The end of fall camp is nigh, and the Nebraska football team will soon — as in the next day or two — begin turning its attention toward preparing for next Saturday's season opener against South Alabama.
That's both exciting and somewhat challenging. If fall camp marks the beginning of a new season, then game prep is a marker of the end of a long, long journey from the end of the previous season to the start of the next.
"We feel good about fall camp up to this point. We’re night and day from last year in terms of the scheme. So now whatever we throw at them, they can handle. So now we’ve kind of got to separate and get into some South Alabama, show them some clips so they can get familiar with what we’re going to see," Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Wednesday. "But we don’t want to lose the edge of going against our defense because our defense is playing well and making us better. So we’ll combine the two and make sure we’re peaking come next Saturday."
Nebraska's coaching staff has been trying to simulate gameday atmosphere and situations in recent days in an effort to get the Huskers ready. But there are always the unknowns of how newcomers will react to the environment inside of Memorial Stadium. There are the unknowns, too, of what exactly NU will see when the Jaguars line up across the way.
"The competition against the defense has been awesome. Going against them every day has made us better, so we don’t want to lose that. We don’t lose the good on good, so we’ll go against our defense 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s," Walters said. "But now the focus shifts to getting a jump start on South Alabama and understanding their tendencies and what we’re going to see defensively."
Martinez on Manning watch list: Adrian Martinez’s summer of preseason recognition continued Wednesday when he was named to the Manning Award’s preseason watch list.
The Manning Award is given annually to the top quarterback in the nation.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Husker standout, who set several school records and finished 12th in the nation in offensive yards per game (295.1) as a freshman in 2018, is one of just three sophomore signal-callers on the preseason list. The others are Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Texas Tech’s Alan Bowman.
Overall, 30 signal-callers are on the preseason list. Martinez is joined by fellow Big Ten quarterbacks Shea Patterson (Michigan) and Nate Stanley (Iowa).
Martinez worked as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy this summer.
Thompkins in picture: Nebraska true freshman running back Ronald Thompkins practiced in full pads Wednesday, but is being held out of contact for the time being.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Georgia native is working his way back from a major knee injury that sidelined him for all but one game of his senior year at Grayson High School.
He missed all but six games of his junior season with an injury to his other knee.
But Husker running backs coach Ryan Held cautions against counting out Thompkins as a possible contributor this season.
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“I even told him again today, ‘I’m going to give you every opportunity to build yourself up to have a chance to play this year,’” Held said. “That guy is talented. We’re just being smart and not having him go out there and do anything that puts him in jeopardy.
“But it’s not like he’s done for the year redshirting. I’m going to see what he can do and build him up. We want as many weapons as we can get because it’s a long season and we want to present matchup difficulties to the defense.”
Thompkins continues to build stamina and his knowledge of the offense.
“Hopefully next week we’ll get him more plays to see where he’s at,” Held said. “It’s kind of a wait-and-see with him.”
Hickman ‘not scared’: Nebraska freshman tight end Chris Hickman is a good athlete who had a knack for making big plays during a standout career at Omaha Burke.
That’s not what Husker tight ends coach Sean Beckton points to when he talks about Hickman’s bright future in Lincoln, however.
“He’s not scared to take on a 300-pound kid, and when a kid’s doing that right there, you know they’re going to end up being a good football player,” Beckton said.
Hickman is up to 212 pounds according to the veteran assistant coach, but is still an almost sure redshirt candidate in a deep position group.
“He’s worked extremely hard,” Beckton said. “Now, he knows he’s got a long way to go to get his body where it needs to be, but he makes up for it with his tenacity at the point of attack and his fearlessness when he gets there. That’s one of the things Coach Frost and the rest of the assistants have seen.”
Narrowing scope: Held praised his group in general, but wasn’t quite ready to name a top two.
“I’m close,” he said. “We’ve still got practice. We’ve still got stuff we need to do. The light is definitely at the end of the tunnel. But you just never know how this thing can work out for different reasons. The good thing is, I feel like this year the guys have a better grasp of the offense. I’ve got probably a few more choices.”
Weather update: Nebraska practiced in cooler temperatures Wednesday, a welcome change from Tuesday’s searing heat.
“We were melting like snow cones in Phoenix yesterday,” Held said. “It was hot, for sure, but we needed it. We need to get outside because with an 11 o’clock kickoff (for the Aug. 31 opener), you know how it is. It could be 100 degrees. So we’ve got to be prepared for the heat or whatever weather we get.
“The good thing about 11 o’clock is, we’re so used to getting up in the mornings and practicing. That’s our time. We’re up and getting after it, which is good for us being a morning outfit.”