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Mailbag: What is THE Question of Fall Camp?

August 02, 2017

You have questions. We have an entire team willing to take a stab at answering them.

Mike Babcock, Jacob Padilla, Derek Peterson, Chris Schmidt, Greg Smith and Brandon Vogel tackle your questions below.

What is THE question of fall camp? (@SimbaSims)

BV: Good question about questions. Nebraska is new at so many spots that it’s tough to untangle all of the question marks to land on one that is the most important, but I think it could be this one: How good can this offensive line be? We know the run game has to be better in 2017 (Its lack of explosive plays on the ground was shocking in retrospect). We know that a more efficient passing game could help with that, but at some point football is going to come down to you need 3 yards, can you get them? And that, more often than not, falls on the offensive line. It probably wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that “How good can this offensive line be?” is the question of every fall camp at every school in the country, always has been and always will be. But I think it’s particularly important in Lincoln this August.

DP: If we’re talking biggest actual question mark, I’m agreeing with Brandon on the offensive line. Tanner can be really good, but he needs protection. The backs can look solid, but they need holes to run through.

But, if we’re talking what’s the one thing everyone is wondering, I’m going with the corners. And I’ll admit, I’m super interested about this too. Donte Williams said today that nobody’s experience helps because of the scheme change. (Insert thinking emoji here.) And then talking to Lamar Jackson Tuesday, he seems itching to get back on the field and prove some things. Eric Lee Jr. has been getting attention of late and was the second corner on the field on day one after Jackson. Then there’s Dicaprio Bootle who keeps getting name-dropped by coaches when we ask about Joshua Kalu. And I don’t know what any of these guys are going to look like when the actual lights come on.

JP: I think Brandon nailed the most important storyline, but with four or five starters returning (depending on who wins the center battle), how much of a question is it really? There were a lot of injury problems across the line, but we have seen Nick Gates, Jerald Foster, Tanner Farmer and David Knevel play. I think the line will probably fall somewhere between average and solid. I think the cornerback situation is much less certain after Chris Jones’ injury and therefore a bigger question because none of those guys have played a significant amount of snaps. Even Lamar Jackson played a bit role last year and he’s suddenly your No. 1 corner.

GS: There are multiple correct choices here. Let’s use process of elimination. I think Tanner Lee will be really good. I also believe Bob Diaco’s 3-4 will surprise people in a good way. I have to go with the question of will the offensive line improve enough to let the weapons show what they can do. There can be genuine excitement about the line playing together consistently and being healthy but we haven’t seen enough evidence to think they will be consistently good for an entire season.

Lots of talk about the secondary, for obvious reasons. But…what is the potential for the defensive front 7? Personnel groups? (@DarrenKCarlson)

JP: I do like the look of the front seven. I think Carlos Davis is going to grow into a star. Freedom Akinmoladun, Chris Weber and Dedrick Young should all be solid and I really like both Marcus Newby and Luke Gifford at field-side outside linebacker. I think the success of the front seven will come down to two spots: Mick Stoltenberg at nose tackle and Alex Davis (or whoever else) at boundary outside linebacker. Stoltenberg seems to have done a great job as a leader and he is a massive human being, but I still worry about leverage with him at his height based on some of the things I’ve seen in practice and games. And the Huskers have been trying to shape Alex Davis into something for the last 2.5 years. Is this the year it clicks for him? He certainly looks the part. Or does one of the young linebackers jump ahead of Davis and Sedrick King? Regardless, Mike Riley stressed the importance of the edge defender in a 3-4, and that boundary outside linebacker will be the one most often rushing the passer.

GS: I love the potential of this group. Agree with Jacob that Carlos Davis is a star in the making. Chris Weber is a tackling machine when healthy. Alex Davis has a shot to be that outside linebacker that you have go get the quarterback, but can he make that leap? I think Gifford starts as your field side linebacker because he has a more well-rounded set of skills. To me, Mo Barry next to Chris Weber would be ideal so Dedrick Young II has a big “prove it” fall ahead of him. Mick Stoltenberg will have to be the engine that makes this defense go. There’s a reason Bob Diaco talks nose tackle, middle linebacker and safety quite a bit. Also, what about the young guys? Can they find a way to get Avery Roberts and Guy Thomas on the field? Thomas could find himself as a third-down pass-rush specialist his freshman year.

How is the TE position looking? (@Sdaiss9495)

BV: I know this much, Mike Riley has been quick with his praise of Tyler Hoppes, calling him one of the “best pass catching tight ends” he’s had in awhile. I also think true freshman Kurt Rafdal has the potential to surprise some people and perhaps see the field this year.

MB: Agree with Brandon, especially about Hoppes, who has gotten a lot of run from Riley. I thought Matt Snyder’s name would come up more than it did in the spring. Tight end is important to what Riley and Langsdorf would like to do, a little-discussed area that needs to be watched during fall camp.

JP: Another name to keep an eye on is Connor Ketter, who would have figured into the discussion during the spring had he been healthy according to the coaches. In Ketter’s absence, Snyder did seem to take hold of the opportunity and rise up to the No. 2 spot with Jack Stoll behind him, but whether that says more about Snyder himself or the state of the position during the spring I do not know.

Percent chance Bookie flips to Florida? (@hotovy)

DP: To quote Bob Diaco from Tuesday (even though it’s completely out of context), 0.001 percent.

