quickly and I expect you guys to see him more on the field. He’s earned the reps.”

Stoll, Allen and Rafdal are the three tight ends who should see significant playing time all season, but a fourth made his debut against the Trojans as true freshman Cameron Jurgens checked into the game in a specific package as a blocker after sitting out against Colorado.

“I have three guys that’s playing ahead of him right now,” Beckton said. “I’m going to continue to build packages and get him some playing time at the tight end spot. He’s got a natural skill set as far as a run blocker. He’s very tenacious, has very good fundamentals as far as stepping and then explosion through his hips. there’s going to be some packages for him to get him not he field a little bit more so us as a unit on offense can keep the chains moving.”

Beckton expected some growing pains early with a position group featuring nothing but underclassmen, but he said his group is right on schedule after two games.

“We’re right on track with what we want to do here with our tight ends,” Beckton said. “At UCF, we had some guys that could really run and they were more pass-catchers. I think the guys here have exceeded my expectations as far as being route-runners. We’ve had some pass plays where we just didn’t get the ball; they were open. They quarterback went through their reads and he had a competition somewhere else. Those balls can start coming to them, and the objective is when they do come, they’ve got to make plays. Those guys continue to work.”

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