Just two practices and one spring game left to go now. Nebraska will wrap up its spring practice session with the annual party at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
It should be an interesting scrimmage. Interesting because compared to last year the number of ready-made storylines is considerably reduced. A year ago you had dueling quarterbacks, a new offense with a new tempo, Scott Frost's first "game" at Memorial Stadium as head coach and the first sellout in the game's history.
This year is more workmanlike. Quarterback is settled, the offense is familiar, so is seeing Frost in red with a headset on and it's still sold out. That, at least for me, will put an increased focus on individuals and this week in Hot Reads I'll be offering my Spring Game Short List picks, one player a day. These are the guys I'll be watching most closely on April 13.
Not because I'm expecting any one of them to answer a current a question I have about the 2019 Huskers. That's asking a lot of a spring game. Rather, if there's a theme to these picks its one of raising the Huskers' ceiling this season, i.e. "if this guy's good, that's good news for Nebraska."
That makes this pre-spring game list different than my pre-spring list. And it should be. We have more information now (and a different goal for the list).
First up, defensive back Cam Taylor. I generally don't like the "defensive back" designation, but it's the right one for Taylor. Good enough to see the field as a true freshman, at cornerback no less, Taylor appeared in 10 games in 2018, making eight tackles on defense (12 total) and recording three pass breakups. Pretty good numbers for limited snaps.
But the Huskers have two returning starters at cornerback. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said last week that no job is safe in the secondary, as it should be, but when you have a pair of upperclassmen with starts under their belt at corner you have to hope that experience matters. If Taylor is able to push either Dicaprio Bootle or Lamar Jackson, great, but is the strength of Nebraska's secondary maximized if Taylor fills another role rather than picking off a returning starter?
Probably, and it looks like Nebraska is preparing for that possibility. Taylor, along with senior Eric Lee Jr., has been taking snaps at safety. All of the Huskers' DBs cross-train at different positions, but with Taylor it feels a little bit different. The staff appears to really want him on the field. Somewhere. Where (on the defense) appears to matter less than there (on the field) when it comes to Taylor.
"We’re similar to an NFL roster right now because we don’t have enough depth," Chinander told Derek Peterson last week. "On an NFL roster you’ve got 53 guys, so if one guy goes down, the next best guy has to go in whether he’s a safety or a corner. That’s the same thing with us, that’s why we have to cross-train some of these kids right now. If Cam Taylor is not a starter—which, I don’t know if he is or not yet—but if he’s not, he’s next in. Or Eric Lee is next in. So, where are we going to put him? It doesn’t matter, you’ve got to go play them all."
There are snaps to be had for Nebraska at safety. That's part of the reason a different Cam, Jones, made my pre-spring list. But here at the end of the spring it's looking like Taylor is forcing the issue with his talent and that makes him doubly interesting.
I'm not only anxious to see what he looks like after a full season in the program, I'm also interested to see how Nebraska might use him on Saturday.
The Grab Bag
- Kyle Kardell offers three takeaways from the Huskers’ weekend sweep of Purdue.
- Derek Peterson does a deep dive on Fred Hoiberg’s time as coach of the Chicago Bulls.
- Greg Smith looks at how recent commit Zavier Betts fits in the Huskers’ offense.
- Smith also caught up with 4-star defensive tackle Nash Hutmacher after his weekend visit to Lincoln. (Premium)
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.