According to tight ends coach Sean Beckton, after nine spring practices, his position group is “coming around.”
“We’re throwing a lot at these guys and for the most part they’ve retained a lot of information,” Beckton said. “The biggest thing we’re trying to get these guys is our tempo, play hard all the time. We’re not quite there but we’re closer than we were starting out in the spring.”
The Huskers got a break from the Hawks Championship Center on Thursday as the weather allowed the team to practice in Memorial Stadium for the first time this spring. While the team got a lot accomplished during winter workouts, the collective stamina of the time isn’t quite where it will need to be to run Scott Frost’s system.
“I thought those guys came out today, being in the stadium for the first time in the spring, and gave us really good effort there,” Beckton said. “I didn’t see a lot of guys really loafing around out there. One of the things we want to do is as soon as we step in that stadium it’s gameday, and we saw that early on. We kind of tapered off at the end; we have to learn how to finish and really push through. That’s a lot of conditioning that we have to get done in the offseason but those guys went out and worked extremely hard. Offensively, they really made some plays towards the end of practice.”
On Tueaday, Coach Scott Frost said they’re getting to the point in spring ball where a depth chart is starting to emerge and reps are beginning to get divvied up accordingly. However, Beckton said he’s still sorting through that tight ends group that brings such little experience to the table.
“The biggest thing for us is to put these guys in stressful situations throughout practice,” Beckton said. “Those guys don’t know who’s going to be up per series; I’m rotating guys because I’m still trying to figure out, as a coaching staff we’re still trying to figure out who can help us to start the season off. So right now, Jack Stoll may be at one, then in the next group he may be at the three spot and Kurt Rafdal may move up to the one. I’m keeping those guys’ heads in it because right now we’re trying to find guys. I want those guys to compete against each other and perform at a high level. Right now, those guys are doing well with that.”
Jack Stoll, the only one of the group who has caught a ball at the collegiate level, has emerged as the leader of the pack but the picture is wide open after him.
“All those guys are really working hard,” Beckton said. “Austin Allen’s doing really well, David Engelhaupt, even one of the walk-ons, Branden Hohenstein, is doing a pretty good job. We’re really trying to build some depth there, trying to really find the guys that are going to fit what we’re trying to do and they’re all progressing really well right now.”
Stoll arrived in Lincoln more as a true in-line tight end than a field-stretching receiver, but Beckton said he’s actually been impressed by Stoll’s progress in that regard. While he’s not yet where they want him to be, “he really has stood out amongst the rest of the tight ends.”
“He’s always been a tenacious blocker with attitude, and he brings that to our offense,” Beckton said. “The biggest thing for him is adjusting to being more of a receiver and he’s doing extremely well there. We’re really excited where he is; he’s understanding how to maneuver underneath coverage and catch the ball down field. He’s going to be a big threat for us this year.”
Physical ability aside, Beckton said Stoll has started to take on a leadership role despite being just a redshirt sophomore. In fact, Beckton wants to see even more out of him in that regard.
“He’s the leader of the tight end group,” Beckton said. “I want him to be a little more active as far as leading the offense, helping to lead the offense as a unit — getting on guys, encouraging guys and making sure that everybody’s playing with maximum effort. He’s stepped his game up as far as being a leader of the tight end crew.”
Allen and fellow redshirt freshman Kurt Rafdal, at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7, respectively, bring a unique dynamic to the offense that the coaches didn’t have available to them in Orlando. Jordan Akins was Central Florida’s tallest and most productive tight end, and he is only 6-foot-4.
“The length that they bring; we’re really, really trying to refine those guys to really maneuver versus underneath coverage,” Bekcton said. “Once they really, completely learn — they’re probably like 80 percent to where I want them right now. To understand, if they maneuver off a flat defender or a linebacker underneath, they’re big bodies; the quarterback’s going to be able to throw them open. They’re working hard and I’m really, really impressed with where they are right now.”
Perhaps the progress of the group can be attributed to a great head start the Huskers got after winter conditioning but prior to the start of spring ball. The coaches threw the whole playbook at the team and sent them on their way.
Well, they weren’t totally alone. There was one player who knew what he was doing.
“The good thing we had was Noah Vedral that came this year,” Beckton said. “He knew the offense inside and out. Twice a week, they would get out their on their own as a team, do things on their own, and Noah kind of led it and kind of directed it. The quarterbacks had scripts, made scripts on their own, and then they just led those guys out there. A lot of the stuff they’ve already been through before we actually really started, on their own. That’s the commitment these guys have. We can’t be out there with them so they’ve done some stuff on their own to kind of get them up to speed.”
That practice time with Vedral plus plenty of tape from Central Florida games to study set the group up to get off to a running start once spring began.
“I was impressed with how much they knew on the first day of spring,” Beckton said. “When we gave them an opportunity to go out there, most of them did it on their own and it showed up. They were way ahead of where we thought they would be.”