Logjam at tight end gives young Huskers opportunities to shine

“The room is up for grabs,” Nebraska tight end David Sutton said, “... and now it's time for some people to step up because there's definitely some positions open in the room.”


During the past three seasons, four tight ends have caught passes for Nebraska.

Three of those were in NFL camps this preseason and the other was watching Husker practices from a scooter on the sideline last week.

Reason for panic?

Not so much, David Sutton said.

“We're a very confident group,” NU's sophomore tight end said. “I don't feel like there will be a drop-off at all.”

A Husker offense getting comparisons to some of the school's all-time bests is sure hoping not.

The position has been as solid as they come the past few years.

Kyler Reed caught at least 20 balls in two of the past three seasons and left NU with 11 career touchdown grabs (including eight as a sophomore in 2010).

Ben Cotton, also a senior in 2012, emerged as a threat, totaling 32 catches the past two years.

The only Husker tight end who returns with a single grab is senior Jake Long, a former walk-on. And even he hasn't been in the mix, missing fall practices with an undisclosed injury, though Husker coach Bo Pelini said Saturday that Long is ahead of schedule and would be ready for game week.

Add it all up and it's what Sutton sees as an opportunity.

“There's a ton of competition out there,” he said. “Everyone is competing for a spot. The room is up for grabs … and now it's time for some people to step up because there's definitely some positions open in the room.”

That may begin with Sutton.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder out of Lincoln Southeast is NU's lone tight end with health and experience right now.

Sutton played in all three nonconference home games as a redshirt freshman in 2012. None of those came with much pressure, though. Nebraska won the three games by a combined 164-40.

After injuries to Long and walk-on Jared Blum — whom offensive coordinator Tim Beck said was working with the top units — Sutton and a couple of freshmen saw their learning curve go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye.

“It's definitely accelerated the process,” Sutton said. “When you have older guys go down and people get thrown into the fire and they're expected to learn ... it's definitely sped up the process of a lot of the younger guys. It's great for us to get a lot of reps because we definitely need it.”

He picked up “the little things” from Reed and Cotton. Footwork. Getting out in routes. Different releases.

Sutton said he likes to think of himself as a “right down the middle” type of tight end.

“I like to think of myself (as) a guy that likes to stick his nose in there and that can block and also get up in routes and catch a lot of passes,” he said. “For the two years that I was here with them (Reed and Cotton), I felt like I picked up a lot and it's stuff that I've been able to put into my repertoire.”

Former Lincoln Southeast teammates Sam Cotton and Trey Foster are also in the mix for playing time. With the experience thin at the position, the Southeast trio is getting more than their share of reps this fall.

“We're giving everybody opportunities,” Beck said.

That also includes Cethan Carter, a 6-5, 240-pound true freshman out of Louisiana. Beck mentioned Carter last week when discussing who could be in line for snaps at tight end.

“He's had a great camp so far,” Sutton said. “He's a great route runner.”

The same day last week that coach Bo Pelini announced Blum's season-ending injury, he was asked about Sutton's role in the offense.

“That's up to David,” Pelini said. “Guys who earn the playing time are the guys you're going to see out there.

“He does some good things. He's got the skills. He's had a lot of reps because we've had some tight ends nicked up, so he's had a lot of opportunities and he's got to make the most of it. It's just a matter of bringing it every down and being consistent in what we're asking him to execute.”

Sutton understands that, too. And he realizes there is plenty of work still ahead.

“You're always going to need to keep improving on things,” Sutton said. “I feel like I've come a long way in the blocking game and I still need to (improve), and definitely in the receiving aspect, too. It's just fun to come out here every day and keep getting better.”

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