Huskers hope converted tight end is ready to man the pivot
Most Nebraska fans will look to Adrian Martinez as Scott Frost's offensive centerpiece, and why wouldn't they? As a true freshman, he demolished multiple records for players both freshmen and overall. However, there's a vital member of the offense that has the potential to derail Martinez's efficiency and dark horse Heisman hopes.
Cameron Jurgens is a fantastic story waiting to happen. A player that suffered injuries early in his career, he came to Nebraska as a tight end. Having never played an offensive line position at any point, Frost handed him over to line coach Greg Austin and strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval before telling them to work their magic.
Jurgens arrived in Lincoln officially listed at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, yet upon seeing him up close, one could conclude there was some standard fudging of numbers. This year's current roster again claims him to be that exact size. However, he's clearly put on a great deal of lean muscle. The aforementioned weight claim is far more believable today. There are a number of question marks surrounding the Beatrice, Nebraska, native, still.
Putting on as much mass as he has in order to go toe-to-toe with Big Ten defensive linemen is a tall order for the human body to adapt to in such a small window. Our skeletons and other vital organs aren't exactly made to accommodate that extreme of a shift and they need time to conform as a result.
While Jurgens makes that internal adjustment, we now focus on his lack of any offensive line experience. Learning how to properly execute run and pass blocking to lock down an interior that likely includes Boe Wilson and Trent Hixson is one aspect of his new job. He also must spend the summer and fall drilling play calls into his head which he'll need to make at the line of scrimmage.
Finally, Jurgens struggled with snaps out of the shotgun formation during the spring. This isn't unusual for someone gaining experience at the position, let alone learning it for the first time. Of course, a majority of Frost's plays begins with a shotgun snap. This could prove to be the biggest hurdle to clear over the redshirt freshman's first several games if he retains the starting role heading into late August. There's the potential for lost downs resulting in negative yardage due to recovering a poorly-snapped ball or even worse, a turnover if not points for the opposition.
Fortunately, he does have a tune-up against South Alabama. While you won't likely see Nebraska's entire starting offensive line go wire-to-wire against the Jaguars, Jurgens probably stays in with the second stringers once they make their appearance. Things get more difficult in a hurry as the Huskers travel to Colorado with revenge on their minds. Not only to avenge Frost's first loss, but for the extracurricular activity that led to a 2018 Martinez injury. There is some good news for Jurgens in Boulder, though.
New Buffaloes head coach Mel Tucker is a defense-oriented person while defensive coordinator Tyson Summers will no doubt bring the heat to test the newbie in Nebraska's offensive middle. However, the main threat on Colorado's defensive front is edge rusher Mustafa Johnson, who probably tangles with Matt Farniok. There's hope for Auburn transfer Jaunta'vius Johnson to provide interior support, but with Wilson and Hixson's help, Jurgens might get away with some slip-ups.
He then gets a reprieve as Northern Illinois comes to Lincoln before the Huskers open their conference slate against the Fighting Illini in Champaign. Bobby Roundtree would prove a challenge, but he suffered a severe spinal injury on May 20 and the timetable for his return is unknown. Jamal Milan and former Cornhusker target Calvin Avery could be a load on the Illini defensive line, though. Watch for middle linebacker Dele Harding to test the Huskers' offensive interior with the help of Milan and Avery if Jurgens has proven susceptible to the blitz.
After that, Ohio State waltzes into Lincoln. By this point, Frost should know what he has in Jurgens and if he needs to pull the plug on the experiment for now. Tanner Farmer replaced Cole Conrad, last year's initial starting center, for good following Nebraska's loss to Purdue in the Big Red's fourth game of the season. Who would unseat Jurgens in such a scenario is up in the air. Will Farniok, Hunter Miller, and junior college transfer Josh Wegener—ranked as the No. 1 JUCO prospect overall at the position in the 2019 class by JCGridiron.com—would all be part of a scramble to start against the Buckeyes and beyond in that case.
What we know about Jurgens is that he's a fantastic athlete and has amazing potential. However, he's very much a work in progress and a rather significant unknown quantity. Nebraska gets some wiggle room to see if he'll be a good fit, but if not, a replacement must be named immediately.
(Photo by Nebraska Communications, courtesy of www.huskers.com)