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Mailbag: Any First-Rounders Coming Down the Pipeline?

April 29, 2020

No one said anything last week about the opening line so we’re just going to start testing random quotes from The Office. “If I can’t scuba, then what’s this all been about? What am I working toward?” Name that character.

What Husker team would you want to see a “Last Dance” style documentary? (@Starkastic8) 

Greg Smith: The 2017 volleyball national championship team. Basically, they won it all in 2015 with Mikaela Foecke as the MOP during her freshman year. You come away thinking they could go on a unprecedented run led by her but they stumble in the semifinals in 2016. The team comes back in 2017 to win the national championship led by Foecke, Kelly Hunter and Kenzie Maloney. What went into all that? Plus sign me up for unfiltered John Cook.  

Brandon Vogel: I would either do a deep dive on a dual narrative looking at the 1995 football team’s dominant repeat title paired with volleyball’s first national title. The other option would be to look at the ‘95-96 academic year as a whole, which would allow you to explore Nebraska’s NIT title as well. (I know, 65th-best isn’t exactly an A+ hook, but it was a good era for Nebrasketball.) Either way, you’re getting a close look at what was the apex for Nebraska athletics to this point. 

Likely landing spots for Noah Vedral? (@3rdLargestCity) 

Derek Peterson: Sounds like Rutgers has interest. After Vedral announced, a slew of RU personnel—OC Sean Gleeson, director of recruiting Timothy Silvernail and director of player personnel Eric Josephs—all followed him on Twitter. Whether Vedral wants to go there is another question, but it’s a strong academic institution with a new coach who wants to run a new spread offense. There’d be a competition but Vedral would walk in the door as the best quarterback on the roster; not sure where else he can find a starting gig at the Power Five level that quickly. Just looking at others among his followers: Southern Miss pops up, Eastern Kentucky, Ohio, North Texas, a Rutgers alum. 

With Vedral in the portal and Frost’s spring comments about McCaffrey (considering a wide receiver move), who do you think will be QB2 next season? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Erin Sorensen: Let’s start with what Frost said during that one day of spring football: 

"We talked to Luke about his role. I think there may be a time to talk about something else for him for down the road but right now he is competing to be the quarterback. That's where he is in our eyes so we want to give him every chance in the spring to do that. Come fall if he is not the guy then I'm sure there are some ways we can use him." 

So McCaffrey was going to operate as a quarterback this spring with the potential to move elsewhere as needed “if he is not the guy” come fall. I always figured that meant he’d still be listed as a backup at quarterback on the depth chart in September, but that maybe Nebraska would design some packages for him that would move him to wide receiver when needed. With that said, Vedral’s departure changes that. Can you move McCaffrey to receiver and risk injury? Not now. Vedral would have been the insurance needed that if Adrian Martinez was hurt—and then somehow McCaffrey was too—at least you have a strong option in Vedral. Losing Vedral means you can’t take the same risks you might have before with McCaffrey. That means (and to answer your question): McCaffrey is QB2. 

Mike Babcock: McCaffrey is QB2. Think he would’ve been even if Vedral hadn’t opted for the transfer portal, a decision that probably was mutual, right, given his relationship with Frost and Verduzco—regardless of whatever the official version might be. A spring would’ve helped Smothers and maybe earned him a place in the QB2 discussion—maybe. But McCaffrey I think McCaffrey would’ve been QB2. 

Jacob Padilla: Piggy-backing off Erin’s answer, this also changes what their plan is for Logan Smothers, I believe. Now Nebraska needs to prepare him to be ready if they have to call on him. Nebraska went three-deep at QB at one point in 2019. Smothers is now that third guy. I think the coaches will handle him like they did McCaffrey last year – he'll redshirt, but they’ll bring him on road trips and prep him to step in if both Martinez and McCaffrey go down at some point. 

