The mailbag is rather large this week. So let’s get to it.
What is your take on Roby's new contract? (@InDaWildnerness)
Jacob Padilla: I think it’s an awesome deal for him. From what I was told, Dallas tried to get him on a smaller deal initially but his agent turned it down, which proved to be a great move. Roby signed a four-year, $6.7 million deal with the Mavericks. He’ll get $1.5 million of that in the first year, which is a record for a second-round pick coming out of college. I think the deal shows that the Mavericks are very much interested in developing him and a four-year deal gives them plenty of team control. It also gives Roby time to grow into the kind of player they want him to be instead of having to prove himself right away on a shorter deal.
Which player on defense records the first turnover of many this season for the Huskers? (@Corn_Huskers)
Brandon Vogel: Good one. Give me Dicaprio Bootle. After many pass breakups, no interceptions and some good-natured ribbing from former Huskers, Bottle gets on the board against South Alabama and there is much Twitter rejoicing.
JP: I’ll go with Deontai Williams. Dude is just a playmaker and whether it’s an interception or a fumble recovery, I think he’s going to record some kind of takeaway during the nonconference.
Mike Babcock: I’ll go up-front, fumble, Ben Stille, who looked like the Incredible Hulk waiting to go up-front for his interview before Fan Day.
Derek Peterson: Deontai Williams or Lamar Jackson.
How many games or halves do you think it takes for Bootle to record his pick? (@SlicVic13)
BV: See above. Two quarters, which is either equal to or slightly less than one half.
MB: Bootle gets an interception against Colorado, Steven Montez, even though Montez threw only nine interceptions in each of the last two seasons. And he threw 399 passes last season.
DP: Bootle will have multiple picks by the end of the nonconference slate.
Which freshman or redshirt freshman is poised to have the biggest season? Also, where does Noa sit in a hypothetical wide receiver depth chart? (@natethomas01)
JP: The popular answer is for true freshmen is Wan’Dale Robinson who we saw with the second unit during the open portion of Wednesday’s practice. I’m not sure where he’ll rank on the team in terms of yards or catches, but he’ll certainly factor into that aerial attack. As for redshirt freshmen, my answer is whoever ends up playing center since all three of the primary options––Cam Jurgens, Will Farniok and AJ Forbes––are in that category. Kanawai Noa got plenty of run with the first unit on Wednesday, so I anticipate him probably being a starter unless someone else can take that spot from him. He’s versatile and smart enough to play anywhere they need him to.
Greg Smith: The safe answer is Wan’Dale Robinson. I do believe he will be an immediate impact player for the Huskers this season. His stats may not be gaudy because of the other offensive weapons on the team. One name that I think could emerge this camp to watch is Andre Hunt. The problem for Hunt is I think his primary competition will be Noa who has a great chance to step right in and start.
DP: The safe answer is the best one. It’s Wan’Dale Robinson. Not an award-winning season, but a table-setting season for a really exciting talent. I have Noa currently slotted as a starter in my mental two-deep, and seeing him working with the presumed top receiver group this morning reinforced that.
After what seemed like solid springs and great performances in the Spring Game why are we not hearing much about Kade Warner and Brody Belt? (Nathan Clark, email)
MB: Warner is in a tough situation with all the wide receivers competing for playing time, with less speed and big-play ability than those against whom he’s competing. Same with Belt, although Held included Belt (and Mazour) in his post-practice comments today, complimenting both. He said Belt had the ability to catch passes as well and called Mazour a “lunch pail” guy—a description he also used for Dedrick Mills. I’d think Belt (and Mazour) will get time on special teams but consider the guys against whom they’re competing as running backs: Mills, Johnson, Washington (depending), and possibly yet this season Held said, Thompkins, as well as Wan’Dale Robinson, who’s going to play some running back, and Miles Jones, who’s spending some practice time there as well. Warner is in a similar situation, though his reliability and blocking will get him on the field some, I’d think.
