LINCOLN, Neb. — Most offseason work in college football is done in the dark.
There’s no real way to track how much weight a player is putting on, how much quicker he’s gotten in three months, or how much he’s increased his chances of getting more playing time in the fall.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth noting who could really use a good summer of workouts.
So here are five guys on Nebraska’s roster who could benefit this season from solid progress in the summer.
Nebraska’s wide receivers group is pretty slim in 2017. And it could be even slimmer at the beginning of the season with the recent news that junior WR Stanley Morgan Jr. was arrested earlier this month in Florida and charged with possession of marijuana.
If Morgan is suspended multiple games, De’Mornay Pierson-El could be Nebraska’s No. 1 receiving threat against Oregon on Sept. 9.
Pierson-El looked fantastic in the spring, perhaps the best he’s looked since his freshman year. So the senior really doesn’t need to take giant leaps and bounds this summer. He does need to stay healthy, maintain his speed and weight, and be ready to be the No. 1 guy when fall camp rolls around.
Lamar Jackson will more than likely be one of the Huskers’ starting corners in 2017. For some, that’s exciting. For others, it’s nerve-wrecking. (Remember, cornerbacks coach Donte Williams said fans need to be “patient” with Jackson.)
“Everybody thinks he’s somehow already supposed to be a great corner. Well, Lamar in high school played quarterback and safety,” Williams said this spring. “And this is a totally different ball game.
“Talent, sometimes, can only take you so far.”
Jackson will be thrown in the spotlight in the fall. A summer of working on his cornerback mechanics would serve him well.
The quarterback battle between redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien and redshirt junior Tanner Lee is all but over. But Lee, a transfer from Tulane, has yet to make it through a complete season healthy.
In 2014, he missed two games due to injury. In 2015, he missed three.
O’Brien shouldn’t necessarily bank on Lee getting hurt, but the possibility exists. Lee looked significantly better than O’Brien by the end of spring, which is partly why Mike Riley made the decision to go with Lee after spring ball.
Progress by O’Brien this summer would help his chances of being ready if he’s needed.
Aside from a little time at nickel, Josh Kalu has played corner at Nebraska for some time. In 2017, the senior will be moved to safety. It’s essentially a brand-new spot for him.
Kalu’s versatility is a huge benefit for Nebraska and allows the Blackshirts to fill a spot of need next to safety Aaron Williams.
But learning a new position in a new system is tricky. So the key for Kalu might not be as much putting in work on the field as it will putting in work in the film room — continuing to learn new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s system.
In a similar vein as Pierson-El, Jaevon McQuitty has a huge opportunity in front of him for major playing time at receiver due to questions about Morgan’s availability.
While McQuitty will likely be vying for playing time with fellow true freshman Tyjon Lindsey, he could be called upon early. Lindsey, no matter what, will see the field. Worst-case scenario, the Huskers will put McQuitty back to return punts or kickoffs.
But if McQuitty has a productive summer and can get his shoulder healthy, he could emerge as a young target for Lee in the fall and become a true freshman to watch.