After six weeks of blood, sweat and tears (with a week off for some fun in the middle there), we’ve arrived at the end of spring football in Nebraska. The 15th and final practice will be held in front of 90,000 fans at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Unfortunately, some of the team’s biggest playmakers — like JD Spielman, Maurice Washington and Jack Stoll — will not be taking the field for the Red-White Spring game. Neither will the most hyped newcomer, Wan’Dale Robinson. Some young players with big upside — Caleb Tannor, Cam Jones and others — will be sidelined as well.
Even so, there are plenty of story lines and plenty of things to watch heading into the spring finale. Here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Front and Center
Scott Frost invoked the name of Dave Rimington when he moved Cam Jurgens from tight end to center last season, which should have been the first indication that the coaches are big fans of the redshirt freshman from Beatrice.
After packing on the pounds over the offseason, Jurgens has garnered pretty much all the first-team reps during the portions of practice open to the media this spring. Now we’ll all get a chance to see what he looks like at center in a real game situation. Can he snap the ball cleanly and consistently? Can he make the proper reads and calls?
We knew Jurgens had the physical tools and blocking ability to be a good lineman. If he’s already got a firm handle on the mental side of the things as well, perhaps he’ll be ready to start come the fall after all. He’ll be on the Red team with the other projected starters.
Time to Shine
We’ve heard a few names pop up in post-practice availability through the spring, and now it’s time for this players to show the fans what the coaches have been seeing.
Nebraska needs a couple of receivers to step up not named Spielman after the departure of Stanley Morgan Jr., and redshirt freshman Andre Hunt is trying to be one of them. He’s drawn rave reviews from the coaches for his consistency and has gotten plenty of first-team reps.
He’ll be with the Red team on Saturday and should have every opportunity to make a name for himself with Adrian Martinez throwing him passes. The 6-foot, 190-pound speedster appeared in two games last season but did not catch a pass. Could he pull down three, four, five passes on Saturday? Probably, and if he does I think the fans will feel a little bit better about the wideout situation heading into the fall.
Walk-on running back Brody Belt is the other young skill position player who has drawn consistent praise from the coaches. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound redshirt freshman will suit up for the Red team for the Spring Game. Senior Wyatt Mazour is also on the Red team, but he’s been banged up throughout spring ball and if the coaches want to limit his touches it could pave the way for a big day for Belt. Reinforcements for a short-handed running back room are on the way, but it’s Belt’s time right now to make sure the coaches can’t forget about him.
Tight End: Bright Future?
Jack Stoll is the clear leader at tight end, but the redshirt junior will not be participating on Saturday which paves the way for the younger players in that room to show what kind of improvements they’ve made since the end of last season.
The twin towers, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal, will play for the Red team while redshirt freshman Katerian Legrone will suit up for the White team alongside walk-on Bryson Krull. Allen, Rafdal and Legrone combined for seven total catches last season but all three have their strengths and all three can make a play. Saturday is their chance to show Coach Sean Beckton they can be relied upon.
Nebraska wants to get the tight ends more involved than they did last season, and with good reason. Now those tight ends have to get open and catch the ball, and I think they will.
Now or Never?
Nebraska has a handful of players that have kind of fallen by the wayside over the past year-and-a-half. We haven’t heard their names much from the coaches and we didn’t see much from them during the open portions of practice. On Saturday perhaps we’ll get a chance for them to end the spring on a high note and get things turned around — or perhaps we’ll see why they have not been given significant roles as of this point.
Jaylin Bradley, the redshirt sophomore running back out of Bellevue West, is No. 1 on that list for me. We went through some things last season and wasn’t even suiting up on game day for part of the season, but with so few bodies at running back, Bradley should get plenty of chances to carry the ball for the White team. I was a fan of his ability at Bellevue West and still believe he has the talent needed to succeed if he can take care of all the other things that go with being a Division I football player.
Breon Dixon is in the same boat as Bradley for the most part. In fact, the two of them are the only scholarship players that I noticed that have their lockers in the auxiliary locker room. Dixon is on the Red team for Saturday, so that could be a good sign that he’s making progress. But he was a guy that arrived in Lincoln with plenty of hype and never got close to making an impact even after he was granted his waiver to play right away.
Like the previous two, Jaevon McQuitty is a redshirt sophomore who hasn’t come close to breaking into the rotation. Injuries set him back early in his career and he’s never really been able to find his place at Nebraska. I wrote a feature on him heading into his freshman season and still believe he has the talent to be a difference-maker if only he were to figure things out sometime soon. McQuitty and hybrid player Miles Jones are the only scholarship receivers set to play for the White team on Saturday, so McQuitty has a chance to be Andrew Bunch’s go-to guy if the offensive line can give Bunch and the other White team quarterbacks enough time to make throws.
I could list a handful more names in the category, but I’ll cut if off there.
Some of the most intriguing newcomers won’t be suiting up on Saturday, but there will still be plenty of new faces introducing themselves to Husker Nation as well as returners looking to carve out bigger roles for themselves.
You can certainly learn a few things by watching the spring game, but ultimately the Huskers will be playing themselves so it will be hard to know what’s for real and what is merely situational. However, the spring game offers a lot of different players a chance to see the field and make plays, and that’s the fun part for me. I’m looking forward to finding out who the next spring game hero is at Nebraska.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.