JP: For one, camp just started and we’ve only had a few availabilities, so the coaches and players haven’t had a ton of chances to speak about anybody. Two, like Mike said, there’s just a ton of competition for playing time at the skill positions this year. It’s always wise to take anything you hear in the spring with a grain of salt, and that goes doubly when the team has a serious shortage of bodies at a particular position like it did at running back during the spring.
Does Coach Frost believe he is already getting enough talent recruiting to compete for nattys? (@SupertrampJay)
MB: I would doubt “enough” if for no other reason that he has indicated there are still positions at which the Huskers are thin. Plus, the obvious consideration is, the Huskers have to show they possess to talent to win the Big Ten West and then the Big Ten before thinking about national titles. As aggressive as Frost and staff have been in recruiting, they’re still a good way from national championship discussion in my opinion. Nebraska has to have the talent to re-gain consistent national relevance first.
GS: I would think he’d tell you that it’s not quite enough but strides are being made. The depth on this team has improved since this staff has been in Lincoln through better evaluation, closing the deal in recruiting and development. They do not have national championship level talent yet but they do have win the Big Ten West talent which we need to see this year.
How can we expect the DBs to perform this year? (@bupward50)
Should we worry about JoJo Domann's health since we are still in the early days of fall camp? Also, just basing off of reports, how do you see Quinton Newsome fitting into the CB rotation with Bootle and Jackson presumed as ones and Taylor and Clark presumed as twos? (@Go_Big_Red)
BV: I’m bullish on the defensive backs. I like the two returning corners, the returning options at safety (although relatively green) have high upside and I really, really like the group of DBs Nebraska brought in in this class and it looks like a few of them have a real shot to contribute. Overall it will be an inexperienced group, but I think it has the potential to be pretty good. Early returns, and it is very early, indicate that Newsome has a chance to force the issue when it comes to playing time. If he were to be good enough to man a No. 2 slot at corner, it might allow them to think about Taylor more at safety (something they experimented with in the spring). Long term I think Taylor is a corner, but if getting your best two-deep rotation in the secondary involves him at safety for a season I don’t see any problem with that. As for Domann, without knowing the details of his specific injury it’s hard to know how many alarm bells to ring. The staff doesn’t seem to be ringing any at this point, so I’ll go with that approach until we hear differently.
JP: I, too, am optimistic about the secondary. What the Huskers are losing in experience I think they’re making up in potential as I think the guys ready to step into those spots have higher ceilings than the guys who filled them last year. There might be a few busts here and there because of the inexperience, but I think they’ll make up for that by making big plays as well in the form of turnovers and third-down stops. As for the secondary, what we’re hearing about Quinton Newsome is encouraging, but Travis Fisher didn’t really rotate his corners much at all last year and it seems like Cam Taylor is first in line for whatever extra snaps are available at corner. Unless Newsome emerges as a dynamite option in the slot in nickel packages, even if he does jump ahead of Braxton Clark at corner in the second unit I still don’t see him playing a big role in year one.
MB: With nickel alignments, there’s opportunity for multiple corners. From listening to Fisher after Monday’s practice, there might be a bit more rotation this season.
I’ve heard people say if Martinez gets hurt it’s over, but I’m more optimistic. Certainly he’s vital to the team’s success, but what’s the Hail Varsity take on what’s happens in that scenario? Also, Vedral, McCaffrey, or Bunch? (@BenzelLukas)
BV: I definitely don’t think it would be “over” at that point. It would be a significant hit, of course, and lower Nebraska’s overall ceiling for 2019, but I wrote after the spring game that the Huskers have one of the rarest things you can have in today’s college football—quarterback depth. While almost anyone in the country would be a step down from Martinez, Noah Vedral has operated this offense before and if Luke McCaffrey is as far along as Verduzco said he was on Wednesday, Nebraska can go three deep there. Not many teams can say that. I assume the pecking order behind Martinez will be Vedral, Bunch, McCaffrey.
