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It’s All About The Mental Gains For Nebraska

August 10, 2018

Scott Frost praises Zach Duval, the Huskers’ strength coach, every time he talks about him. On Friday, he mentioned that if you were to walk out onto the team’s practice field, the physical changes Nebraska has made since January would smack you in the face. They’re physically better than they were last year. Now it’s about the mental side of things.

When the Husker head coach met with the media Friday to wrap up the first full week of fall camp, he kept going back to mental improvements.

The quarterbacks are having good days and struggling others. Again, consistency is a key thing Frost is searching for.

“I’d like to see them be further ahead right now than what they are,” Frost said. “At the end of spring they were doing a really good job and it seemed like they got it. We didn’t quite pick up there where we left off from spring. I think the last few days I’ve seen a big improvement, but everything’s just got to operate faster for them.

“All the guys are doing a good job at times, but it’s got to be more consistent.”

Frost says that quick-blinking, as quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco puts it, comes with increased comfort in the scheme. It’s typical with new quarterbacks. Specifically, with freshman Adrian Martinez, it’s about being faster with the ball.

“Adrian is great at times and other times it looks like it’s moving a little too fast for him,” Frost said. “He’s got to pick up his pace physically and mentally. At times it’s tremendous and other times, when he’s not quite sure, he’s a little tentative.”

That’s where the coaching comes in. He doesn’t want to hamstring someone like Martinez’s mobility, but he also says it’s their job as coaches to give as many plays as possible where the decisions can be made quickly.

“We want them to get the ball out fast, make fast decisions,” he said, “and then if stuff breaks down and they have to create, those are the times for that.”

The improvement comes with reps in both the classroom and on the field. Meetings go fast. “We’ve always thought if you’re trying to have them play fast on the field, then sitting in a meeting room and having it be slow-paced doesn’t make sense,” Frost said. And, obviously, the pace on the practice field is accelerated. All the quarterbacks are getting equal reps now, but Frost says that could change after an upcoming scrimmage.

“We’ve got a scrimmage coming up and I think after that we’ll adjust the reps at all the positions, not just quarterback, and make sure we get more reps to guys we think are ahead,” he said.

Another spot that needs more consistency is on the line.

“We’ve got good depth at some places and not as much depth as I would like at other positions,” Frost said of the front unit. “Still waiting on a couple young tackles behind [left tackle Brenden] Jaimes and [right tackle Matt] Farniok to step up and earn our trust that we’re going to put them in a game. Some guys, just like quarterback, have shown signs there but I haven’t seen it consistently enough.”

Ultimately, Frost is trying to create a mentality he didn’t see much of last season when watching the team.

“There’s got to be guys that are willing to fight and strain,” he said. “Really, being tough is a mentality. I got the impression watching from afar that last year when things got tough, the team kind of shut it down and quit and they’d tell me the same thing. I don’t want guys that will quit. I want guys that when things get hard, they’re going to push through and be even better in those situations.

“That goes back to a mentality. I think physically we’re getting to a good place where we’re strong enough to be physical, the rest of it’s got to come mentally.”

Asked who comes to mind as guys that are already showing him that mental fortitude, wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. came up right away. Frost said Morgan’s love for the game is evident when he plays and that helps, but he sees a guy that doesn’t want to lose and goes full speed every second he’s on the field.

He also singled out a trio of inside linebackers – Mohamed Barry, Will Honas and Dedrick Young II (in that order) – and outside linebacker Luke Gifford.

“But I want a whole team of them,” Frost said. “I want a whole team that when they’re tired, they’re going to play harder. When we’re behind, they’re going to play even harder. In the fourth quarter we’re going to play even harder. We’ve got a ways to go to get to that mentality.”

Other News and Notes

>> Neither Quayshon Alexander or Sedrick King, two scholarship outside linebackers, were on the Huskers fall camp 110-man roster. Frost explained why.

>> When talking about the running backs, Frost talked about the usual suspects – Greg Bell, Tre Bryant and Maurice Washington – as guys that are producing well so far, but he also had praise for senior Devine Ozigbo.

“I think Devine is looking quicker and faster than I’ve ever seen him,” Frost said. “I think for Devine, getting in shape and getting leaner has been big for him. He’s looking at least a step faster.”

Frost seems pretty pleased with what he has at his disposal in the running back room to this point, given the new guys he’s added, the health of Bryant and the transformation Ozigbo has made. He said: “We’ve got some depth there and I think we’re getting to the point where we’ve got some home-run hitters in the backfield.”

And that’s big. Nebraska hasn’t had a dominant runner since Ameer Abdullah left. In this offense, they need guys that can take plays the distance.

“The big difference in our offense is when you get a crease are you going to get 5 [yards] or are you going to get 12 or are you going to go the whole way,” he said. “It really looks like it’s going to give us some weapons in the backfield.”

>> Another of those weapons is Washington. Frost admitted last Thursday he wasn’t sure what to expect from the freshman runner and he doubled down on that uncertainty Friday.

“He hasn’t worked out much, he was focused on academics, he was working, I don’t think he was eating and getting all the nutrition that he needed,” Frost said. “He showed up actually quite a bit lighter than he was here on his recruiting visit, so we didn’t know what we would get.”

What they got is someone everyone can’t stop talking about.

“I’d say to this point he’s better than what I expected,” Frost said. “He’s going to be pretty special.

“He had a long road to get here but he’s had probably a dozen big plays, spectacular plays in camp and he’s opening some eyes. I think he’s got a bright future.”

>> No update yet on receiver Dominick Watt. Frost said they still feel good but don’t have “a definitive answer yet.”

>> Frost also wasn’t sure what to expect from Gifford after he was held out of spring ball. To this point, Frost says the outside backer has also exceeded expectations.

“He’s still getting his sea legs under him a little bit at the beginning of camp,” Frost said. “He’s athletic, he’s big, he has pass-rush skill, he plays hard, he’s what you’re looking for.”

>> Nebraska is taking warm-ups really seriously under this new regime.

“Our guys have learned not to like the word stretch. Stretch isn’t sitting on the ground and doing hurdle or stretch anymore. Scientifically the right way to get your body ready is active preparation,” Frost said. “Stretch is hard here. They’re tired after stretch, but it gets their bodies ready without much time. It’s kind of a rite of passage, too, to be able to not just go through stretch but really dominate stretch. It’s a mentality thing for us.”

It’s also another Oregon import.

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