There was an increased focus this spring on being physical for the Huskers. If we did a word bubble for the most used words in interviews this spring, “physical” would be quite large. The spring was a grind. Nebraska needed to catch up physically. The team got only two spring practices in before the pandemic shut things down in 2020.
The focus this spring was physicality and execution versus speed. That was music to veteran center Cam Jurgens’ ears.
“I was happy with what we accomplished this spring,” Jurgens said. “I feel like when you go to practice everyday, you need to pick one or two things to work on every day. I feel like I improved a lot with that. But more or less, it’s more my mentality of attacking things and having that detail, but also a little aggressiveness and anger and playing with an edge.
“And I think our o-line kind of embodied that this spring.”
Part of what made this spring different wasn’t just saying that things needed to be more physical. The structure of practice this spring allowed the Huskers to get through it with no breaks. Nebraska normally has two or three weeks of practice then spring break hits. After that, the team is back for two weeks. The rhythm is disrupted but that time allows players to heal up too. Without that break, practices take a toll.
Coach Scott Frost said that the team had 40 guys on the injury report at one point. The physical spring is what led to the first half of the spring game being “thud.”
“I think guys just weren’t ready for that grind a little bit,” Jurgens said. “We kind of embraced it as a unit and got through it. I feel like we kind of led the offense there and we’re pretty excited about that.”
The results of the offensive line embracing this change are evident. The defensive players on the team spoke this spring about the difference in the offense. Yes, the wide receivers are faster and the offense took more downfield shots but cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt was just as impressed with the offensive line.
“It’s gotten a lot better. We’re downhill and straight pounding the football man,” Taylor-Britt said. “We see the offensive linemen are taking pride in their blocking, just giving Adrian more time or even just driving guys and getting to the second level and opening up the hole or gap for the running back to get through. It’s looking a lot better.”
One of the big storylines coming into the spring game was how the running backs would look. We know the unit had consistency issues through the spring. The players made the most of their opportunities during the game. That added physicality by the offensive line didn’t go unnoticed by defensive lineman Ty Robinson.
“I definitely could feel that,” Robinson said. “That was kind of one thing that I noticed from last year. Downhill runners they hit a lot harder. I can tell that offensive line they are firing out of their stance pretty well and powerful moving us. They were keeping us on blocking and opening those holes for those guys. You saw [running back Jaquez] Yant. I’m going to shout out Yant. He ran through up the middle three times in a row and knocked our guys around, so it’s definitely there.”
One of offensive line coach Greg Austin’s goals for the spring was to have his guys play with more of an edge. It’s necessary to sometimes play to the echo of the whistle. It sounds like it was mission accomplished on that front. That edge will need to remain through the fall as Nebraska looks to break in a new running back in the 2021 season.
“You can draw up a play however you want. But if you don’t have that energy and that passion to get it done, it’s not going to happen,” Jurgens said. “I feel like we kind of slowed down the tempo and were able to just practice and finish our blocks.
“We’re not just worried about the next play. We’re worried about finishing through the whistle. That kind of helped us a lot.”
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.