What makes Cameron Jurgens special?
What makes a coach like Scott Frost say, before ever even seeing Jurgens play the position in a live game, he could be the next great center at Nebraska? Why do things look so different with Jurgens on the field snapping with the rest of the first team as opposed to anyone else? The praise has been effusive all offseason, and even then that might not accurately capture how much Nebraska likes its redshirt freshman tight end-turned-center.
“He’s explosive. Powerful,” line coach Greg Austin said. “He has a calmness about him. It’s his demeanor, and then there’s a grit about him. There’s a quiet grit about Cam that he brings to that position that allows the guys… you talk about command presence, (the center) has to be the guy that orchestrates. He’s the maestro. He has to orchestrate the whole deal up front.
“He’s smart, explosive. He’s the prototypical center.”
When Frost revealed last Friday that Jurgens had returned to practice and was repping with the ones again, he called the Beatrice native a game-changer. Austin, when talking Wednesday about all the reasons that’s the case, used the phrase “explosive” or some derivative of it often.
Trent Hixson, the team’s starting left guard, used the same word — explosive. Jurgens is big. He was big, and then he got bigger, and yet he’s maintained the same kind of athleticism. And in this offense, being able to move isn’t just a requirement of one or two interior linemen, Austin tells all five guys they better be ready to pull and block in space. So, having a center who can keep pace with a tailback and spring an otherwise-10-yard gain for 40 yards with a pancake of a defensive back downfield is a major advantage.
"We knew with him in the lineup changes some things, and that's no slight on the guys competing for that spot. He brings a value to it that other guys don't bring to it,” Austin said. “If you can cover guys up in the open field, you stretch the defense horizontally and now you make them make tackles in space and those are the tough tackles. Everybody can make the tackle within the box but now a running back with a full head of steam with an offensive lineman right in front of them, that’s a different tackle.”
Jurgens right now is playing at around 280 pounds. Austin joked it fluctuates five or so pounds either way depending on his meal. He was consistently at 285 in the springtime. Right now, that’s ideal.
“Dave Ellis and Zach Duval do a good job of frame scoring the guys to determine how much weight they can hold from a skeletal standpoint and Cam’s frame fits the bill for him being as big as he is right now,” Austin said.
In Game No. 1 against South Alabama, Frost says Jurgens will be on a “pitch count.” Austin’s not exactly sure what that number is — if it’s a hard number at all — but said it would be dependent on game situation and how Jurgens is feeling.
Unsurprisingly, Nebraska is taking the cautious approach.
But, there seems a quiet confidence that reoccurring foot injuries, like the one that sideline Jurgens through the end of 2018 and the summer of 2019, are a blip right now and not a sign of things to come. Duval’s and Ellis’ work provides that reassurance that the Huskers didn’t simply put too much weight on a tight end whose frame can’t structurally support it.
“I think that his frame can handle it,” Austin said. “He’s just so body strong and body explosive that, when you have a skeletal deal like a broken bone or something like that, muscle-wise he was OK.”
During rehab in the summer, Jurgens dropped 20-25 pounds to keep as much strain off his foot as possible and committed wholeheartedly to the process.
“It takes toughness. It takes resilience. It takes not playing scared about getting injured again,” Austin said of what it takes to keep fighting back from injuries. “That’s the biggest fear. When I first came back from my injuries, it was, ‘OK, am I going to get hurt again?’ You kind of have to overcome that fear and go out there and play your balls off and let fate determine what happens next.
“That’s what he has. He goes out there and competes. If he can go, when he can go, he goes. When he can’t, he can’t. And he knows his limitations and is communicating to us on a continual basis what his status is.”
To this point, there aren’t many surprises left from Jurgens.
The staff knew in the spring that, health-permitting, Jurgens was going to be their starting center.
They knew in the summer that he was going to grind through rehab.
They know now with the season-opener just a few days away that he has a chance to be special.
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.