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Mailbag: Is This Team Special?

April 19, 2017

How do you know when a football team is special? And how do you even define that word? When the call for questions for this week’s mailbag went out, we were asked if we thought this year’s football team was special. Needless to say, it’s not an easy question to necessarily answer. We tackled it though, as well as questions about the quarterbacks, silent commitments, Heisman trophies and more.

Brandon Vogel, Jacob Padilla, Jake Jensen and Erin Sorensen answer your questions in this week’s Hail Varsity mailbag.

Q: There seems to be a vibe that this Husker football team may be special…what’s your feel? – D.C., Orlando, Neb.

JJ: I think the quarterback play this spring calmed a lot of people’s nerves entering next year, but this team still has some flaws they need to work out before they become special. Namely getting consistent pressure on the quarterback and finding someone in their backfield that can consistently grind out yards on the ground.

BV: I came away slightly more optimistic for 2017 based on the quarterbacks, but even that is dissipating little by little as we get farther away from the game itself and I’ve thought about what really went on on Saturday. Here’s the “special” season in my mind: Tanner Lee is perfectly good as a quarterback but he’s great as a leader and the offense rallies behind that. Somehow the offensive line has great summer and makes strides from where its at right now, opening up the run game a little. The defense is a top-20 scoring defense, talking less than 20 points a game. That’s how Nebraska could be a division champion in a year when some places are projected fourth-place finishes in the West. That said, I still don’t think that’s the most likely outcome. Just too many questions for me at this point, so for the Huskers to climb to nine or 10 wins would take something out of the ordinary, something “special.” If that does happen, however, buckle up because despite the tough schedule in 2018, Nebraska is probably then flirting with the preseason top 10 two years down the line.

ES: Regardless of outcome, what makes this team special to me is the personality of it. Every year is different and the “family” aspect of this year’s team is stronger than ever (at least from an outsider’s perspective). It also appears to be getting even stronger so it’ll be fun to watch this team evolve.

Q: Will DPE be a legitimate threat at wide receiver? His return skills are evident, but I still don’t think he’s developing like they thought he would. – R.R.

JJ: I think De’Mornay will be a perfectly decent No. 2 receiver for Nebraska and he benefits from the new quarterbacks as much as anyone. Him being fully healthy will make him a great asset over the middle and on quick hitters for Nebraska’s offense, two things that Nebraska couldn’t really do with last year’s offense.

JP: The coaches continue to include him in the guys they feel confident in at wide receiver alongside Stanley Morgan Jr., so that’s probably a good sign for what they’re seeing from him.

Q: Thoughts on the quarterbacks? – A.D., Neb.

JJ: I thought Tanner Lee stole the show with how quick and effortless his release is. Patrick O’Brien looked good as well, but he’s not on Lee’s level yet. Gebbia impressed me as well with how much zip he could put on the ball; still needs a year in the weight room though.

JP: I thought all three looked good. Patrick O’Brien has improved a lot from where he was as a freshman and a few bad tosses aside, Tristan Gebbia can really sling the rock. Tanner Lee threw the best pass of the day by far on that touchdown to JD Spielman, and I think he’s definitely the starter. However, one area I do want to see improvement in for him is the deep ball. He’s overthrown receivers down the field fairly often during the practices that I’ve seen.

Q: Now that Westbrook has broken the triple double record, what’s the next long-standing record to be broken? Any sport. – K.B., Omaha, Neb.

JJ: I’ll go with the single season rushing record in the NFL. I think Elliot or Fournette will get it done before their careers are over.

Q: Since ditching the option in ‘01, are these the best set of QBs to finally bring us into the 21st century offense everybody wants? – H.O.

JJ: Yes and it’s not even close. The only team that can kind of challenge them is the 2007 Husker team that had Sam Keller and Joe Ganz on the same squad, but neither of those guys are as naturally gifted as Tanner Lee is.

JP: Allow me to cape for Joe Ganz for a second. That dude was really freaking good and the offense with him taking snaps was terrific. It’s not his fault his defense couldn’t stop anyone. The Huskers followed him up with Zac Lee, Taylor Martinez and Tommy Armstrong, however, and the Huskers didn’t win enough with Ganz for fans to remember that time too fondly. But the point is Nebraska has already been there and I think they’ll return again this year behind Tanner Lee.

BV: Ahh, what might have been. What are the 2009 Huskers like with Ganz running the show? This isn’t an answer to the question, just a wistful musing.

