It has been more than 20 years now, but Sean Beckton, the tight ends coach for the Nebraska football team, still remembers what it felt like to be the opponent playing against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
He was an assistant coach for Central Florida coaching wide receivers when the Knights came to Lincoln in 1997. With Scott Frost at quarterback, Nebraska won the game 38-24, and four months later the Huskers were national champions.
“The physicality of Nebraska football, it goes back to my first time being here in 1997, one of the things that I noticed coaching in that game when UCF came up here to play Nebraska was how physical those guys were up front, and then really across the football. Offense and defense,” Beckton said. “The receivers were very physical, they were knocking people back. And the same thing on the defensive side. They were tackling people and running through people.
“That’s the old Nebraska football and one of the things that Coach Frost and the rest of the staff want to get back to. We want to be physical and dominating in everything that we’re doing.”
That’s one of the ways Beckton is hoping the tight ends can help the Huskers improve in the second year with Frost as coach at Nebraska in 2019.
The tight end position is one of the most experienced ones for the Huskers with all of its top players from last season back -- starting junior Jack Stoll and sophomores Kurt Rafdal and Austin Allen. For Beckton, returning so many players is great because he says they’re ready to take another leap in their development, and he thinks the players are disgusted that Nebraska didn’t play in a bowl game last season.
And now Katerian LeGrone, who played in three games while preserving his redshirt season, and early enrollee Chris Hickman, join the competition -- although Hickman needs the same work in the weight room that the other players did last season.
The tight ends were deficient in strength last season, but Beckton could see them getting stronger during the season.
“(Stoll's) strength levels as the season went along to where he was our 2-yard-rule king,” Beckton said. “We take a stat on every rep (and) if you knock a guy back 2 yards you get a point there. So he was the 2-yard king in the tight end room. And up front, offensive line, we also chart that, at running back we chart that, and also at receiver we chart it. Like Stanley Morgan was the guy there at receiver.”
So how close are the tight ends to being better blockers?
“They’re not there yet,” Beckton said. “Jack, obviously, physically is there. One of Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal's goals was to get stronger, and then show on the field when we put the pads on that they can push Jack. Right now Jack is the guy. He’s the one guy in this room that we know that’s going to strike and drive people 2 yards on a given play.”
Beckton explained how successful Stoll was last season in getting 2 yards of push when blocking. He said Stoll would play about 60 plays per game. About 35 of those were run plays, and on about eight of those plays Stoll was blocking the defensive player back at least 2 yards.
“That was a major emphasis for us as an offense to really get those guys to understand to strike and then drive people, and (Stoll) really took it to an extreme,” Beckton said. “On average you expect guys to maybe do four times (per game) because it’s got to be a situation where you get a guy lined up and the actual play is designed for you to actually drive somebody. Sometimes it’s just trying to read somebody, so the play is not always teed up for you to perform a drive block.”