Nebraska football practice, 8/14

Nebraska quarterbacks Andrew Bunch (17), Adrian Martinez (2) and Noah Vedral talk during practice last week at the Hawks Championship Center.

BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo, who has forgotten more about football than most media will ever know, watched Nebraska's practice Monday as part of the annual BTN bus tour. Here are eight of his takeaways, as told to the Journal Star as the tour made its way to Iowa:

1. Nebraska looks much better physically across the board than it did a year ago, he said.

"It's not even close," he said. "The best way to describe it is, when you looked at them last year, you'd say, 'This doesn't look like Nebraska.' This year, you'd say, 'This is what Nebraska's supposed to look like.'

"I must say Minnesota looks much better physically as well. If you just look across the Big Ten West, I think it's making a push to be maybe the most balanced division in college football. Not the best, but the most balanced."

2. The quarterback depth behind starter Adrian Martinez jumped out at DiNardo. He's talking about, in no certain order, Noah Vedral, Luke McCaffrey, Andrew Bunch and Matt Masker.

"Everyone's struggling with quarterback depth and Nebraska looks like it could be three deep in a world of transferring quarterbacks," DiNardo said. "It seems like Nebraska's ahead of the curve in that regard."

Keep in mind, DiNardo said, he saw the Huskers on a day when the coaches weren't overly pleased with the offense.

As for Martinez, "He's good," DiNardo said. "We don't know exactly how good he's going to be. He could be great. Watching one day of practice, he's obviously a good quarterback. I don't know what else to say other than I wouldn't put a ceiling on him. Let's see where it goes."

3. DiNardo was struck by the overall organization of practice.

"They totally know how Scott (Frost) wants them to practice," he said of the second-year Nebraska head coach. "He doesn't practice long. It's up-tempo."

Even so, there are times when it's slowed enough that coaches can teach, DiNardo said.

"When they want to go up-tempo, or NASCAR or whatever they call it, it's very efficient. They just know how to practice. Last year, they were teaching players how to practice."

4. Although DiNardo didn't watch all the position groups, he did note one area of concern.

"They need some outside linebackers," he said. "They're not very deep there. In that defense, a really good outside linebacker is really valuable."

He thought back to Wisconsin's run of excellent OLBs under former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (2013-15), and even before that. The Badgers have had some show-stoppers. Guys like T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert and Jack Cichy. If Nebraska has a show-stopper, he hasn't presented himself in that realm.

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5. Nebraska needs new football facilities, DiNardo said.

"But they know that," he said. "They used to have the best, and now they don't. I mean, Purdue has a better facility than Nebraska. It isn't close."

He added, "I think Nebraska and Wisconsin are pretty similar. Nebraska doesn't have a standalone building. Their weight room isn't big enough right now. The team room isn't big enough right now."

Bottom line, he said, Nebraska's football facilities are at best tied with Wisconsin for fifth-best in the Big Ten West Division.

That's sort of ridiculous, if you think about it.

6. He was very impressed with tight ends Jack Stoll and Austin Allen.

7. Going back to Frost's two seasons at UCF, his coaching staff has stayed the same except for defensive line coach Mike Dawson moving on to the NFL. The continuity is apparent, DiNardo said.

He was impressed by first-year defensive line coach Tony Tuioti.

"Has great energy. Good teacher," DiNardo said.

8. In summation, DiNardo said, he now has a better understanding of why Big Ten media picked Nebraska to win its division.

"My initial thought was I think that's a reflection of the confidence that people have in Scott to ultimately get it done, but I thought at the time it was overrating them," he said. "But I'm now backing off that. Now I think they are one of a few teams that could win it."

His top three, in no certain order, are Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

"At Big Ten media days (July 18-19), I didn't think Nebraska was in the conversation with Wisconsin and Iowa," DiNardo said. "Now I'm not so sure."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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