MB: Not “over” for what Brandon says. Vedral could step in, and though no disrespect to Bunch, I think McCaffrey has extraordinary potential. I hope he sticks around. Still, the bottom line would be the play of the guys up front.
GS: It would definitely be a huge hit. Martinez is a legitimate Heisman contender at quarterback and it’s hard to replace that. However, Vedral has a great deal of experience in the offense. I would be comfortable with him being able to help the team win games in that unfortunate event.
JP: Whether it would be “over” or not in case of a long-term Martinez injury depends on how reliable the run game is and how much progress the defense has made. Martinez is what will make Nebraska special if things go right, but if he’s the only reason Nebraska is able to win games then things have gone wrong. I think they can get competent play out of Noah Vedral if the team needs him to step in.
DP: It depends on what you’re expecting from the season. Can Nebraska go to a bowl game with Noah Vedral as the team’s starting quarterback? Sure! I think the same can be said for Andrew Bunch. But can Nebraska win the West without Adrian Martinez? Probably not. This team is a lot younger than a lot of folks immediately think about, but the reason for the increased expectations is the guy playing quarterback. I still like Vedral as the No. 2, Bunch as the No. 3 and McCaffrey as the redshirt “break glass in case of emergency” guy
Besides Martinez, who on the offense and defense would you wish perfect health for the entire season? (@Sal_Vasta3)
BV: I’m running the risk of becoming captain of Team Jurgens, but it’s him and JoJo Domann, two guys who have battled injuries before.
MB: Well, of course, Adrian Martinez on offense and Mo Barry on defense. If we exclude Martinez and Barry from the discussion, as well as JD Spielman on offense, then I’m with Brandon on Domann and Team Jurgens. I think there’s enough depth elsewhere to fill in.
GS: Brendan Jaimes on offense because tackle is thin. Mo Barry is a strong choice on defense as well.
JP: On defense, I’ll go with Darrion Daniels. The only reason he has this year of eligibility to spend at Nebraska is because he got hurt at Oklahoma State. I don’t think Damion Daniels is ready to step in and play a starter’s snap count at nose tackle and Carlos Davis really doesn’t want to slide back inside full-time again if he can avoid it. On offense, Martinez, Spielman and Jaimes are probably the top three guys I’d protect.
DP: I mean, everyone. But if I can only have two guys, I want JoJo Domann to be completely healthy for an entire season (the rest of his career really) because of what I know he’s already been through. He deserves it. On offense, I’ll stick with Brandon and say Jurgens.
Which player do you think will end up with the most sacks? Which player will have the most interceptions? (@dmhusker1)
BV: Mark me down for Ben Stille in the interceptions category and Dicaprio Bootle for sacks. No, wait, reverse that. Those are my picks.
JP: Well, if we believe what we’re hearing from the coaches and players Alex Davis might be that guy in the sacks category. He’s stepping into that Luke Gifford role and by all accounts is a completely transformed player. Still, it’s hard to put that much faith in a guy who has 1.5 career sacks in 35 career games, so I’ll go with Ben Stille who was only half a sack behind Gifford last season. As for the picks, give me Deontai Williams. He tied for the team lead with two in limited action last season and now that starting spot should be all his. Much like Alex Davis has to show he can actually sack a quarterback before I buy in, Dicaprio Bootles’s got to show he can actually catch a football before I pick him to lead the team in picks, and I’m not sure Lamar Jackson will get targeted enough if he’s able to build off the second half of last season.
GS: Tyrin Ferguson for sacks. I will go with Lamar Jackson for interceptions and even call my shot with eight.
DP: Deontai Williams leads the team in picks. Alex Davis leads the team in sacks.
1. What item did you see on fan day, other than the mannequin, getting signed that you were like, “Dang, that's cool.” 2. Coach Dewitt is back! (@ChuckandM)
DP: There wasn’t anything weirder than the mannequin, and if there was, I was already blinded by the absurdity of the mannequin. And yes, Coach Dewitt is back looking like his old self and that’s the best development of the year.
