LOOK: Nebraska Kicks Off Week 2 of Spring Football Practice
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

A Reset of Sorts as Spring Ball for Nebraska Sits on the Horizon

March 21, 2021

One of the best parts of the virtual Husker Nation community is a guy by the name of Chaz. You’ve probably seen him on Twitter if you’re ever using that platform for Husker-related musings. 

Chaz pointed out something the other day I hadn’t ever really thought about now: the online roster at huskers.com lists 180 players, both walk-on and scholarship. (With the departure of Niko Cooper, put it now at 179.) Among them, 85 are listed as freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That’s about 47% of the roster. 

From a scholarship standpoint, the Huskers have 54 guys labeled freshmen or redshirt freshmen on a roster that includes 88 scholarship guys. That’s about 61%.

Consider, also, three scholarship sophomores who joined in 2019 and our list of relative newbies grows to 57 scholarship players. 

Nebraska will enter this 2021 period of spring ball with 57 of the 88 scholarship players on its roster having either experienced only one spring period or no spring period at all. And for the 10 members of the 2021 class arriving in the summer, they’ll fall into the “never done it” category. 

Consider the importance a spring period plays for not just a first-year player but for any player in general. You get 15 high-intensity practices, one of which is a simulated gameday environment. The guys who are going to be key contributors in the fall usually make their moves in the spring. 

For summer-arriving freshmen or transfer players, you’re viewed as coming in behind schedule. A spring period would have given you a head start on the playbook, on gaining offensive or defensive comfort within a scheme. A spring period might gain you some trust from your coach. 

For a young guy who maybe hasn’t broken through yet, this is your time to make your mark and show why you deserve the spot that you were maybe recruited over for in the past cycle. 

Spring is important, particularly with young teams. 

It’s why Nebraska held out hope for so long that it might be able to recoup the lost practices from a year ago. 

COVID-19 claimed, along with a lot of other stuff, spring football for a lot of programs last year. Crucial developmental time lost. 

This year’s spring period is quickly approaching. For some programs across the country, it has already begun. As is pretty standard around this time, we’ve started seeing depth chart projections trickle out. 

I thought about doing one for this piece you’re reading, then saw Chaz’s fun fact and took a step back. 

A “Nebraska football depth chart projection” would be a complete shot in the dark at this point. Sure we know things like Adrian Martinez can fairly confidently be penciled in as the top-line quarterback and a guy like Ben Stille or Will Honas on the defensive side of the ball can be labeled a starter heading into the new year, but there’s so much potential flux around the rest of the roster because of how much newness there is. 

More power to anyone who wants to try one, but the way we view the roster now can be drastically altered by the next month and a half. 

After not playing at all as a first-year man in 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find a defense for slotting Sevion Morrison at the No. 2 tailback spot ahead of guys who have been around the block already. Morrison battled injuries and the virus last year. I’m here to tell you right now if we get to the start of fall camp and the young man is firmly involved in the starting conversation I wouldn’t be surprised. 

Same with a player like Omar Manning. The junior wideout is a bit of a wild card now. All it takes is 15 healthy practices spent reminding folks what made him the top JUCO wideout in the 2020 cycle and we’ll look at the wideout room a lot differently on, say, May 2 than we do today. 

The complexion of this roster seriously spreads the gap out between this team’s floor and its ceiling.

Don’t underestimate how large a talking point development will be once spring practices get rolling. When two-thirds of your scholarship guys are going through something for the first or second time, there’s probably a good deal of teaching to be done still. 

And that’s on top of whatever schematic tweaks the coaching staff has thought up during the winter months. 

Don’t read this as preemptive excuse-making—Nebraska is still at a critical juncture in this staff’s rebuild—but rather a reset of sorts. I have preconceived notions that the offensive line will be the swing piece for this entire team, that Martinez will bounce back, that the secondary will be nasty and the tight end room will be superb, but things can change rather quickly, and in a big way. Maybe someone like Jamie Nance or Demariyon Houston or Noa Pola-Gates emerges out of the blue in their third year, slowed a little bit by an unprecedented second year. 

It’s hugely important that development does take place this spring. Nebraska needs to win games in the fall, and youth can’t continue to be an excuse for why that doesn’t happen.

But I was reminded this week that projecting this group remains closer to a blind dart throw than not. Get ready for a lot of movement this spring as Nebraska’s coaches get practice time with a huge chunk of the roster that hasn’t necessarily had a normal amount of it to this point. Nebraska can potentially make up some ground. We can potentially find out a lot about this group. 

For the second year in a row, it could be a spring like few others. 

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