Cornhuskers fans are hoping TE Jack Stoll can take a big step forward in his second year
When the end of Nebraska football's 2018 regular season came, there was disappointment across Husker Nation both in the lack of a postseason and the 4-8 regular season record itself. However, going against the tried and true method of practice making perfect, that Nebraska team didn’t need another few weeks worth of snaps. They needed to grow in the physical sense just as much as they did mentally during the 4-2 stretch they ended the season with.
Here we are, still several weeks out from spring practice, but the Big Red has been hard at work building muscle, shedding fat and becoming even more adapted to their conference’s physical burdens. As a result, they’re already seeing gains that serve up some good fortune and surprises for Nebraska’s 2019 spring practices. Today, we’ll discuss the most likely starting 11 you’ll see take the field when the Huskers return to the Hawks Championship Center’s FieldTurf as a team come March.
Note: Players referred to as "sleepers" are those who are currently positioned to give starters the biggest run for their money over the course of spring ball.
Starter: Adrian Martinez
The Californian wunderkind returns for what many are already hyping to be a sensational sophomore year. It’ll be hard to keep the buildup surrounding Martinez from skyrocketing considering what McKenzie Milton did in his second year under Scott Frost and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco. No one’s looking at any backup to usurp No. 2 from the starting role, but cementing a far better depth chart than 2018's would be a major step towards achieving the Big Red’s future goals.
Sleeper: Noah Vedral
Starter: Maurice Washington
After displaying a dizzying array of moves and tenacity in 2018 when he sometimes literally crawled to the sideline after a play, Washington is poised to become Nebraska’s feature back. The best news is that he’ll have a physical complement again in junior college transfer Dedrick Mills. Thanks to Devine Ozigbo, opposing defenses were pummeled before Washington juked (and occasionally lept) his way to what will no doubt be the spring’s starting role. Look for Mills to mirror Ozigbo’s brutish methods.
Sleeper: Dedrick Mills
Starter: Brendan Jaimes
The surest thing about Nebraska's offensive line is that Jaimes has this spot locked down. He most likely will until he decides to take his talents to the next level. That said, depth is crucial for an offense that prides itself on tempo. While Jaimes will rarely leave the field when the Huskers are on the march, knowing that there’s a safety net is a luxury any team loves to have.
Sleeper: Matt Sichterman
Starter: Boe Wilson
Truly coming into his own in 2018, the mauling style of Wilson is exactly what the Big Red needs on the interior offensive line. In teaming with Jaimes, the left side of Nebraska’s front five easily appears the strongest. To those nipping at his heels for playing time: good luck.
Sleeper: John Raridon
Starter: Hunter Miller
This is where we see two major factors hit the offensive line in a positive way: the anticipated lack of Desmond Bland in the 2019 recruiting class (his addition is the longest of longshots) and the emergence of a legitimate right tackle. A little over one month ago, not having Bland on the roster appeared to mean Will Farniok, younger brother of fellow offensive lineman Matt, would most likely get the nod in the middle. Thanks to Miller’s determination and work in the weight room, his appearance at the front of the line appears looks extremely realistic.
Sleepers: Will Farniok/Cam Jurgens
Starter: Matt Farniok
When concerns about Bland not getting to Lincoln first started cropping up in December, it appeared that the older Farniok would have to hold down the fort at the right tackle spot yet again. That is unless incoming signee Bryce Benhart could show so much potential that he’d become the sixth true freshman ever to start on a Nebraska offensive line. However, strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval can be thanked for mitigating this problem.
Sleeper: Trent Hixson
Starter: Christian Gaylord
The reason for the older Farniok’s projected move to the inside isn’t due to where Benhart is in his progression. Rather, it’s how well Gaylord appears to be capping his final year in the program. Much like linebacker Mohamed Barry prior to 2018, many surrounding the program have been waiting for Gaylord to break out. He came into Lincoln measuring 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds. As of the official roster’s most recent update, he’s added 35 pounds to his frame and there’s plenty of time for him to put on even more good weight by fall. Keep your eyes on No. 65 as he’ll definitely be one to watch.
Sleeper: Bryce Benhart
Starter: Kade Warner
So you want to fill Stanley Morgan Jr.’s shoes? The son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner looks to be the guy who has the first opportunity to do so. He stepped up as an excellent blocker and occasional target last season with 17 catches for 95 yards. It’ll be interesting to see if the speedier backups can shove Warner from his projected perch. It’s important to note that offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Troy Walters has an important message for his charges: “No block, no rock." That gives Warner a big edge from the get-go.
Sleepers: Andre Hunt/Jamie Nance
Starter: Jack Stoll
Nebraska’s tight ends could best be described as “streaky” last season. For every clutch catch made by Stoll, there were a few balls that should’ve been hauled in but weren’t. A year more familiar with the system, he has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of former UCF tight end Jordan Akins. The current Houston Texan logged 23 receptions for 347 yards and two touchdowns in Frost’s first year with the Knights. In year two, he tallied 32 receptions for 515 yards and four scores.
Sleepers: Austin Allen/Kurt Rafdal
Starter: JD Spielman
With the departure of Morgan, Spielman appears ready to take on the role of the receiving corps’ leader. Nebraska’s second-leading receiver in 2018, Spielman was responsible for 818 yards (12.4 per catch) and led the team in touchdown receptions with eight. This is even more impressive considering he only participated in 10 games out of the Huskers’ 12 played. Much like Martinez, anyone taking over Spielman’s spot is extremely unlikely, but being able to sub out effectively at wideout is just as crucial as having a rock-solid starter.
Sleeper: Mike Williams
Starter: Wandale Robinson
When you sit down and show a recruit highlights of De'Anthony Thomas' time at Oregon and say, “this could be you; let us show you how,” it’s clear that said player isn’t meant to sit on the bench. The all-everything Kentucky native has the potential to do it all. For reference, Thomas was responsible for 1,890 rushing yards, 1,296 receiving, and 41 total touchdowns during his three years in Eugene. All that despite missing three games following an ankle injury during the first play of Oregon’s game versus California in 2013. Yes, the hype is real for Robinson and it’s legitimate.
Sleeper: Miles Jones
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.