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Mailbag: Which Linebacker Room is a Little More Stable After Spring?

May 01, 2019

Another mailbag brings the full Hail Varsity staff back to answer your Huskers questions. Let’s get to it.

Year 1 to Year 2 under Frost saw UCF improve their total offense from 350 to 530 yards per game, which is a 66% increase. What would be a reasonable increase for Nebraska in Year 2 under Frost based on their average of 456 yards per game in Year 1? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Brandon Vogel: How about this for a deal? Nebraska increases its yardage output only slightly but is significantly more efficient and scores more points because of that? I think that’s on the table for the Huskers and the most likely sort of improvement we see on offense. At 456 yards per game last year, Nebraska already ranked second in the Big Ten. That was behind Ohio State, the only team to average more than 460 yards (much less 500, though they did that, too, in 2017 and 2018) in the Big Ten over the last three seasons. It’s a tough defensive league and Nebraska hit a pretty high level in Year 1. That’s encouraging for Year 2, but I think the primary difference you’ll notice will be in points rather than yards. That said, I do expect the yardage to tick up slightly. Let’s say 485 is a good target. Unless Ohio State is the same ol’ Ohio State with all of its changes or Michigan takes to spread football like a Harbaugh to milk, 485 yards would probably lead the Big Ten. 

What is the advantage/disadvantage of having a position-less player on defense? interchangeable ILB, OLB, DB? (@ChuckandM) 

Mike Babcock: With the diversity in offenses now, having players who can play more than one position (Domann, for example) allows the defense to adjust without substituting. It also makes for a more difficult offensive read. I should clarify, though, “being able to play” shouldn’t be confused with “has to be able to play.” I would expect that player to have the speed, size and strength for whatever positions at which he lines up. Again, using Domann as the example, he had to put on muscle and some weight to move up to outside linebacker. He moved to some degree out of necessity. Now, he’s a bit there, or at safety, or . . . Disadvantage? Logically, if you do the same thing all the time, you get better through constant and consistent repetition.  

BV: An additional advantage is how it helps defenses deal with up-tempo offense. If an offense likes to go quick, having a player who can be third safety if needed, hold up in run fits and rush the passer allows a defense to better handle the inability to substitute.  

Derek Peterson: I wrote about the advantages here. I can’t really see any disadvantages to versatile players, unless you were to rely on undersized players across the board, which isn’t likely.

It's 4th and goal, the Huskers are down 4 and need the touchdown to beat the Sooners. Which skill players do you use and who should Martinez target? (@_LilBigRed12_) 

MB: Double-tights: Stoll and Allen, or maybe Rafdal. Spielman. Warner (a reliable receiver who’s always going to be where he’s supposed to be). Mills (if no Washington). And Martinez keeps. 

DP: Jack Stoll split out wide right, Kade Warner wide left, JD Spielman in the slot to Martinez’s left, Wan’Dale Robinson to his right, Katerian LeGrone in-line. Jump pass. For the win. 

Which streak is or was more important: Nebraska players drafted or Nebraska players in the Super Bowl? (@btran0524) 

Greg Smith: I’m going to go with Nebraska players drafted. The Super Bowl thing is pretty neat but feels almost fluke-ish. The drafted streak felt like it meant more and was a better indicator of overall program health. 

Jacob Padilla: I agree with Greg. It’s not like the Huskers on the Super Bowl teams have always been key pieces or even rotation players in some instances. I think it was more a random bit of trivia than anything else.  

MB: Though I don’t often agree with Lakers and Suns fans, yes, drafted players, definitely. The Super Bowl thing is in large part circumstantial. 

Erin Sorensen: The Super Bowl streak is a little controversial too. In fact, you can find varying opinions on the streak depending on where you look. It has everything to do with whether or not you believe a player counts if they were on the practice squad, injured reserve, etc. For instance, some lists have a hole from 2013-17, because the former Huskers were not active members of their teams. Other lists include them with that caveat, arguing that even practice squad players get a ring if the team wins. So, with that said, I agree. The players drafted was the more important streak, but it has ended. The Super Bowl streak is fine too, but that’ll come to an end if the draft piece doesn’t pick back up anyway. No matter how you consider it. 

How accurate is ESPN’s Way Too Early Top 25 for the 2019 season with Nebraska being No. 24? (@twynn12) 

GS: It’s in the ballpark. I probably would not rank the Huskers to start the season, include them in the other receiving votes group and let them work up after a few wins. 