Q: Rank these Husker in order of most to fewest wins next season: football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball. – H., David City, Neb.

JP: Oh, that’s tough. Without seeing full schedules, I don’t know how to give a great response. Last year it was MBB 12, FB 9, WBB 7. For now, I’ll say we see the same order next season.

BV: That’s a winner of a question. I’m comfortable putting women’s basketball at the bottom, I think. They have such a long way to go, but this really swings on how many wins the football team has, that’s the over/under squad here. I’ll go with what Jacob said — MBB/FB/WBB — but I think the race could get tight between football and women’s basketball.

ES: I also would go MBB/FB/WBB and echo what Brandon said about football and women’s basketball battling it out. What a good question though. Let’s revisit this next year.

Q: As a sports fan, is it worth the money going to big events such as the Final Four, World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, etc. even if your team isn’t there? All of these events seem so expensive. There are just so many sports bucket list items but the price or location doesn’t seem possible most of the time. – M.S., Cook/Tecumseh, Neb.

BV: I’ve been to a Final Four and a Kentucky Derby. I think those are the only two “bucket list” events I have attended. Both were fun, but when I think back on it they were fun because of the people I was with and all of the stuff we did around the games. So maybe this is a silly idea, but I might advocate for going to the event city, soaking it up and maybe not even attending the game if prices are unreasonable. This obviously works better if you can, say, drive to the Final Four. If you’re flying all the way across the country to get to it, then it might sting a little to not even try to get into the game.

ES: I have always wanted to go to a Super Bowl but I think I’d only go if the Chiefs made it. It’s hard to justify the money for two teams I don’t have a tie to. However, I wouldn’t rule out doing it. I’d also like to make it to the Kentucky Derby at some point in my life, and I’d do that regardless of the horses racing because contrary to popular belief, I don’t actively follow horse racing.

Q: How common are silent commitments, and how often do they pan out/end up at Nebraska? Ballpark? – E.O., Omaha, Neb.

JP: I have no clue about the actual numbers, but they seem fairly common (although I’ll never understand them). Nebraska has seen a few silent commits flip late in the process and go elsewhere recently, but Bookie Radley-Hiles has basically been a silent commit for a year and that looks to be ending well for the Huskers.

Q: Should spring games be used to “showcase” one side of the ball, like the Huskers did with offense? Was defense given short end of the stick? – W.

JP: I don’t necessarily think it was designed to showcase one side of the ball. If anything, it was designed to showcase the first- and upper-second-string guys. The Red defense didn’t exactly give up a ton of points and it forced two turnovers as well. The defense wasn’t exactly allowed to cut it loose and throw everything at the offense, but the defenders also had simpler responsibilities than they will in the real 3-4 defense so I don’t know how short their end of the stick was.

BV: Whatever plays best with the recruits — and that will typically skew towards the offense — is fine by me. That’s becoming the real value of this event at Nebraska.

Q: Let’s say Huskers are 5-0 to start season and Lee has above 65 percent completion percentage and lots of TDs. Is he in the Heisman discussion? – B.

JJ: Don’t know about Heisman contention, but he will definitely jump into first round pick hype if he plays well and Nebraska starts the season off strong.

JP: He’d have to put up some ridiculous numbers to jump into the discussion that early since he won’t be anywhere near the board going in and Nebraska won’t exactly be on the national radar heading into the season. Taylor Martinez did something similar, but he had the benefit of running for a ton of yards as well as getting some through the air. We know that won’t be the case for Lee.

BV: I would add that if a player is going to win the Heisman as a prototypical pocket passer he has to do it on a team that’s hanging around in the top 10 and in at least the conference title race. We haven’t really had one of those quarterbacks win it since Matt Leinart in 2004 and he was on the tail end of quite a run of them: Jason White, Carson Palmer, Chris Weinke and Danny Wuerffel. As we’ve moved into the spread era, however, the Heisman has gone to dual-threat quarterbacks who can put up big numbers two ways.

Q: Rank the following chocolate fillers in order of preference: caramel, marshmallow, cream, peanut butter, fruit. Write-ins? – B.

JJ: Caramel is number one. Toffee is number two. Fruit is dead last and if you like putting fruit in your candy I don’t think we can be friends.

BV: Peanut butter, caramel, marshmallow, fruit (+/- depending upon which fruit) and cream (again, depending upon which cream). Jake’s toffee write in is a good one.

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