3 reasons why the Huskers could turn things around quickly
Deep skill: For a seemingly major rebuilding project, the Huskers have a lot of talent to get the ball to. NU’s stable of backs and receivers fits well with the vaunted offense Scott Frost brings with him to his alma mater. There are question marks, sure, but the Huskers have the horses to scare people offensively from the start.
New blood: Frost and company have brought in 52 new players. In the secondary, seven players arrived between spring ball and fall camp alone. If nothing else, all the new faces bode well for the competition level and building culture early on in Frost’s tenure.
Upward mobility: Let’s face it: That defense can’t be much worse. NU players seem refreshed and freed to play fast and aggressively under Erik Chinander. Bob Diaco tried to carefully fit puzzle pieces together and it instead fell apart. Chinander is going to take big swings at forcing turnovers and game-changing plays.
3 reasons why the Huskers could need more time
Young QBs: NU is going to be breaking in a new quarterback in 2018. That almost always comes with ups and downs. So, even though the Huskers have strong talent, there are going to be some bumps under center. Even in the event of a promising season, expect the young quarterbacks to develop on a multiyear track.
Depth questions: The Huskers are deep at receiver and have backfield options. They also have question marks in the secondary and at tackle. For instance, if Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok play 12 games apiece, the NU offensive line should be fine. An injury to either could have major ramifications. New cornerbacks Braxton Clark and Cam Taylor add intrigue, but the actual level of play is still TBD.
Not yet mint condition: Virtually everyone in the program sings the praises of strength coach Zach Duval and his staff. The coaching staff thinks the physical changes are evident. Players feel better seemingly to a man. But the reality is the full force of NU’s strength and conditioning is going to take longer than eight months to come to fruition.
3 things you’ll learn quickly about the offense
Slotting receivers: There are so many options beyond Stanley Morgan in the receiving corps. Who makes the regular rotation? How does Frost feed the backfield and also involve Tyjon Lindsey, Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard and Miles Jones? Who gets the first shot at a regular role?
Backfield roles: A similar thought to the receiving group. How about the electric freshman Maurice Washington? Greg Bell was Nebraska’s best running back coming out of spring ball. Is he still? Is he still in the top two?
QB trust: In 2017, Central Florida was 50/50 run/pass with dynamic sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton. But NU will be run-heavy if it has to be. How much will Frost open up the playbook early in the season? That will be the true test of how the Huskers feel about the quarterbacks.
3 things you’ll learn quickly about the defense
Rush crew: With several options on the defensive line and at outside linebacker, who will be on the field the first time Chinander dials up a blitz in a sure passing situation? Does he rely on two outside backers? Three? The mixing and matching will be fun to watch.
How much better? Much of the fall camp talk centered around increased competition in the secondary. The nonconference schedule doesn’t feature any top-flight passing offenses, but any change will likely still be apparent quickly. Another point of intrigue: Who nails down starting jobs at corner and at safety in the closing days of camp?
Turnover time: In 2017, UCF forced 32 turnovers in 13 games. The Huskers forced 12 in 12. Yikes. That led to the worst turnover margin in the Big Ten. Frost this month called turnovers “the most important stat in football.” Chinander hangs his hat on them. So, where are they going to come from?
6 newcomers who could make a fast impact
Adrian Martinez, QB, freshman: There are far more than six, considering NU has 52 new players. But Martinez, duh, has to be on the list.
Mike Williams, WR, junior: The juco transfer is considered pound for pound the strongest player on the team and should be heavily involved in the passing game.
Maurice Washington, RB, freshman: He started making eye-popping plays as soon as he got to fall camp. Will he keep it up?
Tre Neal, DB, senior: The graduate transfer from Central Florida will be a key figure in NU’s secondary and brings scheme expertise to the defense.
Cam Taylor, DB, freshman: Taylor impressed from the beginning of fall camp and coaches say he plays nothing like a converted high school quarterback.
Caleb Tannor, OLB, freshman: Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said Tannor could be an early impact player “a lot of places in the country.” Role TBD, but expect Tannor to rush plenty of passers.