It's a prediction-heavy mailbag this week as Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson answer questions on Nebraska's secondary, the running back rotation and more.
How fast will Nebraska score its first touchdown of the season? (@Ndamukat)
DP: Nebraska will score on its first drive. Too much good juju for that not to happen. Those opening plays are really the only scripted part of a football game and I suspect Scott Frost will have something fun drawn up for that opening possession.
BV: I don’t expect Akron to be very good, so I’m cautiously saying less than 120 seconds. Might not seem that cautious, but for a first game, Akron may be able to throw some wrinkles in there that might throw off the script a bit. That’s my only hesitation. But I’m still expecting a trademark quick drive so these guys can show off a little of what this offense can do. (Can it do that consistently, however, will remain the question in 2018.)
Still think the story of the offseason is how the staff has completely revamped the roster. 1) Have you ever seen anything like it? 2) Could Cam Taylor start? 3) Will Wisconsin fall flat since they are being overhyped? (@thawildbunch)
DP: The remaking is quite remarkable when you break it down. I would venture to say three of this year’s four top rushers will be newcomers, the aerial game could have at least five new faces as steady contributors and almost the entire secondary looks like it could be remade. I won’t say ever but I will say you don’t typically see a new coach get this many new faces into his program this quickly.
As for Cam Taylor, yes, I think he could absolutely start. Taylor has gotten rave reviews from basically everyone. Stanley Morgan Jr. has matched up with him and has nothing but positive things to say about the freshman, Tristan Gebbia likes the work ethic and Travis Fisher probably likes that Taylor is sitting quite high on his production chart. One spot is absolutely up for grabs with the other corner spot just hazy. I think It’s very likely Taylor could start.
Wisconsin, to me, isn’t being overhyped. They have one of the best rushers in the country, the best offensive line in the country and Jim Leonhard proved last year don’t doubt him until he gives you a reason to. I think people are rightfully concerned about the schedule being a bit rougher this year as opposed to last, but I don’t think they’ll falter too much.
BV: 1) Not at Nebraska. I’m sure there have been drastic overhauls elsewhere that I’m just not aware of, but I’m with you overall. Should Nebraska outperform expectations in 2018, I think we’ll have to give a lot of credit to the rapid roster overhaul.
2) You could convince almost anyone at cornerback has a chance to start, but early reports on Taylor have been remarkably positive, and only half of that has to do with ability. Much like Adrian Martinez, he seems like a freshman who has quickly earned the respect of his teammates.
3) The Badgers won’t fall flat. Is it possible they don’t make the Playoff, win the conference or even the division? Yes. It’s easy for seasons, even promising ones on paper, to fall apart. But with the returning talent Wisconsin has those are realistic expectations, and based on the Badgers’ consistency over the years if they don’t reach them it’s much more likely to me that a bad bounce or just simply getting beat at the wrong time will be the reason.
JP: 1) I think the most impressive part to me about this roster overhaul is the way it was done. Frost and company exploited every possible avenue to upgrade this roster: high school recruits, junior college transfers, transfers from other four-year schools and even preferred walk-ons (check out how many true freshman walk-ons made the 110).
2) I think he certainly could start. It’s hard to tell just what exactly is going on in that cornerback room. I don’t know that I’d bet on him to start at one of the outside cornerback spots from day one, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he ends up cracking the starting lineup at some point this season.
3) Probably not.
It appears Scott Frost is going to be the guy in control at the press conferences. What adjustments to interviewing this staff have you had to make compared to the last two staffs? (@CoryHonold)
ES: I can’t speak for others, but I actually haven’t had to change much in how I approach press conferences or how I ask questions. I typically go in with an idea of what I want to ask, and even rehearse what I want to say before I actually say it. It’s helped me become more concise, and prevent the paragraph-long questions. With that said, I’ve learned Frost is definitely more blunt in his responses. If he thinks your question is a waste of time, you’ll know. If it’s something he’s comfortable answering, you’ll know that too. In all honesty, Frost’s approach to press conference questions isn’t all that different from Bo Pelini’s approach.
As for the rest of Frost’s staff, it’s clear he trusts them to answer questions as they feel comfortable. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco, for instance, would answer questions for hours if he could. Running backs coach Ryan Held, too. Some assistants aren’t as into the media aspect of their job, but that’s not exclusive to Frost’s staff. Mike Riley had assistants that would rather not talk to the media. (Any guesses?) I think as the media, our job is to pursue the stories no matter who are subjects are. Sometimes they want to talk to you and sometimes they don’t. That’s one thing that doesn’t change staff-to-staff.
GS: I’ve also found that I haven’t had to change much of what I do during interviews. Especially when it comes to the assistants. I actually think it’s easier to interview these assistants because once you get them going, they will answer questions truthfully and give thoughtful answers. The only exception is any questions about the quarterback race, which is understandable.
