One of the more interesting positions to watch at Nebraska on offense this fall will be the tight end. There isn't any debate over the fact that tight ends haven't been involved much in Nebraska's passing game the last two season. The argument is why: what was the cause and what was the effect?
The common wisdom is that Tim Beck didn't want to use tight ends in the passing game, and that this was the cause. I argue that was the effect of the situation, not the cause. It's not a popular opinion, as the CornNation.com comment section shows. The primary evidence was Ty Peteranetz's 2013 interview with Beck:
CN: Would you say tight ends and fullbacks are becoming obsolete in college football?
TB: Absolutely. The game's become more athletic. It's almost basketball on grass. I think when you- back in the day- if when you think of it, all the way around: concussions. There are fewer practices. The NFL only has so many days in full pads. It's almost like, "No hitting with the head, no this, no that", no late hit, throw the guy out, protecting the players.Note that the question was whether tight ends were "becoming obsolete" - not that they "are obsolete". Why is this important? Well, let's first observe that Beck was talking about college football in general, not his preference. Let's also point out something that CornNation's Jon Johnston observed: Nebraska had 11 tight ends on the roster last season. Which raises the question: If Tim Beck really believed that tight ends weren't useful, why did he have eleven of them on the roster?
All these things that are developing, don't get me wrong, they're good things, but it shows the game is making a change to becoming less physical. They're trying to get it to be less physical by the rules and the regulations, again, for safety because guys are bigger, stronger, faster.
So it's turned in to more basketball on grass, and as schematics, if you have four legitimate wide receivers lined up, you have to cover ‘em, so you wanna have no help? Play what we call Cover Zero and there's nobody helping?
If your answer is that Beck is an idiot, let me remind you that Beck was hired by Urban Meyer as Ohio State's co-offensive coordinator. So try again.
So why didn't Beck throw the ball at tight ends the last two years? My answer is very simple after watching Nebraska's tight ends the last few years: the tight ends on Nebraska's rosters are better blockers than pass catchers. It's something I've mentioned a few times in my weekly post-game report cards, but apparently now it's controversial:
Bigger still would have been getting production out of the tight ends; I didn't expect that we'd miss Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed as much as we have. - UCLA 2013 Report CardLast season, Carter was hurt much of the season, which also played into his lack of involvement in the passing game. Even so, I've watched him drop way too many catchable balls during his time in Lincoln, especially in 2013. So it's crystal clear to me: Beck tried to get the ball to Nebraska's tight ends, but over time, targeted other, more reliable receivers. Why? Because completed passes are better than incomplete passes. The lack of passes to tight ends was a natural result of the ability of the tight ends, not a conspiracy, as some allege.
Freshman tight end Cethan Carter finally got untracked with a couple of nice catches. - South Dakota State 2013 Report Card
Still don't buy my argument? OK, let's look at 2012's statistics for tight ends:
- Kyler Reed: 24 catches, 357 yards
- Ben Cotton: 18 catches, 239 yards
- Jake Long: 6 catches, 55 yards
That's 48 catches by tight ends. In a Tim Beck offense. For comparison purposes, Mike Riley's tight ends at Oregon State caught 55 passes last season. Pretty comparable in my book. But then Reed and Cotton graduated, and Long was injured quite a bit in 2013. And while Nebraska had a good quantity of tight ends on the roster (and still does), they weren't terribly useful in the passing game. The sudden dropoff in tight end production has a very simple explanation: talent. And it's something that people aren't considering in their rush to blow raspberries at the previous staff.
It'll be interesting to see how Mike Riley uses Nebraska's tight ends this season. I stand by my statement in the spring game report card at CornNation.
But Mike Riley is going to learn what Tim Beck already figured out: while you can make a quarterback throw the ball to a tight end, you can't make him catch the ball. FWIW, Sam Cotton did have a nice catch. But this fall, it looks like it'll be up to Matt Snyder if a tight end is going to contribute in the passing game.