Nebraska may be on spring break, but coach Scott Frost and his staff had an opportunity to see the team in action for one practice on Friday, March 16. When the team returns next week, the Nebraska staff will focus on repetitions. More reps will not just benefit the team, but will help the staff get to know the players.
“We have to learn the offense, learn the defense, we have to be crisp,” Frost said. “The more reps we can get, the better. Repetition makes you better at anything. We practice at a fast pace, we’re going to get a lot of repetitions. You don’t get better without practicing and we want as many guys up and moving and practicing as we can get.”
When Nebraska returns to the practice field for spring football, veterans and newcomers will make their cases for playing time. Who could emerge as impact players in 2018? Let’s take a look at the players with potential to make the biggest impact.
WR JD Spielman
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was a fan of Nebraska hiring Frost. He was especially pleased for his son, JD Spielman, and how he’d fit in Frost’s offensive scheme.
“I know he’s very excited about being part of Frost’s system, that offensive system,” Spielman told Land of 10. “That’s a great hire by Bill Moos and Nebraska. We’ll see how it evolves. His skill set should hopefully fit in to what Coach Frost has in mind for him.”
Spielman had 830 yards as a receiver and boasted an impressive 7.3 yards per carry as a freshman last season. He also set a single-game school record for receiving yards with 200 against Ohio State. His 2017 performance earned him FWAA Freshman All-America honors.
Expect Spielman to become a bit of a hybrid in the offense run by Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters. During Nebraska’s first few days of spring practice, Walters provided insight into how he plans to use the Huskers’ receivers.
“We’re teaching the whole system,” Walters said, per The Fremont Tribune. “The running backs are learning the receiver position and the receivers are learning what the running backs have to do, that way we’re interchangeable.
“That’s how we were effective at UCF and we plan to do the same thing here.”
Fans can expect big things this season from Spielman, who showed last season how special he can be.
RB Greg Bell
Running backs coach Ryan Held has quite the group of athletes to sort through before fall. Frost even addressed the battle during his spring football news conference.
“There’s a great opportunity here for running backs, today and in the future,” Frost said. “We’ll let those guys battle it out and determine who the best guy is and see if we can fix the 1,000-yard problem.”
While Nebraska returns quite a bit of talent at running back, junior college transfer Greg Bell is expected to make a splash right away. At Arizona Western last season, Bell rushed for 1,217 yards and 11 touchdowns on 201 carries. He was considered the top JUCO running back, per the 247Sports composite.
Outside of the current roster, Bell will have to compete with freshman Maurice Washington. For now, Bell is an intriguing prospect who could make an immediate impact for Nebraska this season.
DE Ben Stille
Ben Stille was a third-string defensive end early last season, but he moved to linebacker when injuries plagued the position. The position change was not permanent, though, as Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander have moved Stille back to end.
Despite the change in position, Stille carried his weight and more for the Huskers in 2017. In fact, his 9 1/2 tackles for loss led Nebraska. That included 3 1/2 sacks, also a team high. Even more impressive, he did it in just nine games.
Stille hails from Ashland, Neb., and is only a sophomore. His work in the offseason caught the attention of Frost, who has mentioned him as an emerging leader.
CB Dicaprio Bootle
Dicaprio Bootle is one of three cornerbacks returning with significant reps. The other two are Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee. It wasn’t an easy 2017 season for the corners, and all three had their fair share of struggles.
However, Bootle should benefit from Frost and Chinander’s defense. As a sophomore, he recorded 15 tackles (11 solo, 4 assists) in 12 games. Of those 12 games, the first six were at the corner position. Bootle made his first career start at safety against Ohio State.
He has the speed and versatility Nebraska needs, and former Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones likes his potential.
“If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to be something special,” Jones said, per the Omaha World-Herald.
Interestingly enough, Central Florida was one of the first schools to offer Bootle when he was in high school. Frost wasn’t yet with the Knights, but it’s an intriguing connection.
LB Guy Thomas
Nebraska desperately needs defensive players who are able to put pressure on quarterbacks. After finishing the 2017 season with only 14 sacks (ranking the Blackshirts 119th out of 130 programs), it’s an area Frost and Chinander will try to correct.
Thomas, who redshirted last season, has the skills to be an impact player for Nebraska. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he looked the part in 2017 but wasn’t big enough. Now that’s he’s had time in strength coach Zach Duval’s winter conditioning program, it’s hard telling where he could be now.
Nebraska could keep him at outside linebacker or move him to defensive end. Former defensive line coach John Parrella liked Thomas’ speed and tenacity, so he could become the pass rusher Nebraska desperately needs.
He’s an intriguing prospect, and could become a major contributor for Nebraska’s defense in 2018.