CHICAGO –– Nebraska head coach Scott Frost spoke with members of the media Thursday afternoon for an hour as part of the conference’s annual media extravaganza. In an attempt to make that somewhat digestible, let’s run through it positions by position.
Well, almost. You’ll see.
While only a sophomore, Adrian Martinez is viewed as a known entity for good reason. His true freshman season put him in some pretty good company. Good enough that Frost kind of went there without really going there.
“As great of players as I have coached, there’s some things those guys were elite at where Adrian has a ways to go,” Frost said. “I’m talking about guys that got drafted second in the NFL Draft, now.”
Marcus Mariota was selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft after winning the Heisman at Oregon in 2014.
Yeah, it’s the big one as far as comparisons go, at least for players coached by Frost. It might be one of the few where Martinez—who, again, has been a college football player for 18 months—has some ground to make up.
Other than that, though . . .
“The unique thing about Adrian is he’s going to be able to throw it as well as we could ever hope a quarterback can throw it. He’s got the breakaway speed that’s about as good as anybody I’ve coached,” Frost said.
Now here’s one with some questions. Nebraska returns its two starting tackles and Boe Wilson at right guard, but there’s still plenty of competition ahead for Huskers on the line. Frost, in what is becoming a common occurrence, held nothing back when it came to praise for redshirt freshman center Cameron Jurgens.
“When he was healthy, I saw some really special things from him. I think he has the chance to be an elite player if he stays healthy and stays on the course he’s on,” Frost said. “It’s important to us as a team to have him particularly with our need on the interior line.”
Jurgens missed the second half of last season with a foot injury and reaggravated it this spring. Nebraska other options at center include Hunter Miller, Will Farniok, and Iowa Western transfer Josh Wegener. Frost also mentioned that Trent Hixson, currently fighting for a starting job at left guard, has also done some snapping.
While Nebraska appears to be set at tackle if it wants to be, the competition isn’t over for any spot.
“There’s some tackles that are going to have the chance to compete that might allow us to have the freedom to move a tackle inside,” Frost said.
Kind of a cliffhanger, though plenty of people have wondered if Bryce Benhart, a 4-star signee in the 2019 class, could force the issue at tackle. It’s a big ask for a true freshman, but Frost likes the group Nebraska landed last cycle mentioning Matthew Anderson, Michael Lynn and Jimmy Fritzsche by name in addition to Benhart.
Ethan Piper, another 2019 signee, will also start out his career on the offensive line rather than the other side, projecting as a guard or a center.
“We’re still a team with a few depth issues, but that’s every team in the country,” Frost said in response to a question about the running backs, which kind of tells you what you need to know.
The waters are still murky here. Maurice Washington has a court date next week and Frost declined to play the hypothetical game with that, as he has all offseason. “I don’t want to guess on which way we’ll land depending on what happens,” he said adding that Nebraska has until the first game of the season to wait for a resolution in Washington’s case before having to make a decision.
Junior college transfer and former Georgia Tech running back Dedrick Mills arrived this summer and has impressed early.
“I think he’ll be able to give us a lot,” Frost said. “We have some other guys in the program that I think have a chance to help us this year, and then we recruited two freshmen that are doing some really good things already.”
Plenty still to be sorted out in the backfield.
Nebraska’s biggest loss in terms of production from 2018 (Stanley Morgan Jr.) hits the wide receiver room, but Frost said he thinks this year’s group has more overall talent than the Huskers had a year ago.
Kanawai Noa’s arrival helps with that. The California transfer caught 94 passes for 1,224 yards and six touchdowns for the Golden Bears over three seasons. Martinez reported that Noa picked up the offense quickly and has worked at all three receiver spots this summer.
Wan’Dale Robinson’s arrival also helps here.
“Wan’Dale, first day of spring practice, looked like we wanted him to look,” Frost said.
The true freshman from Kentucky was a popular answer to the requisite media days question of “Which freshmen are impressing?”
So, not going to go line-linebacker-secondary here because, well, the defensive conversation around Nebraska didn’t really flow that way. (More on that coming in a separate story.)
But, expectations are elevated on this side of the ball, too, particularly after the defense “won” what might have been the majority of the practices in the spring.
What’s the difference this year to last year?
“I just seem them believing it now,” Frost said. “I think they were dipping their toe into that pool of belief last year. I think they wanted to believe we were leading them in the right direction, but again they’ve had a lot of coaches coaching them and telling them the same thing. They wanted to believe that the direction we were taking them was leading them in the right direction.
“I think they completely believe that now. I see a different team from a confidence standpoint, a swagger standpoint, an energy standpoint. Half of defense is energy, enthusiasm and hustle.”
I guess that means that strength is in the remaining half. That’s coming along well, too, particularly on the defensive line.
“I walked into the weight room the other day to watch the d-line lift with Carlos and Khalil [Davis] and those guys. I think there were six or seven guys that did two reps of over 800 pounds on squat. That’s not something they could’ve come close to a couple of years ago,” Frost said.
We’ll have much more from media days on the way.