With fall camp only a day away for the Huskers, this week's mailbag is loaded with football talk. Strap in. Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson offer up plenty of takes on topics ranging from offensive line recruiting rankings to redshirt candidates.
There has been a lot of discussion about the position groups. Which group do you feel will be the biggest surprise and which will struggle to get up to speed in the new schemes? (@ten_rogue)
DP: Biggest surprise group for me probably goes to the linebackers for a couple reasons. I’m aboard the Mohamed Barry hype train at this point — I think he works too hard to not have an impact — I like what I’m hearing about Dedrick Young II, I like Will Honas, I like Breon Dixon and a healthy Luke Gifford was Nebraska’s best defender a year ago. They’re probably the spot on defense I feel most comfortable about. I also think the defense will be much improved in terms of sack-production and havoc-creation and I’m betting on the linebackers fueling that turnaround. As for the other side, I’ll go corner. There will be improvement but I’m not so sure it’s seen immediately.
JP: On the positive side, I’ll go with the defensive line. That unit was not particularly effective last year, but I think that has as much to do with the scheme and the strength and conditioning as it does with the talent of the group. There are some really good players in that room and I expect difference-makers to emerge, and I see plenty of depth at this point as well. Corner is the easy answer for which unit that will struggle to catch up, but I worry the offensive line might be that group as well.
Is Scott Frost Nebraska’s final hope at hardware within a reasonable timeframe? (@oreaganomics)
BV: My definition of reasonable (and hardware for that matter) might differ from most, but I’d say he’s Nebraska’s best hope, not final.
JP: I’m not going to speak in absolutes. There could always be some unheralded guy or a top assistant that Nebraska takes a chance on who figures things out. But depending on what your definition of “reasonable timeframe is,” I’ll echo Brandon and say he’s their best hope.
Which home-grown Nebraska kids will have the biggest impact this coming season? (@Rawker8)
ES: If he stays healthy, Gretna alum Mick Stoltenberg could have a major impact both on and off the field. We know he’s a leader and could be a player that becomes a “face of the program.”
As for newcomers, I like tight end Cameron Jurgens’ potential. The Beatrice alum is an incredible athlete, and he could be a major factor for Nebraska in 2018. It also depends on where they line him up at, but I think he’s a factor no matter where he is.
BV: Give me Ben Stille. Nebraska needs a true playmaker to emerge on the defensive line and Stille’s numbers a year ago have me encouraged by his potential.
DP: Impact beyond the confines of Tom Osborne Field? Jerald Foster and Mick Stoltenberg easily. They talked at length in Chicago about leaving Nebraska better off than it has been in recent years; I think their leadership will be felt as the season goes on. If we’re talking about impact specifically on the field, I’ll take Luke Gifford since Brandon said Stille. I said it above, Gifford was, in my eyes, one of the lone bright spots not just on last season’s defense but last season’s entire team. If he’s fully healthy this season, look out.
JP: Stille Stille! Also, Luke Gifford is my dude and I will vouch for him any chance I get.
GS: Put me down on the Ben Stille bandwagon as well.
We always talk about recruiting in terms of class. How about by position group? I would think our OL, for example, would rate very high in talent compared in the BIG? (@CoryHonold)
GS: You would be correct there. Jalin Barnett, Matt Farniok, Jerald Foster and John Raridon were all 4-star recruits. Christian Gaylord, Boe Wilson and Brenden Jaimes were all high 3-star recruits. Nebraska has routinely recruited better offensive linemen on paper than Iowa and Wisconsin. Recruiting rankings for Nebraska linemen isn’t the problem in recent years. They just haven’t been developed anywhere near the level of those two programs.
With the hype of the skill players, might that lend a hand to Gebbia starting because maybe there will be less emphasis on the quarterback run for big yards? (@btran0524)
DP: I’ll go the other way. I feel like the abundance of and subsequent confidence in Nebraska’s skill position guys makes Adrian Martinez a little safer than your average true freshman quarterback would be. When you’re breaking in a young quarterback, you typically want an established wideout; Nebraska has two Martinez just needs to put the ball in the same area code of. That certainly helps Gebbia as well, it’s not like he’s a fourth-year senior, he’s young too, but any benefits for Gebbia are also going to be benefits for Martinez. They can both handle the running component fine.
JP: I’ll side more with the questioner here than with Derek. I definitely think Gebbia seems like a guy who can make the most of the skill talent around him as opposed to being the big playmaker himself. Make quick decisions, get the ball out of his hands and let Stanley Morgan Jr. and J.D. Spielman and the rest of those guys do their thing. Ultimately, it will come down to whether or not Adrian Martinez can get close enough to where we anticipate Gebbia being in terms of mastering the offense and making the right reads, because if it’s close, Martinez’s legs are the tie-breaker.
