As Nebraska went through spring ball earlier this year, tight ends coach Sean Beckton liked the potential of freshman Chris Hickman, but wasn’t shy about illustrating how far away the former Omaha Burke standout was physically.
“Mentally, he’s doing a great job of understanding what’s going on, but physically right now, I don’t feel good about him right now. He needs to put on some weight,” Beckton said in late March.
That mission is ongoing, but last week Beckton said Hickman is up to 212 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame. That’s a long way from guys in the room like Jack Stoll (6-4, 260), Austin Allen (6-8, 250) and Kurt Rafdal (6-7, 245), but Hickman’s made enough progress that he’s in the game plan for Saturday’s opener against South Alabama along with Stoll, Allen and Rafdal.
“I’m not concerned with him being able to get out there and perform,” Beckton said Wednesday. “What he’s shown us as a staff throughout training camp, he’s shown that he deserves to be on the football field in the first game. Obviously he’s limited a little bit as far as his physique and his weight, but he’s tenacious, he understands the game plan thus far … and right now I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him out there early in the game.”
Washington update: Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held said no determination has been made in regard to sophomore running back Maurice Washington’s availability for Saturday’s opener.
“We’re just going to keep moving on and preparing for the game,” the coach said. “He’s preparing. Everybody else is preparing. If we have to adjust, we’ll adjust.”
Washington is facing two criminal charges, one a felony, in California.
“I’m not involved in it,” Held said when asked how he approaches the situation. “What my goal is for No. 28 is just to every day be a positive mentor for him, to help him maneuver through being a collegiate athlete. Any chance I get to mentor and do different things to help, that’s what I do with him and that’s what I do with the other guys.
“It’s not just football piece. It’s life afterward. It’s life at the moment.”
Wan’Dale wows: Wan’Dale Robinson is at the top of Nebraska’s depth chart at wide receiver. It’s not a surprise to see the freshman’s name there, as NU’s coaching staff has been complimentary of the newcomer since he got to campus.
But as gameday nears and Robinson prepares to take his first snaps in front of Husker fans, Walters offered more insight into how the 5-foot-10, 190-pound dynamo earned his spot.
“The biggest thing is, he had a lot of ‘wow’ plays,” Walters said. “When the ball was in his hands he made plays, and as coaches we said ‘wow.’ So we’ve got to get him on the field, we’ve got to get the ball in his hands, because he’s dynamic."
Dynamic enough that Robinson’s plays came from a variety of spots.
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“Oh, all over the field. As a returner, as a running back, as a receiver, when he gets the ball in his hands he can make something happen,” Walters said. “So his work and his preparation has been awesome, and he’s ready to go.”
Revert to training: True freshman running back Rahmir Johnson is getting ready to do something he’ll remember the rest of his life, Held says.
That is, play his first game in Memorial Stadium.
Held emphasizes to Johnson that it’ll be an exciting experience. But the coach doesn’t play it up too much.
“We’ll revert back to our training: Do what you do in practice. Don’t worry about the big lights,” Held said. “Now, that’s easier said than done until you do it. But I don’t make it bigger than what it is. You come to Nebraska because you get to play in our unbelievable venue, then you get to go on the road and play in other venues that are big-time.”
Weighty matter: Nebraska backup quarterback Noah Vedral stands 6-foot-1 and weighs between 195 and 200 pounds.
That’s where the coaching staff wants him to stay weightwise. At the least.
He said Dave Ellis, NU’s director of performance nutrition, and Husker quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco wanted him to try to maintain his weight during preseason camp.
“Every fall camp I’ve been a part of — this is my third one — I usually drop a significant amount of weight, whether that’s because I’m not hydrating enough or eating enough calories per day, and the workload’s higher,” Vedral said. “We made a real big emphasis this year to maintain those calories and make sure I had enough, whether I’m taking shakes home or I’m getting an extra meal on my own.”
He said the practice workload lightens with the coming of standard weekly practices.
Brainpower usage: Vedral thinks all the team’s quarterbacks benefit from most Nebraska players being in the system for a second year. Players better understand assignments, which means the QBs don’t have to get wayward players aligned properly.
“We really get to put our brainpower on the other side of the line of scrimmage,” he said, mentioning the safeties in particular.