Projecting Nebraska’s Top Three Recruiting Needs For 2021
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Mailbag: What’s to Come for the Nebraska Defensive Line?

February 13, 2019

Well, things have certainly happened in Husker land this week. . . The Hail Varsity staff tackles questions on the Maurice Washington situation, Mike Dawson’s departure, Tim Miles’ future and more in a new mailbag.

What is the timeline for hiring a new d-line coach? Hypothetically, if you could hire absolutely anyone for the position, who would it be? (@InDaWilderness) 

Brandon Vogel: I haven’t heard anything official on that front, but you would think NU would want someone in place for the start of spring football on March 4. Anything before then—recruiting, mostly—could probably be handled by the existing staff. As for my “absolutely anyone” pick, give me Clemson’s Todd Bates or Penn Sate’s Sean Spencer. 

Greg Smith: I’ll say up front that I don’t have any inside information here but I’m with Brandon that it makes sense to have this done by the start of spring ball. If I get to pick anyone, I’m choosing former USC defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze. He’s an excellent recruiter and I think the staff needs one more ace recruiter.  

Any way-too-early guesses for who will be the next DL coach? (@BarmettlerCH) 

BV: John Parrella was the first name everyone thought of when the Dawson news broke. Parrella just took a job with the Browns, but I could see giving him a call to see if he wants to, as Erin Sorensen put it in our Slack channel, “Kliff Kingsbury” Cleveland. Parrella is a really well-respected coach and obviously has the Nebraska link. I think that familiarity with the staff will be the key factor here. Ron Aiken is an intriguing name to throw out there. He overlapped with Frost at Oregon (familiarity), had a really successful stint at Iowa prior to that (knows the Big Ten) and currently coaches defensive line for the Arizona Hotshots in the AAF (presumably available). That’s a total guess on my part, but it does check a few boxes (and also leaves some others blank).  

Mike Babcock: I’d like to see Parrella back here but don’t have any insight into whom Frost might hire.

Jacob Padilla: When Frost arrived, he obviously didn’t even really consider retaining any on-field coaches. I wonder how that process actually played out; did they reach out to him directly to discuss the situation? I’m not sure that Parrella would be interested in returning to Nebraska a year after not even getting a chance to keep the job in the first place. I dont think his playing days at Nebraska lined up with any of the other coaches so I’m not sure there’s even much of a connection there.

How does this coaching change affect some of our players? (@_LilBigRed12_) 

GS: I don’t think it affects them too much. Yes, it stinks to lose a good man and coach in Mike Dawson but I don’t think there are a lot if any players that are “flight risks” because of this move. 

Erin Sorensen: I think it’s disappointing for some players, but I think they understand. I also think they trust Frost to bring someone else in that will be a great person to work with like Dawson. I think the trust factor is a big deal for this staff and the players, so there’s not much to worry about. 

MB: The idea is to create a culture in which you’re playing for the school first. Not sure that holds in today’s world. 

Derek Peterson: It’s not going to affect anyone in terms of their commitment to Nebraska, but this is about to be the fifth defensive line coach Nebraska has had since 2014. I talked to Mick Stoltenberg about Dawson’s departure earlier in the week and it was clear that kind of turnover is just hard on everyone. You’re constantly learning as a player because there’s a new teacher every year with different philosophies. If the coach Frost brings in comes from the same kind of 3-4 system, it’ll ease the transition, but if this is a coach who needs to learn the system just like a player would, there’s a setback that comes with that. 

How important is this defensive line coach hire? Do you think we’ll see Frost go outside of his comfort zone for the hire? (@tklim2430) 

GS: There’s the million-dollar (or about $500k) question. My gut says the hire will be someone that didn’t play at Nebraska and that would probably be the best thing for the team at this point. Hire the best coach and recruiter you can, regardless of where he played his college ball. 

MB: Good recruiter is a key element, for sure.  

BV: Depends on what you consider the “comfort zone.” If the comfort zone is primarily former Huskers, then, yes, I think it will be outside that zone. If the comfort zone is someone who has worked with members of this staff before, I do not think it will be outside that. This staff is really tightly knit. I think they value that and it will be an important factor as they look at candidates. Just taking the best coach you can get is always an option, but I’d be surprised to see that happen in this case. 

JP: I think it is incredibly important. To play with the big boys, Nebraska is going to have to be able to hold its own in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Nebraska needs big-time recruiting and development on the defensive line.

How bad could the Maurice Washington situation be? At worst kicked off the team? (@huskermef) 

GS: Based on what I’ve read, if convicted he could face jail time or have to go on the sex offender registry, both of which would be significantly worse than just being kicked off a team. There is a wide range of punishments and we are probably a long way off from knowing the final outcome here.  

MB: There are certainly implications beyond the playing field in this. 

