Week one of Nebraska’s fall camp is in the books. Seemed like a good time to get ourselves into game shape with a Three-and-Out. Hail Varsity staff writers Jacob Padilla, Derek Peterson and Greg Smith give you their impressions of the first week.
So far in camp we haven’t had a lot of “Wow, I can’t believe he just did that moments,” but we also haven’t had many things happen that open up new questions either. For year three of the Mike Riley experience that can be a good thing even though this feels like a first year with so many changes.
Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense remains shrouded in mystery thanks to the far-side outdoor practice field that the media isn’t allowed to go to. However, the fears of replacing Chris Jones have been eased based on what we can see. Eric Lee Jr. has done an admirable job and is having a solid camp. I continue to be impressed with the mindset of Lamar Jackson. We know he has all the talent, but putting it together mentally as quickly as he has to can be a challenge. So far he looks up for it.
I continue to be impressed by the Tanner Lee-to-Tyler Hoppes connection that started in spring. Both players have an unusual amount of hype surrounding them for players who haven’t played a ton of football in scarlet and cream. Both players are providing us with a blueprint for where Langsdorf and Riley want to take the quarterback and tight end position.
After a week, count me as someone who thinks Nebraska will have an explosive passing game this season. Lee is the real deal. Stanley Morgan Jr. looks poised for a monster season and De’Mornay Pierson-El is sometimes lost in the shuffle now, but he looks ready to return to his freshman form. Sprinkle in true freshman Tyjon Lindsey, redshirt freshman JD Spielman and Fresno State transfer Keyon Williams and you have the makings of something not seen very often in Lincoln.
The cornerback situation was the most interesting one for me coming into camp and we got a few answers by the end of week one. Jackson has switched from his boundary corner position to fill in for Jones at the field side. As a young player who played safety in high school and only got a little bit of experience last year, I wasn’t sure if he was ready to take on that responsibility of playing on the side with more space, but I thought he looked really good from what I could see on Thursday. He had a couple of really nice pass break-ups that showed both good coverage footwork and solid closing ability, and his length gives him a big advantage at that spot. As Derek mentioned below, Eric Lee Jr., who has stepped into the boundary role, has looked solid as well.
We weren’t able to see too many details during the live portions of practice considering they were happening a football field away with a line of players along the sideline serving as a screen, but it looked to me like the offense had a very good day. The offense moved right down the field during a two-minute drill, the offense gashed the defense with a few runs up the middle and the quarterbacks completed passes at a high rate. However, according to Mike Riley, the team went with a full 86-play scrimmage behind closed doors on Saturday and the defense showed up and got the better of the offense. It’s always difficult to tell what you’re actually seeing when a team plays against itself, but if one side of the ball is dominating the other, that probably says more about how far behind the one side is than how great the other is. Going back and forth says the team has work to do on both sides of the ball, but it doesn’t have a glaring weakness.
Well, when I wasn’t straining my eyes to see across two football fields, I was seeing some stuff.
First thing I want to mention is that Eric Lee Jr. is one athletic kid. After each stretching session we saw, Lee wouldn’t stand up the way everyone else would. He would do this somersault, backflip-looking thing that made my hamstrings hurt just watching it. Small, insignificant detail, right?
Wrong. It’s a nice nugget to showcase his athletic ability. When I kept an eye on Lee, he was making plays everywhere. I rarely saw him get beat in one-on-one drills. If he did, he was able to recover. I didn’t see a lot of tugging and pulling, I didn’t see a lot of breakdowns and I saw a ton of well-timed breaks on passes thrown at him. Jackson, a sophomore corner, has been solid, but Lee is a guy I’ve enjoyed watching.
I also want to point out a handful of receivers. Everyone knows Morgan and Pierson-El will be the cream of the crop this season on the perimeter, but the young receivers have looked just as impressive.
Lindsey and Spielman have been electric. Lindsey has receivers coach Keith Williams in his ear every single play, coaching him up as hard as anyone on the field. That’s a positive sign. Or Williams is just getting him back for the summer. Spielman has also been singled out by his head coach when asked who has impressed.
Both are lightning quick and run clean routes. They’re both sure-handed and they both could be threats to get some touches out of the backfield. They’re the types of player offensive coordinators love to get into open space and turn loose. Don’t expect monster seasons because, after all, they’re freshmen, but in a quick-passing offense, they could be crucial pieces to opening up a run game looking for new life or freeing up Morgan and Pierson-El for big plays down the field.