Nebraska’s preseason camp is over. Game week has arrived.
The Huskers open regular-season action at 11 a.m. Saturday against South Alabama at Memorial Stadium.
In the four-plus weeks since NU started practicing, some questions have been answered and some remain.
As such, here’s a look back at what we’ve learned and what’s still to be settled as football finally nears its return to Lincoln.
What we’ve learned
Cameron Jurgens was the missing piece to an otherwise steady offensive line.
Many wondered if the Huskers and offensive line coach Greg Austin would try different combinations of players or if a freshman could crack the starting group or if questions about Jurgens’ health would spawn a cascade effect in the room.
Instead, the starting group — left tackle Brenden Jaimes, left guard Trent Hixson, right guard Boe Wilson and right tackle Matt Farniok — stayed together all of camp. The only change? Jurgens, a Beatrice native, seemingly unseating fellow redshirt freshman Will Farniok for the starting job in the middle once he returned to full speed in the past week to 10 days.
Jahkeem Green and Deontre Thomas can have a lot to say about the Huskers’ defensive line.
Green, a junior college transfer, arrived on campus shortly after camp started and jumped into the fray about 10 practices in. The imposing 6-foot-5, 315-pounder has been working overtime to try to get up to speed and be as close to an immediate contributor as possible.
By the time Green was up to speed, first-year defensive line coach Tony Tuioti had already called sophomore Thomas the “quiet MVP” of his group through the first half of camp.
The defensive line is expected to be a strong point for the Huskers, in large part because of the number of returning players. But this pair — Thomas redshirted in 2018 — and graduate transfer Darrion Daniels represent intriguing fresh blood.
"High level" of play from McCaffrey, Vedral give Huskers luxury of QB depth.
When NU played Troy last September, Andrew Bunch started and freshman walk-on Matt Masker represented the Huskers’ only other option in the lone game Adrian Martinez missed due to injury.
A year later, the depth in the quarterback room is completely different. Head coach Scott Frost said recently he would be perfectly comfortable putting either freshman Luke McCaffrey or sophomore Noah Vedral in a game if needed.
"Luke and Noah are both playing at a really high level right now, both doing some really good things,” Frost said.
Quite a luxury to have two or even three workable options behind one of the brightest young signal-callers in the country.
Garrett Nelson is going to play, and Quinton Newsome might, too.
Among the high-profile defensive members of Nebraska’s freshman class, these two might not have been the first names that came to mind in terms of instant impact before camp started.
Several others — DB Noa Pola-Gates, DL Ty Robinson, ILB Nick Henrich (when healthy) — may all get their chance, but the outside linebacker from Scottsbluff and the defensive back from Georgia look like the two best bets to see playing time right away.
The Huskers like their pass-catching options.
Wide receiver JD Spielman and tight end Jack Stoll were expected to be major contributors all along — Spielman is on a record-setting pace, after all — but others have made NU’s receivers and tight ends groups much more interesting in recent weeks.
An unproven group of incumbents at receiver led by Andre Hunt, Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard and Jaevon McQuitty have emerged, says offensive coordinator Troy Walters, while sophomores Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal have “closed the gap” on Stoll, according to tight ends coach Sean Beckton.
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The more options, the better for NU in this department.
The program is chock-full of confidence.
Stoll said recently the Husker offense feels like it can score 50 or 60 points a game. Coaches and teammates insist Martinez is in for a big leap. Nebraska’s defensive players are playing the same system in back-to-back years for the first time in nearly all of their respective careers. The oddsmakers like NU. The schedule is considered at least somewhat more manageable than other Big Ten West foes.
“People ask me if I’m worried about our guys being overconfident, and I don’t think that’s a problem for our team,” Frost said. “I think the confidence helps us, I think the expectations help us, because I want them to expect the same things.”
Does Nebraska have enough depth at linebacker?
Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt is high on Alex Davis as a senior breakout candidate. JoJo Domann and Tyrin Ferguson have shown playmaker traits when healthy. Caleb Tannor could take a big step as a sophomore. Barrett Ruud likes his top trio inside.
In order for the Huskers to have a difference-making second level, all of the above basically has to come to fruition. It’s not that it can’t happen, only that several dominoes have to fall in the correct order.
Then there’s the matter of navigating a 12-game schedule and, NU hopes, more.
Do the Huskers have the depth? Is there an unexpected contributor in the bunch?
A similar question at running back.
With Maurice Washington’s court case in California still playing out, Frost said more clarity will come shortly about his availability in the interim.
Even if Washington plays in the opener, there aren’t a lot of options. Washington and Dedrick Mills look like a potent top pair. After that? Senior walk-on Wyatt Mazour and freshman Rahmir Johnson are next up. Talented freshman Ronald Thompkins may or may not get to a place healthwise where he can contribute this fall.
Best-case: NU has several game-changing options. On the other hand, an injury here or there could really put the Huskers on thin ice in the backfield.
Just how much rotating will happen in Travis Fisher’s secondary?
NU’s starting corner pair of Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle is locked in and primed for a productive year. Juniors Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke came out of spring as the top safety pair and it seems to still be trending in that direction.
What role will Cam Taylor play? Safety? Nickel? A little bit of everything? And just how much will the freshman group contribute? Newsome had a strong camp at corner. Pola-Gates is very talented. Myles Farmer missed camp time with an injury.
Fisher likes to rotate at safety. How many options does he have? Can the secondary live up to the billing as having had perhaps the best offseason of any position group?
How fast does it all translate to the field?
Players and coaches exude confidence. A smooth camp is in the rearview mirror. The offseason is almost over. Now, will the good vibe of the past nine months translate to Saturdays for the next three?
There’s really only one way to find out.