LINCOLN — As much as Nebraska spread the football around in spring practice, Husker tight ends didn't lack the chance to catch it.
That extended into the Red-White scrimmage Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Jake Long caught a 45-yard pass on the fourth play from scrimmage. Sam Cotton and Trey Foster combined for three receptions on the following series. Then David Sutton hauled in a 17-yard TD midway through the second quarter.
“We've been working on those plays all spring ball,” Long said. “And it just kind of worked out that we got the ball.”
NU's biggest question mark on offense looms at the position where the Huskers lost veterans Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, along with Conor McDermott. And other than Long, Nebraska headed into spring practice with almost no experience at the position.
But maybe Saturday was another step in easing some of those concerns.
“I've said those guys have been improving all along,” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “And part of this game — although entertaining as it is — it was still a chance for us to evaluate, and that's what I wanted to see today. I wanted to see how those guys would perform in situations, and trying to get them the ball and (see) how they're going to be.”
Beck mostly knows what he's got at receiver, where the Huskers return Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and others. But part of what made those receivers effective last season was the presence of Ben Cotton and Reed.
“I think the stronger tight end game you're going to have, the more it's going to open up those wideouts,” Beck said. “Obviously we can't let guys double Kenny and Quincy and Jamal. We've got to have some threat in the middle.”
It was there Saturday, and it helped as NU quarterbacks completed a combined 21 of 25 passes in the first half.
|HOFFMAN STARS AT SPRING GAME|
|Click to read more about 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman's star turn at the Husker spring game.|
Long broke free from linebacker Michael Rose as Ron Kellogg was scrambling and ran his catch down to the 6-yard line for the White team, which scored two plays later. Sam Cotton's first of two catches for the Red on the next possession went for 17 yards, but could have been more had Taylor Martinez's throw not required a leap for the grab.
The Huskers did, however, show some of the athleticism of Sam Cotton, a redshirt freshman who is the younger brother of Ben Cotton and the son of NU tight ends coach Barney Cotton.
Barney Cotton said the tight ends probably got help with their development from Martinez throwing a lot in spring practices. He felt that the tight ends took it to the field as they accounted for 11 receptions for 144 yards on Saturday, with Jared Blum's three catches matching Long and Sam Cotton.
“For the most part, it looks like they ran pretty good routes and caught what they should have caught,” Barney Cotton said.
Sutton getting into the mix also was a plus. The sophomore had been slow getting back from a hamstring injury suffered on the first day of spring practice, and Cotton said he cringed as Sutton ran the corner route and waited for the throw from Kellogg.
“That's probably the farthest he's run all spring,” Cotton said. “We've limited him to run blocking and little 5- or 6-yard routes.”
Sutton practiced some with the No. 2 offense last season and appeared in a few games. He said that gave him a chance to study Ben Cotton and Reed up close.
“I'm just trying to take everything that I've learned to the next step,” Sutton said.
The competition will be good as Sam Cotton, Foster and Blum also come along.
“They all had great springs,” Sutton said. “So I think as a position group we really grew. We're definitely better coming out of the spring than we were coming in.”
The 11 receptions were nice, but Barney Cotton said his final judgment of Saturday will come when he studies the blocking aspect, too. Sutton also said that will be huge for the tight ends as they prepare for the big defensive ends in the Big Ten next fall.
“Being a tight end here is still all about being physical, and you've got to be a great blocker before you're a great receiver,” Cotton said. “That's still the No. 1 priority here. But I think it was a good spring of improvement for all six or seven of those guys.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1042, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RKaipustOWH
* * *
• Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini:
• Video: NU's Taylor Martinez:
• Video: NU's C.J. Zimmerer:
• Video: Sights and sounds from Memorial Stadium:
• Video: Spring game time lapse at Memorial Stadium: