Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore dropped an interesting tidbit tonight on "Sports Nightly", announcing that Mike McNeill will move to wide receiver this spring. McNeill will like up in the slot in a role similar to Dallas Clark, who has become Peyton Manning's favorite receiver with the Indianapolis Colts. Gilmore talked very highly of the move in his interview on the Husker Sports Network, saying it's a full time move and not a hybrid receiver/tight end position.
"Mike has very competitive hands, and he’s a good route runner. I don’t question his toughness. And I think Mike runs as well as some of the guys we’ve had in terms of big-bodied receivers. It’ll be a little more running than he’s used to, but we’ll get him there.
"Here’s a guy who’s played a lot of ball for us. When you’re trying to create more competition, I think I’ll have a lot of guys looking at it and saying, ‘This guy could potentially take my job if I don’t handle my business."
This move says two things about the relative depth at each position. Last spring, we knew that Nebraska was loaded at tight end, and as the season went on, Husker fans knew that Nebraska went four-deep at that position. Ben Cotton was a talented freshman. Kyler Reed was a solid blocker who also showed deceptive speed in the spring game. Dreu Young is a punishing blocker as well. Then add in incoming junior college transfer Chase Harper, and you've got a logjam at tight end.
On the other hand, wide receiver was an inconsistent position at best last season for the Huskers. Niles Paul made big plays last season, but also had some spectacular failures at times as well. Brandon Kinnie came on strong late in the season. But after that, it's a bit of a muddled mess. Curenski Gilleylen had a solid September, but played his way onto the scout team in October. He got some snaps in the Holiday Bowl, but couldn't keep his footing.
Even though Mike McNeill was Nebraska's second leading receiver, catching 28 passes in 2009, he disappeared at times last season as Nebraska adapted to power formations and concentrated on blocking. Moving McNeill out wide gives the Nebraska offense flexibility to add a proven deep threat on the field, yet be able to provide solid blocking in the running game. It's thinking outside the box and can pay off multiple ways. Who wants to be the safety who has to try to cover him... especially if he throws a block on the perimeter.
His presence at receiver also sends a message to the rest of the receivers that they have additional competition for playing time. We know Paul is going to be on the field most of the time. Kinnie is going to be a serious contributor as well. If you are Gilleylen or Antonio Bell, you are going to need to fight for playing time.
Nebraska is going to be just fine at tight end in 2010. Moving McNeill to receiver brings additional experience and proven production to a position that lacked it last season. Spring is a time to experiment...and this move opens up all sorts of intriguing possibilities.