Mailbag: Taking Stock of Nebraska's Running Back and Receiver Rooms
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Mailbag: Taking Stock of Nebraska’s Running Back and Receiver Rooms

March 13, 2019

Another week, another mailbag. The Hail Varsity staff is on hand to answer plenty of Huskers questions as spring ball rolls into Week No. 2.

What was the most impressive thing you saw in the 30 minutes of practice? (@btran0524) 

Erin Sorensen: This is hard, because it’s a very calculated 30 minutes that we see. If Scott Frost wants us to see it, we do. If he doesn’t, we don’t. With that said, I think I'd say something that struck me was Adrian Martinez. During the “Nebraska drill,” he bounced all over supporting his teammates. Considering this is something Frost and Mario Verduzco want to see from him, I found his presence impressive in that short period of time. It’s clear he’s taking the leadership piece to heart and putting it to work in practice. 

Greg Smith: I was struck by Martinez’ encouragement as well but for the sake of giving something different, I’ll go with Will Honas and Nick Henrich. Seeing both of them running around well and without a brace was a great sign even if we didn’t get to see them participate in much contact.  

Derek Peterson: Lamar Jackson, easy. During “The Nebraska Drill,” the senior corner was getting after it and initiating contact. Just looks like a different player since that benching last year.  

What’s the status on the players that left the Huskers last year? (@CoryHonold) 

DP: As far as I know, Tristan Gebbia, Tyjon Lindsey and Avery Roberts are the only guys to have found a home yet. Greg Bell, Justin McGriff and Guy Thomas haven’t announced anything. 

Brandon Vogel: A few more names from spring of last year: Patrick O’Brien looks to be in a two-QB race at Colorado State this spring. Linebacker Andrew Ward played in 11 games at Central Michigan last year. Linebacker Willie Hampton made 30 tackles over 11 games for Garden City Community College in 2018, but it doesn’t look like he’s landed back on an FBS/FCS roster yet. Still no reappearance of tight end Matt Snyder (which surprises me some). Fullback Ben Miles got a waiver to play right away last year at Texas A&M and appeared in one game, per the Aggies’ roster page.  

Lots of questions about the running back room with the Maurice Washington deal…which is fair, but consider this…what if Wyatt Mazour is the next Devine Ozigbo? (Two years of Duval…just saying.) (@navymousel) 

Jacob Padilla: Devine Ozigbo was a 6-foot, 225-pound scholarship recruit. Wyatt Mazour was a 5-foot-9, 190-pound walk-on. I’d say their ceilings are just a little bit different. I like Mazour as much as anyone, but he’s not going to be a 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska. They need someone else to shoulder the load in terms of carries. 

GS: No, I don’t see that type of breakout for Mazour. I’d love to see him have a package of plays but I can’t see him being an every down player this season.  

DP: I agree with Greg and Jacob in that Ziggy and Mazour are completely different situations because of their physical profile, but I’m much more bullish on Mazour than they are. Think Otis Anderson at Central Florida, who played that Duck-R spot (likely where Mazour will do the bulk of his damage in-season). In 2017, he had 494 yards rushing and 351 yards receiving with seven scores. That, to me, is the best-case comparison and probably the ceiling.  

Will the Jaylin Bradley situation be similar to that of Devine Ozigbo, just without the departure of a JUCO running back (Mills) come August? (@_LilBigRed12_) 

JP: As a fan of Bradley, I certainly hope so. But even in the best-case scenario I don’t see Bradley running away with the No. 1 job and getting the bulk of the carries and rushing for 1,000 yards. If he can prove himself to the coaches and earn his way into the rotation in the backfield, I think that would be a great result for both him and Nebraska. 

GS: I heard someone else put the Bradley situation perfectly. Is he working this spring to be in the mix at Nebraska or getting ready for his next stop? The clock is ticking on him and while I don’t want to count him out, I think it will be very difficult for him to take meaningful snaps this season.  

Mike Babcock: Greg and I discussed this earlier today and he brought me around to his way of thinking, even though, like Jacob, I’d like to see him succeed here. 

Who do you anticipate getting the bulk of the carries at Running Back come the start of the season? (@CampbellFetter) 

ES: It really depends on the availability of Maurice Washington. If he’s available, it seems like a safe bet he would be the go-to guy in that room. If he’s not? It would open up a lot of different scenarios. We’ve heard a lot about the incoming players — Rahmir Johnson, Dedrick Mills and Ronald Thompkins, specifically — so maybe one of them steps up big. Or maybe Jaylin Bradley finds his groove. Long story short: There is competition to be had in the running backs room, and who becomes the bulk carrier sort of depends on the status of one individual.  

GS: Maurice Washington and Dedrick Mills followed by Rahmir Johnson. If things go well with that trio, I think it’s wise to redshirt Thompkins to let him get fully healthy and let him enter the fray in 2020.  

MB: No argument here; it depends on Washington’s situation. But Mills will be in the mix for sure. 

