July 22, 2010

Fall camp preview: TEs offer variety of weapons

Last year, Nebraska had one of the best tight ends in the Big 12 Conference in Mike McNeill. McNeill is back for his senior season, but he still ended up leaving a big void to fill at his old position.

After McNeill moved from tight end to receiver this offseason, the rest of the Huskers' cast of young but talented tight ends all had to step up to help shoulder the load. Here's a look at how things stand for NU's tight ends as fall camp quickly approaches.

Biggest question: Who will replace McNeill

With McNeill moving out to his new "adjuster" receiver position, Nebraska loses one of its most productive tight ends in recent memory. While the Huskers appear to have plenty of depth in line to fill his shoes, someone is going to have to emerge from the rest of the pack and become the go-to guy. Senior Dreu Young has by far the most experience of the unit, but injuries have limited his practice time and slowed his development on the field. Sophomores Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton have shown nice flashes early on in their careers, but neither have done enough to ease all of the concerns. Add in the fact that Reed was the only tight end to make it through spring ball without missing any time due to injury, and there is definitely still a lot to be proven in fall camp.

What we know right now: It will be handled by committee

Considering the wide variety of talents and abilities Young, Cotton and Reed possess, Nebraska has the luxury of mixing in all three in multiple offensive packages. Young has the build of the more traditional tight end, and his blocking is as good as anyone. Cotton has a great mix of size (6-6, 255) and athleticism that make him just as good of a receiving threat as he is a blocker. Then there's Reed, who probably benefited more than any tight end this spring because he was able to stay healthy. Reed's speed and talents as a receiver make him one of the more interesting players on the offense, as there's no telling how many different ways the coaching staff could come up with to utilize him this season.

Fresh fall camp faces: None

Nebraska lost out on a talented addition to its tight end corps when it was learned sophomore recruit Chase Harper would not be with the team this fall. With his absence, the Huskers won't have any notable newcomers joining the squad at the position. The good news is that tight end is currently one of the deepest on the team, so it isn't necessarily a big need to get younger this season.

Early camp prediction

Assuming they don't go through the same injury issues they did in the spring, Nebraska's tight ends should once again be one of the strengths of the offense, even with the loss of McNeill. What I'm anxious to see is how the role of the tight end changes in the game plan now that McNeill is out of the picture. The Huskers have an array of options to work with, so it will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Shawn Watson can cook up.

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