Huskers appear to be strongest along the back end and in their backfield as opener at Ohio State draws closer
Once toe meets leather next Saturday, it'll have been almost a full year since Nebraska last cracked pads against a team wearing different colors. Scott Frost continues his rebuild by addressing player personnel concerns, bringing in new staff, and if the program's social media blitz is any indication, scheduling the maximum legal amount of weight lifting.
Finally, the Cornhuskers are mere days away from starting game week prep. Here's how each position group stacks up as they prepare to take on Ohio State in Columbus on Oct. 24.
8. Special teams
In the interest of complete transparency, this bunch isn't the team’s worst, per se. But nobody really knows what to expect. Following a season in which six(!) different players tried to split the uprights, Frost focused on the problem with gusto. Bringing in Jonathan Rutledge from Auburn in an analyst role was an encouraging move itself.
He then ushered both LSU transfer Connor Culp and Canberra, Australia native Daniel Cerni in to handle kicking and punting duties, respectively. The Big Red also needs someone to stand out as a legitimate punt return threat. In terms of expectations, the bar isn't especially high. Which is good for field goals.
The Blackshirts' second level has two known leaders in Collin Miller and Jojo Domann. However, they immediately need someone to assert themselves as Linebacker Supreme – or some equally flattering title – at another interior and exterior role.
Will Honas, Luke Reimer, and Nick Heinrich are currently clashing to decide who lines up next to Miller while Caleb Tannor, Garrett Nelson, and Pheldarius Payne do the same opposite Domann. After that's settled, it'll be time to get psyched and bond just in time to take on 2019's Big Ten champion, West division co-champion, and East division runner-up. No pressure.
6. Defensive line
All Tony Tuioti has to do is replace three starters who now litter NFL depth charts. That's a thing that happens all the time, right? Senior Ben Stille returns to hold down one of the defensive end spots. But how the rest of the lineup shakes out is... uncertain. Where the likes of Ty Robinson, Keem Green, Deontre Thomas, and Jordon Riley wind up no doubt gets cemented quickly, though.
As a plus, all have the necessary talent to provide frequent and reliable contributors to help Stille. The biggest headache comes in getting on the same page against the aforementioned ruthless competition.
5. Wide receivers/tight ends
Wan'Dale Robinson and Alante Brown are recovering from being "nicked up" in Frost's words while rumors surround Omar Manning's future. As a result, pumping the brakes on expectations for the 2020 receivers isn't the worst idea. Losing Manning for any length of time is devastating. But if Robinson and Brown can rebound quickly, Nebraska's passing attack doesn't have to shift drastically to still be effective.
A season-long spotlight will be on how Frost uses his tight ends considering three new ones are committed to this year's recruiting class. While future eligibility doesn't mean much right now, the biggest contributors are nearing the end of their time in Lincoln, regardless.
Seeing Jack Stoll, Travis Vokolek, and Austin Allen used to usher in a bruising Big Ten-style running game in addition to Frost's desired receiving mismatch would be fun for all involved.
4. Offensive line
Not long ago, Frost touted Cameron Jurgens as the next Dave Rimington. You know, the guy who has a major award named after him given to the nation's best center. There was scoffing and laughter, especially during Jurgens' early 2019 struggles. Now a mere sophomore, he's already on the award's watch list.
On the surface, Nebraska has its most impressive-looking offensive front since Frost took over. While there’s potential behind them, it’s best to not look under the hood too often until a few games into the season.
No matter who you ask, the report out of camp is constant: Yes, a battle for the starter's role is happening. Considering Frost's relationship with Adrian Martinez, a few fans naturally respond with a "sure, sure, Bob's your uncle." But Luke McCaffrey already showed off his fleet feet versus Indiana and Maryland last year.
The biggest hurdle for another in a long line of McCaffreys is how much polish he's been able to apply to his throwing ability. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco noted improvement on his stroke and thrust on the ball.
Regardless of whether or not Martinez starts versus Ohio State, Frost can't afford to keep No. 7's talent off the field. If history continues to repeat, he'll be taking first-team snaps at some point.
2. Running back
It's the Dedrick Mills Show in 2020 but those backing him up have ceilings roughly the height of the Cornhusker State's capitol building. Rahmir Johnson played sparingly in '19 allowing the Huskers to preserve his redshirt as he continues to develop.
Sevion Morrison topped former Oklahoma All-American Spencer Tillman's rushing record at Edison High School. Fellow true freshman Marvin Scott III has the physique of a game-changer with position coach Ryan Held saying he looks like a senior in a freshman's body with physicality to match.
God Made. pic.twitter.com/ceijHhuXKB— Marvin Scott III (@Mscott4__) October 7, 2020
This season, the Huskers' riches under Held runneth over allowing them to be confident in whomever totes the rock.
The Blackshirts jumped from the nation's 78th-ranked passing defense in Frost's first year to 30th in 2019. Yes, the fact that rushing attacks imposed their will on the front seven had something to do with that. But the table remains set for Travis Fisher's crew to severely inconvenience Big Ten signal-callers.
The starting four of Cam Taylor-Britt, Dicaprio Bootle, Marquel Dismuke, and Deontai Williams can gain early momentum against Nebraska's brutal slate. This becomes paramount as the first two levels of coordinator Erik Chinander's defense need confidence from the get-go.
As a result, seeing the Huskers' defensive play-caller take advantage of his defensive backs' playmaking ability by showing off multiple nickel and dime looks wouldn't surprise.