March 18, 2010

Huskers are deep and talented at tight end

SPRING PREVIEWS: QB l RB I WR is priming its subscribers for Nebraska's 2010 spring practice with a daily countdown of coverage.

Each day, will break down a different position and focus on what needs to be accomplished at that position over spring practice. We will also talk about other faces to watch at each position.

In addition, each day we'll feature one key veteran and one rising underclassman at all positions until spring practice gets underway. Today, we take a look at the tight end position.

Tight end
The contenders

The position coach:
Ron Brown, 23rd year at Nebraska

The frontrunner: Mike McNeill

Class: Senior

Size: 6-4, 240

Early take: After a breakout sophomore season, Mike McNeill's numbers took a noticeable slide last year.

Though he still ranked second on the team with 28 catches for 259 yards and four touchdowns, his production fell far short of the expectations many - including himself - had for him coming in.

The extra attention he received from opposing defenses may have had something to do with it, as Nebraska's lack of a go-to threat at wide receiver made it easier for teams to key on him in the passing game.

However, with a more experienced receiving corps to help his cause, McNeill could be in store for the type of season everyone predicted a year ago.

The challenger: Dreu Young

Class: Senior

Size: 6-4, 250

Early take: As a fifth-year senior, Dreu Young brings solid experience to the table and will enter the spring as McNeill's top back-up. Young got off to a slow start last season after missing nearly all of fall camp and the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette with a back injury.

He was still able to make an impact, playing in 12 games and making eight starts and showing some flashes of big play potential, hauling catches of 34 and 28 yards. This spring will be his chance to build off of that and potentially become more of a fixture in the offense.

The challenger: Ben Cotton

Class: Sophomore

Size: 6-6, 250

Early take: Physically, no Husker tight end looks more the part than sophomore Ben Cotton. With a blend of size, strength and speed, Cotton looks destined to see some solid playing time in one form or another this season.

He ended the year with some nice momentum, catching his first career touchdown pass in NU's regular season finale against Colorado. His biggest weakness is his inexperience, which he'll try to alleviate this spring by continuing to push Young for more reps as the No. 2 tight end.

The challenger: Kyler Reed

Class: Sophomore

Size: 6-3, 230

Early take: Sophomore Kyler Reed has become somewhat of a wildcard in Nebraska's tight end mix over the past two seasons. Because of his versatility as a receiver, Reed's role has shifted to more of an H-back in the Huskers' offense.

Reed showed glimpses of excelling in that role, especially a year ago in the Spring Game when he took a short pass 71 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. This spring, he'll be looking to take the next step and become a more consistent factor and provide a unique weapon in the passing game.

Other contenders: Junior Ryan Hill, sophomore Mychael McClure and redshirt freshman J.T. Kerr.

Early take: Despite being relatively buried in the depth chart, Ryan Hill has still managed to haul in a touchdown pass each of the past two seasons. His ability as a blocker has allowed him to get some scoring opportunities in the goal line package, and that should continue this season.

Mychael McClure is another nice receiving threat, and he should continue to develop his all-around skills this spring. After redshirting last season, the athletic J.T. Kerr will finally get a chance to work his way into the mix.

Spring prospectus: Tight end will once again be one of Nebraska's deepest positions this season, but some may argue the unit was somewhat under utilized last year. With the array of talents the tight ends bring to the table, the Huskers will likely continue to try and get them more involved. In particular, this spring could be the first step in getting guys like McNeill and Reed more involved in the pass offense.

What does the future hold?: McNeill is the obvious leader of the unit, but with Reed, Cotton, Kerr and McClure all still coming into their own, the Huskers have some quality talent to groom for the next few years. This spring will be another golden opportunity for some of the younger guys to continue to progress and earn more playing time down the road, if not this season, then for the following years to come.

Key veteran
Dejon Gomes

Position: Cornerback

Class: Senior

Size: 6-0, 190

The skinny: Displaying a knack for making big plays in clutch situations, Dejon Gomes emerged as one of Nebraska's top defensive players down the stretch at nickel back. Because of the spread offenses Big 12 Conference teams predominantly used, Gomes was essentially a starter for the bulk of the season, and this year likely won't be any different.

The final word: Gomes' physicality and ability to come up on the line of scrimmage to play the run make him a perfect fit at the nickel, and there's no reason to expect he'll move away from the position this year. Matched with the Huskers' already deep and talented secondary, Gomes should only continue to thrive as defensive playmaker.

Rising underclassmen
Brandon Kinnie

Position: Wide receiver

Class: Junior

Size: 6-3, 215

The skinny: Brandon Kinnie took a while to get settled into Nebraska's offense, but by the end of the year he had established himself as the No. 2 wide out next to Niles Paul. His size and impressive hands make him a nice asset as a possession receiver, though he has shown the ability to stretch the field as well.

The final word: Kinnie's development could play a big part in the helping continue to revive the Huskers' passing game, which was almost non-existent for a good stretch of last season. If he can find a way to perfect his route running, Kinnie could become the third-down threat NU has been looking for since the departures of Nate Swift and Todd Peterson.

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