While spring camp offers renewed hope for players looking to climb the depth chart, fall is about solidifying roles. Nebraska doesn't have anywhere near the number of problems it did last year as practices are crisper and the little mistakes have been cleaned up.
This is good news for a potential win-loss record, but not if you're middling on the depth chart. As is tradition, there are a few players on the Cornhuskers' roster that find themselves in do or die situations in terms of contributing. Today, we look at five who need to stick out in a big way if playing time is to come their way.
1. Jaylin Bradley, RB
When the Nebraska native pledged to the Huskers at the end of his high school career, it was an exciting time. By the look of things, he had all the makings of a quality running back. While only a sophomore, Scott Frost likely doesn't have the luxury of time to wait for Bradley to live up to his old highlight reels with a running back roster filling up fast.
Bradley did have a good spring, but if he's going to see many carries this season, he's got plenty of competition to beat out. There's no indication that Maurice Washington won't play in the Aug. 31 season opener for the time being. There's also Dedrick Mills who demands an – OR – be added to the starting spot along with No. 28.
Nebraska also has talented true freshman Rahmir Johnson along with tenured and home state favorite Wyatt Mazour. At this point, Bradley can't afford to get lost in the shuffle any more than he already has. Keep in mind that wide receivers are also going to get play at his position, too. Suddenly meetings with running backs coach Ryan Held are getting a bit crowded.
2. Jaevon McQuitty, WR
Another sophomore on this list, McQuitty isn't in quite the dire straits Bradley's dealing with, but he does have work to do. McQuitty is a speedster and has enough shake and bake to coat a family's chicken dinner. His playing time is up in the air largely because not only did Kanawai Noa get added to the mix, but other players like Andre Hunt are starting to step up.
Fortunately for McQuitty, he's got the skills to get mistakes corrected in a hurry so he can make positive contributions in 2019. It'd be good for Wan'Dale Robinson to get all the help he can be afforded as a true freshman.
3. John Raridon, OL
It's a surprise that Raridon hasn't been more effective considering he was a composite four-star prospect and the No. 5 guard in the nation according to 247Sports. This is the part where people jump in and say how little recruiting rankings matter and it's all about how much hard work someone puts in, etc.
The fact of the matter is some guys just don't pan out and that's been the case with Raridon so far. He has the size (6-4, 315) to be an appropriate interior lineman for position coach Greg Austin, but things just haven't clicked. Meanwhile, Nebraska continues to recruit offensive linemen hard as the Huskers did rely on a front line that was plug-and-play for decades. And Frost does want to get back to that. We're starting to see a trend.
To make things even more difficult, the expanded walk-on program appears to be bearing fruit. We see big men like Trent Hixson vying for starting spots. Suddenly, Raridon's opportunities to get any snaps are getting swallowed up left and right.
It doesn't help that he's a junior who's already used his redshirt year, either. At this point, you just want to buy him an age-appropriate beverage for his trouble.
4. Vaha Vainuku, DL
Vainuku has been a victim of circumstance more than anything else. As a two-year transfer from Utah, he had to make the most of his situation quickly or else. We seem to have entered "or else" territory.
Just because this is his final year in college and a member of Nebraska's stacked defensive line group doesn't damn him to playing time purgatory, though. At 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, if he's got the quickness for it, he could easily spell starters and contribute in a pass-rushing role.
It's a team sport after all, and Vainuku may be able to do just enough to make a lasting impression on the 2019 season.
5. Tony Butler, CB
How'd you like to be a junior sitting behind a rejuvenated Lamar Jackson and one of the best pass defenders Nebraska's ever seen in Dicaprio Bootle? Such is Butler's lot in life.
To make matters worse, the Huskers did a great job of recruiting defensive backs last cycle in Quinton Newsome, Myles Farmer, and Noa Pola-Gates. Fortunately, Butler's also got the size (6-2, 220) to work at safety. The only problem with that is he has to contend with Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams as likely starters.
It doesn't help that he'd also be working to steal reps from Avery Anderson and Eric Lee Jr. At this point, Butler's best bet is to prove he can either help Jackson and Bootle rest or cover for them if they go down, Heaven forbid. If he can't do that, much like other guys on this list, he's going to continue to be recruited around and over.