Can I say I want to be like Iowa without being tarred and feathered? What they do with their recruits, generally rated lower than the Huskers' classes, is impressive. Iowa has had 16 draft picks to Nebraska's four over the last four years. What does Nebraska need to do to catch up? (@Corn_Huskers) 

MB: No tar-and-feathering here. The answer is, coach ‘em up. Recruiting is only the first step in a process. The most important part of the process happens when student-athletes get here. Osborne was a good example. Many of his recruiting classes were highly ranked; they always included three or four top-notch recruits, but the majority had to be—and were—developed. He recruited to a system and culture. Of course, the walk-on program was understandably more productive. Nevertheless, they need to be coached. 

When the NCAA says "A-Days", what does this mean? Asking for a friend. (@Go_Big_Red) 

ES: I’m not completely sure what this question is in reference to, so I’m guessing you mean the discussion on “two-a-days.” An NCAA rule ended two-a-days in 2017 in hopes of reducing the number of preseason injuries. However, COVID-19 might bring them back. The NCAA’s chief medical officer recently said that he believes athletes would need four to six weeks prior to competition to get ready in a way that would prevent catastrophic injuries for players. That means the NCAA might consider allowing teams to return to multiple practices in one day if needed. Plus, the NCAA has even learned that the injuries they thought they were preventing with the elimination of two-a-days actually didn’t decrease all that much. That’s why—if it’s what you’re even referencing—you’ve heard more about the “A-Days” in recent weeks. 

With the NFL draft over, how did each HV staff member’s favorite NFL team do? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

GS: The Bears basically did nothing in the actual draft in my opinion. They are still paying for the Khalil Mack deal which I am totally fine with. They took another tight end which is weird but at least they cut one and now “only” have nine tight ends on the roster. It could be worse though, we could be Green Bay. 

ES: Chiefs did fine. They needed to put the focus on surrounding Mahomes with even more offensive weapons, which they did (specifically with Clyde Edwards-Helaire). I’ve heard from some LSU fans that I’m friends with that they really like that fit too, so it’ll be fun to see that evolve. There are some holes left to fill (specifically with the interior O-line and then in some spots on defense) but overall, the Chiefs still have a pretty dang talented team and the draft only added to that. 

JP: *takes a deep breath* 

I thoroughly disagree with the direction Green Bay is heading in right now and the draft reflected that. I don’t understand waiting as long as they did to fire Mike McCarthy if they were going to bring in someone who wanted to completely change the team’s style of play as opposed to maximizing the last years of Aaron Rodgers’ career. Everything I’ve read and heard makes it seem like Matt LaFleur is trying to reshape Green Bay into a San Francisco type team, and I just don’t see the infrastructure to be better at that than the 49ers or other similar teams in the near future. Green Bay spent its first round pick on a quarterback I don’t believe in (for brevity’s sake I won’t go any further here), its second pick on a two-down running back with a lot of mileage already and its third pick on a fullback. Whether or not those players end up being good, I just don’t see how those three picks are good value. Green Bay didn’t get a top-flight receiver, it didn’t address its run defense issues and it didn’t land a tackle of the future to replace Bryan Bulaga (unless one of those late round picks somehow turns into that). 

All of that being said, the Packers still swept the Bears (and the rest of the division) last season and are bringing back most of their best players so I’m not sure what Greg’s talking about. I just saw an opportunity for Green Bay to take a step forward coming off a 13-3 season and an NFC Championship Game berth and I don’t think it did that. 

DP: Chargers got a quarterback I really like and a linebacker who can be a star. I’m happy.  

On a scale from 1-10, how hard is the staff still after Avante Dickerson‍, despite his Minnesota commitment? Is there any chance we can flip him? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: 3? There is always a chance but I’d say if schools still want Dickerson they should stay in it. He didn’t visit Minnesota and you never know what can happen if you get a kid on your campus. At this point I’m not sure how involved Nebraska wants to stay with him. 

Next opening in the strength & conditioning staff, what are the chances they look at Wan’dale's dad? The man is a beast, and we can see that he knows how to turn kids into beasts too. Am I too early for this hype train? (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: Not likely. Just my opinion. 

