In 2018, Nebraska’s coaching staff got one practice in before releasing the team for spring break. This was before the coaches really knew the team, before they were able to establish practice standards, before they were able to show what they expect on a football field day in and day out. There’s a little bit of nervousness that comes with that unknown. College kids plus spring break can be a dangerous combination.
“Sometimes that can be a train wreck,” running backs coach Ryan Held said.
This year, Nebraska’s coaches were a little more at ease.
“You’re nervous but you can be at peace knowing you have the right kids in your program,” Held said. “I was a head coach for 12 years. I always worried every time when guys would go for spring break that we would make the news or something. If you recruit the right kids, they’re going to not want to put themselves in a bad situation or put our program in a bad situation to make ESPN.”
No ESPN this spring break. Quarterback Adrian Martinez went with teammates to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and the only thing he brought back was a tan. No headaches with this group.
“It shows us in the staff that they’re putting team first,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “You can still go home, you can still get away, but the focus is still on the University of Nebraska and this football team and making sure they don’t lose all the gains they’ve made up until this point.”
When he and the rest of the offensive coaches met with the media Monday, Walters said he wanted the team to just take care of their bodies over the break. Get the right amount of sleep. Don’t go crazy with the junk food. Practice is moving even faster than it was last year as the team has gotten more familiar with the playbook and the layout, so coming back sluggish wasn’t going to be appreciated.
“Last year we took two or three days to get going again,” Walters said. “This year it was totally different.”
Nebraska’s energy was the main thing. Offensive line coach Greg Austin said the details were going to be a little slow but that’s to be expected; Nebraska went a week without having to work on hand placement, eye placement, leverage, route running, etc. But the energy was noticeable by all the offensive assistants. A word that came up quite a bit was enthusiasm.
“The want-to was at a high level,” Austin said. “It was really neat to see.”
Walters said the players were “crisp.” Held said there was progress made on special teams. The defense is flying around. Last season throughout spring ball, there seemed to be a yo-yo effect with these media availabilities; one day the practice would be great, the next would feature a drop-off. With the exception of a sluggish offensive start on Day 1, there seems to be more consistency across the board. Coaches are happy with that.
And that’s what makes a day like Monday so encouraging. Nebraska can release its team to go out on its own and know there will be very few setbacks.
“Guys are mature,” Walters said. “Guys understand the standard. When we step on that field man, there’s a standard, and that’s to be a champion. To me, we practiced at a championship level and standard today. We’ve got to keep going Wednesday.”
Other News and Notes
>> Walk-on running back Brody Belt continues to impress the coaching staff in practice. Nebraska scrimmaged the Friday before releasing the team for spring break and Belt had a wheel route catch he took for a score and another 40-yard run. Held says he has no qualms about putting Belt into the fold in the fall if his level of play keeps up. Walters gave a shout-out as well. The Omaha native was a guy Held was talking about right when spring ball began and it doesn’t look like he has faded at all.
>> Maurice Washington is practicing with the team, he participated in the scrimmage, but outside of that, coaches didn’t say much about him. Held said “he’s got things he has to get done in the classroom,” and that Nebraska is just trying to “keep his schedule consistent.”
>> Tight ends coach Sean Beckton spoke about outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt’s presence at practice as he continues his battle with throat cancer. “It’s unbelievable, the fortitude that he has,” Beckton said. He added that the coaching staff and their families are very close-knit and mentioned how his wife occasionally cooks for the Dewitt family to make things easier for Dewitt, his wife and his children.
Dewitt continues to show his face at practice as much as he can, and Beckton said he popped into the team meetings on Sunday night.
“He needs us just as much as we need him, and he understands that,” Beckton said. “We appreciate him very much, him and his family.”
>> In talking about wide receivers trying to push their way up the depth chart, Walters mentioned redshirt freshman Andre Hunt, senior Jaron Woodyard and walk-on redshirt freshman Wyatt Liewer.
On Hunt: “Andre Hunt is playing well. We scrimmaged last Friday and he had a good scrimmage, made some plays.”
On Woodyard: “Jaron Woodyard has taken that next step. He’s a guy who now feels comfortable in the offense and he can play fast.”
On Liewer: “Wyatt Leiwer is a guy who was on the practice squad last year but he’s a guy that shows flashes. Longer kid, great ball skills.”
It’s clear Walters likes the current level of competition in his room. JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson are pushing things, but all of Walters’ guys are bringing it every day.
“Great competition,” he said. “We’ve got eight more practices. Guys know they’re competing against one another and playing time, depth chart, roles are being established and we’re having great competition.”
>> That competition (and it’s happening across the board, not just in the wideout room) is being helped by a defense that looks and sounds more confident on the practice field.
“They make us better and I don’t think we’re going to play against a better defensive scheme than [defensive coordinator Erik] Chinander and his guys,” Walters said. “You put scheme plus the enthusiasm and excitement and the speed they’re flying around at, it’s making us better at all positions. … It’s a challenge every day we go out to practice. Our guys know that, they understand they’ve got to be ready to compete and if they’re not, they’re going to get embarrassed.”
>> In no way is the center position decided on the offensive line. Don’t forget redshirt freshman Will Farniok. It seems the work he got done last spring as an early enrollee and the in-season reps at center have done him well. Without Michael Decker or Cole Conrad in the spring, he and sophomore Hunter Miller both saw snaps there; both have been better this spring because of it.
Jacob Padilla also contributed to this report
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.