Tight end is an evolving position in football. The lumbering blocker making a catch through heavily-taped hands is a thing of the past. Starting with Tony Gonzalez and running through to Rob Gronkowski, the tight end now has the potential to provide matchup nightmares for opposing defenses and become a powerful offensive weapon. So let’s take a look at how Nebraska is set at tight end for 2012.
The top of the line is strong
Nebraska has two senior tight ends in 2012, making the unit one of the deepest in the B1G. ESPN ranks Nebraska’s wide receiver/tight end unit as second best in the conference. Kyler Reed is Nebraska’s home run threat at tight end, making his breakout in 2010 with 22 receptions for 395 yards and eight (!) touchdowns. Included in that haul was a 79-yard reception against Kansas State, his career best.
But in 2011, Reed became less of a focus in the offense. He only appeared in 12 games, and only started in four. He was limited to 15 receptions for 257 yards and one touchdown.
The slack in terms of field time was taken up by Nebraska’s other senior tight end, Ben Cotton. In 2011, Cotton played and started in 11 games until an injury cost him time. Cotton has not been as prolific a receiver as Reed, hauling in 22 catches for 166 yards and one touchdown for his career. But he is bigger than Reed by three inches and 25 pounds, and that size difference may explain why Cotton saw more of the field in 2011 than Reed.
After the seniors, Nebraska has only one experienced player
Once you get past Reed and Cotton, the only tight end on Nebraska’s roster with any game experience is Jake Long. A junior, Long has appeared in 16 games in his career, starting in two of them. He has one reception, a 17-yard grab in 2010 against Colorado.
After the top three, Nebraska is young and inexperienced
Past the top three, Nebraska’s tight end depth thins out considerably. Senior Conor McDermott has not appeared in a game. Redshirt freshmen Eddie Ridder and Jake Sutton will have their first year of eligibility to play in 2012. And Nebraska has one tight end recruit in its 2013 class, Greg Hart from Dayton, OH.
For 2012, Nebraska is loaded at tight end. Cotton is ranked number 7 and Reed number 9 as 2013 NFL draft prospects by NFLDraftScout.com. Having that abundance of talent at tight end is a luxury, one that offensive coordinator Tim Beck will hope to take advantage of, while avoiding the return of the Mike McNeil disappearance syndrome that plagued Reed’s 2011 production.
But after 2012, Nebraska’s tight end depth drops off considerably. Long will be the heir apparent given his history, but look for Ridder, Sutton and perhaps even Hart to get a chance to prove themselves and earn playing time next season.
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