Stanley Morgan Jr. and the Cornhuskers will get their first taste of new head coach Scott Frost's system
Everyone’s getting a might jittery in the Cornhusker State these days. Sure, Nebrasketball may crash the NCAA Tournament, but don’t think for a second that message boards aren’t being scoured for information about how the Big Red is responding to the requests of new head coach Scott Frost and his staff.
Every morsel of information only fuels the fire. We see the pictures of individual and team tug-of-war being overseen by strength and conditioning czar Zach Duval and hear the rumors of players benching this amount or squatting that. It all leads to the same desire — end the suspense and let’s get this show on the road.
Unfortunately, there still is a little more time between now and when Nebraska trots onto the practice field for the first time this spring. However, there’s no reason that Husker fans shouldn’t be ready to process not only the obvious, but perhaps a few ideas they hadn’t thought of just yet.
Here’s a few regarding the offense to jot down in advance:
1. Mistakes and how they’re responded to
Obviously, with a brand-new offense in place that is fast-paced and demands an amazing amount of attention to detail, it’s likely that things will look rough during the first few days of spring ball, if not beyond. What will be most interesting is seeing who bounces back from their mistakes best.
Quarterbacks will fumble and throw interceptions, running backs will put the ball on the ground or read their opportunities to progress poorly, and there will be no small amount of dropped passes.
However, those who are able to shake off these mental errors will be the ones who see their stock rise as head coach Scott Frost looks on. Competition is the name of the game and for those looking to climb their way up the depth chart, if a player can quickly put blunders behind him, it will earn him major brownie points.
2. How conditioning affects the offensive line
Strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval has no small task in taking offensive linemen who weren’t exactly popping the opposition in the mouth last season and turning them into both physical players and ones who can run with the speed that Frost’s offense demands.
Some praise for a few young guns has carried over from last season, though. Offensive tackle Matt Sichterman’s name has come up frequently, and we saw offensive guard Boe Wilson swap out his duties on the interior for a fullback role later in the 2017 season. He would go on to make some crushing blocks in this role.
Brenden Jaimes should again be fun to watch following an impressive year starting at right tackle as a true freshman.
It’s only natural to expect hands on hips quite a bit during that first week or so, but seeing how the offensive line adapts in a legitimate practice setting will be a treat. The staff has been impressed with the potential that these players have. While the aforementioned players have gotten a few props, this staff has been extremely careful about too much praise, especially position coach Greg Austin.
3. How quarterbacks have taken to the new system
Touching back on No. 1, the spotlight will obviously be on the signal-callers. Will Patrick O’Brien show that he can adapt to a more mobile role and shed the pro-style label that some have tagged him with?
Film room fanatic Tristan Gebbia has foot speed and the “it” factor also appears to be present, but how will he factor in? Is Adrian Martinez truly Frost’s “first-round pick” as has been suggested by former Blackshirt Ralph Brown?
Take last year’s curiosity about just how good Tanner Lee was and crank it up to 11 for this quarterback race.
4. The progress of incoming JUCO running back Greg Bell
Easily one of the most intriguing storylines is Bell’s. Nebraska still has Tre Bryant, Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo on the roster. However, Bryant’s future is unknown considering the pounding his knees took last year while Wilbon and Ozigbo’s roles in this new offense are up in the air.
Frost secured two fantastic athletes in Maurice Washington and Miles Jones over this past recruiting cycle, but Bell has advantages that no one else in the running back room does. Like Jones and Washington, he was specifically targeted for this offense, but as a junior college transfer, he’s far more familiar with the speed and physicality of the college game.
Bell also was ranked as the No. 1 JUCO running back and No. 26 overall JUCO prospect in the nation according to the 247Sports’ Composite Index. Being hand-picked by his coach and having an edge in conditioning that others lack suggests that placing Bell in the lead for a starting spot might not be the most peculiar thought.
5. How well Stanley Morgan Jr. picks up Frost’s system
No Nebraska football team has ever boasted a 1,000-yard receiver. The 2017 squad came close as Morgan fell just 14 yards shy of that mark. Had he played versus Rutgers, it’s likely that we’re not even having this conversation.
That said, if Morgan produces five 100-yard games during a season in which he sat out a game and had some issues with drops early on, it’s hard to think that he won’t be able to thrive in Frost’s offense.
His return means big things both from an athletic and experience standpoint. There was a legitimate chance that he could’ve skipped town to try his luck in the NFL. However, with his ability to make amazing catches and be a physical force, it’s quite possible that he not only becomes Nebraska’s first 1,000-yard receiver, but raises the bar far beyond that.
(Scott Frost photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics)