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Steven M. Sipple: Several points to ponder after Nebraska's first 14 preseason practices

Steven M. Sipple: Several points to ponder after Nebraska's first 14 preseason practices


Forgive me if you think I'm reaching, but Nebraska football coach Scott Frost said something Friday that seemed telling about his 2019 team.

"I keep expecting there to be a little bit of a letdown practice, and we haven't had it," the coach said Friday following the Huskers' 13th day of drills in preseason camp. 

He's trying to fill his roster with players who love the game. His comment is a good sign in that regard.

Nebraska practiced Saturday and will take Sunday off. Media has been allowed to watch only parts of two practices -- a total of about 70 minutes. Based on what I've seen and heard, here are six things on my mind as Frost's crew pushes forward into the final week of camp.

1. I stumbled upon a remarkable stat last week while doing research for an all-time Nebraska two-deep that will appear Aug. 25 in our annual preseason Husker football section.

Guess the last time Nebraska had an offensive tackle named first-team all-conference.

Brace yourselves.

It was 2003. Yes, that long ago. Richie Incognito claimed the distinction after Frank Solich's final season as Nebraska head coach.

Since 2003, Wisconsin nine times has produced an all-conference tackle.

The good news is, the strength of the Husker line in 2019 may be in junior tackles Brenden Jaimes (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) and Matt Farniok (6-6, 335).

"Getting some really good plays from our two veteran tackles," Frost noted Friday.

Prediction: Jaimes will end the streak this season or next. Farniok could enter that realm, too.

2. Forgive me if you feel I'm harping on Nebraska's offensive line deficiencies over the past 15-plus years, but there's another troubling stat that always enters my mind around this time of year.

The Huskers have had only three first-team all-conference linemen since 2002 -- Spencer Long in 2012, Ricky Henry in 2010 and Incognito in 2003. During the same period, Wisconsin, the standard-bearing program in the Big Ten West Division, has produced 23 all-conference picks along the offensive line.

Some Nebraska fans, especially 20-somethings and younger, will tell you that offensive line play is less important in Frost's type of scheme. They'll say Frost can scheme around so-so offensive line play. That may be the case, but it'll only get you so far. This isn't the Sun Belt Conference. In the Big Ten, you better be ready to win wars up front if you expect to win championships.

Frost said Friday "overall that unit is ahead of where it was last year for sure."

That seems like significant news considering Nebraska averaged 456.2 yards of total offense in 2018, the most for a Husker team since 2012, when Tim Beck's spread system averaged 460.8 yards during a 10-4 season. The Huskers last season averaged 209.0 rushing yards, the most since the 2014 squad under Beck averaged 240.2.

In 2017, Nebraska averaged a paltry 107.5 rushing yards in Mike Riley's final season as head coach.

I think those days might be gone for the foreseeable future. I hope that's the case.

3. Let's stay on the ground. With the running game. It looks like Nebraska again has a "thunder-and-lightning" duo.

Maurice Washington doesn't look bigger at all, but he looks quicker and faster. Officially listed at 6-1 and 190 pounds, the sophomore showed Wednesday during "The Nebraska Drill" his exceptional quickness and vision. He made three rapid-fire moves and accelerated up-field. He's a rare talent. But he has a legal situation in California hanging over his head.

It's hard to say what will happen with his case (his next appearance in Santa Clara County Superior Court is set for Sept. 3). But I will say this: It's heartbreaking to watch talented people in this world fail to realize their full potential. I hope Washington understands his vast potential, and I say that with sensitivity to all parties involved in the case.

Meanwhile, Dedrick Mills (5-11, 220) showed in "The Nebraska Drill" that trying to arm-tackle him often will result in frustration. I'll say it again: He's capable of producing the type of numbers Devine Ozigbo did last season (155 rushes for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns).

My favorite aspect of Mills: He practices with joy. Great sign.

4. How's the run defense progressing? You know, the one that allowed 5.0 yards per carry last season (107th nationally) and 5.57 in 2017 (124th)?

We may not know for sure until Big Ten play begins. But there's something interesting to consider in this regard, particularly with last week's arrival of junior college transfer Jahkeem Green (6-foot-5, 315 pounds). That is, it's possible that first-year Husker defensive line coach Tony Tuioti will lean hard on three new faces up front: Green, graduate transfer Darrion Daniels and sophomore Deontre Thomas.

I regard Thomas (6-3, 295) as a "new face" because he redshirted last season, appearing in only the first four games before an apparent wrist/hand injury sidelined him for good. These days, Thomas gives off the vibe of a man with a new lease on life, and Tuioti raves about him.

Daniels gives off the vibe of a grown man, as opposed to a college kid.

Green looks like someone put on earth to wreck offensive lines.

Nebraska should be able to hold opponents to 4.0 yards per carry. That would've ranked 47th nationally last season. That shouldn't be too much to ask.

5. The prevailing wisdom is Adrian Martinez is going to be better this season; it's just a matter of how much.

Something Nebraska secondary coach Travis Fisher said last week gets your attention.

Asked if he's seen improvement in Martinez's passing this month, Fisher said, "I've seen him put some balls in spots where I had to tell the DB, 'There's nothing you can do about that pass,'" Fisher said. "He's doing a great job of putting the ball in some safe spots where we can't get it without pass interference."

Martinez is making the sort of throws that Fisher used to defend as an NFL corner.

I'd take Martinez over a few NFL quarterbacks right now.

6. Frost played for a man (Tom Osborne) who was very conservative in praising players, particularly newcomers. Frost takes a different approach. But he'll occasionally slip in a zinger to keep everyone honest.

"We've got a long way to go to catch some teams in our league," he said Friday.

As the red Kool-Aid flows, keep that quote in mind.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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