BV: I’ve never done any of my own research into the accuracy of the way-too-early polls, but in general preseason polls are more accurate than they probably get credit for. That probably says less about sportswriters’ ranking acumen and more about the rigid hierarchy of college football, but the latter—more than returning starters, schedule, etc. — is what keeps this from being a pointless exercise evaluating teams that nobody has seen play yet. Put it this way, do I think that by the end of the 2019 season we’ll view Nebraska as one of the 25-best teams in the country? I do. Where in that top 25 should they fall right now? I have no idea. 

MB: I’m less optimistic, I guess. I don’t think Nebraska ought to be in the pre-season Top 25. Does 8-4 put a team in the Top 25 at regular season's end? I think 8-4 is a best-case scenario, marked improvement. The schedule sets up better, certainly.  

ES: The fun part about way too early predictions is that you can be wildly right or wildly wrong, and it doesn’t matter. If you’re right, great. You win a pat on the back. If you’re wrong, whatever. You were just guessing anyway. With that said, I don’t know if I consider Nebraska one of the top 25 best teams heading into the season, but the schedule sets up nicely for them to be by the end. So, maybe ESPN will be right. Or maybe they’ll be wrong.  

Who is the Tormund (from Game of Thrones) of the Huskers? (@billcitro) 

JP: This is a tough question. Among Tormund’s identifying qualities are his red hair and beard, his strength as a fighter and his sense of humor. He’s a strong leader and doesn’t have any kind of personal filter. Damian Jackson is the first one that came to mind with his combination of beard, combat prowess and leadership, though he doesn’t have the red hair. I don’t know enough about Jackson’s personality to say whether or not he fits the comparison from that perspective. Cameron Jurgens and Brenden Jaimes both have the red hair and the strength, but again, I don’t necessarily know that their personality matches. 

Settle the debate: should we worry more about ILB depth or OLB depth? (@CaptainBugeater) 

GS: I’d worry more about OLB depth at this point. It’s not because there isn’t talent at the position though. The mix of JoJo, Alex Davis, Tyrin Ferguson, Caleb Tannor and Garrett Nelson should be able to get the job done in 2019. However, there are real questions about relying on any of them from being unproven to injury history. At ILB, Mo Barry is the rock of the defense and Collin Miller is due for a breakout season though the position is shaky behind them. 

JP: Hate to keep doing this, but I agree with Greg again. First of all, Mohamed Barry is probably the best returning player on defense and he’s on the inside, so that’s one point in that group’s favor. There are some intriguing prospects at outside linebacker but nobody close to as proven as Barry. Caleb Tannor wasn’t able to make an impact with his snaps last season and while I like the way Garrett Nelson plays the game, he hasn’t taken a single snap of college football yet. Alex Davis will have to prove he’s a different guy than the one we’ve seen the last few years when the games start for real and while I’m high on both Tyrin Ferguson and Caleb Tannor, both have struggled to stay healthy throughout their careers. I like Collin Miller’s upside next to Barry and I think they’ll be able to cobble together enough depth with Will Honas, Nick Henrich, Jackson Hannah, Garrett Snodgrass and Joseph Johnson to get by even in the case of an injury to a starter. 

MB: There’s no Mo Barry at outside linebacker, and if Will Honas can come back healthy, he’ll join Barry and Collin Miller to give the Huskers a pretty good inside group, especially if a fourth can step up. On the outside, Luke Gifford led the Huskers in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries, and his numbers weren’t eye-popping. He’s gone. The competition should be spirited in fall camp. 

With all the available scholarships available, who do you feel deserves them the most? (@PBlak69) 

BV: Kade Warner tops the list for me. Isaac Armstrong, as a senior and the presumed starting punter, deserves to spend his last season on scholarship. If Trent Hixson exits fall camp at the same spot he ended spring game (i.e. the leader at left guard), he could be a candidate.  

MB: Agree with Brandon, Warner and Armstrong for sure, with Hixson next up. 

ES: Warner would’ve been my first pick, so I’ll go ahead and agree with both above. 

Who do you think our bell-cow back would be for short-yardage gains, since we have Mo Washington as the primary back? (@eric_2011PJ) 

GS: Adrian Martinez. I don’t think they will be scaling back his running and he has the muscle mass to handle it.  

JP: He’s not as big as he was as a freshman at Georgia Tech, but I think Dedrick Mills will still get plenty of those short yardage carries as well. 

MB: Going in, I want the ball in the hands of Martinez because I haven’t seen the incoming running backs (and there’s no Andy Janovich, or that position, in the shadows). Down the line, I don’t want Martinez always taking that short-yardage pounding, though. So I’ll trust Jacob’s judgment on Mills as a possibility. 

Will Nebraska offer any more instate kids? And if so, who do you think they will? (@Huskermef) 

DP: I’m going to direct you here as we answered this very question last week. 

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