Spring constantly brings a feeling of rebirth. Few Power 5 programs need this immediately more than the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Staring down a season that provides plenty of potential pitfalls, the Huskers need as many opportunities to work out their kinks as they can. Instead, they find themselves spread out across the nation like so many other rosters.
In the meantime, the Big Red brass has decided to present a virtual Red-White Spring Game this Saturday featuring legends of the past in place of the previously anticipated scrimmage. There are several members of the current roster who could’ve used not only the practices leading up to it but the actual game in the worst way, though.
Luke McCaffrey, QB
When last we heard from head coach Scott Frost, we were told to expect a quarterback competition to go down. "We are going to want the 22 best guys on the field at all times, and the quarterback is no different." Naturally, Nebraska could only benefit from this.
Adrian Martinez could work to regain his swagger lost somewhere among injury last season. Meanwhile, the likes of Noah Vedral, McCaffrey, and early enrolee Logan Smothers could get in daily grinds of their own with the offensive staff. Both Vedral and McCaffrey played in Martinez's stead last season. But it's clear that with a more refined throwing motion, the latter has an athleticism commonly found in his bloodline.
"He's going to be hell on wheels," quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said of an eventually polished McCaffrey. However, with no final spring skirmish, the redshirt freshman’s growth will be stunted.
This sets the Huskers back further if he's asked to relieve Martinez again in 2020. Not only that, if Frost wants to make a call regarding getting No. 7 experience at wide receiver, his film sample is also significantly reduced and likely delays that decision from potentially being made.
Alante Brown, WR
When (and if) JD Spielman returns to Lincoln remains a mystery for now. This means new offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Matt Lubick faces the unenviable task of shoring up Nebraska's wideouts. Doing so with all of four other scholarship wide receivers on campus only further complicates things.
The good news is that there are several players in the latest recruiting class who could make an immediate impact. Unfortunately, only one became available for spring in Brown. With Spielman on hiatus and the departure of Darien Chase, Brown’s opportunity to make a statement for a great deal of playing time as a true freshman was made even more apparent.
The Red-White Spring Game might be the friendliest environment Brown will ever play in. But getting used to the crowd size along with forging a connection with all of the Huskers' signal-callers would’ve only aided the offense as a whole.
Bryce Benhart, OL
It's taken two years, but Frost finally is able to shuffle starters at right tackle. Matt Farniok has given his all at the position but had his struggles. Benhart, on the other hand, has the size and physicality far more suited to the role. Not only that, but his presence allows Farniok to move inside and potentially help establish stability on an interior that badly lacked it in 2019.
However, Benhart needs as much practice fending off defenders as he can get. Having the Lakeville, Minnesota, native in position to make a leap during the fall benefits not only him but the entire offense as well as a defensive line looking to replace all of its starters.
Blaise Gunnerson, OLB
While the Blackshirts need to be completely retooled along the defensive line, the outside linebackers remain a work in progress from '19. There are plenty of players who the returning Mike Dawson can use to address this problem area, and Gunnerson's ample frame (6-6, 250) is among the more intriguing ones.
Out of Dawson's entire corps, the only other members of the roster who can match his size are sophomores Garrett Nelson and Ryan Schommer. If Erik Chinander wants to establish a monster presence on the edges of the Blackshirts' second level, he could do far worse than having the true freshman make the statement he now can't.
Dicaprio Bootle, CB
Cam Taylor-Britt may not end 2020 at cornerback, but he likely begins the season there and needs a running mate. The departure of Lamar Jackson won't be easy to mask, but Travis Fisher has proven to be one of the most dependable assistants on Frost's staff. One of his top priorities is no doubt getting Bootle's confidence back.
After being an extreme irritant to offensive coordinators in 2018, he was constantly picked on last season eventually resulting in a shift to safety. This was a mixed blessing, as it resulted in Taylor-Britt showing just how capable he is at the position when he took over. That said, if Bootle is able to lock down the opposite spot, it does Chinander and Fisher a tremendous service.
The defensive backs are going to have to make their presence felt early while the front seven works to jell. Now, the margin for error becomes even slimmer, as getting Bootle mentally right may bleed over into the regular season's currently scheduled start against Purdue.