Let’s start by pointing out that, on this particular topic, Travis Vokolek is not exactly an unbiased observer. He acknowledged as much himself.
The Nebraska junior tight end, though, had a pretty straightforward opinion to share on Monday.
“I believe that 12 personnel is the best personnel out there,” he said.
In football parlance, "12" is a personnel group that features one running back and two tight ends.
The Huskers’ two standout tight ends, Vokolek and Austin Allen, played together Saturday for the first time since the 2020 finale, and it figures to be a staple personnel group going forward.
Just in time for the Big Ten gantlet.
“Austin and I both have a great understanding of the offense, can play both of the positions, and when we’re both out there on the field, I think we roll pretty well,” Vokolek said.
Vokolek suffered a left foot/ankle injury in camp and ended up missing Nebraska’s first three games of the season. The injury happened just after offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said his pair of twin towers — Vokolek is 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds while Allen goes 6-9 and 255 — was the best set of tight ends he’d ever had to work with.
At that point in mid-August, even with NU’s increased depth at receiver, the natural conclusion was that the Huskers would be using the pair together a lot. Then Vokolek got hurt.
On Saturday, Allen played 45 of 63 snaps and Vokolek 39 — most of them on the field at the same time as Allen — according to Pro Football Focus data.
“Those two guys make us better. They block the edge so well, they block the perimeter well, they can get open on pass routes, they know what they’re doing,” Frost said. “They make us better in the run game and the pass game. We really missed Travis. We missed Austin in the (Buffalo game). I’m really happy with the young guys at that position and how they stepped in and played well, but those guys are two of our best players and we’re glad to have them.”
“Travis Vokolek brings a really good dynamic to our running game and that’s in the way he’s able to block, and I think he helps us out in that department,” NU quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “There were certain elements (in the run game) that we were able to get going that we hadn’t in games past that we’re definitely going to carry over.”
Nebraska also has a “Rhino” package for short-yardage situations where freshman tackle Teddy Prochazka lined up at tight end, donning No. 46.
The Huskers dialed it up even further against OU, using four tight ends at the same time on a Martinez touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Allen, Vokolek, Prochazka and walk-on Chancellor Brewington, who provided a kickout block ahead of Martinez — made for a unique look.
“I think that’s a first for me,” Frost said of having a quartet of tight ends and no receivers on the field.
While that — and even Prochazka’s role — is a specialty package ticketed for use only in certain situations, deploying Vokolek and Allen is set to become business as usual for the Husker offense with both now healthy and the eight conference games on the docket over the next 10 weeks, including five against teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.
“Part of it is the league we play in and part of it is the personnel that we have,” Frost said. “We have some good players at that position and you want to get your best guys on the field.”
Allen and Vokolek won’t solve every problem the Nebraska offense has had so far, but they are each integral pieces to what the Huskers are trying to get done and having them back gives the group an increased level of physicality and skill. Vokolek is a powerful run blocker, but he also ran a really good route across the formation and then up the field for a 38-yard gain against the Sooners. Allen is second on the team in catches (13) and yards (132) despite missing most of the Buffalo game with a head injury suffered on his only grab of the day.
“Frost finds a lot of ways to get his guys on the field and what he feels best with and, I mean, it seems like we’re successful with two tight ends on the field,” Allen said. “Whatever’s working, we’re going to keep doing it. It’s nice to get (Vokolek) back on the field. It opens up a lot of things in the run game and it opens up a lot of things in the pass game, because he’s pretty versatile out in the route tree, as well.”