There are two things that we heard a lot of heading into last year. One was that Mike Riley loved to use the tight end. The other was that Cethan Carter was due to finally live up to his physical gifts. Well, Carter got suspended for the first game (and then the next one), David Sutton took the mother of all cheap-shots against BYU, and suddenly both of those things were put on hold.
But Carter returned for the Miami game, and while he didn't initially set the world ablaze, and he showed spurts of his old dropsy form, Carter eventually found his stride and was widely considered the breakout performer of 2015. Upon his return, snared 24 receptions for 329 yards (plus a 32-yard rushing touchdown against Rutgers). Carter caught a ball in 10 of his 11 starts, including seven multi-catch games. But his best performance might have been in the only contest in which he didn't notch a reception. Against Michigan State's battery of edge rushers, Carter sealed the perimeter all night in the Huskers' upset win over the Spartans.
Carter's dominance on the edge against Michigan State's defense was indicative of what appeared to be an increase in physicality midway through the year. I'm not sure how or why the light suddenly clicked on, but you could see that aggression in Carter's violently powerful touchdown run against Rutgers. There was never any doubt about his physical skills. It was a matter of him putting it all together, in addition finding coaches who trusted him. If Carter maintains or builds upon his performance from the second half of last season, not only will the Husker offense be in a great position to click, Carter could find himself high on draft boards. There was no more impressive player on the Huskers' roster at the end of last season.
In an offense that wants to use the tight end, Carter should, and hopefully will, have company. Old hands Sam Cotton and Trey Foster will also be seniors, and they have been reliable, if not flashy, splashes of depth. The man everyone will be eyeing this season will be Matt Snyder. Mike Riley's first big accomplishment in Lincoln was beating out Jim Harbaugh for Snyder's services. His high school tape was impressive, and rumor was that he was chomping at the bit to play last season. With his long and still-to-be-developed frame, it made sense for the coaching staff to redshirt him. If Snyder fulfills his promise, that gives the Huskers another dangerous offensive weapon in this unit alongside Carter.
Beyond Carter, Snyder, Cotton and Foster, there is a lot of homegrown walk-on cannon fodder that would love to see the field, but likely never will. It will be interesting to follow the career of David Engelhaupt, the Huskers' late-cycle addition to the recruiting class from Norfolk Catholic. He is a high-caliber athlete, but like Snyder, probably even moreso, Engelhaupt will benefit from a redshirt year to get him ready for the the gigantic leap from high school Class C-1 to collegiate D-I. He and fellow newcomer Jack Stoll could be a solid pairing in the future.
In any case, this could be a fun unit to watch this season, particularly the end of the career of Carter and the beginning stages of Snyder's run. Their performance will go a long way in determining the Husker offense's success.
David Sutton: Graduation
|11||Cethan Carter||TE||6-4||240||Sr.||New Orleans, La. (Archbishop Rummel)|
|84||Sam Cotton||TE||6-5||250||Sr.||Lincoln, Neb. (Southeast)|
|42||Trey Foster||TE||6-2||250||Sr.||Lincoln, Neb. (Southeast)|
|88||Tyler Hoppes||TE||6-4||240||Jr.||Lincoln, Neb. (Wayne State) (Southwest)|
|89||Connor Ketter||TE||6-4||245||Jr.||Norfolk, Neb. (Catholic)|
|41||Luke McNitt||TE||6-2||240||Jr.||Kearney, Neb. (Nebraska-Kearney) (Kearney)|
|85||Matt Snyder||TE||6-5||255||RFr.||San Ramon, Calif. (California)|
|David Engelhaupt||TE||6-3||230||Fr.||Norfolk, Neb. (Catholic)|
|Branden Hohenstein||TE||6-4||205||Fr.||Jackson, Neb. (Bishop Heelan)|
|Jack Stoll||TE||6-4||235||Fr.||Lone Tree, Colo. (Regis Jesuit)|
Looking Ahead to 2016:
Cethan Carter. Cethan Carter. Cethan Carter. Oh, and Matt Snyder, too.
If those two can live up to their potential, this could potentially be the top unit on the roster. The toughest competition for that title might come from Keith Williams' wide receiving corps. Nonetheless, that diversity of weapons for Tommy Armstrong could help bump him up into a different performance level this season. It also could bump Tavita Thompson into a full-time coaching role.