LINCOLN, Neb. — Sure, the score was 55-7. And sure, Nebraska’s defense stuck with the old 4-3 look and didn’t really play in the new 3-4. But we’re still handing out grades following the Huskers’ spring game on Saturday.
But instead of just grading the spring game, we’ll assess the position groups based on the entirety of spring, now that we head into the summer. And we begin with probably the most impressive group on the roster.
Not only did Nebraska’s quarterbacks play well in the spring game, they also showed a little hope for the future.
Redshirt junior Tanner Lee, (the likely starter next fall) threw for 190 yards and 3 touchdowns Saturday. Redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien threw 134 yards and a score. And true freshman Tristan Gebbia threw for 268 yards and a touchdown.
No matter which way Nebraska goes next season between O’Brien and Lee, the Huskers should be completely OK.
The best back right now seems to be sophomore Tre Bryant, but coach Mike Riley says he’s in a close battle with junior Mikale Wilbon for the starting spot. Meanwhile, junior Devine Ozigbo has the most experience among the trio.
Similar to the quarterbacks, Nebraska seems fine at this position. All 3 players mentioned above ran for a combined 110 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. And moving forward, the 3 should create a pretty good balance of power and shiftiness. But you have to wonder if 1 emerges ahead of the others.
The reason this isn’t a C is because of the potential. Nebraska’s front 5 is actually a pretty experienced group, which is why it’s so concerning to hear Riley saying things such as, “we have to be very, very concerned” about the group.
This group may make or break Nebraska in 2017.
Injuries at this spot hurt the group. When healthy, Stanley Morgan Jr., JD Spielman and De’Mornay Pierson-El are a dangerous group. All 3 were outstanding this spring.
But beyond them, it gets a little topsy-turvy. Keyan Williams looked fine this spring, but Bryan Reimers’ injury issues cloud the spot behind Morgan. And injuries to Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Jaevon McQuitty didn’t do Nebraska any favors, either. It might all be made up with the addition of Tyjon Lindsey in the fall, though.
The reason why this isn’t an A is because it’s hard to truly get a read on how good of an O-line the defense has been facing.
The defense in general has looked great so far. Mick Stoltenberg looks phenomenal at the nose tackle, and Khalil Davis and Freedom Akinmoladun look comfortable at the defensive ends. Overall, nothing to worry about with this group.
Positional battles usually mean things aren’t looking so hot as no one player has emerged as the starter. But Nebraska has probably 6 linebackers good enough for the 4 starting linebacker spots, and at each spot, the Huskers could be alright. A mix of experience and depth make up this group, and it could end up being a quiet strength of the defense in 2017.
Even from the end of last season to now, senior CB Chris Jones has improved. He and sophomore CB Lamar Jackson look terrific on the edges, and Aaron Williams seems perfect in the safety spot directing traffic. Josh Kalu’s transition from corner to the other safety has appeared seamless.
Only reason this isn’t an A is because of the mystery of sophomore P Caleb Lightbourn. He didn’t look great last season, and though it looked like he improved this spring, it was hard to tell.
Senior K Drew Brown is a rock star. And the new collective special teams coordination by all the coaches seems like it’s going fine.
Punter is what fans should keep an eye on heading into the summer and fall.