The Cornhuskers need tight end Jack Stoll to emerge as a reliable target in the passing game
You’ve heard all of the big names that Nebraska football will feature in 2018 and the storyline about Scott Frost’s return. However, while Adrian Martinez may be anointed the starting quarterback and Stanley Morgan Jr. will have every opportunity to set receiving records, other Cornhuskers are set to potentially have major impacts this year.
In fact, these five wild cards could provide enough of a jolt to add a win or two to Frost’s first season:
Tristan Gebbia, QB
So much love has gone Adrian Martinez’s way that it seems like not only does most everyone expect him to start versus Akron, but that Gebbia should get comfortable holding a clipboard. That said, Gebbia will likely play an important role in 2018 regardless of who officially starts once the season kicks off.
Keep in mind that thanks to a new rule passed by the NCAA, a player can participate in four games without losing the ability to take a redshirt season. This means that Frost can play any quarterback he wishes as much as he wants early on.
If he desires to see how Martinez, Gebbia and Andrew Bunch all do versus Akron, he can. If he wants to make sure a starter is solidified by the time Nebraska travels to Ann Arbor but ensure the Wolverines have to account for more than one quarterback, no problem.
Even if Gebbia is No. 2 on the depth chart, he provides an excellent backup option. While he may not have the elite speed of Martinez, he is efficient enough to operate Frost’s offense should he need to be the next man up.
Jack Stoll, TE
Frost’s offense features both a ground and aerial assault, but receivers aren’t the only pass catchers who will need to get in on the act to make Nebraska’s new look excel. Part of what helped UCF put up so many points last season was the work of tight ends Jordan Akins and Michael Colubiale. The duo was responsible for 42 catches, 736 yards and five touchdowns. They were able to do this while picking up large chunks of yardage as well with Akins averaging 16.1 yards per catch and Colubiale 22.1.
Recent news of Matt Snyder and David Engelhaupt departing immediately puts Stoll in the spotlight as the No. 1 tight end in 2018. It appears likely that he gets the same treatment Akins did during both years of Frost’s UCF tenure.
Nebraska does have other players at the position who could develop such as Austin Allen, Kurt Rafdal, Cameron Jurgens and Katerian Legrone, but Stoll is the known quantity right now. If he can step up and provide an addition to the Stanley Morgan-JD Spielman duo of receivers, that would take a large amount of pressure off of Nebraska’s quarterback.
Matt Farniok, RT
Right now, Brendan Jaimes and Jerald Foster appear to have the left tackle and guard spots on lockdown, respectively. Jaimes did an incredible job as a true freshman right tackle in 2017 taking on some of the best defenders the Big Ten had to offer. While not as green, Farniok still will be going up against some of those same names, if not ones equally as talented.
Nebraska doesn’t need Farniok to have the lights-out season that Jaimes did for him to be effective. If he plays with the intensity he’s capable of, the Huskers should be respectable on his side of the field. However, keep in mind that quite a bit of run-pass option does involve him and the Huskers can’t head towards the left side of the line all game long.
Mohamed Barry, LB
A player that many have been waiting to get out of the gate but hasn’t quite, Barry is at a critical point in his career. Not only does he get the opportunity to play in a violent and attacking style of defense under coordinator Erik Chinander, but linebackers coach Barrett Ruud is running his unit ragged trying to shake out the depth chart.
Barry has great size (6-1, 230) for an interior spot and would make a solid complement to probable starter Will Honas in either a 3-4 or 4-2-5 look. Barry also possesses the ability to come off the edge as a powerful pass rusher should the situation call for it.
His future appears to be up in the air. While he could very well break through and become a leader, it seems just as likely for him to remain a role player for his final two years. It’s hard to see him actually sticking around for the remainder of his eligibility if his playing time doesn’t increase, though.
Lamar Jackson, CB
Jackson’s story is well-documented. A highly regarded recruit, he has the measurables to be an absolute beast. Unfortunately, poor tackling angles and a severe lack of physicality brings up the question of whether or not Jackson deserves his starting spot. In fact, he was singled out by his new position coach, former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Travis Fisher, as someone who needs to prove he belongs or someone will end up taking his job.
“I want to bring in a guy that can change the guy that’s in my room already, change his mind frame by pushing him every day. ‘Hey, I came to take your spot, bro.’ I’m going to get this kid and sit him right next to Lamar Jackson and I’m going to say ‘Hey, your job is to take Lamar’s spot,’ right in front of Lamar. I’m serious, I just did it yesterday. Then I’m going to tell Lamar, ‘Hey bro, it’s your job to wake up; it’s your job to not give it up.’”
The Huskers have brought in a number of transfers including junior college cornerback Will Jackson III who may be 20 pounds lighter than Lamar, but is just as tall at 6-foot-3. Following a summer of strength and conditioning, the defensive back from Elk Grove, California, needs to start wrapping up and laying the wood if he’s ever going to live up to his billing.
-- Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), and keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts on his Patreon page.
(Top photo courtesy of www.huskers.com)