Football begins next week. At least, football in a very, very watered down sense. Nebraska can begin conditioning, weight training and film study with coaches on July 13, and spend eight hours a week until July 24. At that point, a two-week minicamp begins ahead of a scheduled Aug. 7 start date for fall camp. Until something happens that changes things, the plan moving forward is football.
So let’s talk football until told differently. This preseason schedule that begins soon is such to try and stem some of the sting of losing spring ball. Nebraska got only two of its allotted 15 practices in the books. How exactly is that going to impact position battles?
Does it level the playing field for newcomers because some of those guys already around in February/March/April didn’t have a chance to take a step forward? Does the coaching staff play it safer with less evaluation time? It could go either way.
Nebraska’s a young team, though, all things considered, and there stands to be a significant number of spots up for grabs in fall camp. Here are a few under-the-radar youngsters to keep in mind.
Nick Henrich / Keyshawn Greene / Luke Reimer
In 2019, inside linebacker coach Barrett Ruud used a three-man rotation for the lion’s share of snaps at inside ‘backer. Mo Barry, Collin Miller and Will Honas were the guys. Honas had a better year than I think some remember on first reference (second in tackles, five TFLs) and Miller was Nebraska’s best linebacker in coverage.
Barry has since graduated. Ruud does not want to play two guys 85 snaps a game. He wasn’t all that thrilled about having only three guys for it last season. In a perfect world, Nebraska has four inside linebackers who can all step onto the field and operate like starters. Miller and Honas would still play the majority of snaps in this scenario, but Ruud would have people he trusts to manage the numbers a little better.
Eteva Mauga-Clements, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior college transfer, may very well become the No. 3. In 18 career appearances for Diablo Valley (Calif.) College, he racked up 82 tackles, 29.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. His last year saw him lead the team in all three categories.
But one of the three names mentioned in the sub-header is going to play. Mark it.
Henrich did well to learn the ropes last season after battling injury early. Ruud said had the former 4-star Omaha product not gone down, he would have likely played often. Instead, he appeared just once: on special teams against Wisconsin.
Greene is a complete wild-card. Considered a massive win in the 2020 signing class, Greene is a 4-star, top-100 guy who chose Nebraska over the major Florida schools (he’s from Florida) and Tennessee. As a senior in high school, he posted 147 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks, two pass breakups, one interception and one blocked field goal. Either the lost time sets him way back, as he was the last inside ‘backer to arrive in Lincoln, or it allows him a chance to come in shoulder-to-shoulder with Henrich and Mauga-Clements.
Reimer is one of the top walk-on candidates for scholarship already. “He’s a guy who was impressive from Day 1, and he’s continued to build on that,” Ruud said in March. “He may be the most explosive guy we’ve got at linebacker right now as far as an athlete. He was a multi-sport guy in high school. Good track guy. It shows. He’s got really good speed. And he’s got a natural knack for it. He shows up around the ball … Right off the jump, he was one of the most impressive guys in the whole camp.” Ruud said he knew Reimer’s film was good, but he “didn’t know he was going to be that good.”
Who knows, maybe two of these three play serious snaps in 2020.
Javin Wright / Myles Farmer / Quinton Newsome
I don’t know where the snaps are going to come from. Let’s get that on the page early. Nebraska has a foursome in the secondary right now of Dicaprio Bootle, Marquel Dismuke, Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams which, on paper, might be as talented as any non-Buckeye team in the conference. (Ohio State’s recruiting is just absurd. Different game.)
Yes, Travis Fisher likes to rotate. NU has Braxton Clark at corner and Eli Sullivan as a utility guy who plays his tail off. Clark is a hard guy to get a read on. Nebraska weakened itself last year in moving Bootle back to safety in order to put Clark on the field at corner late. I think that’s how you have to look at it. Clark was the best secondary option for a team dealing with a rash of injuries in the secondary, so they did what was needed to put him on the field. They have high hopes for him. He’s the next guy up.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander loves Wright’s versatility. He can play safety, corner, and a little outside linebacker. With so many guys contending for so few spots, having that kind of positional flex could pay off. He’s 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. That’s a big corner. Or that’s a subpackage outside ‘backer.
Farmer is just impossible to ignore. Everyone raves about the kid. “Did I want to play Myles Farmer? Yeah, I sure did,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said in March. “A whole bunch.” Fisher called him one of his top guys in the room, and said they just wanted to make sure he was ready before throwing him to the fire. In the secondary, maybe more so than other spots on the team, Nebraska has that luxury. He’s the same size as Wright and he’s long.
Newsome is the other Georgia product from the 2019 class. He appeared on defense four times as a true freshman, but he burned his redshirt thanks to 10 appearances on special teams alone. He’s a bit lean, but he’s got that same length at corner that made everyone fall in love with Lamar Jackson.
Rahmir Johnson / Marvin Scott III / Sevion Morrison
Dedrick Mills should be the bell cow. Seems like each of the last two seasons has begun with the wrong ballcarrier getting the bulk of the touches, only to have another guy midseason take hold of the spot, run away, and hide.
Mills should be a 17-21 carry kind of guy this season after averaging only 13 touches a game a season ago.
That doesn’t mean he should be playing 70-, 80-plus snaps a game, though. Nebraska needs the clear No. 2 to complement.
The logical next man up is Rahmir Johnson. His redshirt freshman season consisted of the max four games played in, 21 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. Maybe at the end of the year Nebraska could have just burned the redshirt and run Johnson as the No. 2 guy it needed, but the staff didn’t want to essentially waste the year. They have high hopes for Johnson.
They also have high hopes for Scott and Morrison. (Kind of a “no duh” statement, they wouldn’t recruit guys they didn’t envision bright futures for, but I digress.)
Scott was initially viewed as the runner most equipped to step on campus and be immediately ready for Big Ten competition. He’s a bowling ball kind of runner at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds.
Morrison has been described as an Adrian Peterson-style runner with the way he knifes through holes and defenders, an insanely lofty comp for a guy yet to practice at the FBS level. Head coach Scott Frost said he’s the kind of every-down back they didn’t have last year. Morrison is a potential wild card on offense, not just as a guy to earn some snaps and push for a fifth appearance, but as a guy who could make noise.
The No. 2 job is not for Johnson to just walk away with.
Nebraska needs another wide receiver, and very few are talking about the Colorado native.
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.