SB Nation recently asked Bookie a similar question, his answer: “A shot to flip me? I don’t think so. If you really want me to say one, I guess I could say … nah, there really isn’t one.”

GS: This is so interesting because nothing I’ve been told leads me to believe Bookie is flipping to Florida but the Jamire Calvin situation (sorry if it’s too soon) should teach us to never think anything is a complete lock. That being said I’m going with 2% chance only because there isn’t a great explanation for him being so pro-Florida on social media.

Alternate Uniforms: great tribute the current players are excited about, or a waste of an alternate uniform since it’s not really different? (@BCoffendaffer)

MB: Because I’m a traditionalist, the less eccentric alternate uniforms are the better. My favorites to this point were those worn for consecutive sellout No. 300 (wasn’t that the one) that looked like those of Bob Devaney’s first team in 1962, when the sellout streak began. Pretty sure I’m in the minority on this. Plus, the concept of alternate uniforms isn’t to please old, tradition-bound types. In that sense, I’d probably say they ought to be a bit more unique.

BV: I wondered if people would feel this way and I’ve heard from a few who do. What was once a total shock to the system — Nebraska in an alternate — is now so normal that some folks miss seeing the Huskers’ visual identity reimagined. There was a good deal of excitement among the players with last year’s alternate, but I haven’t heard much chatter about this one. But I definitely don’t think it’s a waste. It’s not a straight throwback or a straight alternate, and in that way I find it pretty interesting as a creative homage to 1997.

DP: I like ‘em. From the small details that scream retro to the mesh-looking numbers, I think it was a home run for what they were trying to do. I’m also more minimalist in my approach to uniforms though so take that for what it’s worth. I’ve seen mixed feelings from the players though.

What does a defensive analyst do? aren’t they paying the new DC 800+K to run the D? #overkill (@BZajic, Twitter)

BV: It’s not that uncommon at big-time programs anymore. What I suspect happened is that with the passing of Bob Elliott, which led to the promotion of Scott Booker (previously a consultant), Nebraska already had allotted for a consultant. So the addition of Gary Darnell wasn’t a new addition, just filling a role that was vacated. As for what consultants do, it varies but they’re often involved in advance scouting and specific parts of game planning. So Darnell might be tasked with focusing on red-zone defense or specific coverages, that sort of stuff.

CS: The hire provides an extra set of eyes along with a strength, per Charlie McBride on Monday, Darnell’s expertise is with the linebackers, which will be key in this transition. He can provide feedback to what he sees to help the group run smoother in year one. He also has been about everywhere in coaching, which means there could be contacts to recruiting areas Nebraska is trying to develop or secure. Never hurts to have a guy who knows a guy, who knows a guy.

GS: Everyone wants to be like the current king of college football Nick Saban, right? Alabama lists 20-plus employees that work on football not including the nine full-time assistants currently allowed by the NCAA. It doesn’t hurt to have more knowledge in the building so long as there aren’t too many chefs in the kitchen.

What are the odds Chris Jones redshirts this season, so he can be on campus for a year to help coach up the young DBs coming in next year? (@BCoffendaffer, Twitter)

BV: Mike Riley said at Big Ten media days last week that he had yet to have that conversation with Jones. His situation is unique in that he had a great shot at the NFL in 2018, so how does missing a portion of 2017 (potentially) affect that? We don’t know yet. That will probably be what determines if he plays at Nebraska again. If his draft stock doesn’t change drastically during his absence, there’s little reason to return in 2018. Right now, I’d put the odds at 50-50, which isn’t much of an answer.

CS: I don’t think there is any way Jones redshirts, unless he has an injury setback. He will bust his tail to get on the field with his guys. Jones wants to get the NFL and while redshirting and playing next year healthy may improve his draft potential, there may be fear of getting hurt again.

MB: This isn’t a specific answer. Only Chris can say. But Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee were asked about Jones. Both said Jones is active in helping players at practice, as another coach. Jackson: “He sits in every meeting . . . every time we get the defense together, he’s right there in his same spot, not too much changed rather than him just . . . I know that it hurts him just watching . . .”  Lee: “He’s still very involved. He’s in all the meetings. He’s outside at practice. He sees something, he’s obviously going to correct you because he wants to see you do better, too. He’s definitely . . . almost taking like a coach-mentor role since he’s not able to practice right now.” Dicaprio Bootle and Jones live together. Jackson: “ . . . every time Chris work(s) out, he’s bringing ‘Dicap’ with him . . . watching film, he brings Bootle with him . . . he’s similar to Chris.” Agree with Brandon; I’d say it’s maybe a little less than 50-50 he is coming back.

Finally, Jackson on Jones and redshirting: “I feel like for sure he’s going to be pushing the training staff to do extra work . . . he’s hungry . . . in his mind, he’s just thinking like he’s going to go through the process and hopefully, like, he’s just going to kill rehab and hopefully, he can get back as soon as possible, at the end of the day.”

JP: I agree with Chris here, and on top of the added injury risk, would Jones even want to spend another year in college? NFL careers on average don’t last very long, and if he returns in time to show scouts that he is still the same guy and can play in the NFL, would Jones give up on that year of his NFL career to try to improve his stock? Jones said he plans to be back well before the four- to six-month timeline, so I think we know what his mindset is at least at this point.

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