Last week we took a look at which of the incoming freshmen will have an opportunity to earn roles right away for the Huskers. Today, we’re examining the class of freshmen that redshirted last year to see which ones are ready to make an impact in 2017.
Last year, 16 freshmen redshirted, whether because of injury, lack of physical maturity or lack of opportunity to crack the two-deep. A handful of those players battled to earn jobs during the spring and that competition will continue into the fall. Here are the top names to keep an eye on.
J.D. Spielman, WR
Spielman is the easiest choice from the class. He was close to avoiding a redshirt last year, but with all the upperclassmen in the wide receiver corps he likely would have been limited to mostly a special teams role. Instead of burning a year of eligibility for that, the coaches decided to give him a year off to focus on truly becoming a wide receiver after playing as more of a running back and all-around weapon in high school.
With Jordan Westerkamp moving on, the slot receiver position is up for grabs and Spielman and transfer Keyan Williams, the son of wide receivers coach Keith Williams, look to be the top two options. Williams has seniority and an edge in experience as a junior who played two years at Fresno State, but Spielman is one of the most dynamic athletes on the team and brings a different skill set to the position. Expect to see both of them on the field come the fall.
Collin Miller and Quayshon Alexander, OLB
The Huskers are still in the process of transitioning to the 3-4 defense, and a big part of that is finding the right players to fill the outside linebacker positions who can really get after the quarterback. Alex Davis is getting the first crack at the boundary side position, but that starting job is far from locked up.
Miller was the scout team defensive MVP last season and has shown a knack for rushing the passer. The coaches initially slotted him at inside linebacker, but with the emergence of Mohamed Barry and Avery Roberts on the interior they decided to slide him back outside where depth is more of a question. He had to sit out spring ball with an injury but should be good to go for fall camp.
Alexander is another option at that position. Physically, he’s a bit closer to the kind of player Bob Diaco wants at that spot at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than Miller. For reference, Davis is listed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds.
That outside linebacker position is still very much up in the air, but a couple of youngsters could factor into the battle by the time the season rolls around.
Patrick O’Brien, QB
After working as the third-string signal-caller all season while redshirting as a freshman, O’Brien battled with Tulane transfer Tanner Lee for the starting spot throughout the spring. Lee was named the No. 1 quarterback heading into the fall, but O’Brien made it a true competition and performed very well. He’ll be the back-up this season, and therefore is one injury away from taking the reins of the offense and proving what he can do.
Boe Wilson, Matt Farniok and John Raridon, OL
Wilson was close to playing last year and already looks to have the second string right guard spot locked up coming out of the spring. Now he’s pushing Tanner Farmer for the starting job. Wilson brings some much-needed physicality to the line at 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds.
Farniok (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) is working at right tackle behind senior David Knevel, but Knevel was banged up much of last season and only started eight games while playing in 10. If Knevel can’t stay healthy, Farniok could be the one to hear his name called.
Raridon opened the spring in a competition for the starting center spot opened up by the graduation of Dylan Utter. By the end of camp, the coaches had moved him to left guard to compete with Jalin Barnett for the back-up job behind Jerald Foster. He was the second-highest rated player in the 2016 class and the Husker legacy could earn his way onto the field sooner or later.
Jack Stoll, TE
The Huskers lost their top three tight ends to graduation last year, leaving almost no experience whatsoever at the position. Tyler Hoppes appears to have secured a starting role for himself, but beyond him it looks to be pretty wide open. By the end of spring, sophomore Matt Snyder and Stoll separated themselves from the pack as the second and third tight ends.
However, Connor Ketter missed the entire spring with an injury and the coaches said he was a player who would have factored into that discussion had he been healthy. True freshman Kurt Rafdal could work his way up the depth chart once he arrives on campus as well. But for now, the redshirt freshman from Colorado appears to have put himself in a good spot heading into the fall.
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.