Peyton Newell (No. 99) is one of several Cornhuskers who have already made strong first impressions on the new coaching staff
We’re halfway through Nebraska football’s first spring practice of the Scott Frost era and suffice it to say that things are moving at a fevered pitch. The Huskers are reportedly getting the 100-120 repetitions in that were originally planned, no one’s sitting around during practice, and the staff is on track to truly figure out who will fit the mold for the upcoming season’s roster.
With that in mind, five players deserve a little extra spotlight for their efforts through the first two weeks of practice.
Peyton Newell, DL
Heading into this spring, Newell appeared to be a likely candidate to be ushered out of the program. His work ethic since Frost and friends walked through the doors of North Stadium may have not only saved his bacon but provided the opportunity for him to contribute in his final year of eligibility.
Mick Stoltenberg has been out with an undisclosed injury which has given Newell the chance to run as the No. 1 defensive tackle and defensive line coach Mike Dawson has praised his work spelling Stoltenberg at the nose tackle spot.
“He’s a guy that’s attacking practice and doing a good job by going out there and working hard to learn a new system. It’s tough learning a new language, especially as a fifth-year senior. He’s working hard and doing a good job of it,” said Dawson following last Thursday’s practice.
Newell also reported that he gained 23 pounds of muscle under new strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval, a vast improvement compared to the previous coaching staff. He’s also trimmed his body fat by three percent.
Tyjon Lindsey, WR
Lindsey had it rough when acclimating to the new workout schedule early on. He lost 20 pounds as a result of his week-long stay in the hospital due to complications with rhabdomyolysis during winter conditioning. While recovering, coaches were quick to reach out and offer their assistance if he needed anything.
That meant the world to Lindsey who says he battles trust issues. "(Offensive coordinator/receivers coach) Troy Walters noticed it instantly. We talk about life. I have a lot of trust issues. With him being a new coach, it takes me a while to get comfortable with him.
When I realized he’s trying to be in my life and being somebody who can help me mentally, I can tell him whatever I need to when I’m feeling down,” said Lindsey following last Saturday’s practice.
Lindsey also reported impressive physical gains having shed 10 pounds of body fat and putting on the same amount of muscle. The Huskers are looking to use him much in the same way De'Anthony Thomas was utilized at Oregon. Considering Lindsey was ready to commit to the Ducks shortly after being offered by Frost as a sophomore in high school, things appeared to have worked out for the best for both parties.
Tyrin Ferguson, LB
A player on the list of those that so many fans have been waiting to break out, Ferguson has been impressing coaches with his lack of hesitancy in asking questions.
“He's doing really well. He's really emerged as a guy who's grasping what's going on," said outside linebackers/special teams coach Jovan DeWitt following last Thursday’s practice. "He's probably got the thickest set of notes of anybody in the meeting room. He's always up in my office, trying to ask extra questions, get extra film work. He comes in every day, trying to ask me, 'Hey, what do I need to work on? What do I need to get better at? What about this situation? What about that situation?'"
Ferguson has been running opposite Pernell Jefferson with the current second defensive unit and while coaches admit he’s still raw, the tools appear to be there for the junior out of New Orleans to excel. It’ll be interesting to see how well his notes serve him once it’s time to strap on the pads for the spring game on April 21.
Deontai Williams, DB
A unique case, Williams may be a junior college transfer, but he has three years of eligibility remaining. Not only that, but while the Jacksonville, Florida, native is officially a safety, he has the ability to play the cornerback position if necessary. The secondary looks to be the weakest area defensive coordinator Erik Chinander will have to figure out this season, so Williams’ Swiss Army-level skills should come in handy.
Prior to winter conditioning, Williams checked in at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds. He reports that he now tips the scales at “a solid 200 (pounds).” His head coach has brought up his name as a heavy-hitting defensive back on more than one occasion, so seeing him sent to lay hurt on Big Ten quarterbacks with relative frequency isn’t a far-fetched idea.
At one point, we could have conceivably seen him playing in the SEC for Florida or Georgia, then at Ohio under former Nebraska football head coach Frank Solich before being humbled a bit at Jones County Junior College, which is located in Ellsville, Mississippi (population 4,500). The physical defensive back has every opportunity to start this fall as the secondary needs a leader and Williams speaks as one.
"I'm a Cornhusker now," he said following last Tuesday’s practice. "That's all that matters."
Mike Williams, WR
If this Nebraska team is going to make waves in 2018, it’s going to be in no small part due to its offense. The return of wide receiver Stanley Morgan is huge, but having someone with the potential of Williams makes things even more exciting. What’s more, his head coach started to see him play with a new level of comfort this past week.
“Mike came in here and went to work in the weight room,” Frost said following last Tuesday’s practice. “Today’s the first day, and I think he’s indicative of some other guys, I saw start to cut it loose instead of not really being sure of where you’re going or how you’re doing it. I saw him just go today and he looked like a different guy.”
Williams’ path took him through East Mississippi Junior College, the school of Last Chance U fame. Last season, Williams recorded 30 catches for 667 yards and seven touchdowns, reigniting a career that floundered at Georgia Southern where he only caught three balls for 27 yards in 11 games.
Fortunately for Big Red fans, the camaraderie of the wide receivers room appears to be forming tight bonds when listening to players like Tyjon Lindsey and Williams. The latter is on the field with all of the quarterbacks who he reports are throwing well through spring thus far and it’ll be interesting to see just how he’ll be utilized in Frost’s offense versus Lindsey if there’s much of a difference at all.