If Maurice Washington would not be eligible this season (due to Nebraska's decision or a court decision), how badly would that hurt the Huskers’ potential for 2019? Who would need to step up to fill that void? (@uni_klaus) 

DP: From a football standpoint, if Washington isn’t in the picture when the season starts, this is a topic worth talking about. But, before I answer, I want to preface this by saying that his potential impact on a football team should not have any bearing on his punishment or future with that team if allegations against him prove to be true. If he is not around, Nebraska will lose a guy most expect to be a significant piece of the offense moving forward. Ryan Held has done well to stock his running back room with plenty of talent, but losing talent still hurts your on-field product. Look to guys like Rahmir Johnson to pick up some of the extra running back responsibilities.

JP: Any potential absence of Washington would put a lot more on the plate of Dedrick Mills. Outside of Milles, Jaylin Bradley and Wyatt Mazour are the only other running backs on the roster with any kind of playing experience at this level. If Mills can live up to the hype, he would probably step into a similar work load to what Devine Ozigbo had over the second half of last season. Then Nebraska would need someone to step up and fill the Washington role, and a combination of Wandale Robinson (depending on how many backfield snaps they want to give him) and Rahmir Johnson would be the most obvious solution. It might also open the door to Ronald Thompkins contributing as a true freshman if he’s able to return to full health.

Chances Miles gets the ax? Next coach will be…?  Lue? The guy from South Dakota State? What was Miles' biggest problem? Lack of recruiting? Lack of development? Lack of coaching? (@thawildbunch) 


DP: Like I’ve said many times before, it’s all contingent on Miles and the team. Bill Moos has, time and again, reaffirmed that Miles has the opportunity to finish his season and hit the goals that were set for him before this campaign began. If the Huskers fall short of the NCAA Tournament, I don’t think one late injury saves his job.

As for Ty Lue’s candidacy, personally, I just don’t think he’s a guy who should be considered simply because he has a Nebraska connection. Did anyone watch his Cavs teams? Give LeBron the ball and see what happens. How does that solve the offensive problems here in Lincoln? I like the guy from SDSU, T.J. Otzelberger, and I like him a lot. His offense is appealing in a lot of ways. 

Miles’ biggest problem was roster retention and development; recruiting has been fine for the most part, he just hasn’t been able to keep guys around and grow their games if they did. I think someone with a track record for strong four-year player development at the college level is going to be pretty high on Moos’ checklist.

JP: I think Derek nailed it. Expanding on that further, it seemed like a very rare occurence when Nebraska took the court in the Big Ten or against high-profile nonconference opponents and you could say that the Huskers were the more skilled, higher-IQ team. Nebraska has had some individual success stories in terms of development for sure, but program-wide it just doesn’t seem like we see the team improve steadily on the offenisve side of the ball. Nebraska has not moved the ball and it has not shot the ball well for mst of Miles’ tenure, and that has made it difficult to score, and therefore, win.

What benefits do walk-on athletes get when they walk on to Nebraska. What is the cost to the school? (@THINKMULE) 

MB: Not sure of the cost, but now walk-ons can eat at the training table, breakfast, lunch and snacks, no charge, and they can eat dinner at a nominal charge to cover cost. That’s a significant change. There’s a move to convince the NCAA to make dinner free as well. 

What player are you looking the most forward to seeing in the spring game? (@_LilBigRed12_) 

GS: I’m actually going with a player we have seen play a lot already: JD Spielman. If he makes it through winter and spring healthy, it will be his first time doing that at Nebraska. I’m curious what type of gains he could make with a full offseason and the spring game is tailor-made for him to have a couple of “wow” plays.  

BV: Wandale Robinson followed closely by Jamie Nance, Miles Jones, the redshirt freshmen defensive ends and Cam Jones (assuming some of the redshirts are available). 

MB: Agree with Brandon on Robinson, but pretty much any young player coming off a redshirt or early enrollment. 

DP: Cam Jurgens. Center is going to be one of the most important battles this offseason, if not the most important. I don’t think the spot lowers the floor for 2019, but it absolutely raises the ceiling. All indications are that Jurgens is healthy and doing well in the weight room. Can Frost’s vision of him as an elite center become a reality this season? I don’t know. But this spring will give us an opportunity to find out just how close he really is. 

JP: The newcomers headlined by Wandale Robinson will be a focus for most people, and I like Derek’s mention of Cam Jurgens. I’ll toss out the linebacker position in general. Outside of Mohamed Barry, the Huskers have a lot of questions marks both inside and outside and I’m looking forward to seeing who can rise to the occasion and lock down spots on the two-deep. 

What do you think will still be the biggest question mark for the football team when they kick off the 2019 season? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: Who is playing center and how good will that person be? The ingredients are there for the offense to make *the jump* except that key spot is a complete unknown.  

