After getting one practice in on Friday, the Huskers are off on spring break this week but there's still plenty to sift through with a pivotal period of spring football awaiting the players when they return.
You can find a spring football preview in the latest issue of Hail Varsity, which we sent to the printer this morning and should be on newsstands later this week. As a preview of that preview, here's the list I compiled of players who I think could raise the Huskers' ceiling in 2018 with a big spring.
1. WR JD Spielman – Prepare to hear the word “hybrid” a lot in Nebraska’s new offense. Spielman fits the mold of the dynamic receiver (830 yards in 2017) and dangerous rusher (7.3 yards per carry) as well as any player on the Huskers’ roster. A key to this scheme is running backs that can motion out to wide receiver and receivers who can motion into the backfield. It causes all kinds of problems for a defense, something Spielman, a freshman All-American, was already doing. He’ll be even more problematic in 2018.
2. QB Tristan Gebbia – The speed of Nebraska’s offensive evolution will depend heavily on finding a quarterback capable of making quality decisions in quick succession. Four players will vie for that spot this spring, and just one, sophomore Patrick O’Brien, has any game experience. But keep a close eye on Gebbia. The redshirt freshman is a noted film junkie, and completed 70 percent of his passes as a senior at Calabasas (Calif.) High School. If he’s capable of anything close to that in college he’ll be tough to beat in this offense.
3. DE Ben Stille – The defensive-end-turned-linebacker is back at end to start 2018. Last year's numbers might have something to do with that. A third-string defensive end early last season, Stille answered the call for the Huskers when injuries hit at linebacker. He led Nebraska in tackles for loss (9.5), including 3.5 sacks, also the team-high, while playing just nine games. Scott Frost mentioned him as one of the team leaders during winter workouts. The Ashland native, still just a sophomore, has the look of Nebraska’s next great in-state success story.
4. CB Dicaprio Bootle – The South Florida speedster has a skillset that would’ve fit perfectly at Frost’s UCF. (The Knights, before Frost’s arrival, were one of the first schools to offer Bootle.) Expect Nebraska’s new staff to find a way to use Bootle’s blazing speed and versatility. The sophomore played cornerback and safety for the Huskers in 2017, recording 15 tackles (11 solo, 4 assisted) in 12 games. Nebraska needs somebody to emerge in the defensive backfield, and Bootle might display the most promise.
5. RB Jaylin Bradley – With four running backs returning from 2017 and junior-college transfer Greg Bell already on campus Nebraska won’t be short on options in the backfield. Bradley doesn’t have the experience of Nebraska’s other returnees or the accolades of Bell, but it’s his do-everything abilities that make him a factor in the race. A capable runner, receiver and blocker Bradley appeared in seven games as a true freshman, posting career highs in rushing (42 yards on seven carries) and receiving (31 yards on three catches) in a win over Purdue.
For more on spring football 2018, look for the latest issue of Hail Varsity.
The Grab Bag
- ICYMI: Nebraska baseball earned a weekend split with Northwestern State.
- FiveThirtyEight.com looks at just how odd this year's Sweet 16 field is. For example, Kentucky toughest game (based on BPI) in the South Region will have been its opening-round game against Davidson.
- This is an interesting approach: John Gasaway of ESPN looks at the defining characteristics and weaknesses of each Sweet 16 coach. (Might have to borrow this idea for Big Ten football coaches.)
- Lance Leipold is one of those coaches I like to keep an eye on given his track record and that he spent time coaching at Nebraska and Omaha. Here's SB Nation's preview of Buffalo football in 2018.
Today's Song of Today