As we wait for the Purdy decision, I thought I could go ahead and put out a preview for 2022 at the best offensive position group with possibly the best coach on staff. For years I was so frustrated with how underutilized our TEs were, because I knew we had good players. And we have for decades at this position. I think back to Cethan Carter and just how athletic that guy was for a TE. The train hasn’t stopped in Nebraska and surrounding areas.
First let me start with the fact that Nebraska’s recruiting radius has produced the most talent at the TE position of any other position in the geography. Guys like Casey Sayles (2 time captain at Ohio), Noah Fant, Austin Allen, and now James Carnie, Chris Hickman, AJ Rollins, and Thomas Fidone. You have a really good kid committed from Pierce named Ben Brahmer for the 2023 class. And even have guys like Helms who is heading to Oklahoma and Riley-Ducker who is heading to Auburn among the TEs you can choose from. Quite literally your position room could be full of guys that grew up within 50 miles of where you play football many times. And the results are speaking to that. How many times have we heard we just need better recruits in Nebraska? With TE we really don’t, Noah Fant was from Omaha, drafted. Austin Allen from Aurora, will get drafted and was 1st team All-B1G. Thomas Fidone while in Council Bluffs, that is basically east Omaha and grew up a lifelong Nebraska fan. He was the #1 TE recruit in the entire country.
So what’s ahead for 2022?
Not only do we have local flavor to get us right at TE, but our probably starter next year is Travis Vokolek who transferred in from Rutgers. While we lose Austin Allen which will be crushing, a guy like Vokolek can at least step in to bring some veteran knowledge to a group that is extremely talented but very youthful.
The loss of Allen really can’t be minimized. Besides being first team all-conference, he many times was our safety valve on third downs when we didn’t know what to do. We would run him over the middle and just throw it high to him where he could reach over for the first.
Pro scouts were drooling over Allen for the past two years. But quite honestly Vokolek had some of the same talk points while he waited his turn with Jack Stoll here. However, Allen just took his game to another level and Vokolek I still feel is waiting. Maybe that can happen when he becomes “the man” this year.
You also return Chancellor Brewington, a 6’3″ 185 pound WR that they converted to TE when the position group got thin with injuries. While i’m not sure he’s a long term answer here, the niche Frost/Lubick carved out for him on the goalline really made him tough to defend. He either was running full speed at you to kick out the edge setter, or faked the block and took off to the endzone to catch the pass. I will be curious to see what transpires with him in 2022.
Before I get into the young guns… I do want to bring up the fact that Lubick loved using TEs. He loved designing gameplans where the TE was #1 on the options for the QB in many instances (evidenced by Allen). Will that change much with Whipple taking over as OC? Quite frankly I imagine it will a little. While I have high hopes for Vokolek and young guys, I don’t know if they will be on Allen’s level in 2022.
But let’s get into it, the first young guy with some snaps is Chris Hickman. The Omaha Burke native is going to be an interesting one this coming year as well. In high school you could split him out or line him up at TE, but he’s somewhat of a tweener. You saw on the goalline that they started using Brewington instead of him, and he only had 7 targets on the season that amounted to 3 catches for 90 yards. It’s going to be a pivotal season for Hickman, he has to either assert himself or risk being passed up by the next guys i’m going to mention.
Let’s talk Thomas Fidone. Again, a near 5 star prospect according to Rivals and the #1 TE recruit in the entire country is sitting as a redshirt freshman chomping to play. He had a setback early while tearing his knee, so they did not want to rush him back with guys like Allen and Vokolek around. But make no mistake, they are already trying to find ways to get this kid on the field. The question will really be if he’s fully healthy from the injury. Many times it’s not physical but mental. I do think we may see him overtake the H-back role like what Brewington was doing if he’s able to. Vokolek as the true TE and Fidone creating some mismatches from the H-back spot.
I also need to mention Nate Boerkicher, who came in the game as a redshirt freshman from Aurora a few times this year. His task will be fending off the next guy I talk about, but can he carve our a consistent role as our #3 TE and get some work on Saturdays? He got a lot of work due to the injuries this room saw, but many times that’s all a kid needs to breakout and prove they can do it.
James Carnie was the other TE that was brought in with Fidone, who went to school just south of Memorial Stadium at Norris. I actually have pretty high hopes for this kid, I think he’s pretty impressive in terms of athleticism and knowing the position. For those that don’t remember his recruitment, Nebraska was all in on Fidone, and had already offered AJ Rollins out of Creighton Prep, so numbers were tight. They told Carnie they needed to show visible improvement on a few things his first few games of his senior season, then they’d re-evaluate. He put 3 or 4 games on hudl, sent it to the coaches, was offered the beginning of October, and took less than a week to pull the trigger. Those are the stories you love. And quite frankly he’s already ahead of the kid they had committed in front of him from what I hear. The question will be is the room too stacked right now? It may be in 2022, but once Vokolek leaves I think he’s a good candidate to give breaks to Fidone.
You then of course have your 2022 commit at TE in Chase Androff out of Minnesota. When we missed on the two in-state 4 stars, this was somewhat of our fallback plan. It will be interesting, as many people stated we saw something from him and may move him to the OL, but he’s listed as a TE for now. The homestate school Minnesota didn’t offer, and he’s tough to read because his school just didn’t throw much. With a crowded room we have time to develop him and see which way things go.
With Lubick who prioritized TEs gone, and Austin Allen heading to the NFL, it’s tough for me to see the position having the same results in 2022. While we have a good veteran with some really good talent behind him, I’m not sure it’s in the cards. With that said, we will be starting a brand new QB in 2022 and the TE is considered a “safety blanket” many times for QBs who aren’t comfortable. They are closer to the ball at the snap which makes their routes and where they should be more predictable than someone lining up on the numbers like a wide receiver.
I’ll be watching a few things, first, Vokolek still looked hurt out there when i watched him. Either that or Allen was so far superior to him athletically it could be an issue. With that said I think TV just needed some time to rest. The next is if Fidone is fully healthy, if so he’s our #2 and going to be ready to roll. From there, do we still have Brewington at the goalline or do we give that to Fidone? Lastly, can Hickman assert himself? Or do guys like Carnie, Brewington, Boerkircher and others overtake him?
I’ll wait for Purdy’s decision then try to get out a QB preview next.
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