photo and story by Patrick Runge
Nebraska football fans know that the college football season truly is right around the corner, and are trying to prepare themselves. Amidst the barbecues and swimming pools, fans are combing through the roster for 2015 and trying to determine who (in addition to new head coach Mike Riley) they can look to as the reason why Nebraska will take the next step and contend for a Big Ten title.
One candidate for next year is tight end Cethan Carter. Here’s why.
We haven’t seen his best yet
Carter will be a junior in 2015, but his production in his first two years at Nebraska has been limited. As a true freshman in 2013, Carter played in all 13 games, having 10 catches for 127. Coming into his sophomore season, it was hoped that Carter would continue the momentum from his freshman campaign and become a difference-maker for Nebraska.
But a combination of injuries and offensive scheme blunted Carter’s impact. He played in only nine games, catching six passes for 98 yards. So while the potential is there for Carter, we certainly haven’t seen it translate to production on the field as of yet.
He’s got the talent to succeed
But look at what Carter did when he returned from injury last year. Four of his six receptions last year were in Nebraska’s last two games, for a total of 73 yards. Sure, no one is going to mistake that production for a scarlet and cream Rob Gronkowski, but those numbers suggest at least the possibility of things to come.
Coming out of high school, Carter was a three-star prospect (according to 247 Sports) who projected as a pass-catching tight end. His size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and athletic ability make him the perfect matchup problem for opposing defenses, being too athletic to be covered by a linebacker and too big to be covered by a safety. If he can stay healthy, he should have the offensive structure around him to succeed.
He’s got the opportunity
Nebraska’s transition from Bo Pelini to Riley might benefit the tight ends more than any other offensive position. Under Pelini, offensive weapons at tight end would frequently evaporate from the game plan (otherwise known as the “Mike McNeil effect”). But according to Michael Bruntz of 247 Sports, tight ends under Riley are more of a focal point offensively.
Riley’s teams at Oregon State, according to Bruntz, tended to throw out of 12 personnel (meaning one running back and two tight ends) and other run-heavy formations. This spring, tight ends saw more work, including (gasp) tight end screens. So Riley and new offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf seem primed to utilize the tight end in Nebraska’s new offense.
And the tight end is a natural fall-back for a quarterback learning a new offense. Tommy Armstrong struggles with accuracy to start with, and between those struggles and the new offensive scheme, it’s a natural fit for him to look to a player like Carter who tends to run more routes and presents size mismatches to make easier throws for the quarterback.
In the NFL, we’ve seen how a pass-catching tight end can transform an offense. Carter (along with incoming freshman Matt Snyder) have the body type and skill set to provide Nebraska with the possibilities to ask those questions of opposing defenses. Given the absence of such a threat in the past, look for Carter to get his opportunity in 2015.