Scott Frost believes this is the most talented collection of skill position players he’s had as Nebraska’s coach.
And he doesn’t seem to think it’s particularly close.
“This is the best depth we’ve had by far, and the best overall talent we’ve had by far at the skill spots, in my opinion,” the head coach said Thursday during a Zoom session with the media.
In some respects, it’s hard to argue with him.
Frost was asked for his feelings of the overall depth at the skill position. The “best it’s been” comment will catch the headlines, but his first remark is just as important to keep in mind. “I think it’s two different questions,” he said, “experience and depth.”
On the latter, Frost feels optimistic.
But as Husker fans have seen in the past, inexperience has been a barrier to playing time for young prospects no matter the potential. How much skill position talent is actually at Nebraska’s disposal in the new campaign? That might be the operative question, and expect the Huskers to seek as much info as they can this spring to answer it.
From a pure talent standpoint, Frost is now four recruiting classes deep into his rebuild. He’s strategized, experienced hiccups, and re-strategized.
At tight end, the strengths are obvious.
“With the guys we have coming back, obviously there’s experience and talent and depth at that position,” Frost said.
And that was without mentioning the most-anticipated member of the 2021 signing class, 4-star Iowa prospect Thomas Fidone—who, from the tone of his Twitter feed, cannot wait to get to work proving doubters wrong.
Position coach Sean Beckton has painstakingly built this room to blend the old with the new. Austin Allen, who will be a fifth-year man in 2021, was an inherited tight end. Travis Vokolek was a transfer plucked from the floundering Rutgers offense before Greg Schiano took over. The three-man class of Fidone, AJ Rollins, and James Carnie represent clay with which Nebraska can mold versatile weapons.
On top of the additions, that group returns 86% of the targets that went tight ends’ way in 2020, 80% of the catches and 78.7% of the yardage. Those kind of numbers portend year-over-year gains.
Allen—a guy who’s recently entered into the stratosphere of branded Husker—was arguably Nebraska’s most improved player in 2020, with 18 catches, a healthy 13.1 yards-per-catch clip, and five receptions that gained at least 20 yards. And the Huskers feel he still has room to grow.
Receiver is different.
The room offensive coordinator Matt Lubick is primarily tasked with managing returns just 40.9% of its targets from a season ago, 39.7% of yardage, and 37.8% of the catches. The biggest hit: the transfer of Wan’Dale Robinson to Kentucky.
Frost touched on the transfer portal during his media session. Careful not to paint with broad brush strokes, Frost said the motivations can be different for a lot of guys. But the portal is booming and Nebraska hasn’t been immune from losing talent. Frost said plainly he wanted to coach guys who wanted to be in Lincoln.
He’s still hopeful for the wideout room, despite losses.
“I think we have more talent in the room by far than we’ve had in a long time,” Frost said.
Samori Touré, a grad transfer wideout and former FCS All-American, will bring some grey hair to the room. With more than 1,400 receiving yards in 2019, Touré should walk in the door as an authority figure. Frost thinks he’ll “certainly help.”
Despite modest numbers, the returners still have intrigue. Levi Falck was a starter, Oliver Martin was a high-profile recruit who was immediately inserted into the fold once eligible. Zavier Betts had everyone signing his praises in-season. Alante Brown was a preseason talking point and special teams staple.
“(They) all have some experience and I can expect to make a huge jump this year,” Frost said.
There are some walk-ons in the mix. Don’t forget about the win it was considered to be when Nebraska got Ty Hahn to walk on last cycle. And then there’s Will Nixon, a guy Nebraska had high hopes for before an offseason injury derailed his first year.
Frost says he’s excited about the trio of 2021 signees Kamonte Grimes, Latrell Neville, and Shawn Hardy as well.
And there’s Omar.
“We’re trying to get Omar (Manning) healthy and ready to go,” Frost said. “He’s here and done a good job so far. We’ve got our fingers crossed and we’re trying to help him out any way we can. I just don’t want to put too much pressure on him. I think we’re all expecting him to be a good player, but I don’t want him to feel overwhelmed with the pressure of that. We’re excited about what he can do for us if we get him right and he’s a consistent part of the team.”
The biggest offensive piece added in the 2020 cycle went through a painful first year. But he’s stayed the course. Frost is happy to have the former top-rated JUCO wideout.
“As far as that room goes, I think it’s far and away the deepest and most talented group that we’ve had,” he said.
Quite the statement to make after losing a player with the talent of Robinson.
Nebraska is in wait-and-see mode in a number of areas this offseason. With the offense, it’s in prove it mode. One thing you can always assume with the Husker head coach: he isn’t lacking in confidence.
“Overall,” he said, “skill positions (have) the best talent that I think we’ve had and certainly the best depth.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.