I realize that spring practice has started, so maybe "preview" isn't so appropriate anymore, but that's okay. I'm going to maintain consistency, and get through the rest of the units anyway. I'll just add in information about each unit as practice goes on.
Much like the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, everyone returns, so the same theory applies - same guys, only better. Does that sound like a good spring or fall theme for the offense? A cynic would say that 2009's offense was so bad there's only one direction it could go, and they'd be right (as cynics often are), but this is spring and it's time to be more upbeat about things.
The biggest news so far this spring is Mike McNeill's switch from tight end to wide receiver. I stated earlier that this was an apparent signal that McNeill is a valuable commodity that the Husker coaching staff wants to see on the field as much as possible. One might consider things from the tight ends' perspective, however, perhaps the coaching staff feels that the tight ends without McNeill are capable of doing their jobs.
McNeill accumulated more stats than the other four tight ends combined. That might leave one to believe that the tight end group was not nearly as productive as they should have been. The truth is that tight ends were asked to do a lot of blocking last season, typically to help out Nebraska's tackles, who struggling against opposing defensive ends. Dreu Young started nine games, yet had only five receptions on the season.
Ryan Hill didn't start a game, but scored Nebraska's only touchdown in a 10-3 win against Oklahoma, that coming off a play-action from the Oklahoma one while the Huskers were in a three-tight end set. The play yielded only a yard, but you wouldn't want to give that TD back, would you? Thus the importance of a bunch of good tight ends.
Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton are sophomores, so clearly their best years are still ahead of them. Both showed considerable talent in last year's Red-White Spring game, and each started one game in 2009, with Reed earning our "Who's That Guy" award after catching the ball near the sideline and outrunning the defense for a 71-yard TD.
Despite the constant talk about their talent and Nebraska spending half the season running a conservative offense, tight ends weren't given a lot of pass-catching opportunities last year. Of 210 total completions, only 46 were to the tight ends.
Chase Harper is the lone tight end commit coming in next season. Harper comes from Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, TX, with three years to play three. Harper is a big guy and at 6'5", 230 pounds. Basically what you're looking for from JUCO guys is the ability to play immediately, but with other talented tight ends ahead of him, where does Harper fit?
2009 vs 2010
Fans might be wondering why the coaching staff brought in a highly-talented JUCO tight end when the Huskers already have tight ends aplenty. Shawn Watson loves to emphasize the word "multiple" in his offense so that will include the power running formation with a fullback and three tight ends. Dontrayevous Robinson has gained over 20 pounds, coming in at around 230 now. Harper will make a nice fit in that situation, making sure that Nebraska picks up all the third -and-two plays they have next season.
The big difference this season - McNeill is a better receiver than blocker and moves to a position where he can make the most of it. Nebraska gains a better potential blocker in Chase Harper. For the rest , a year of on-field experience should have them being better blockers and receivers than in 2009. Now, if only someone would get them the ball more often.