With spring break over, the Nebraska Cornhuskers return to the practice field hoping to cement answers to some questions while hopefully starting to get resolution on others. Offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Troy Walters expressed pleasure at the crispness of the first practice back after time off and is eager to sort out roles for some players while encouraging leadership abilities come to the surface.
As the Big Red prepares for their eventual spring scrimmage on April 13, here are five major storylines to keep in your notepad margins:
1. No. 7 Poised to be No. 2
While Noah Vedral didn't transfer to Nebraska to not eventually vie for quality playing time, he is going up against a McCaffrey. Fellow signal-caller and teammate Luke is proving to be the same quality of athlete as father Ed and brother Christian. A film room warrior — and impressing quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco in the process of becoming one — expectations are already increasing for the true freshman.
Unseating Adrian Martinez for the starting spot is a step too far, but Luke McCaffrey putting himself in position to solidify his role as Nebraska’s top backup isn’t out of the question. This may seem a step out of bounds considering the familiarity that Vedral has with Frost's offensive scheme. However, there comes a point where athletic ability intersects with knowledge and it appears McCaffrey is on a trajectory to at least match Vedral's understanding of all necessary concepts. Between the two, McCaffrey also is simply the better athlete and should only continue to improve in the Huskers' revamped strength and conditioning program.
Frost himself expressed how impressed he was with the Colorado native at the beginning of spring football. "I think he had as good of a first day as you can have, and that's probably a credit to how hard he worked when he came in to know what he was doing," Nebraska's head coach said. "You’re never going to be perfect when you’re going through your first few practices, and we try to tell our guys that, but I was impressed by him."
If even more praise was necessary — and perhaps the most telling — it comes from the leader of the Husker offense in Martinez himself. After this past Monday’s practice he said, "[McCaffrey] works hard. He’s eager just to get everything right and do things the right way. He's done a great job of just knowing what to do when it comes to the playbook."
Simply put, if the Huskers have a true race for the backup spot between Vedral and McCaffrey following the Red-White Spring Game, Nebraska will have its best quarterback depth chart in a long time.
2. A back for the future
With Maurice Washington's future in limbo, the Huskers' running back room is thick with talent but thin on experience. To make matters more complicated, three members who could play prominent roles during this upcoming season — junior college transfer Dedrick Mills and incoming freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins — don’t arrive until summer.
Everything as of this writing indicates that Frost and Nebraska are standing firm with Washington, but being proactive about the future is still a must. This puts the onus on the likes of Wyatt Mazour, Jaylin Bradley, Brody Belt and others to step up. Out of all true running backs — meaning not a hybrid like Wandale Robinson — Belt appears to be the talk of camp thus far.
Several backs should see plenty of opportunities to make a statement during Nebraska's spring scrimmage. The Huskers would no doubt love to see Belt impress to potentially lean on him while the aforementioned trio gets their sea legs during live action. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the transfer portal as an insurance policy at the position beyond Belt is a near-must for the Big Red offense if Washington is unable to participate this fall.
3. The man in the middle
Nebraska's interior offensive line was going to be a work in progress heading into — and no doubt coming out of — spring football. While the guard spots look to be solidifying somewhat with returning starter Boe Wilson, Trent Hixson and John Raridon all valid options, center is the biggest question mark. Converted tight end Cam Jurgens is a natural athlete with a high ceiling. However, his size and unfamiliarity with his new position are cause for concern. Will Farniok and Hunter Miller are other options and have a preferable frame to Jurgens right now. The two have 15 and 50 pounds on him, respectively according to the official roster.
Despite who sees the most snaps in April, this is easily one of the most hotly-contested races of the entire roster and may stay that way as the season goes on, at least initially.
4. The wideout x-factor
Stanley Morgan Jr.'s absence looms large and provides ample opportunity for Mike Williams, Andre Hunt, and Jaron Woodyard to make their presence known at the X-receiver position. Williams did an admirable job of blocking for the Huskers in 2018 with the occasional catch. However, Hunt has speed that the other two don't. The difference may come down to who has the best hands as Williams and Hunt have similar frames. If Hunt is able to match No. 19's blocking skills, he could put himself in position to at least threaten for significant snaps come August.
5. Who dominates the edge?
One thing Nebraska failed to address in the 2019 class was adding a true edge rusher for the linebacking corps. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander may attempt to fix this with the installation of senior Alex Davis or true freshman Garrett Nelson at the outside linebacker spot opposite Tyrin Ferguson. While Nelson is a novice of the college game, his physicality and brute force are just what the Blackshirts need on the outside. Davis (6-5, 255) definitely fits the mold but Nelson is a rock-solid 235 pounds and physics may be his friend in the end. Regardless, this is another position that looks worthy of being addressed via the transfer portal, if not only for depth purposes or giving Chinander different packages to help mask deficiencies.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), on Facebook, and enjoy the Eight Laces podcast. To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.