It's Wednesday -- gameday if you're Mario Verduzco -- and that means it's time for another edition of the Husker Extra Mailbag.
On Tuesday -- gameday if you're Mario Verduzco -- we had a quarterback-heavy day after practice, hearing from Tristan Gebbia, Adrian Martinez, Andrew Bunch and Noah Vedral in addition to head coach Scott Frost. Check out HuskerExtra.com for a ton of information on that front.
OK, let's get to the questions:
Husker Nation is excited for the new era under Coach Frost; there’s a renewed focus on conditioning, physicality and tradition. Beyond all this excitement though, what is some thing or some area of the program that is still “below expectations” and needs improving?— Danny Mlinar (@djmlinar) April 11, 2018
Good one to get us started, Danny.
The coach-speak answer, of course, is that everything needs improvement. All of the first-steps so far — from winter conditioning to scheme installs to recruiting operations to nutrition and everything in between — are exactly that. First steps. It's pretty clear Scott frost and company had a deeply thought-out plan for hitting the ground running, but I think you'll see continued refinements more or less across the board going forward.
For a more specific answer, how about one on-field and one off-field?
On the field, one area that hasn't got a ton of ink so far this spring but I think is a key question between now and September is how the staff honestly feels about the secondary and about cornerback in general. Let's even say that Lamar Jackson, Eric Lee and Dicaprio Bootle each make their own improvements and also benefit from a new scheme. Can NU get through a season with Ethan Cox, Tony Butler, Jeremiah Stovall and Braxton Clark as the next line of defense? Even if some of the safeties have big roles in the nickel, show capability in the slot, etc., that remains a seemingly tenuous depth position.
Off the field, class schedule will be interesting to watch in the coming months. Frost's position is very clear: Morning practices benefit the program and it's equally clear that he and the football offices are working to get that done. Given the typical college class setup (M/W/F and T/Th), they found the flexibility to make T/Th/S work for spring practices. Obviously, fall is a different animal since a game week is Monday-Thursday, walk-through/travel Friday. So it's not exactly a "below expectations," but it's a big piece that the staff is pushing hard fro.
Other than QB play, what is the one thing that you are looking forward to evaluating during the spring game?— Don Sauberan (@eyeformation) April 11, 2018
Yeah, Don, quarterback play certainly will be interesting in the spring game.
I suppose I'm interested in a wide variety of stuff. We'll see how much the Huskers want to put out there. On the one hand, there's 10-plus years of the Chip Kelly offense out there on tape for people to find and analyze and five years of Frost playcalling. They've made no bones about the versatile roles that players like Tyjon Lindsey and JD Spielman will play. So maybe we'll get a glimpse at some creative ways to get those guys the ball.
On the other hand, this staff is very careful about not to, in their perception, give away any kind of an edge.
It's tough to take too much from a spring game. If Erik Chinander's defense rolls up six sacks, what do you take from that? Last year, the talk of fall camp was about Bob Diaco's defense throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the offense and the offense's admitted inability to handle all the exotic looks. But if you look at Diaco's career, he's never been a blitz-heavy playcaller. And what did they do in the regular season? Rushed four and tried not to get beat over the top. Not comparing the systems -- Chinander is hellbent on being aggressive and there's little doubt he'll prove it -- but just a reminder that everything outside of Saturdays in the fall comes with at least a grain of salt.
Mikale wilbon and grad school does that equal grad transfer?— Blessing Tran (@btran0524) April 11, 2018
Not necessarily, BT.
If you're on scholarship and you get your undergrad wrapped up, that means you can get part of your graduate school paid for, too, if you so choose. More power to you.
It's natural to try to read the the tea leaves, but let's not jump to conclusions (I know, I know, football fans are quite good doing just that). As Frost says, these things have a way of working themselves out. I'm interested to see if Wilbon can make some noise in that backfield.
POB still on campus?!— ((((Wraith)))) (@tick_daddy) April 11, 2018
He sure is, Tick.