When it comes to Frost himself, that is quite different. If he feels like you are wasting his time or asked a bad question, he will give you snark or a very short answer. He is also not giving up information willingly like Mike Riley did.
Urban [Meyer] admittedly lied in his CYA statement… I don’t necessarily think OSU cares, I believe he’ll be back at the helm, but his boss will likely be fired… what say you? (@navymousel)
DP: One of them probably has to go after what Meyer and Zach Smith purportedly orchestrated with the radio/SportsCenter interviews. (I say that because assuming there was orchestrating going on is speculation at this point. Logical speculation, but speculation nonetheless.) The working relationship between Meyer and AD Gene Smith would, I assume, be destroyed. In that event, I’d say the athletic director is more likely to bite the dust over the beloved coach.
Which coach are you most excited to watch at practice and during games? (@Corn_Huskers)
DP: It’s close, there are a ton of fun personalities on this staff. I’m curious what Barrett Ruud will look like on the sideline; I’m also anxious to watch Zach Duval in action in person. I’ll probably go with Erik Chinander though. He’s wonderful to interview and appears to be a ball of energy on the practice field. I’m sure he’s a GIF waiting to happen the first time his defense produces a turnover.
BV: Having watched UCF’s games against Memphis and USF approximately 20 times each thanks to ESPNU’s top 25 games of 2017, mark me down for Ryan Held. He was never far from Frost during those games and always found myself wondering what their in-game conversations were like. It’s not like I’ll be privy to that now, but I’ll probably continue to be intrigued by it.
ES: Give me Mario Verduzco or give me death. That was dramatic.
GS: I’ll go with Jovan Dewitt. Since he is so smart people think he is reserved but that is not the case at all. I’m ready to see him all fired up on the sidelines.
Now that the dust has settled, who do you think was another serious coach candidate other than Frost? (@RobCzaplewski)
DP: I’m sure there were other candidates Bill Moos vetted but I honestly think the answer to this question is no one. All the eggs were in the Frost basket. I think if it didn’t work out, the administration would have pivoted and looked elsewhere but I really think it was Frost or bust. I’m not too sure there was anyone else initially in the running.
BV: I’m with Derek. It seems like Nebraska put the full-court press on for Frost, and the press of course worked. There were some rumors (stress rumors) that Chris Petersen might get a look. That seemed logical to me. Would’ve fit the Moos mold of (1) a proven winner, (2) what many would’ve considered a home-run hire and (3) given his familiarity with Pacific Northwest I’m assuming Moos was more than familiar with Petersen’s work. I don’t know how realistic it would’ve been for the Huskers to land him –– he has Washington poised to compete for a while it seems –– but it’s interesting to consider in an alternate-history sort of way.
ES: I mean this wholeheartedly, but if Frost hadn’t shown interest in Nebraska and had made it clear to Moos he wouldn’t come to Lincoln, I’m not convinced that Riley would have been fired. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have been after THIS season, but I could have seen Moos taking a step back and re-evaluating with another season to figure out the next best step. With that said, the offseason would have been a nightmare. That’s the only thing that keeps me from thinking that would have been the case. Regardless, it was sincerely Frost or bust.
GS: I don’t disagree at all that it was Frost or bust. However, the name I always heard was at the top of the short list just in case was Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente. That would have been an interesting road to go down but Frost was always the logical choice.
Is it too early to predict a two-deep for the entire offense and defense? If not, what’s your best guess at the back seven…or eight? (@3rdLargestCity)
DP: Yes, it’s too early. Mostly because there are so many battles going on all over the roster and everytime we talk about a group, we manage to forget a name that pops into our heads later and we go, “Oh yeah, how did we forget about him?” I’ll give names I feel really confident about that aren’t the obvious veteran guys: Greg Bell starts at running back, Maurice Washington backs him up; Mike Williams in the slot; Cole Conrad at center; Luke Gifford, Dedrick Young II, Mohamed Barry and Breon Dixon at linebacker; Tyrin Ferguson is on the two-deep; Cam Taylor has one of the starting corner spots; Deontai Williams and Aaron Williams are your safeties.
Man, they have so many options… no one is even talking about guys like Dicaprio Bootle or Marquel Dismuke. (See?)
JP: It is definitely too early to attempt to form a two-deep, but I think we’re getting closer to at least honing in on a lot of the guys that will be contributors even if we don’t know yet how they all fit together. At inside linebacker, you have Dedrick Young, Mohamed Barry and Will Honas as the three main guys with Avery Roberts and Jacob Weinmaster or perhaps Collin Miller (who is apparently back inside once again) trying to get in the mix. At outside linebacker, your main guys are Luke Gifford, Alex Davis, Breon Dixon and Tyrin Ferguson with Caleb Tannor pushing to be in that group. At safety, see my answer to @ApolloSauce below. And at corner, it’s going to be some variation of Lamar Jackson, Dicaprio Bootle, Will Jackson and Cam Taylor with guys like Ethan Cox and perhaps Eric Lee Jr. pushing for snaps.