BV: There will be a lot of personnel questions still floating around by the time the 2019 season kicks off, but the biggest question will still be defense as a whole. What’s that group’s ceiling? Can it be better against the run? How good does it need to be based on the offense’s ability? All of those things are impossible to answer definitively in the offseason. 

DP: I tend to agree with Brandon here. I think most know what to expect from the offense, center notwithstanding, but no one really knows what’s happening with the defense. They lost more production than just about anyone in college football, but I actually really like the pieces on that side of the ball and the aggressive, turnover-hungry way Chinander dials things up, but that doesn’t answer any questions of “how does this thing actually look on the field?” Is Caleb Tannor ready? Can the defensive line be better than it was a season ago? Can the rebuilt safety rotation maintain last season’s level of play? 

With the increase in high profile transfers not having to sit out a season (Fields & possibly Martell) do you think reform is coming and, if so, what do you want to see happen? Harder or easier for transfers without a year penalty? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: In my ideal world, it should be just as easy for a player to move as it is for coaches. Same rules, no real penalties.  

DP: I agreed with Greg up until this offseason. Tate Martell swayed my thinking. If you’re transferring to avoid competition, you should have to sit a year. There are and should be exceptions. I like that Missouri seniors are able to transfer and play after the postseason ban that was just handed down; situations like that make sense. At the end of the day, every kid’s situation is different and these things should be handled on a case-by-case basis. But if you simply don’t want to compete for a spot, you don’t get to transfer (especially P5 to P5) and play right away. I just don’t think that’s right.

JP: I kind of feel simiar to Derek, but at the same time, if a kid doesn’t want to buy into competeing, do you really want him sticking around in your program? I’d obviously hope it wouldn’t lead to all-out chaos, but I really don’t care to prevent kids from transferring and earning immediate playing time if they decide that is what is best for them.

We’ve talked before about how teams getting all new assistant coaches doesn’t usually work. Also talked about what MSU did on offense not being ideal. So, what is the optimal coaching change number for success? (@CoryHonold) 

BV: None? That’s the obvious answer for a team that’s already successful, but for those that are either regressing or struggling to get over the hump to some degree, length of coaching tenure matters to me here. Say you’re a first-time head coach feeling a little heat after three ho-hum seasons. You might be tempted to make some changes in an attempt to salvage things. I can’t think of many scenarios, off the top of my head, where that works out. But if a young coach feels he has to make those changes, the fewer the better. I don’t think, in most cases, that the actual problem is the coach just made some bad hires and if it’s not, making some good hires doesn’t always fix it. For young coaches, I view staff changes as a warning sign to some degree. 

I’m a little more forgiving for longer-tenured head coaches. For someone in Mark Dantonio’s position, for example, I think there can occasionally be value in some fresh ideas. You’ve got to be really smart about it, but Nick Saban’s decision to update his offense has worked splendidly. Frank Solich’s decision to bring in Bo Pelini worked really well in a one-year sample size. It didn’t end up mattering and it wasn’t a change Solich exactly wanted to make, but when he did make it he made a smart choice. But here, I’d still say “the fewer the better” is the way to go. Wholesale changes often feel like desperation to me. No changes can be an indication of the game passing you by. But there’s a small window there where I think it makes sense to jump to a new S-curve. 

To a large degree, however, coaches really have to be right about their initial hires and aim for stability. I think that is one of the lasting takeaways from Frost’s time at UCF. He knew that was a good job and selected it strategically. That’s not that uncommon. Young coaches are always talking about hidden-gem jobs because they know those are the jobs that might be available to them and provide a boost to their careers. (Charlotte is a good current example.) But it seemed like Frost also had a good list of who he wanted to bring with him, including people not in coaching roles. That might be a little more uncommon, but so far it’s paid big dividends. 

Not counting accounts required for your job, what is the one Twitter account you would choose to follow if you could only follow one for the next 4 months? (@Corn_Huskers) 

GS: Great question. @KicksDeals so I don’t miss out on any good deals for shoes. Gotta update the collection for the football season coming. 

BV: @jon_bois. It’s a hilarious account in a way that might be genius. Also, he’s really good at creating weird stuff that pushes the boundaries of conventionally good content. And that always excites me. 

DP: @DrPeteyHV 

JP: This is an impossible question for me because we’re hitting the stretch run of the NBA season and will be gearing up for the postseason int he coming months. I can’t pick just one of my Basketball Twitter brethren. So I’ll just go with @cjzero. Long live the gifs and memes.

At the time you post the answers, what are the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Spring Game kickoff? (@CoryHonold) 

BV: 58 days 23:18:42. You could watch about .001415 percent of all the content on Netflix in that time.

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