As Nebraska progresses through the opening stages of its winter conditioning program, it does so with eight scholarship newcomers involved.
That group includes NU’s seven early enrollees from the 2019 recruiting class and Oklahoma State graduate transfer defensive lineman Darrion Daniels.
The Huskers hope to add at least 20 more to the mix this summer — they’re at 25 total in the 2019 class and have five spots remaining — so the battles for playing time are only just getting started.
In December, head coach Scott Frost acknowledged that the early players have a valuable head start on those who join the team in the summer, but that he wants contributions from new players in both situations.
“I hope we have players that are here early that help us next year, and I hope we have players that aren’t coming until next summer that help us next year,” Frost said on Dec. 19. “I’m excited about this class, and I think this group is going to be mature enough and ready enough to come in and compete.”
There will be opportunities within nearly every position group. Some spots — think quarterback Adrian Martinez, left tackle Brenden Jaimes, corners Dicaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson — are solid, at least on the No. 1 line. Others, of course, feature much more uncertainty.
Here is a look at three position groups in which newcomers are very likely to have a major say in how 2019 unfolds:
This is mostly a product of sheer numbers. Nebraska’s only three scholarship inside linebackers are senior Mohamed Barry and juniors Collin Miller and Will Honas. Miller moved inside at the outset of preseason camp last year. Honas suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September, meaning he’s almost sure to be limited through spring ball at least.
Enter freshmen Nick Henrich, Jackson Hannah and Garrett Snodgrass. They’re going to have chances right away; Henrich, in particular, as an early enrollee who gets to take part in spring ball.
“We need those guys not just to be players, we need them to be ready to be players early on,” Frost said last month. “We’ll see if they are or not, but I feel a lot better about (inside linebacker) if Jackson Hannah and Nick Henrich come in and are ready to play.”
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud has his work cut out for him, that’s for sure. He talked before the season about using four players if possible, but Honas’ knee injury and a more limited role for Miller as the season progressed meant Barry and senior Dedrick Young played a ton of snaps. Young is gone, as is the medically retired Jacob Weinmaster.
The Huskers have a good starting point with Barry, who rarely came off the field and finished sixth in the Big Ten with 112 tackles, but the new guys are going to have to find their way quickly.
Maurice Washington is a tantalizing talent and should make significant progress in his first offseason college weight program. Remember, he didn’t arrive on campus until preseason camp began, so he didn’t even have a summer under Zach Duval’s watch like the rest of the 2018 class did.
Washington finished with a total of 101 offensive touches (77 carries, 24 catches), for 676 yards and four touchdowns. Even if those numbers double or more in 2019, NU must find multiple other reliable options.
The other returning scholarship backs: Jaylin Bradley and Wyatt Mazour. Mazour, a senior this fall, had 11 carries for 76 and a touchdown and one catch for 21 in mostly mop-up duty. Bradley did not see the field.
Another development: None of NU’s new backs will be on campus until after spring ball, as junior college transfer Dedrick Mills and freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins are all slated for summer arrivals. The Huskers are still potentially in the market for another back, hosting John Bivens (Dayton, Ohio) on an official visit this weekend.
On the surface it seems a little bit extreme to consider taking four backs, but given the returning production besides Washington, you can see why running backs coach Ryan Held and company are interested in at least exploring further fortification.
It’s going to be very interesting to see who picks things up fastest when all the new guys get to campus this summer.
When Frost was first hired, the Huskers had seven scholarship receivers on the roster and saw Keyan Williams graduate transfer to Ball State.
The staff has made it a priority to build out the numbers in Troy Walters’ room, but it’s still a work in progress.
“We needed to add to the talent depth in our receiver room, and I think we’ve had a really good start to it,” Frost said last month.
In addition to trying to make up for a dearth of scholarship players, NU also has to replace the most productive pass-catcher in school history in Stanley Morgan.
Including both Wandale Robinson and Miles Jones in the receiver group, the Huskers are up to nine scholarship players — still not an ideal number for this offense. Five of them will be freshmen or redshirt freshmen in 2019, and all but JD Spielman and Jaevon McQuitty will have joined the program since Frost was hired.
They’re still looking to add another, too, to the trio of Robinson, fellow early enrollee Jamie Nance plus Darien Chase. NU hosted four-star Charles Njoku (Wayne, New Jersey) last weekend and De’Mariyon Houston (Oklahoma City) this weekend on official visits.
There are more returners here to compete with the newcomers, like seniors Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard, sophomore Jaevon McQuitty, redshirt freshman Andre Hunt and walk-on sophomore Kade Warner.
But that group also combined for a modest 30 catches (51 targets) and 227 yards in 2018. The lack of explosiveness was clear. Out of 151 “chunk” plays for the Huskers last year, the above quintet recorded just three (all Williams), did not have a reception of longer than 24 yards and didn’t score a touchdown.
A host of newbies will be hot on their heels between now and Aug. 31.
|QB (3)||Luke McCaffrey||Adrian Martinez|
|RB (6)||Ronald Thompkins||Maurice Washington||Dedrick Mills*|
|Rahmir Johnson||Jaylin Bradley*|
|TE (5)||Chris Hickman||Katerian Legrone*||Austin Allen*||Jack Stoll*|
|WR (11)||Jamie Nance||Andre Hunt*||Jaevon McQuitty*||JD Spielman*||Jaron Woodyard*|
|Darien Chase||Miles Jones*||Mike Williams|
|Wan'Dale Robinson||Kanawai Noa*|
|T (7)||Bryce Benhart||Matt Sichterman*||Brenden Jaimes||Christian Gaylord*|
|Matthew Anderson||Matt Farniok*|
|G (4)||Michael Lynn||Broc Bando*||John Raridon*|
|C (2)||Will Farniok*|
|DE (11)||Ty Robinson||Tate Wildeman*||Chris Walker*||Ben Stille*||Khalil Davis*|
|Mosai Newsom||Casey Rogers*||Deontre Thomas*||Carlos Davis*|
|Brant Banks||DaiShon Neal|
|DT (5)||Ethan Piper||Damion Daniels*||Jahkeem Green^||Darrion Daniels*|
|OLB (8)||Garrett Nelson||David Alston*||Caleb Tannor||JoJo Domann*||Tyrin Ferguson*|
|Jamin Graham||Pernell Jefferson*||Alex Davis*|
|ILB (6)||Nick Henrich||Collin Miller*||Mohamed Barry*|
|Jackson Hannah||Will Honas*|
|S (6)||Myles Farmer||Marquel Dismuke*||Eric Lee Jr.|
|Quinton Newsome||Deontai Williams*|
|CB (7)||Javin Wright||Braxton Clark*||Cam Taylor||Dicaprio Bootle*||Lamar Jackson|
|Tony Butler*||Avery Anderson*|
|ST (1)||Barret Pickering (K)|
|*Player has used redshirt|
|^Has not signed LOI|