LINCOLN — People told Vince Marrow he was walking into a good situation with Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed when he was hired as a Nebraska graduate assistant to work with the tight ends.
Cotton and Reed were heading into their junior seasons when he arrived in 2011 and were already considered one of the better pairs in the Big Ten.
But Jake Long turned out to be a pretty nice bonus, too.
“I didn't know anything about Jake at all,” Marrow said. “Then when I got here, this No. 41 just kept sticking out to me.”
The walk-on could run routes. Marrow liked his blocking. It was easy to see Long worked hard, competed and was extremely intelligent.
“I'd see him do different things and I thought, ‘This kid's got a chance to be a pretty good player here,'” Marrow said. “And as time went on, I really started gaining a lot of confidence in him.”
The junior from Elkhorn has evolved as a dependable third option at one of the Huskers' strongest positions. It has required some patience and understanding to sit behind Cotton and Reed on the depth chart, but he will become even more important to the operation next season since both are seniors.
In the meantime, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder said he's making the most of working behind two tight ends who have combined for 75 career receptions and played a whole bunch of football.
“I love it because of the learning opportunity that they give me,” Long said. “I see all the unique things that each of them brings to the table and things I can watch and try to learn from, and then try to re-create some of the stuff they do.”
Long has had chances of his own along the way.
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He caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening game against Southern Mississippi when Cotton was banged up. Long added another catch last week against Arkansas State.
There might be a bigger and better opportunity in 2013, but Long is OK with whatever he's getting right now.
“I've played a decent amount the last few years, and I'll just keep grinding and keep getting better every day,” he said.
Long can hold up on the physical side, even though he's about 15 pounds lighter than Cotton. Marrow said Long can get downfield in the passing game, even though he might not be as fleet as the 230-pound Reed.
That's why Long considers himself maybe a cross between the two, which is how Marrow sees it as well.
“I've worked with a lot of tight ends, pro level and college, and Jake has some serious potential,” Marrow said. “And I say potential, but he's already doing it. I've got Ben and Kyler, but I think we're just the same when he comes in here.”
Long is finding his success on a Husker offense that includes his twin brother, Spencer, a second-year starter at right guard. The mild-mannered Spencer is sometimes most excited to see Jake's success.
“He gets jacked up,” Jake Long said. “I'll catch a ball and he's yelling at me. Or like that touchdown, he came up and smacked me around a little bit and was screaming at me. I don't remember what he said, but he was fired up. We're all just out there having fun.”
Next season, Long will be the veteran on an NU unit that will include scholarship tight ends David Sutton and Sam Cotton, walk-ons Conor McDermott, Trey Foster and Jared Blum and incoming freshman Greg Hart of Dayton, Ohio.
Ben Cotton said Long will be ready to plug some of the holes left behind.
“I know he's in a tough spot,” Cotton said, “but he earns every play he gets.”
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