Spring football starts in two weeks. On Monday, March 4, to be exact. Nebraska has questions that need answering and positions that need settling and players who merit watching. In the run-up to spring practice getting underway, we’re going through everything. Over the next two weeks, we’re looking at five freshmen, five sophomores, five juniors and five seniors worth watching in spring ball. So get ready for that.
Freshmen are up first. And redshirt freshman count in this as well, in case that wasn’t given away by the photo choice. So without further ado…
Redshirt freshman C Cam Jurgens
Is that the right way to classify Jurgens? Maybe not. Maybe it would be more apt to just call him an athlete. Head coach Scott Frost certainly feels he’s one of the better ones on the team, and because of that “unique” athleticism, he wanted the former tight end at center.
"When we recruited him we didn’t know what he was, tight end or defensive lineman or something else,” Frost said back in October when he announced the change. “After evaluating him for a while, he's as physical and as good of a blocker as we have on our football team. I really think he's got potential to be a really good player on the offensive line at either center or at guard.
“He's a smart enough guy to know a bunch of things and he's just an exceptional, explosive athlete. I just think after watching him for a while that his body type fits that. I can't wait to watch what he can do."
Ditto for everyone else watching the team once it became known Jurgens was moving inside on the line. The “wait” part of the whole thing was just a little longer than expected, as Jurgens broke a bone in his foot shortly thereafter causing him to miss serious time. He was healthy enough to practice late during the season but Nebraska had no reason to rush him back.
The problem, obviously, is losing those practice reps at center. Is he up to speed enough on the position when spring ball opens to beat out Will Farniok and Hunter Miller, both guys who served as centers on the depth chart last season?
From a body makeover standpoint, Jurgens appears on schedule. Promotional videos from winter conditioning show off an absolutely massive Jurgens lifting massive amounts of weight. Talk out of the weight room was that he’s healthy and killing it.
Interior linemen in this offense learn both center and guard, so it’s conceivable Jurgens could play either. Nebraska has holes at both after graduating left guard Jerald Foster and last year’s starting center, Tanner Farmer. Interior lineman are also asked to pull and get into open space often. Jurgens will have an athletic advantage from that standpoint.
What about everything else that’s asked of a center? Given the significance of the position, there’s a case to be made for Jurgens being the most interesting man in the Husker offense this spring.
Redshirt freshman DB Cam Jones
The positional importance of center gets Jurgens listed first. If not for that, Jones would have been the first guy we talked about. He’s one of the most intriguing prospects on this roster.
The Mansfield, Texas, native probably could have played last season if not for an early shoulder injury. But now he’s healthy, he’s motivated and the path to playing time seems wide open.
Four safeties saw legitimate snaps last season with the defense. Three of them were among the team’s top six tacklers. All three — Aaron Williams, Tre Neal and Antonio Reed — are gone. Junior Deontai Williams (the fourth guy to play last year) is probably going to be the top guy at safety, but after him, who gets those snaps? If Williams is filling the Neal role (most snaps played), that still leaves two other major spots and the utility role Williams himself played last year.
Who’s to say Jones can’t earn one of those spots?
He’s a big, heavy-hitting safety that loves contact. Does that sound like a Travis Fisher kind of guy? It should. Jones’ film shows strong instincts and timing and he’s currently listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds. Plus, just like Jurgens, he impressed in winter workouts.
Jones is a former 4-star recruit; Rivals listed him as the No. 18 safety in the 2018 class. There’s a lot of talent there and it almost seems like he has flown under the radar to this point. A strong spring showing and that won’t be the case anymore.
Redshirt freshman DL Tate Wildeman
The defensive line has a ton of potential. Established veterans like Ben Stille and the Davis twins will get their snaps, but the Huskers are still in search of a playmaker on the defensive line who can either be a pass-rushing headache or a run-stopping brute.
Stille led the line last season with only five sacks. Ten guys on seven different Big Ten teams had more. There’s that need. Then there’s the fact Nebraska finished 11th in the conference in yards per carry against. So, there’s a need for reliable guys up front in the running game as well.
While there are names everyone already knows on the line, I don’t think Nebraska is at a point where spots are or should be locked up; it doesn’t feel like experimental mode still, but not too far removed from that phase. If someone new comes out in spring ball and has a strong performance, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to displace a few guys on the depth chart.
The Parker, Colorado, native was a high 3-star in the 2018 class and part of the “Black Sweatshirt Posse” (band name alert) during his first year on campus, which, come to think of it, features several players on this list.
“They all sat on the same place on the wall during practice, wearing the same hooded sweatshirt,” Frost said. “I would get a little upset looking over at how much talent we had sitting on the wall.”
Wildeman had a knee injury that kept him out the entire season, but Frost indicated he was fully healthy and ready to go for spring ball. Frost said he looked “great” in winter conditioning. He totaled 61 tackles for his high school his senior season, including 40 solo stops, a team-high six sacks and eight tackles for loss despite playing in only eight games.
Redshirt freshman RB Miles Jones
Was there an offensive player (minus that quarterback guy) who got more offseason pub than Jones? A 3-star athlete, Jones looked tailormade for Nebraska’s Duck-R position. At 5-foot-8 with speed to burn, he fits nicely into that pass-catcher, side-to-side runner this offense loves. He reminded me, at least aesthetically, of Adrian Killins at UCF.
But Jones was slow to make his way onto the field, due in part to learning the offense while being mostly buried on the running back depth chart. Whether his development played a factor in Nebraska’s limited use of Duck personnel last season, or Nebraska’s limited use of Duck personnel limited his ceiling as a freshman remains to be seen, but an injury ended his year after his debut against Bethune-Cookman and that was that.
He finished with a 21-yard catch and a 5-yard run.
Now the Huskers are bringing in Wandale Robinson and Rahmir Johnson and Dedrick Mills, and Wyatt Mazour is still around. We’ve seen in a short amount of time that running back coach Ryan Held is not afraid of stuffing his room with talent year-over-year and Jones might be our first case study in what that approach looks like in practice. What becomes of his role in 2019?
With Robinson the only one of the new guys in town for spring ball, these next few months could go a long way toward answering that question.
True freshman OLB Garrett Nelson
Between the mullet and the “wild man” comment from the head ball coach and the possibilities at outside linebacker, there’s just too much intrigue around Nelson to not list him here.
I feel like I know who the two starting outside linebackers will be on Day 1, but I also feel like Nelson could make a strong case for a role in Year 1.
“His energy is going to lead us in some good directions,” Frost said.
There’s something about him — the charisma perhaps — that feels like it’ll parlay itself into some good things right away.
Don’t sleep on the homegrown kids.
Redshirt freshman DB CJ Smith: A knee injury suffered midway through 2018 could limit his spring ball, but Smith was playing his way into a role in the Husker secondary.
Redshirt freshman TE Katerian Legrone: Jack Stoll feels like a pretty safe bet at the No. 1 spot. Could Legrone earn the No. 2 behind him? Absolutely.
Redshirt freshman DB Braxton Clark: The top two corner spots are locked up and Fisher didn’t rotate much at the spot last year, but Clark has potential.
Redshirt freshman DB Moses Bryant: A two-way athlete who was a tremendous running back in high school, Bryant was viewed as a huge get for the walk-on program but is in a loaded defensive back room.
The early enrollees are obvious but there’s been plenty written about them to this point. The general public doesn’t need a reminder to “watch” the new guys.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.