With spring break coming to an end, the Nebraska football team will begin spring practice this week. Nebraska coach Scott Frost and his staff have a lot to teach and sort through, from the playbook to the depth chart.
Frost doesn’t expect perfection over the next few weeks, either. He does expect hard work and full effort from every athlete on the team, though.
“I don’t want to see guys dip their toe in the water, I want to see them dive in head first,” Frost said at his pre-spring football press conference. “Do everything they can possibly do full speed. We’re going to make mistakes, we don’t have a coaching staff that’s going to yell at them or cuss at them for making mistakes. We’re just going to teach them to do it the right way. I want guys to go at it as hard as they can. Approach it with an attack mentality.”
There will be plenty of questions in the coming week, and some will begin to be answered. It won’t all be settled by the spring game on Saturday, April 21, but spring football will provide a solid jumping off point. Until then, let’s look at the areas of focus for the Huskers during spring football.
Let the learning begin
The top priority for Nebraska over the next few weeks is a bit of an obvious one: learn as much as possible. With Frost and his staff opting to give the team everything at once versus in chunks, spring football is going to be important in the process of installing their systems.
“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.”
Frost’s offense is fast, and pushes pace-and-space football to its outer-most limit. That alone will take adjustment. However, Frost has already noticed his Nebraska team adjusting quickly. So much so, the process appears to be going much smoother than it did previously with Central Florida.
“We just went through this process two years ago, installing schemes on both sides of the ball and special teams. I think we’re going to be better this time around than we were last time as a coaching staff,” Frost said. “I’ve been really impressed with this group of players and how quickly they pick things up, but usually you’re not limited by how much you can get in, it’s the detail of which you get in. There’s a lot of little details that go into the execution of what we’re going to do on both sides of the ball.
“The more reps you get the more familiar you are with those details and the better chance you have of being successful. So, we’ll get the majority of what we want to run in, it’s just a matter of how much of that we run well.”
As for the defense, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander runs a 3-4 but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a learning curve from former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s format. Senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg noted that at Nebraska’s pre-spring football press conference.
“As far as the coaches go, with the defense, it is kind of just a step-by-step approach,” Stoltenberg said. “Obviously, we start from the ground up, and we are kind of just learning the basic stuff. We are stoked for this first day of practice on Friday where we can get out there and feel the defense and what we need to do, know all of the basic techniques and alignments, gap responsibilities and things like that. It has been pretty good so far.”
The next few weeks will be about learning Frost and his staff’s system and putting it into action, and the Huskers are up to the challenge.
Sort out depth chart
Spring will provide much-needed time to sort out the depth chart for Frost and his staff. One of the biggest positions in question is running back. Running backs coach Ryan Held has his work cut out for him deciphering who fits where, so it’ll be particularly interesting to watch this spring.
Nebraska returns sophomore Jaylin Bradley, junior Tre Bryant and seniors Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo. While Bryant fits the offensive scheme Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters want to implement, his health is a bit of a concern. Bryant had knee surgery last October, and Frost doesn’t want to push his rehab along too quickly.
“We want to be smart with Tre,” Frost said. “I think his health will hopefully improve, but I think we can help that by limiting him a little bit. We are going to be as smart with him as we possibly can so he can be a part of what we’re doing.”
In Bryant’s absence, junior college transfer Greg Bell is expected to make a splash this spring. He’ll face additional competition from incoming freshman Maurice Washington this fall, as well. Those two will likely shake up the running backs room, especially after Wilbon and Ozigbo struggled at times last season.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the wide receiver group will also be interesting. Walters has a solid duo in senior Stanley Morgan Jr. and sophomore JD Spielman, but it’s all about who will step up behind them. Sophomore Tyjon Lindsey and junior college transfer Mike Williams will make their cases this spring, while Jaron Woodyard and Miles Jones are expected to arrive this summer. Redshirt freshman Jaevon McQuitty was expected to be an impact player in 2017, but a knee injury forced him to redshirt.
Lindsey, Williams, Woodyard and Jones look like they can fit at the slot position. McQuitty, along with Andre Hunt, Dominick Watt and Justin McGriff look to fit more on the outside.
These will also not be the only two position groups with depth chart questions this spring. Offensive line, for instance, will be about getting the best five players on the field. As for the defense, Chinander could continue shuffling players from defensive end to linebacker and vice-versa. There’s a lot of potential for movement, which is something Frost has been upfront about.
“Moving someone from slot to running back or guard to tackle isn’t a big move and those moves are easy,” Frost said. “If there’s anybody that we feel could help us quicker on the other side of the ball or something we’ll just sit them down and have a conversation with them.
“Again, I want guys to be able to play where they want to play and if a situation ever arises where the coaching staff feels that they could get on the field faster somewhere else then we’ll talk with them about it and see if they are willing to do it.”
An eye on the roster
All eyes will be on Nebraska’s roster by the spring game, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Frost updates it before then. As of now, the Huskers have 150 athletes on the roster with 89 on scholarship. That number reflects the departures of Zack Darlington and Dylan Owen.
The NCAA scholarship cap is 85 and Nebraska’s football roster cap sits around 135. Frost would like that to expand though and is working with athletic director Bill Moos to make it happen.
“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team, a lot of walk-ons,” Frost said on National Signing Day. “I’d like to get back to that. The best thing Coach [Tom] Osborne did was have everybody practice and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”
The catch to making the 150-player roster possible is the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX. As HuskerOnline pointed out, the “rule states that the number of men and women on varsity teams should be proportionate to the overall number of men and women enrolled at the school as full-time undergraduate students.”
Discussions have begun on how to accommodate Frost’s request, while also staying compliant with Title IX. Until anything is settled, Nebraska’s recent walk-on tryouts are at a bit of a hold for Frost. He’s also not willing to take 150 athletes for the sake of doing so, noting it has to be the right fit for the team and its needs.
“We’re still trying to work through the number, and we’re not going to get all the way there overnight,” Frost said. “Unless you can suit up and put on a helmet for us, I don’t know if we’ll find 150 guys right away. We want the right ones and through the walk-on program, recruiting, we’ll get to that point, but that’s going to be a work in progress for a while.”
In the meantime, the roster will be an area of interest this spring. Between additional attrition and hopeful walk-ons, there will be plenty to watch.