Nebraska already had an all-conference caliber tight end on its roster coming into this season in senior Mike McNeill.
That wasn't enough for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, however. He wanted even more.
Judging from the praise Watson has handed sophomore tight end Ben Cotton through the first week of fall camp, it's becoming more and more clear that Cotton's emergence was one of the primary reasons for McNeill's move to wide receiver this offseason.
In many ways, Cotton (6-6, 255) is the prototype of what Watson wants in a tight end. In fact, Watson pretty much said that himself earlier this week.
"That's part of the reason why we moved Mike to more of an adjuster in our formations, because Ben is such a good football player," Watson said. "Ben reminds me of the tight ends I had at Colorado. He's a really good tight end that can run, catch and block. He can do everything. He's developed into a really good player and we wanted to clear the way for him."
Considering Watson coached two tight ends at Colorado currently playing in the NFL - Daniel Graham and Joe Klopfenstein - that comparison is no small praise.
Watson actually began gushing about the Ames, Iowa, native earlier in the week, as he called Cotton "the centerpiece" of Nebraska's tight end group. That means Cotton has surpassed senior Dreu Young as No. 1 on the depth chart.
Cotton said he saw a chance to step up and make an impact as soon as it was announced McNeill was moving to receiver. Since then, he's been working as hard as he can to make sure he capitalizes on his opportunity.
"It's a great opportunity for all of us to compete for that position," Cotton said. "It's not just going to be given to me or Dreu or Kyler or anything. We're going to have to fight for it. We're going to fight for it all the way up to the last practice before the game."
Since the first day he joined his father and NU offensive line coach Barney Cotton on campus, Ben Cotton has displayed an unwavering work ethic every time he steps on the field.
Whether it was staying after practice as a true freshman to catch passes from quarterback Zac Lee or working in 100-degree heat until he nearly collapses like he did on Monday, there's no question that Cotton is going to earn everything he gets.
With the way he continues to develop and progress so far, he could be earning himself quite a bit in the next few years.
"Just like any guy who matures and gets older and gets used to the system, you become more fluid and get to revert back to just doing things by reflex," Cotton said. "You're never done learning, but you're able to just go out there and play football. I think that's been the biggest part for me, I feel more comfortable with the main concepts and stuff like that.
"When you can just get in it and get into a groove, I think that makes everybody more comfortable."
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