Fashionista time! Make your prediction for what you think Coach Frost will wear on the sidelines for the first game against Akron? (@Corn_Huskers)
ES: My money is on a polo and khakis with some sweet pair of adidas. As for the color of the polo, I’m torn between black and red. I could see him going red for the tradition of it and it being his first game. However, he wore a lot of black polos at UCF so that might be a preference on his part. It was also his only option there unless he was in grey (OR GOLD! He never wore gold. A shame!).
BV: Gray pants. I’m betting on gray pants. And red polo.
DP: Erin breaking her "no exclamation points" rule for a fashion question is the least surprising thing to happen in 2018.
ES: We all have our things, Derek.
Have you heard anything about where Cam Jurgens will most likely line up at? I’ve heard tight end mainly but also heard d-line. (@md_schmidt)
ES: I’ve heard a lot of rumors when it comes to Jurgens. I’ve heard about him being moved to defensive end, as well as center or guard on the offensive line. If he leaves the tight end spot, I like him more as a defensive end versus something on the offensive line.
He’s listed at 6-3 and 270 pounds on the roster, which is why I think a lot of people expect him to move from the tight end spot. Unless Frost is using him exclusively as a blocker, he could probably be a better fit elsewhere. This will be a player to keep an eye during fall camp.
JP: I watched Jurgens play in high school and I’m still a big believer in him as a tight end. I hope they take a hard look at him there before moving him around, but defensive end or even outside linebacker seem like possibilities as well.
GS: How Cam’s career plays out will be fascinating. Even before the added weight, I didn’t see him as a tight end in this system. The question is, can his frame hold the weight needed to slide to offensive line or would it be better to slide him to the defensive line? Personally, I think he ends up on the defensive line.
I keep hearing "not so great" things about the secondary. How do you guys think that will get sorted out? Any of the newcomers good enough to possibly take a starting spot? (@thawildbunch)
DP: Tre Neal’s addition is huge. He probably takes one of the starting safety spots. Which leaves the other for Aaron Williams, Antonio Reed, JoJo Domann and Marquel Dismuke to fight for. That’s a good problem to have. I keep hearing good things about Will Jackson at corner and even if he doesn’t grab a starting spot, he ups the competition in that room even more and that’s really what Travis Fisher wants at this point. I have heard from several corners that it has just taken time to change that mindset that was created last year from over-analyzing everything to just going and making a play. Perception is that’s just a switch you can flip but several guys have said that’s not the reality. Like I wrote above, I think it’ll take time for these guys to get acclimated but I don’t think we should start sounding alarms.
What comes first: a 5-star offensive commit or a 5-star defensive commit? (@btran0524)
BV: Offense. This offense is too much fun not to land one eventually, but when you’ll really know Nebraska is cooking is if it lands a 5-star defensive lineman. Those guys are in short supply and the competition for them is intense.
GS: I’ll go offense as well. I’m going to also call my shot and say it will be a running back.
Coach Frost said we will compete for the division in Year 2. Does that mean he is conceding this season and it's all about development? And if so, how does that impact distribution of playing time. (@Chaz_in_Socal)
BV: Pretty sure Frost doesn’t concede anything, but he’s mentioned on more than one occasion that they won’t be running the full offense in Year 1. He knows better than anyone how challenging that full offense is, so I think he’s more optimistic about Year 2, but I’m sure he’s planning to win every game with 70 percent of the offense (or whatever the number may be). That said, I think any time you have a coaching transition there’s probably a natural tendency to “go younger” if you’ve got a couple close personnel decisions to make.
DP: Brandon's spot on. It’s the reason I think “conceding” isn’t quite the right word here. It’s probably more about “preparing” for 2019. The schedule gets significantly more navigable (something that doesn't get enough attention), experience bumps up, familiarity with schemes bumps up and you can really feel confident about making a run at things. That doesn’t mean Frost and Co. are walking into the Big House on Sept. 22 hoping to just have a good showing, they’re going to play to win every game they’re in.
Which of the incoming freshmen will play more than four games, effectively burning their redshirt? (@tklim2430)
ES: Since I’ve already talked about him twice in this mailbag, let’s just make it a triple: Cameron Jurgens.
DP: My guys on offense: Adrian Martinez, Miles Jones, and Justin McGriff. My guys on defense: Cam Taylor, Cam Jones, Caleb Tannor and CJ Smith. Guys like Katerian Legrone and Will Farniok on offense will play, but won’t pass the four-game threshold and then guys on the defensive line like Casey Rogers and Tate Wildeman will be in the same boat with too many guys in front of them to justify burning a redshirt season.
GS: As much as I want to, I can’t disagree with any of the players Derek mentioned. Justin McGriff is becoming my “don’t be surprised when this guy plays way more than you think” pick. Wideout is deep but there are a lot of positive whispers about him.
Recruiting is very positive. As “difficulties” mounted last year we saw some of our top dudes turn on us (see: Bookie). Think that could happen again if NU hits a rough patch? (@LeftCoastHusker)
GS: No, I don’t see that happening. Frost will be given some grace by recruits in year one and likely year two as he gets “his guys” in place. They are selling the vision of what could be down the road in year one and not year three so that’s the major difference here.