Nebraska begins fall camp on Thursday. Football is officially upon us. Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson get together to take a look at what to expect and what to watch for over the next month.
What is one major question you want answered in fall camp? Quarterback winner is off limits here.
BV: I remain fascinated by corner. Part of that has to do with the positive reviews of Will Jackson. What a story that will be if he emerges as a contributor at a position that’s almost totally up in the air. I don’t care so much who is at the top of the depth chart come the end of August, but how does the staff feel about that position?
And you could extend it to the secondary as a whole. The options at safety are plentiful and intriguing. So, really, how the entire puzzle comes together will be one of the top questions I’m hoping to have an answer to by the week of the season opener.
ES: If I can’t select the quarterback competition, I’ll take the offensive line and how its depth is going to shake out through fall camp. We have a pretty good idea of who the starters will be, but depth is a bit of a question mark after that.
With that said, offensive line coach Greg Austin shared the very opposite of my concern on Tuesday’s “Sports Nightly” radio show.
“I’m excited because we actually have some depth,” Austin said. “When I say that, I mean those inside guys are our backup tackles. We have some depth where we can mix and match and put some different guys in there to give a guy a breather or two on a down and not slow the operation down.”
So, that’s good to hear. I’d like to see how that shakes out (and the eventual depth chart) but that’s an area I’ll be keeping an eye on this fall.
GS: One thing I really want answered is who will start and play the most at outside linebacker. Between Quayshon Alexander, Alex Davis, Breon Dixon, Tyrin Ferguson, Luke Gifford, Caleb Tannor and Guy Thomas they have bodies. However, the pecking order there is very cloudy. I feel like Davis, Dixon, Ferguson, Gifford and Tannor will all play.
Beyond that, I can make the case for any combination of the two of them to be the starters by the time we get to conference play. A guy or two from this group has to emerge as a pass-rushing threat to make this defense really take shape.
JP: Cornerback, depth chart at safety, offenisve line and pass rush are all topics that I had in mind when reading through the question, but my colleagues have hit on each one of those already. One position battle that hasn't necessarily been discussed as much on a consistent basis is at inside linebacker. Dedrick Young has as much experience as anyone on the defense, Mohamed Barry's name was mentioned a lot during the spring and Will Honas was the staff's hand-picked inside linebacker from the junior college ranks. Which two start? What does that rotation look like in terms of number of snaps for each? What does each bring to the table?
DP: I sort of ran through potential answers here in my head and went past things like “who starts at corner” and “staff confidence in center” and then settled on “what should we make of running back?” I’ve written a good deal about the options at that position and those looks are all before Maurice Washington joins the fold. From a talent standpoint, Greg Bell is good enough to be a featured back but the UCF history says that’s not what the offense uses.
So how often will we see Miles Jones in the backfield? How quickly can Washington get up to speed? Tyjon Lindsey lined up in the backfield on the first play of the spring game, how much of that are we going to see? Is Devine Ozigbo going to have a goal-line/short-yardage package? How does a beefed-up Jaylin Bradley work into the mix? I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen at corner and center, but I’m not so sure at runner.
Who is one player you’re going to be watching closely throughout the next month?
BV: I’ll be keeping a close eye on Cameron Jurgens. There are snaps to be had at tight end, I think, and his injury during his senior system kind of took him off the radar a little bit. But he’s the type of player with a high, high ceiling and I’ll be very curious to see where he starts from in his first fall camp.
ES: I’ll take a wildcard pick: redshirt freshman Kade Warner. Nebraska is more than talented at wide receiver, but I think Warner has some potential. Maybe he won’t have a ton of playing time in 2018, but I think he solidifies himself as a reliable option in Frost’s offense.
GS: Tyjon Lindsey. Last season, there were big expectations on him as a freshman because of his 4-star ranking and who Nebraska had to overcome to get him. By his admission, he wasn’t in the shape he needed to be and not focused enough on football. Now, he looks to be the type of player that Frost and Walters would create to play wideout for them in this offense. The problem is the competition for snaps is fierce.
Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman have their spots solidified. Mike Williams was a revelation in the spring/summer. Javeon McQuitty is trying to make a move. Jaron Woodyard might be the fastest player on the team. Also, Miles Jones is taking snaps from someone. Can Lindsey start to quickly realize his potential before those other guys figure it out?
