Everything seems fresher and newer around Lincoln, Nebraska, than it has in a long time. The Nebraska Cornhuskers have a former national championship-winning alum at the helm, other sports are flourishing and the spring game sold out in two days’ time.
The football team is in the process of reinventing itself in terms of strength and conditioning thanks to the new overseer of that program in Husker alum Zach Duval.
What media and fans will eventually see looks to be something that only exists in history books, old VHS tapes, and what Generation Z hears about from their parents.
Here are a handful of reasons why Scott Frost’s spring practices will be a far cry from anything seen since perhaps the days of his mentor Tom Osborne’s.
1. Everybody gets a turn
If Frost has proven to be anything since taking the Nebraska job, it’s that he’s a man of his word. Essentially working two jobs simultaneously, he guided his UCF Knights to a big-time bowl win over Auburn while assembling one of the best recruiting classes the Huskers have signed in the past several years.
During his introductory press conference, Frost expressed his admiration for a tradition used by both Chip Kelly and Tom Osborne: nobody sits around.
“That’s one of the things I talked to Bill (Moos) and Coach Osborne about. When we were here we had a lot of players, and a lot of players were working hard at practice and nobody was sitting on a knee.”
Those in attendance are going to want to hang onto their programs for quick reference.
2. A truly clean slate
Every head coach likes to start their tenure by saying everyone on the team has a shot to get plenty of snaps, though this can largely be window dressing. However, Frost has gone on record as saying whether you’re a true freshman or a fifth-year senior, the best player starts, and evidence of this can be seen during his short tenure at UCF.
Look no further than Nebraska’s upcoming quarterback battle versus ones from the recent past.
New quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco will be working with sophomore Patrick O’Brien, redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and true freshman Adrian Martinez as the likely trio gunning for the starting gig when Akron comes to town in September.
Contrast this to several past years where there has been a seemingly-favored player. Tanner Lee, Tommy Armstrong, Taylor Martinez are three examples of quarterbacks who seemed to have the inside track thanks in large part to athleticism or the desire to fit into a more dynamic or appropriate system.
However, don’t count out current walk-ons Andrew Bunch and Matt Maskel, a sophomore and freshman, to push those considered their athletic superiors. The only reason Noah Vedral doesn’t have a horse in the race is due to his mandatory year out as a transfer.
Look for this to be a continuing storyline across every position.
3. Picking up the pace
Another key aspect of Kelly’s practices at Oregon was speed. Not only were players constantly moving, but they were doing so very quickly, and that’s going to go a long way in acclimating Nebraska’s players to what Frost wants to see on Saturdays.
It’s not just about what the Big Red’s head coach wants out of his offense when he calls plays. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander prides himself on fielding an 11-man unit that pines for sacks and turnovers.
UCF was tied for second in the nation last season in interceptions with 20 and tied for 13th in fumble recoveries as they gained possession of the football 12 times out of the 17 when the opposition coughed it up.
This aspect of practice will be most important for the big men up front. No Nebraska team will have been asked to do anything as up-tempo as Frost will demand since perhaps the Huskers’ days in the Big 12. Even that’s a modest comparison.
4. Players will hit or sit
In a conversation with the Omaha World-Herald, Frost pointed out that during his days at Oregon he felt the Ducks could be far more physical.
Training linemen to be Big Ten bruisers while supplying the remainder of the team with multi-tasking speedsters looks to be the Husker head man’s goal. It’s clear that if a lineman can’t provide that, Frost and those he’s charged with training the hosses up front will find someone on a roster that will be thick with walk-ons who will.
5. Play for the “N” or ship out
During the Mike Riley era, scholarship distribution was such that it wasn’t a matter of whether or not walk-ons would be given a free ride, but how many? That looks to end under Frost. In fact, some that currently have scholarships will need to find new homes.
As of this writing, the Huskers have 89 scholarship players on the roster. That means four current members of the Big Red’s football team will likely be assisted in finding greener pastures elsewhere barring a decision to hang up their cleats for good or making the very unlikely call of accepting relegation to walk-on status.
It’s better to determine who’s willing to give their all for the scarlet and cream in the spring so that the culture can be instilled in a streamlined roster over the summer and into fall camp.
(Top photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics)