Scott Frost and the Huskers look to lay the groundwork this spring for a turnaround in the fall
After Scott Frost returned to Nebraska to coach its football program, it soon became apparent that building it to his desired specifications would take a minute. Despite a 9-15 record thus far, Frost is still managing to convince potential playmakers to come into the fold.
Not only that, but we’ve now seen some of the biggest coaching staff changes of his young head coaching career. With Troy Walters out and Matt Lubick in as the new offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach, the Huskers look to take another step forward in seeing a far more crisp and productive scoring effort.
On defense, gains have been minimal as the Blackshirts transition to Erik Chinander’s 3-4 scheme. Plenty of youth abounds and the foundation must be immediately laid to prevent a backslide once the regular season gets underway. Mike Dawson also returns to take over for Jovan Dewitt to address concerns with the Big Red’s outside linebackers.
Nebraska has also seen a few players leave for various reasons resulting in a bevy of question marks across the entire depth chart. Here are the biggest things for Husker fans to keep an eye on as camp progresses over the coming month-plus.
5 Storylines to Watch During Nebraska's Spring Practice
1. Adrian Martinez vs. the field
Nebraska fans have largely started backing two specific quarterbacks the most publicly: Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. While true freshman Logan Smothers will get invaluable experience by being on campus early and getting familiar with Frost’s system, the goal will no doubt be preserving his redshirt as part of the program’s future.
Where does this leave Noah Vedral? He did perform admirably in Martinez’s stead while he battled injury last season. While perhaps more efficient from a cerebral standpoint, Martinez has shown natural athletic ability that Vedral lacks.
In McCaffrey, fans saw a talent that rivals either junior in terms of running ability, but his passing has left something to be desired. If he’s able to polish his throwing motion and become a more refined dual-threat signal-caller over the next month or so, it’ll be curious to see if Vedral is interested in continuing to stick things out in Lincoln.
2. The scramble at wide receiver
There's nothing wrong with being prepared. With JD Spielman taking a personal leave of absence during spring ball, it would serve Frost and Lubick well to assume he won’t be back.
This isn't to say they shouldn't be optimistic about it, but proper planning can be undervalued. Keep in mind, the void Spielman created leaves Nebraska with all of four scholarship wideouts on campus for the spring.
No one doubts what Wan'Dale Robinson brings to the table. But this is a tremendous opportunity for the likes of Demariyon Houston, Jamie Nance, and Alante Brown to make their cases for playing time down the road.
3. Development on the defensive line
One of the biggest x-factors across the entire team is how Chinander will go about replacing an entire starting defensive line. Tony Tuioti more than has his work cut out for him in replacing a trio of big men currently making their best pitches to NFL brass.
The likes of Ty Robinson, Damion Daniels, Deontre Thomas, Ben Stille, Jordon Riley and others absolutely must make immediate statements to help settle concerns.
4. Mike Dawson's first work with outside linebackers
Dawson and Tuioti's fates are somewhat intertwined. The former can do his best to at least find a complement to JoJo Domann, if not establish a tentative two-deep. However, his charges won't be able to perform at their highest level if Tuioti's linemen can't clog the middle and break down opposing pockets.
However, spring practice is very much about baby steps. Building familiarity between Dawson's coaching style and those players already available for him to work with is vital. Fortunately, Nebraska doesn’t have to find all of the answers at outside linebacker immediately considering they’ll gain some additions once fall practice begins.
In the meantime, building the groundwork, finding a rhythm and bonding between the returning assistant coach and his players is paramount.
5. Kickers and punters asserting their dominance
With the hiring of Jonathan Rutledge as a special teams analyst, Husker fans must be curious just how much of an immediate impact he’ll have.
Both the kicking and punting jobs are wide open with several players jockeying for position. Iowa Western Community College transfer Chase Contreraz appears to have the inside track to finally give Nebraska a reliable starter in the wake of Barret Pickering’s departure. Gabe Heins won’t allow him to rest on his laurels, though.
Not only will William Przystup and Grant Detlefsen battle for punting duties, but they’ll be joined by walk-on punter Sami Khawja this summer to increase competition. As if his addition wasn’t enough, Tyler Crawford is currently slated to challenge at both spots.