Tight end is a tricky position, especially at a place as traditionally “run-first” as Nebraska. Most of the Huskers’ great tight ends have been known for their blocking ability rather than their receiving ability (save for Junior Miller). Rightfully so, as blocking is every bit as important to tight ends as receiving is. That said, Nebraska’s recent history at the position can be summed up in two words: untapped potential.
I am talking more so with Kyler Reed and Cethan Carter. Both were outstanding physical specimens at the position. More along the lines of Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates than Jason Witten or Dallas Clark (that would be Mike McNeill and Ben Cotton, recently). Both were underutilized. Neither reached 400 yards within a season. Last to do so was McNeill in 2008, and before that, Matt Herian in 2003.
Most of the time, the offensive scheme can be blamed. Tight ends in the option aren’t receivers. But in Mike Riley’s system? How did Carter only have 19 catches in ten games his senior year?
I’m off my soap box now, because I think there are some guys on this roster that can change that.
Notice freshmen is plural here. Five of the top tight ends on the Huskers roster will be freshmen this season, with just two of them being redshirts. Austin Allen was a three-star tight end prospect from Nebraska and his teammate, Kurt Rafdal, was also a three-star prospect.
Allen is listed at 6-foot-8 and Rafdal is 6-foot-7. Both are natural blockers who will need to improve their rout running but can be effective. I believe Allen in particular will prove to be useful for the Husker offense.
On the true freshmen side of things we have two receivers in tight end bodies: Katerian LeGrone and Justin McGriff. LeGrone was a three-star prospect and was committed to UCF at one time. Upon arriving in Lincoln, Coach Frost wasted no time flipping him to the Cornhuskers. He’s shorter than the others, but has enough body to bully safeties, but maintaining enough athleticism to outrun linebackers in coverage.
McGriff, on the other hand, has been primarily working with receivers throughout spring training, but if he can get enough size into his 6-foot-6 frame, he could become a monster tight end.
His high school stats don’t jump off the page, but one thing that does: McGriff, literally. His athleticism is off the charts and it doesn’t hurt that he also played basketball in high school. Same as LeGrone, McGriff flipped from UCF to Nebraska throughout recruitment.
The last freshmen on the team might be my favorite: Cameron Jurgens. A four-star athlete coming out of Beatrice, Nebraska, Jurgens was a three-sport star and played both tight end and linebacker very well in high school.
He is one of the highest-rated recruits to come out of the state of Nebraska in the last decade or more. His 6-foot-4, 245 pound frame leaves the sky as the limit. Slated to play tight end, Jurgens could also move to linebacker if he loses some of his speed from an unfortunate season-ending injury in the final game of the regular season.
Unfortunately, the only tight end on the roster with a career catch is Jack Stoll, who only has eight of them. However, I would consider him a step ahead of all the first-year guys. Not only does he have experience, but late in the season last year, Stoll came on and proved that he could be a solid player given his chance. He’s getting it now, and all signs from tight ends coach Sean Beckton point to him taking his opportunity.
Among those who could also see some playing time are former fullback Bo Kitrell and the 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior Matt Snyder. The roster is rounded out with David Engelhaupt, Branden Hohenstein and Bryson Krull.
What’s Gonna Happen to My Fullback?
“The fullback is probably not a position – as long as they want us here at Nebraska – that will be a position,” said Huskers running back coach Ryan Held.
In other words, gone are the days of Tom Rathman, Joel Makovicka, Cory Schlesinger and Andy Janovich. In coach Frost’s offense, tight ends take over anything a fullback will need to do.
So where does that leave the fulllbacks on the roster? Both Austin Rose and Austin Hemphill would likely be relegated to special teams no matter the offense, but LES-t we forget who else is on the roster? Ben Miles, the son of former LSU Mad Hatter, was a three-star prospect and second overall fullback in the country. His position has now been dissolved and, like with Rose and Hemphill, all signs point to him having to make it on special teams to get his playing time.
In memory of the fullback position and the Nebraska greats that carry it, here’s a couple of my favorites:
Next week: The Nebraska pipeline has looked weak in for the past decade. Can it get to full strength again?