Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

‘Frustration’ With the O-Line and ‘Ors’ on the Running Back Depth Chart: Here’s What Caught My Ear During the First Half of Spring Practice

March 16, 2022

Nebraska’s players have the week off for spring break and won’t return to the field until Tuesday. That means we’ll be reflecting on what was a busy first half of the spring schedule, and one way to do that is to revisit what those inside the program have said in their appearances with the media.

On Tuesday, we touched on the defensive side of the ball. Today, we’ll tackle the offense and add in the head coach, Scott Frost, too. What caught my ear from those on the offense?

Frost on Mickey Joseph and his receivers room: “We got a lot of guys in the receiver room and they’re not getting away with much right now with Mickey in there. They know the expectations and the standards and they know there’s going to be a lot of competition in the room because we have a lot of guys and a lot of depth. Today was day one, they’re going to have 15 practices this spring and a bunch of time over summer and fall to try to battle it out to see who the main guys are going to be and they’re off to a good start.”

What it means to me: Frost said this on the first day of spring practice, and it just adds to the fact that the receiver room at Nebraska is wide open. There are a lot of guys in the room and only a certain number of spots in the rotation—Joseph said he wants to find nine who he’d feel comfortable sending out on the field. There’s plenty of talent there, too. Zavier Betts, Omar Manning and Oliver Martin are intriguing returning options who have shown flashes, but haven’t yet reached their potential. Does adding Joseph to the mix automatically mean everyone will play up to their potential? No, of course not. Much of that depends on the player himself and how badly he wants to be on the field. But Joseph’s track record of developing young wideouts and sending them to the NFL is hard to argue with. If I’m a receiver at Nebraska, I’m listening to what Joseph tells me to do.

Frost on his new offensive assistants: “It’s been fun to watch, having kind of been in charge completely of the offense in years past, stepping back just a little bit, it’s easy to do when you have coaches that are holding everybody accountable and demanding a lot out of the players. And Mickey and Bryan (Applewhite) and Donnie (Donovan Raiola) and Whip (Mark Whipple), they all have a high standard that they’re setting and they’re holding guys to it. It’s fun to watch that because we’re getting more out of certain guys that I’ve seen.”

What it means to me: Frost said that last week after the fifth practice of the spring. He even started it off with some playful ribbing about Joseph as he smiled: “Mickey’s old, he’s gained some weight since his playing days.” From the outside, Frost seems like he’s enjoying how his assistants are taking control of their position groups. That includes Whipple, who seems to be in command of the offense while Frost is taking that CEO approach athletic director Trev Alberts thought would be good for him.

Frost on Whipple: “If you’ve been in football and coached in as many places as he has, you know what you’re doing. He’s definitely got that demand presence. Things run smooth—if I’m there, if I’m not there, Whip’s got it and the rest of those coaches help him. That’s been really positive. Just having somebody else that’s been a head coach that’s run offenses that much, it’s going to help me out a bunch.”

What it means to me: Frost is spending more time on the defensive side of the ball and with the special teams units. For someone like Frost, who eats and sleeps offense and play-calling, to take a larger step back from the offensive install and let Whipple do his thing shows you how much trust Frost has in the veteran coach of 40-plus years. Both of the transfer quarterbacks Nebraska snagged in the offseason, Casey Thompson from Texas and Chubba Purdy from Florida State, have mentioned Whipple being in Lincoln helped seal the deal for them. That makes sense—every quarterback wants to be the next Kenny Pickett. Is Whipple’s offense next season going to look like Pittsburgh’s did last year? I doubt it—that Panther attack was three years in the making while the Huskers are just now learning it. It’s unfair to expect big numbers and a lot of points right away in the first season. It’s going to take time, which Frost doesn’t exactly have much of in 2022.

Frost on the offensive line: “The first thing is they’re just coming off the ball, and that’s been something that I’ve been frustrated with for a long time. Shoot, when I was playing here guys looked like they were in 40-yard dashes when the ball was snapped, and that wasn’t up to the standard that I wanted, and that’s the first thing. Protection has been better, too, though. I think Donnie’s just done a good job with those guys’ mentality and technique and I can’t wait to watch them keep improving.”

What it means to me: Frost has been very positive toward the offensive line’s growth this spring in front of the media. That’s to be expected, of course. You want to show support for your first-year o-line coach, Raiola, who’s running his own unit for the first time at the Division I level. You also want to say good things about the linemen, even when there haven’t been many full-contact scrimmages, which would help determine how much real progress has been made. But one thing that struck me was the part about Frost being frustrated “for a long time” about how his o-line has fired off the ball. Why add that part? Some will take that as a shot against Frost’s former o-line coach, Greg Austin, who was fired last November and is now the o-line coach at Florida International. If Frost didn’t like the way the o-line was operating before, why not step in and make changes earlier? Wouldn’t the head coach have the power to do something like that?

Joseph on his coaching style: “I’m going to coach you really hard and I’m going to tell you something every play, either it’s going to be good or it’s going to be bad, but I’m going to communicate something to you every play.”

What it means to me: The receivers room is going to be such an interesting storyline to follow this year. I feel like we’re all going to learn a lot about who’s in that room and how hard they want to work and do things the way their coach wants them to do.

Applewhite on how he’ll handle his running backs room: “When I send out the depth chart, just so you guys know, I’m not gonna have a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. It’s going to be Or, Or, Or, Or. Because it’s 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D because, if I’ve done my job correctly, then they’re all a one. To me, it doesn’t matter who gets the first carry. I’ve never seen a football game be decided on the first carry of the game, it’s the ones after that. That’s what matters.”

What it means to me: It’s hard not to like Applewhite and what he stands for. Like other assistants have said, Applewhite wants to create as much competition as possible. Running back has always been an interesting position to me. They’re almost always one of the best athletes on the field, and if given a real opportunity, many would make plays with the ball in their hands. I think Nebraska has a handful of guys who would do well in different situations. Rahmir Johnson, though undersized at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, is a tough runner who doesn’t shy away from collisions and is one of the better pass catchers out of the backfield. At 245 pounds, Jaquez Yant is bigger and quicker than most linebackers who will try to tackle him. Put on Anthony Grant’s film from his days with New Mexico Military Institute and you’ll see why Applewhite recruited him while he was at TCU—the 210-pounder has the burst you’re looking for and runs behind his pads. It’s unfortunate that Gabe Ervin Jr.’s season came to an end early last year while he was in the middle of getting acclimated to Division I football in his first season. He’ll be limited this spring as he rehabs his knee injury. But when healthy, Ervin has the potential to be a three-down back who you’d be able to keep on the field on third downs to pick up the pass rush, something he was really good at, especially for a true freshman.

Applewhite on recruiting Texas: “It was very interesting, the reception and how excited every school was that I walked into that I had Cornhuskers, the N or Nebraska on my shirt, and it was a different reception than when I walked in and I had TCU on.”

What it means to me: The passion for football and building relationships with young people is easy to spot when Applewhite talks. I have no doubt that Nebraska’s presence in the state of Texas is going to grow now that Applewhite will be recruiting the area. It’s already started with the commitment of running back Ajay Allen, a member of the Huskers’ 2022 class and former TCU pledge who flipped to Nebraska on National Signing Day. It’d be wise to expect more commits from the Lone Star State in the near future.

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