Nebraska football is back from spring break and will return to the practice field this week. The convenient “halftime” offers a chance to reset and reevaluate.
Doing that with this 2017 spring-practice cycle, however, is an interesting exercise. There’s so much newness (at quarterback, on defense, on the coaching staff) surrounding this particular team, that I’m not sure there are many questions here at halftime that weren’t there at the kickoff of spring practice. Maybe just slight variations on those original questions.
Here are three I’ll be watching closely from now through the spring game on April 15:
1. Who will be the Huskers’ defensive disruptors? I’m thinking primarily of tackles for loss (which include sacks) here. Nebraska has some intriguing options at one outside linebacker spot (Marcus Newby, Luke Gifford) but a pair of former defensive ends (Alex Davis, Sedrick King) who haven’t played a ton of football at the other. Freedom Akinmoladun tallied 7.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but does his new role as a 3-4 defensive end limit his effectiveness somewhat as a pass rusher? Bob Diaco’s defenses, minus his one year at Cincinnati, haven’t been big tackle-for-loss teams, but Nebraska will need some this season and, right now, I’m not sure where those plays are coming from.
2. How does the secondary sort out? This was one of those carryover questions from the first half of spring football and it’s going to be a fun one to observe. Nebraska experimented with Joshua Kalu at safety (for one day at least). Sophomore safety JoJo Domann continues to make a push for significant snaps. It’s clear the staff wants to see more of Lamar Jackson. There are a lot of moving parts back there. Will we come out of spring football with an idea of what the Huskers’ secondary looks like next fall? The talent is pretty deep there right now. How will Nebraska deploy it?
3. Will fans have a clear idea of who will play quarterback? Nebraska has taken care to play the quarterback battle straight up, splitting reps evenly, giving both quarterbacks a chance to field questions from the media and offering praise almost equally. That’s fine and good, but everyone hears the rumblings and, even if they don’t, Tanner Lee’s experience alone seems to lead most people to think the Tulane transfer will win the job. Does that gap between Lee and Patrick O’Brien, however big you think it is at the moment, grow over the next couple of weeks? Will Husker fans leave the spring game with a better idea of the who plays quarterback than they have now, or will we continue to do the QB Battle Boogie all offseason?
I wouldn’t classify any of these questions as critical. It’s hard to come up with too many questions any team has to answer in the spring, but they’ll shape the summer conversation a little bit. More than that, however, I just find those three sort of fascinating to watch right now.
How the Huskers Win the Big Ten
Over on Hail Varsity Premium we were debating what would need to happen for Nebraska to win the Big Ten in 2017. Brian Bennett of ESPN recently took a quicker look at what some “sleeper teams” would need to do to win the conference.
Here’s his take on Nebraska:
Hey, the Cornhuskers have to win another conference title sooner or later, right? Their three most likely challengers in the West Division — Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern — all have to come to Lincoln this season. Mike Riley has had some time to bring in his kind of players, including at quarterback. Nebraska should be as talented as any team in the West, and if it can just find a way to get over the hump in its biggest games, a trip to Indianapolis is certainly within reach.
Bennett also offers the same type of assessment for Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern. Lotta sleepers in the West apparently.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska women’s gymnastics is hosting an NCAA Regional on Saturday. You should go.
- Penn State has added eight new football “support staffers” since the end of the 2016 season.
- No Big Ten coaches make this CBSSports.com list of coaches on the hot seat in 2017.
- Ranking the Big Ten’s toughest nonconference schedules.
Today’s Song of Today