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LOOK: Nebraska Kicks Off Week 2 of Spring Football Practice
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Observations from a Special Teams-Heavy Husker Spring Practice

April 07, 2021

Media was allowed to observe the first 30 minutes of Nebraska’s Wednesday morning practice. Let’s crack open the notebook and share some of those observations. 

>> The list of guys who were not practicing included some heavy-hitters. Running backs Markese Stepp and Rahmir Johnson, wideout Omar Manning, defensive end Ben Stille, linebackers Will Honas and JoJo Domann, and safety Isaac Gifford were all in street clothes. Running backs Ronald Thompkins and Sevion Morrison, and corner Braxton Clark were also not spotted. It’s a foot issue for Stepp, though he wasn’t in any kind of boot. 

Manning’s status will continue to be followed closely. He was the top-rated JUCO wideout coming out of the Class of 2020, but then only played a handful of snaps in his first year with Nebraska. Coaches kept the reasoning for his absence particularly close to the vest. 

Head coach Scott Frost gave an impromptu availability after practice where he announced that Stepp, Stille, and defensive back Marques Buford Jr. would all miss spring ball because of various surgeries. All three are expected to be back in time for fall camp. For the other guys who weren’t on the field, Frost said their statuses vary but none are serious injuries.

>> Nebraska really wanted us to know it is working on special teams. That’s the joke comment of course, but the majority of what we saw was special teams work. I didn’t see any team stuff.

Wideout Levi Falck said Monday the Huskers had adjusted their practice layout to include special teams work at the very beginning. That is indeed the case, and not just a talking point. 

After the traditional stretch period to begin the day and a few position-specific warm-ups, Nebraska broke into groups and repped individual drills for various special teams-oriented fundamentals.. 

Wideouts worked with the sled and then blocked gunners sprinting at them. Interestingly, offensive line coach Greg Austin was leading their drills. Running backs coach Ryan Held was working with linemen in one-on-one battles. Defensive backs worked punt coverage, with what we presume to be the starting secondary taking the first reps. 

As we didn’t watch any practice a year ago and didn’t regularly see special teams stuff during practice viewings before the pandemic, it’s hard to really judge what we were watching, but Nebraska is no doubt starting practice with an emphasis on that phase of the game.

>> Wasn’t a surprise to see quarterback Adrian Martinez and outside linebacker Damian Jackson leading the team during the warm-up period, but the guy next to them was at least notable—safety Deontai Williams.

>> Garrett Snodgrass, Jackson Hannah, Randolph Kpai, and Seth Malcom were working exclusively with Barrett Ruud’s inside linebacker group. 

>> Martinez had a nice throw over the middle to wideout Zavier Betts on a post route during warm-ups. Traveled probably 40 yards in the air and was dropped right into Betts’ lap. While that might sound a little like those “Dwight Howard hit X straight free throws in practice” stories, it was no doubt nice to see him uncork a few and put them on the money.

The best throw I saw, though, was from freshman quarterback Heinrich Haarberg, who let a ball fly roughly the same distance on a corner route and dropped it over his receiver’s shoulder, perfectly placed away from two defenders trailing his receiver but still well inbounds. His receiver didn’t catch the ball, but Haarberg put it on a platter. It was an impressive throw.

Shortly after that, he hit wideout Alante Brown on an out route with an on-time, accurate ball.

>> Outside linebacker Pheldarius Payne looks awesome wearing the No. 0. He’s built a little like—and I say this with the utmost respect—a Dorito chip, and with the smallest number possible, it sort of emphasizes that build in some bizarre way. Payne looked in pretty good form.

>> Another guy who looked good: third-year wideout Jamie Nance. 

>> Another another guy who caught my eye: third-year defensive back Noa Pola-Gates

>> Freshman tight end Thomas Fidone took No. 24, which was worn last season by running back Marvin Scott III. Both were initially listed on the Husker website as being No. 24, but Scott wore 21 in practice and has since had his player page updated. There was some confusion about that yesterday.

>> The practice playlist included “No More ?s” by Eazy-E and yes this is absolutely important information. 

>> Shortly after media left the practice facility, Tom Osborne pulled up to the side door and went inside, presumably to watch practice. Good to see that even with things still a little hectic, the Hall of Fame coach is still able to be around. 

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