Any news about alternate uniforms for this year? (@HarlanCoLaker)
BV: Still anxiously awaiting news on that front. My feeling is that since we’ve made it this far without an announcement that we might be on a similar track to last year when the alternate was announced in season. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Might just be a strategic decision. Release a new uniform in August and it’s all anyone talks about for a day. Release it in October and it’s still news, but you cover it and then move on to the regularly scheduled programming of practice updates, game previews, etc.
Who is the best/most accurate/your favorite football media personality (not from your office)? (@InDaWilderness)
BV: Bill Connelly has done a lot of groundbreaking work to advance the field of college football analytics, so he’s near the top for me. Steven Godfrey of Vox Media is well connected and consistently produces in-depth work. He’s mostly a Twitter follow at this point as I don’t know that he writes regularly for anyone at the moment, but Matt Hinton was a must-read for me back in the blog days. He has the classic love/hate relationship with this sport of those who are addicted to it and always provides fair analysis.
MB: Recently deceased Dan Jenkins and long-time gone Jim Murray, both of whom wrote about other sports in addition to football. Also gone, Keith Jackson, “Whoa Nelly.”
JP: Since Brandon works from Chattanooga and therefore isn’t technically from our office, my answer is him.
Status of Washington? (@19D4LIFE)
DP: He’s practicing. There’s not going to be another update on him until we get to the first game week.
Not including the Tunnel Walk, what four songs would you choose to start each quarter of the home games? Bonus points for including what the fans would do in the stands. (@Corn_Huskers)
JP: I’d just play “Photograph” by Nickelback every time.
DP: And I’d just file to have Jacob kicked out of the state every time. The first quarter is DMX. The second quarter is a fan vote. Third quarter is “Hells Bells.” Fourth quarter is “Seven Nation Army,” just for Erin.
You have one hour to eat a mountain of 100 pancakes. What four Huskers would you have on your team and why? (@HerbieHype)
MB: At this point, I think they’re all too committed to eating the right stuff to be of any use in such an endeavor.
DP: I’d take Damion Daniels and he and I would devour those pancakes.
What inspired you to be a sportswriter? (@JJStark8)
MB: As long as I can remember, that’s what I wanted to be. (If not that, then a film critic.) But I didn’t know how to go about it. Also, it had to be in Nebraska, where I grew up. That was my dream. And through a series of unlikely happenings I got the opportunity. Since then, I’ve never really worked a day in my life, though I did give up the travel.
BV: I don’t know that I ever had the moment where I said, “that’s what I’m setting out to do.” I was a little bit adrift for a while in college, then I realized that most of my interests probably indicated that I wanted to be a writer. So I set out to do that. And then, when it came time to figure out what kind of writing I was best equipped to do, I realized that all of my interests probably indicated that I wanted to be a sportswriter. I do feel that I realized both of these things later than is advisable.
JP: Going through high school, I had a tough time identifying something that I wanted to do with my life. I was good in school, but none of the subjects really jumped out to me as something I enjoyed or wanted to pursue further. I knew I liked sports, though, and I was pretty good at writing. I stumbled upon the Phoenix Suns site on SB Nation, Bright Side of the Sun, and they offered a feature called Fan Posts where members could write and publish their own stories. So I wrote a couple of posts, received pretty good feedback and decided I wanted to study journalism in college. I joined the school newspaper while I was at Creighton and my time there only reaffirmed to me that I had made the right decision.
DP: I was just looking for something I was passionate about after hitting what was basically rock bottom in college. I was always a capable writer—enjoyed doing it, teachers enjoyed reading my stuff—and naturally have a loud voice, so a few friends directed me toward the school newspaper. I fell in love with the job working at the OU Daily. (”Start Here, Go There” is our thing. Support student journalism everywhere.)