Let's take a drive.
1. Maybe I’m going too far when I wonder aloud how many teams have better slot receivers than Nebraska.
There can’t be many teams, right?
Sophomore JD Spielman is a proven entity, obviously. He had 55 receptions for 830 yards and two touchdowns last season -- with 1,572 all-purpose yards -- while earning freshman All-American honors from USA Today.
Meanwhile, Tyjon Lindsey, a true freshman in 2017, who originally committed to Ohio State, has admitted to playing scared as a rookie. He was afraid to make mistakes and finished with only 12 receptions for 76 yards. But it’s easy to imagine Lindsey, coming off a strong spring, making 30-plus receptions in 2018. That projection actually seems almost conservative. By way of comparison, De’Mornay Pierson-El last season had 45 receptions as a senior.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Lindsey watches and learns from Spielman (5-9, 180).
“He always plays fast, and the way he gets off the ball and separates from defenders is extraordinary,” Lindsey says. “When I go up to the line of scrimmage, I always think of him and what he’s doing and learn from it. I take tips from my teammates rather than be selfish.”
Lindsey actually ended spring practice at 178 pounds. He said the weight he’s since added hasn’t slowed him down.
As for Spielman, he dropped to 165 pounds during the spring as he was waylaid by pneumonia in both lungs (story here). He’s back up to 180, but is working this summer to regain his stamina.
With Pierson-El’s eligibility expired, Spielman intrigues me as a punt-return weapon. Last season, he returned 27 kickoffs for 669 yards (24.8) with a 99-yard touchdown return on his first career touch in the opener against Arkansas State.
But he never returned a punt.
As for that possibility, “I would do it, yeah," he said. "It’s definitely there in my background. I practiced punt return all last season just in case.”
Of course, Lindsey is in the punt- and kickoff-return discussion, too.
The speedy slots are going to be fun to watch grow up before our eyes.
2. If you haven’t heard Tim Miles’ 30-minute interview last week on KWSN Sports Radio in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it’s definitely worth a listen, in part because you can hear the work of former Lincoln radio talent John Gaskins.
(Click here for the full podcast).
The seventh-year Nebraska basketball coach raised eyebrows when he said he “had opportunities to leave my first three years (at Nebraska), and chose not to.”
Miles said Power 5 programs came calling. I believe him. There’s no question he was a hot (warm, for sure) commodity in 2014 after leading the Huskers to the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 16 years.
Nebraska in 2018-19 will have an excellent chance to return to the Dance. In fact, with six of his top eight players back from a 22-11 team (13-5 Big Ten), Miles should lead the team back into the big tournament.
“I think this is going to be a remarkable team,” he said. “My only thing is to make this team do the best it can do. I’m not worried about my job status because I’m going to coach and I’m going to coach for a long time. If it’s not here, it’s going to be somewhere. I’ve known since I was 10 years old that I was going to coach. So I’m not worried about my future.
“I do worry about my kids. Those are the things you worry about. But, in terms of my ability and what we can do, I’m not worried about my job or anything. I’m just worried about -- I just want to have a blast with these guys.”
3. Andy Katz apparently thinks Miles has the goods to make big things happen this coming season.
With the NBA early-entry withdrawal deadline elapsed, Katz, the NCAA hoops guru, unveiled his pre-preseason Power 36 (click here).
Katz ranks Nebraska ... drum roll, please ... No. 16.
“This shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m bullish on Nebraska,” Katz writes. “The Huskers got James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland back, with Glynn Watson at the point, giving the Huskers experience, scoring and the ability to defend at key positions. Nebraska will be playing with a bit of an edge that should bode well for a potential Big Ten title season.”
You read that right: A potential Big Ten title.
Think about that for a second.
4. It shouldn't come as a shock that I'm bullish on Keith Williams. Receivers listen to the guy.
If they don’t, they should.
The former Nebraska assistant’s wisdom to undrafted receivers as they prepare for NFL camps, mini-camps and OTAs is real-world stuff.
“It’s not college anymore,” Williams tells them. “The reps aren’t going to be fair. It’s not going to be even. It’s not going to be OK. You may not touch the ball for two practices. You’ve got to be mentally strong going through a practice and not getting many reps. Then, you finally get in on five plays, and three of them are runs and the other two are overthrows. You go home with that on your mind, then you come back the next day and it can’t affect you. And you have to do that day by day by day.”
5. One also can learn a lot from J.R. Smith.
Yeah, I said that. People like to disparage the Cavaliers’ sharp-shooter. Opposing fans often are ruthless toward him. But he’s one of my favorite players, period, and he showed why last week in the wake of his horrendous decision during the final moments in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Maybe you’ve heard or read the following comment. If not, it's worth repeating.
“I told somebody right after the game I’m glad it happened to me as opposed to anybody else on my team,” Smith said. “To be in that situation is tough and it’s not a situation everybody can handle, so I’m glad it happened to me.”
That’s pure selflessness.
No wonder he’s lasted 16 years in the NBA.
6. I tell you this all the time. Be patient. It'll be back before you know it ...