Before long, the drive will be headed to Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. For now, it’s just a spin around town.
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks.
1. The departures of tight ends Matt Snyder and David Engelhaupt from Nebraska’s football program make Sean Beckton’s room a younger one, but it seemingly remains one with promise.
Beckton was complimentary of all his players this spring — Snyder and Engelhaupt included — but said the biggest adjustments generally centered around getting the guys to become more natural in the passing game.
The trio of Jack Stoll, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal really seemed to take that to heart. Not that the other two didn’t, but Stoll drew rave reviews throughout the spring, while Allen and Rafdal provide enormous targets in the passing game.
Of Stoll, Beckton said this spring, ““He’s always been a tenacious blocker and attitude. He brings that to our offense. The biggest thing for him is adjusting more to being a receiver. He’s doing extremely well there. I’m really excited about where he is. He’s understanding how to maneuver against underneath coverage and catch the ball downfield.
“He’s going to be a big threat for us this year.”
In Scott Frost’s offense, the tight ends still have plenty of blocking responsibility — though it will sometimes happen in different areas of the field — but also are more involved in the passing game. Beckton stresses understanding how to operate against and defeat underneath coverage.
As Allen (6-foot-7) and Rafdal (6-8) learn the intricacies of that and the way Beckton wants it done, they figure to earn more and more trust. In light of the recent departures — and the extent to which the young guys were used in April’s spring game — it appears the time is now.
2. The moves also ramp up interest in incoming freshmen Katerian Legrone and Cameron Jurgens.
Both arrived this summer. Legrone is listed as an athlete, and there’s been a lot of talk and speculation about what position Jurgens, a four-star prospect from Beatrice, will eventually settle into at NU.
Given the numbers, you’d think both are tight ends this fall. We know the Huskers like to categorize skill position players loosely, so maybe it’s not exactly that simple. But Legrone made Husker Extra’s Heat Index list for freshmen who could be poised to make an impact for a reason. He’s a big kid at 6-3 and 230 pounds and is described as a natural receiver. Legrone had more than 1,900 career receiving yards for BEST Academy in Atlanta and racked up 52 catches for 824 and five scores as a senior.
Jurgens, of course, is coming off a major ankle/foot injury, so we’ll see where he’s at when camp gets going. The 6-4 240-pounder, though, was one of the highest-rated members of NU’s 2018 class and shouldn’t be forgotten about in the conversation.
3. The attrition continues for the Huskers, and it may not be done just yet.
The departures of Snyder and Engelhaupt leave NU at 83 scholarship players in the Journal Star’s count. They are the eighth and ninth scholarship players known to have left the program since the beginning of spring ball. Throw in Tanner Lee and Nick Gates, who each entered the NFL Draft, Zack Darlington’s decision to join the Army and walk-on turnover, and the number is 20-plus.
It will be interesting to see if we’ve hit the end of the attrition road for the offseason. The guess here is that we have not.
Equally interesting: What will NU do with the flexibility? Remember, Central Florida added cornerback Mike Hughes just before the season began last year. There’s not always a future first-rounder waiting out there in mid-August, but the Huskers will have the ability to continue looking. Frost has also said he likes to keep a little room to put walk-ons that are on-field contributors on scholarship.
4. A random offensive line-related thought: Can the importance of sophomore Brenden Jaimes this fall be overstated?
This came to mind when discussing the depth of various Husker position groups on Monday morning with Damon Benning and Gary Sharp on 1620 AM The Zone.
NU and Greg Austin are committed to putting the five best players on the field up front. When injuries hit Central Florida in 2017 — including in the Peach Bowl against Auburn — Austin mixed and matched to find the best matchup. This isn't to say the same couldn't be done in a pinch here. And yes, injuries happen. Nebraska's 2017 season on the offensive line is a perfect example. On paper, it looks like the 2018 team has more depth and more options inside than at tackle. Matt Sichterman and Christian Gaylord appeared to be next in line behind Jaimes and right tackle Matt Farniok. Senior Cole Conrad has played some tackle in his career.
Jaimes acquitted himself pretty well in extensive action as a true freshman, and a big jump for him in Year 2 would certainly serve the Husker offense well.
The NU coaching staff would like to have everybody available for every game, and of course that will not happen. But if you're drawing up a list of who the Huskers could really use a healthy fall from, Jaimes (and Farniok for that matter) would be near the top of the list.
5. CBS Sports national reporter Dennis Dodd put together his preseason Hot Seat rankings for college football coaches and Frost finds himself in the coolest of company.
On Dodd’s scale of 0-5, with 0 being “Untouchable” and 5 “Win or be fired,” aka, “the kiss of death,” Frost is one of just six coaches to catch the goose egg.
Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
Here’s the rest of the Big Ten:
Lovie Smith, Illinois, 5
Tom Allen, Indiana, 2
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, 1
DJ Durkin, Maryland, 3 (up from 1 in 2017, a sizable jump)
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan, 2
Mark Dantonio, MSU, 1
P.J. Fleck, Minnesota, 2
James Franklin, Penn State, 1
Jeff Brohm, Purdue, 1
Chris Ash, Rutgers, 4
Paul Chryst, Wisconsin, 1
6. Zach Duval loves him some Mike Williams.
And he seems happy with NU's progress overall.