April 28, 2011

Spring grade out: Tight ends

As the Nebraska football team moves closer to the start of summer conditioning, HuskerOnline.com continues our daily position grade outs of where things are at out of spring ball. Today we breakdown the tight end position and the positives and the negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice and we also preview what lies ahead.

Other spring grades: QB | RB/FB | WR |

Overall spring grade: B+

It would be hard to find a better one-two punch at tight end than Nebraska has in juniors Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton. With Reed, the Huskers return their top receiving playmaker from last season, and expect to see him lineup even more in the slot to better create mismatches against opposing defenses in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system. Then you have Cotton, the prototypical blocking and receiving tight end who has elevated himself into a mainstay in the offense, especially in the running game. The only problem is there aren't any proven players behind those two to provide comfortable depth, which is really the only thing keeping this unit from getting an A grade.

Spring surprise: Ward's move from RB

There were several reasons why junior Lester Ward's move from running back to tight end this spring took many by surprise. Not only did Nebraska already have two proven tight ends, it also had serious depth issues at running back, and Ward was regarded as arguably NU's second or third best back coming into spring ball. Oh yeah, not to mention the fact that Ward had never played tight end before in his entire football career. It will be interesting to see if Ward stays at tight end heading into the season, especially if the Huskers' trio of freshman backs aren't able to pick up the offense quickly enough to see immediate playing time.

Question that still needs answered: Who will be the third guy?

There's a good chance Nebraska can get by all season with just Reed and Cotton handling the load at tight end, but what happens in the unfortunate event that one or even both suffer an injury at some point? On the side of caution, the Huskers need to find at least one more guy it can rely on to not only provide depth but also pick up where Reed and Cotton leave off should the have to miss time. Some players right now who could be that No. 3 are sophomore Jake Long, who played in three games last year as a redshirt freshman, and sophomore Robert Barry, who led the White team with four catches for 51 yards in the Spring Game.

What does the future hold at tight end?

Nebraska definitely looks to be set for the next two years with Reed and Cotton, and even more so if it can get a little more depth behind those two. Some guys who could work their way into the mix down the road are incoming freshman Max Pirman and greyshirt David Sutton. It looks like Pirman, a three-star recruit who was also recruited as a defensive end and linebacker, will start out at NU as a tight end. Sutton is a big-bodied kid with a lot of upside, so he'll be one to keep an eye on over the next couple years as well.

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