The Cornhuskers have begun their preparations for the Sept. 1 opener vs. Akron
Scott Frost’s first Nebraska football team has begun its fall camp and fans are all too eager to start lining up for the Sept. 1 opener against Akron. However, we’ve waited this long to see the prodigal son’s return to the Big Red’s sidelines, so what’s a few more weeks?
Now is the time when we see all of the hard work of the offseason finally bear fruit. After a fantastic transition class, transfers and academic successes that may have seen some recruits not make it to campus at all, let’s begin examining the orange from which Frost will attempt to squeeze juice from in 2018.
Today, we look at five players who have every opportunity to scurry up the depth chart and get even more spotlight a Nebraska uniform this fall.
Maurice Washington, RB
Washington did an amazing amount of work to become academically eligible and could very well be one of the most immediate impact players of the 2018 class. While he can do damage as a running back as he showed during the Under Armour All-American Game, he has the athleticism to play on either side of the ball.
Greg Bell likely gets the starting nod while Devine Ozigbo, Jaylin Bradley, Miles Jones and others will be making their case and that’s not even taking into account Tre Bryant slowly working himself back into the system. However, Washington is simply too athletic not to have on the field. If he can’t manage five to seven carries per game, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher may lobby to give him a shot at cornerback, especially if the secondary's struggles continue into midseason.
Austin Allen/Kurt Rafdal, TE
Okay, I’m going to cheat here. Nebraska has a wide open race for the tight end spots behind sophomore Jack Stoll. Frost utilizes the position quite a bit in his offense having effectively used Jordan Akins, Michael Colubiale and Jordan Franks during his time at UCF.
Rafdal makes the most sense to me as he (6-7, 250) and Akins (6-4, 262) are built similarly, but Allen has an inch on him and only five pounds separates the two. They strike me as 2A and 2B.
Seeing Stoll, Rafdal and Allen in a power set or the red zone wouldn’t surprise me at all. While Allen had more receptions in this year’s Spring Game (3 receptions, 43 yards) when playing opposite Adrian Martinez and Tristan Gebbia, Rafdal’s lone catch was a 24-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Bunch on a sweet falling grab while keeping a foot in bounds.
One may get the definitive nod on the depth chart, but the small glimpses we’ve seen don’t seem to indicate much separation.
Jalin Barnett, OL
It seems like Nebraska fans have been waiting forever for Barnett to live up to his potential as a four-star recruit. He’s struggled with weight issues but looks like a completely different person following a much-ballyhooed offseason with strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval. He’s officially listed at 330 pounds (15 heavier than last season), but Duval placed a major emphasis on cutting fat and adding muscle.
The Huskers need major help when it comes to depth on the offensive line and they do have some promising talent in guys like Matt Sichterman at tackle and Boe Wilson at guard. However, the more the merrier when it comes to being able to spell the starters and if Barnett can step up for Jerald Foster or Tanner Farmer should it become necessary, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Big Red’s offense be productive.
Cam Taylor, CB
Another addition from Frost’s transition class that could contribute immediately, Taylor’s athleticism may not only help him see time in Erik Chinander’s defense but at several different positions depending on need or if the staff wants to play around with him. He was considered an "athlete" by 247Sports and his size (6-0, 205) should allow him to fit in as a physical cornerback.
His natural abilities go hand-in-hand with Chinander’s risk-taking style. While it's early, there's a distinct possibility that Taylor pushes Eric Lee further down the depth chart while gunning for a starting spot opposite Lamar Jackson or Dicaprio Bootle.
Tre Neal, S
One thing we know for sure: Neal didn’t transfer to Nebraska as a graduate student to stand on the sidelines. He has a number of things going for him as the Huskers begin the fall camp grind. He’s seen extensive action at the college level and excelled in Chinander’s defense while both were at UCF.
The Knights’ fourth-leading tackler in 2017 (41 solo, 27 assisted), he also was responsible for three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, in last season’s AAC Championship Game victory over Memphis.
No doubt Aaron Williams, Antonio Reed, Deontai Williams, Marquel Dismuke and others will have a say in how often Neal sees the field, but everything that he brings to the table suggests that he should receive significant playing time.
(Top photo courtesy of Huskers.com)