Will Nebraska have a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver this year? (@tklim2430) 

JP: I think the answer to this question depends on whether or not JD Spielman is able to stay healthy. He’s more than talented enough to hit that mark and was on pace to get close last year before missing the last couple of games. Without Stanley Morgan Jr., Spielman will be even more important to the passing attack. I’m in an optimistic mood so I’ll say he avoids any significant injury and gets to 1,000. As for a 1,000-yard rusher, with so much uncertainty around the backfield, I’m going to have to say no. 

DP: Nebraska gets a 1,000-yard receiver and a second receiver who flirts with doing the same. Nebraska doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher. 

MB: Agree with Derek about a 1,000-yard receiver but not about another coming close to 1,000. Don’t see a 1,000-yard rusher. The carries will be shared. 

With this offense, do the Huskers need a deep threat? If so, who is going to fit that role? (@bishop_ironclad) 

JP: Speed is definitely a big part of this offense and the Huskers need someone that can stretch the field. Despite not being a burner, Stanley Morgan Jr. Sort of filled that role as a big-play threat last season. Early returns from Mike Williams in the spring indicate he might be ready to make a leap after a somewhat disappointing first season at Nebraska. He’s certainly got the speed for it.  

GS: Yes, it’s a needed component of the offense. I think one of Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard or Jamie Nance will fill the role this year. I also think in a sneaky way we could see the tight end group do a better job and stretching the field too. Having both would really open things up. 

Should we back off the hype train just a little? We have a lot of (talented) unknowns across the team. Everyone seems to expect an 8-4 season. What happens if CU gets lucky and wins, and OSU beats us? Suddenly we're 3-2 and the worries starts to creep into the fan base… (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: It is interesting to me that last year when Vegas had Nebraska’s over/under lower than people wanted, the fan base was angry. Now that the over/under is at 8, folks want to pump the brakes. The talent and the schedule should allow them to win 8 games this year. Your quarterback having the third-best Heisman odds in some spots is worth a lot. I do agree that there are questions across the board but we are a ways off from having good answers which is why I’m glad I don’t have to predict anything just yet.  

DP: Greg and talked about this exact question on The Varsity Club Podcast last week. 

MB: I say yes, back off a bit. 

What would you need to see in spring ball (from us or other teams) for y'all to buy into the hype of us taking the West? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: Considering teams only get to play themselves in spring ball, I’m not sure there is anything I could see that would convince me that they’re going to win the division. The last two years, the team has fallen far short record-wise of what it felt they were capable of based on what we’d seen in terms of talent on the team. I believe in the trajectory they are on, but until they actually do start winning consistently it’s hard to truly buy in. I need to see them get over that hump first. 

GS: Spring ball won’t change my expectation that Nebraska should win the West this year. It’s wide open and the Huskers have the best coach and QB. The time is now.  

DP: Give me a resolution to the Washington situation, a clear-cut No. 2 receiver to go between Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson and a singular player on the defensive line or at the outside backer spot that breaks out and looks unguardable in the spring game. Those are the things I want to see before I start talking about anything more than an eight-win season. 

MB: Spring ball is pretty much the same everywhere. A team can be as good as one’s imagination. It’s too tough to tell what will happen in the fall. 

Does Luke McCaffrey redshirt or is he the No. 2 quarterback? (@HuskerHawg77) 

JP: I still think he redshirts. Unless he proves to be so much better than Noah Vedral and Andrew Bunch right away and barring a significant injury to Adrian Martinez, burning a year for McCaffrey to play garbage time snaps makes no sense to me. Put another year of separation between him and Martinez, give him a year to work on the mechanical things Mario Verduzco has said he needs to fix and let him compete for the back-up job next year. 

ES: Jacob said it better than I could have. He redshirts, because then he’d only be a sophomore when Martinez is a senior (and Martinez could even depart before then). That extra year now gives him a lot more flexibility and opportunity to take the No. 1 spot in a couple of years. 

MB: I’ll defer to Jacob as well. I’d expect Vedral to be No. 2 come fall. 

Is it better and/or more important to have (what seems like) more 3- and 4-star recruits coming to campus on unofficial visits or a few of the 5-stars that came on officials in the past? (@Corn_Huskers) 

GS: It’s better to have targets on campus that you can actually sign and that end up being good players. So if the staff trust its evaluations, I’d take the current set up. Getting 5-stars on campus that aren’t really interested doesn’t serve much purpose. 

Who were the biggest surprises (good and bad) from the combine and who helped their stock the most? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: I’d say Tanner Farmer certainly helped himself, and his results were probably the biggest positive surprise as well. His 39 reps on the bench press tied the best result from the NFL Combine and his 9-foot-10 broad jump would have bested all the linemen there. His experience at both guard and center and the explosiveness and strength he showed at the pro day could intrigue teams enough to get himself drafted late or picked up as an undrafted free agent. Devine Ozigbo helped himself I think, showing a lot of explosiveness and just enough speed. And I think Luke Gifford had a solid showing as well. 

ES: Also agree on Farmer. He definitely proved he should have had an invite to the Combine, and he’ll have a very long career in the NFL as a result. 

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