JP: I'll take Luke Gifford. Before going down for the season last year, GIfford looked to be something of a bright spot in an otherwise dark, dark defense. He showed tremendous versatility and solid-playmaker instincts and I'm looking forward to seeign what his role looks like in Erik Chinander's more aggressive defense. My fingers are crossed that he stays healthy because the Lincoln native deserves a healthy senior season.
DP: In the spring, Travis Fisher said Lamar Jackson has made strides in becoming the player they think he can be. Fisher talked Jackson improvement on multiple occasions. But since that time, both Fisher and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander have been brutally honest about pushing Jackson. They brought in Will Jackson to compete with him. Fisher has named Will directly when talking about bringing in new guys to take others’ jobs. Chinander has publicly stated scheme isn’t an excuse for poor play in Lamar’s past. He has the physical tools to be a stud. I want to know if these guys can pull it out of him.
Now for the burning question everyone will want an answer to, the quarterback spot. Scott Frost has said he hopes to name the starter a week before the Huskers’ Sept. 1 season-opener against Akron. Who will it be?
BV: Adrian Martinez. Scott Frost has a benefit at Nebraska that he didn’t have at UCF –– he’s much more of a proven commodity now than he was then. Husker fans are just happy to have him and while I’m sure Knight fans were as well given the aura of Oregon, Frost wasn’t the hottest coaching candidate in the country then. Anything in Year 1 at UCF would’ve been better than 0-12, but there had to be some pressure to prove himself. And remember, while 6-7, given the previous season’s record, was impressive it wasn’t the type of season the casual football fan noticed. It was more insider-y, more of a “Hey, UCF got a lot better in 2016,” for anyone paying attention. But many people weren’t.
At Nebraska, Frost will have more attention but he also has more credit built up after last year’s 13-0 run. All of which is to say Frost can freely make bolder decisions right out of the gate than would’ve been prudent in Orlando.
Like starting a true freshman quarterback who didn’t play his senior season in Game 1.
ES: I had said for as long as I can remember that it would be Tristan Gebbia. I figured he would be your starter to kick off the season and that maybe Adrian Martinez would unseat him at some point. With that said, I made this prediction before the redshirt rule change and I feel like I have to change my thoughts.
The more I think about it, if Martinez is ready, he’ll start Game 1. With the opportunity to play four games and still redshirt, there’s no reason for Frost and his staff not to play him right away. I still expect a good competition between the Martinez and Gebbia, but it feels like the job is Martinez’s to lose.
With that said, if it ends up being Gebbia and I was ultimately right but changed my mind last minute? I’m fully blaming Derek and Greg.
GS: Let me start by saying that I think Tristan Gebbia could be reasonably successful in this offense. However, Scott Frost wasn’t hired to have a fairly successful offense. He was hired to have the level of offense he had at UCF last season or what he, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich had going at Oregon. The best way for them to get there (next year) is to have a true dual-threat quarterback running the show. Adrian Martinez is the guy for me. He will take some lumps this season but will be special in Year 2.
JP: I'll buck the trend here a bit. My thought all along has been that Tristan Gebbia would win the job to open the season and what happened after that depends on how things progress for the two young quarterbacks. With nothing but the spring game as something to fall back on in terms of data points for us to evaluate, I don't see enough evidence to change my mind. I think Gebbia grasps the ins and outs of the offense more quickly than Martinez does and wins the battle in camp. Either way, I expect both signal-callers to get snaps in the first game with the new rules.
DP: We talked at length about this on last week’s podcast. Nebraska has two good options at quarterback. I could see them winning six games this season with either guy calling the shots. But with this season being not as much about this season as it is future seasons, there’s just too much to gain by starting Martinez and feeding him as much as he can handle. If we get into Week 4 and it’s clear he might not be physically ready, move to Gebbia, roll Martinez out against someone like Illinois to get him a taste of conference action and then let him sit. You don’t want to wreck a kid’s confidence. I just don’t see that being an issue though; I think Martinez is ready. And while I think Gebbia has a higher floor, Martinez has the higher ceiling.