GS: At inside linebacker, give me Dedrick Young and Mo Barry with Will Honas also seeing snaps. Avery Roberts is probably not close to contributing significantly despite making progress this spring. At outside linebacker, I’ll take Luke Gifford and Tyrin Ferguson with Breon Dixon and Caleb Tannor having significant roles. We hear very little about Alex Davis so at this point I don’t expect him to play much. The secondary is where it gets fun. Will Jackson and Cam Taylor are essentially forcing their way into action. I’d go with Will Jackson and Lamar Jackson starting with Cam Taylor and Bootle right there behind them. At safety, I’m going with an upset of Tre Neal and Deontai Williams as the starters with Aaron Williams being eased into action.
Clear as mud right?
So the Frost era, if anything, is going to be fun. Maybe not this season, maybe not next season. But at some point. When was the last season Nebraska football was legit FUN from August to November? 2001? (@Lionelll)
BV: August to November? That’s tougher than it should be. You might have to go back to 2001 for a no-brainer answer, and I can find reasons (pretty easily) why none of the seasons since then would immediately qualify. The 2009 season was probably the most fun for fans, but it wasn’t when the Huskers were sitting at 4-3 going into Halloween. But that defense kept getting better and was a ton of fun by the end of the year. So how about this: Nebraska’s most fun stretch of the past decade was from basically Nov. 2009 to Nov. 2010. That gets you some great defensive performances, the pure wonder of the early Taylor Martinez games, top-10 rankings and the legitimate look of national prominence again. Then it all fell apart in College Station.
ES: I don’t know. I had a lot of fun in 2009. (I typed that before I saw Brandon writing about 2009, for the record.)
JP: Ndamukong Suh had the most dominant season by a defensive lineman I’ve ever seen. Watching him play all season long certainly qualifies as fun for me. I’d say a handful of those Bo Pelini teams were “fun” if not spectacular, with guys like Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead, Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, DeJon Gomes, Lavonte David and others that were really fun to watch. But perhaps that’s the problem – I’m naming a lot of individuals rather than seasons and teams.
There hasn’t been much mention of guys like Eric Lee, Avery Anderson and Guy Thomas, are they quickly sliding down the depth chart? (@btran0524)
DP: I think they’ve been casualties of the “we’re bringing in your replacements” mindset. Because you’re right, we just haven’t heard mention of them hardly at all.
JP: I don’t know if Anderson or Thomas can really slide down the depth chart considering they haven’t ever really made the two-deep yet. In Thomas’ case, he might still be in need of some development to play the way Nebraska’s new coaches want him to. There are a lot of bodies at that outside linebacker position and THomas is only a true freshman, after all. That being said, it’s probably not a great sign that Caleb Tannor has already apparently leaped ahead of him. Lee is a different story as a guy who actually played a significant amount of snaps last year. He doesn’t have the tools of guys like Lamar Jackson and Will Jackson and he apparently hasn’t produced in the same way guys like Cam Taylor and even Ethan Cox have.
What running backs do you expect to play the majority of the snaps this year? I feel like we have ten guys that all have the skills to start. Oh yeah and also same question except about the safeties this time. Seems like we have a million of those guys that are all really good. (@ApolloSolace)
DP: I said above Bell and Washington are the first two running backs, so no reason to reverse course now. Troy Walters mentioned Wednesday UCF’s usage of four main backs so I think four is probably a safe barometer to roll with, I would put money on the other two guys being Tre Bryant and Miles Jones. As for safety, I think the two Williams will get a good dose of snaps as well as freshman Cam Jones, Antonio Reed and Tre Neal. I have a feeling Deontai is going to play a ton this year.
JP: Maurice Washington has certainly come on strong during his first few days on campus, but I think Greg Bell will still get the most carries in that backfield. He’s got the best combination of experience, speed, elusiveness and a strong frame in that room. I think Tre Bryant will be a consistent part of that rotation, but I see them keeping his carries down, maybe in the four to seven range per game, so that he can hopefully make it through the season. At safety, the Tre Neal addition certainly changes things up. I think Neal and Aaron Williams are the favorites to start with Antonio Reed being the next guy up. Deontai Williams is probably next. I think guys like JoJo Domann and Cam Jones will make a bigger impact on special teams than on defense this season because I still haven’t even mentioned Marquel Dismuke yet. They certainly have a lot of bodies at that position.
Who had the stripes on the pants first: Wisconsin or Nebraska? (@RAND_ELL)
BV: I am not as well versed in Wisconsin’s uniform history, but I know Nebraska’s pants stripes go back to at least the 1940s. They’re a fairly common thing for football pants, so I’m guessing Wisconsin had some stripe spells early, too. But in terms of the two having basically identical pants, I’m assuming Nebraska got there first.