As you've surely read by this point, O'Brien walked by yesterday and declined interviews, while the rest of the quarterback group talked with reporters for the first -- and likely only -- time before the spring game.
Frost reiterated that the depth chart will sort itself out an said, “The one thing we’re going to have to do and kind of started a little bit today was making sure we’re getting the guys that are kind of separating themselves more reps so we can get our team ready to play. We have until September to figure out who’s going to be the first guy on the field.”
In a developing theme for today's mailbag, it would be easy to jump to conclusions. But let's at least keep open the possibility that something else was up. Maybe the reps started to adjust, O'Brien didn't like where he was and he was ticked off after practice. That's OK. Maybe it was something totally different. That's OK, too. As Frost intimated, the job isn't won or lost on April 10.
Have they practiced outdoors yet?— DHUSK (@DavidHusker31) April 11, 2018
Not that I'm aware of, David.
With new installs and the speed at which practices proceeds and the (ahem, not so great) weather we've had around here recently, it's hard to blame them.
April isn't the time to work on wetball drills or get acclimated to playing in crappy conditions. It's the time to learn, install, keep learning, polish and, as best as possible, stay healthy.
Assuming Stanly Morgan could reach all conference, is there a another on this squad?— Mark L (@taylor1l) April 11, 2018
There's a good one, Mark.
Stanley Morgan certainly will be a preseason All-Big Ten pick and is the most accomplished returning receiver in the league. If you're looking for more, JD Spielman is high on the list, given the freshman All-Big Ten and freshman All-America honors he received. I think I had him tabbed as a second-team All-Big Ten utility pick on my AP ballot last fall.
Some positions, like running back and linebacker, are always stacked. There's so much change and so much competition for jobs on defense that I'm not going out on that limb just yet.
If you're looking for a total darkhorse -- and keep in mind that this is having seen all of 30 minutes of football five months before the season starts -- keep an eye on Jack Stoll. The staff really likes him, he loves the new system and tight ends put up big numbers at UCF. Combine that with the fact that some top league honorees from last year like Penn State's Mike Gesicki and Wisconsin's Troy Fumagalli are off to the NFL, and there's a changing of the guard in the Big Ten.
Repeat: I'm not saying Jack Stoll will be an All-Big Ten tight end. I'm only using this question to point out that the staff likes his upside at a position that produced big for Frost's offense in 2017.
What differences or improvements are there with this new recruiting staff & player personnel staff? (such as the Bob Welton hire) This behind-the-scenes work is fascinating but rarely written about..— Burke Swenson (@BurkeSwenson) April 11, 2018
Great point, Burke.
It's something I'm hoping we can get more into once spring ball is over and summer (at least on the calendar) sets in.
Welton was hired away from Tennessee after the recruiting cycle ended in February. He brings a veteran presence to an operation that has some young guys in key positions. Welton has experience organizing a national recruiting operation and also has ties in key areas, particularly SEC country.
The organizational setup is interesting for many reasons, not least of which is Frost's institutional knowledge of NU coming in. We'll try to get to as much of it as we can in the coming months.
Over/Under for offensive touchdowns set at 57. What are you taking? Why?— Richard Fitzwell (@Corn_Huskers) April 11, 2018
Let's end on a tough one.
The touchdown number Richard lays out equates (assuming an extra point for each) to 399. Over a 12-game season, that's 33.3 points per game before field goals, defensive/return points, etc.
Last year, Nebraska had 36 offensive scores plus defensive touchdowns from Marcus Newby and Aaron Williams and a return score from Spielman.
UCF, by contrast, scored 84 touchdowns (77 offensive, four defensive, three return).
It's way too far away from the start of the season to have a real educated guess on this. But 57 offensive touchdowns is a pretty aggressive mark. Combine that with a handful of field goals and, say, four or five non-offensive scores on a season, and you tack on 50 more points in a hurry. So 450 points in 12 games is 37.5 and, if NU plays 13, it's 34.6 per game.
Remember: The Huskers play at Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Northwestern, at Iowa.
Good food for thought, and another good mailbag. Thanks for all the questions.