By the middle of next week, Nebraska will begin game-specific preparations for its Aug. 31 season opener against South Alabama.
In order to start tailoring a gameplan, head coach Scott Frost and his staff have to know which players are going to be counted on and where most stand on the depth chart.
That’s what made Friday’s closed situational scrimmage at Memorial Stadium important in the head coach’s mind. The Huskers gave many of their key players either the day off from contact work or, in the case of sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, limited situational work early on.
“He made some good plays and there’s some lessons he can learn, too, but he’s had a great camp,” Frost said. “He’s markedly better than he was a year ago at this time.”
Then the scrimmage got turned over to the younger players.
"There were 10-12 of some of our best guys we’re going to be counting on didn’t take reps, a bunch more only took limited reps,” Frost said. "I thought the young guys did a pretty good job. The young guys scrimmage that it turned into after that was a lot better than what I saw last year.
“We’re going to go about three or four more days of practice and then kind of start turning our attention to the first game, and at that point we’ll have to divide into offense, defense and scout teams and we’ll have to make some decisions then.”
Among those that didn’t participate: running back Maurice Washington, wide receivers JD Spielman, Kanawai Noa, Wan’Dale Robinson and Kade Warner and defensive back Deontai Williams. Of that group, only Warner is known to have anything resembling a substantial injury — Frost on Friday said it wasn’t serious and Warner should return before long — but rather Friday was about maintenance for many who already have roles solidified.
That made room for others in the mix to have good days. Exhibit A: redshirt freshman receiver Miles Jones.
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“Miles had a good day today and he got some of those opportunities that somebody else might have gotten today,” Frost said. “He made some good plays out there. He’s kind of a reflection of the team. Almost across the board, the guys we have are considerably better than they were a year ago. He’s definitely doing some more dynamic things than I saw last camp.”
Not surprisingly, Frost said his second Husker team still has plenty to clean up before the regular season arrives. NU had a Big Ten officiating crew on hand and committed too many penalties, according to the head coach.
There is also a learning process to not only play at the lightning-fast tempo that the Huskers want, but to be able to remain keenly aware of game situation while operating quickly.
“I told the guys, sometimes we practice so fast that sometimes it’s easy to be focused on the rep and not the game situation,” Frost said. “So we’re going to keep putting them in as many of those situations as we can so that we make the right decisions.
“We need to have a smart team, not just a talented team, and I think we have a lot to learn from today.”
Nebraska is also trying to learn about junior college defensive lineman Jahkeem Green as quickly as possible. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder moved from helmet only to shells — shoulder pads and helmet but no lower body pads — on Friday, and Frost did something he said he didn’t consider in his first three seasons as a head coach.
“I’ve never adjusted a scrimmage for one guy, but we went live for 90% of the scrimmage and the last 10 or 15% was 'thud' because he wasn’t able to wear pants yet. He was in shells only,” Frost said. “We got him some reps. He’s obviously a talented kid. He’s got some work to do to get in the type of conditioning that the other guys are in, but you could definitely see, just today, some flashes of what the guy can do.”