Heading into the 2022 season, tight end is the position I have the biggest concerns with. Gone from last years squad is first team all-conference TE Austin Allen. With that said, I really have no idea how Whipple is going to want to use this position group, so it may not matter as much as a position like OL or QB where they are necessities.
It’s important to remember that when Frost hired Lubick as offensive coordinator, one of the staples for Lubick was that he would have TEs as the first option in many passing concepts. The first couple years there was more of a “top down” passing scheme, so TEs may be the 3rd or 4th option when Walters was playing OC. How will Whipple use our guys? In 2021, Whipple’s 4th and 5th leading receiver at Pitt were TEs, but will we have the same caliber of players in our arsenal? Also, Whipple typically likes to use the TEs for quick motions to create confusion by the defense or unbalanced lines.
Travis Vokolek is almost certainly a lock for captain, and being in his 6th year of college football he is ready to take the reigns as the primary guy at his position. For those of you that may not remember, Vokolek is so athletic that when Nebraska was struggling to get a WR to step up, we would split Vokolek out at the goalline for jump balls. While that really pissed me off since I couldn’t believe a guy like Omar Manning wasn’t capable of that, it goes to how just how good he can be.
My worry for Vokolek is that he has been relatively beat up the more he needed to play for us. He was out the first few games of 2021, then sat out much of spring with an injury as well. With him being our most seasoned guy and potential captain, we have got to keep him healthy.
After Vokolek we have to figure out what we are going to do. Thomas Fidone, the #1 TE in the country and the 36th ranked overall recruit from the 2021 class has had 2 knee injuries since showing up last year, and he is poised to miss at least the beginning of the season. My money right now is with walk-on Nate Boerkircher being the second string guy in Ireland. He has impressed with his ability to get open, and is a much better blocker than you would expect for a second year guy.
You then have a guy like Chris Hickman from Omaha Burke, who has struggled to put on weight and in the B1G, it really limits what you can be as a TE if you aren’t able to play along the line. We started trying him in the motion/H-back role last year, and it just never came to fruition.
That is where Chancellor Brewington really started making his name known for Husker fans. He carved out a niche either being the kickout guy or bypassing for a pass in the endzone. But as we’ve discussed before, we will need guys who can do more of everything and not just certain things to be dangerous. Vokolek so far is really the only established guy for that so far.
AJ Rollins is another scholarship TE, and I actually wasn’t that happy with the commitment. He wanted to play basketball but we offered him, and when he really struggled to open his senior season he jumped on the offer after it was drug out a bit. I can tell you though that he has been much better to me in fall camp and this past spring than what I gave him credit for. While i’m not sure if that’s a byproduct of our lack of depth, I think he may be able to make a bit of a move.
Lastly we have James Carnie, a redshirt freshman from Norris, Nebraska on scholarship. I was actually pumped with this get, but it’s been a bit of a struggle so far. That’s to be expected as it is only his second year. I was just hoping he would push some of the other guys in front of him a bit more.
Someone from these guys needs to step up and give Whipple/Frost confidence in what they are able to do so we have the full playbook at our disposal. We also need to avoid the injury bug.
Then we have our 2022 TE class, where we grabbed Chase Androff from Minnesota. I don’t know what to think about that offer, as the home state school didn’t even offer him. And we also have Brodie Tagaloa who Tony Tuioti recruited for DL but we have moved him to TE after coming off a knee injury as a senior in high school. I’ll be curious what comes about from these two in the future, and don’t expect a ton right now during their true freshmen years.
Long and short of it is I think we have a couple guys that we can play, then a bunch of guys that have specific roles. The good news is we are really young after Vokolek, so something guys showed their first or second year as a flaw may have been worked on and corrected. They also could have rounded out their game a bit more as well. I just know TE is a bit of a concern on staff right now, and you just don’t know until the bullets start flying who will step up for you after Vokolek.
Wednesday we will have our WR preview out, stay tuned!