GS: Very little chance of that happening. He owns and operates his own gym in Kentucky so he’s not just turning his kid into a beast.  

Let's say Cam Taylor-Britt has an even better year than last year, and decides to go into draft, what round would you project he'd go in? (@PBlak69) 

JP: I don’t know how you can answer this question because we still haven’t seen what kind of player he truly is at Nebraska. As a freshman, he played spot minutes at corner and nickel. As a sophomore, he spent most of the season at safety, though the coaches have said they think he’s best at corner. Greg sees him more as a utility flex guy, but he’ll also have a chance to prove the coaches right and lock down that starting corner spot opposite Dicaprio Bootle if he proves that’s where his skill set fits best. Also, what is his top-end speed? I’m guessing Lamar Jackson’s 40-meter dash time had a lot to do with him going undrafted. Running a great time to couple with some gaudy production (forced fumbles, interceptions, TFLs, etc.) could really push him up boards. Beyond a knack for making plays, we really don’t know what kind of player he is at this point so I can’t really give you a draft range yet. But I do think he has NFL potential.  

I need a new pantry pasta recipe. What’s your go-to meal? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

MB: No help here. I take whatever pasta sauce we have; if there’s hamburger thawed, fry it up and added it to the sauce, boil the spaghetti in olive oil added to the water; toss some shredded parmesan on top; and I’m set. No imagination. It’s my favorite. 

BV: Man, are you in luck. I’ve tried a bunch of different marinara sauce recipes over the years—including spending entire Sundays simmering and simmering—but one of my best finds in recent weeks is this super simple recipe from The New York Times. Be sure to get the certified D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes next time you’re at the store. It’s the key to the whole thing. Also, I use Calabrian chiles for this recipe, which are readily available on Amazon. Those are also excellent on pizza. 

What’s the weirdest “last few items in the cupboard” quarantine food or meal that you’ve prepared? (@AlpineAddiction) 

MB: My wife handles most of the food preparation and does a great job. We’ve had nothing “weird” to this point. 

ES: We haven’t created anything “weird” to this point, but I have started adding chili paste to basic ramen noodles. Fancy. 

BV: I basically made an enchilada casserole last night that was throw-every-can-we-have in there (beans, corn, chiles, etc.). It was a really ugly plate of food, but it tasted pretty good. 

DP: The GOAT put pineapple slices in the crockpot when making pulled pork the other day. That was wonderful. She also made marshmallows from scratch for s’mores. That was messy. 

Who are the fastest players on the Huskers roster? I know Marcus Fleming ran a 10.38, is he now the fastest? (@HuskerNation540) 

ES: Dicaprio Bootle is pretty fast. Cam Taylor-Britt is too.  

BV: Those would my top two contenders as well. Luke McCaffrey might not be far behind, but, yes, I think Fleming is definitely in the hunt as well. 

GS: Each suggestion so far is good. I would also add Logan Smothers to the mix as well. I want a race between him and McCaffrey to see who is faster. But my money would be on Fleming overall. 

Do you think the women’s basketball team will be able to make the NCAA tournament next year considering the significant departures from the team? (@dmhusker1) 

MB: I would be surprised, given the departures. I thought there was reason for optimism next season, a solid core. Not so now. 

DP: It’s going to be hard. They’ve lost three starters from last year’s squad, the top scorer who was going to be a starter, and a reserve forward with considerable Big Ten experience. I don’t see the additions making up the difference (which isn’t a knock on who they brought in, for the record). It’s going to suck because they just went through a tough rebuilding year in 2018, but it kind of feels like Amy’s house of cards she was pretty close to topping off had the table pulled out from under it. 

Is there a player on the roster that will be a first round pick and if so, which player? (@dmhusker1) 

DP: Will be and can be are two different conversations. Nebraska has several who can be first-round selections. One or more of its quarterbacks could become one. Wan’Dale Robinson could become one. Bryce Benhart could become one. Ty Robinson could become one. That’s kind of the desired outcome when playing at the high-limit recruiting table. But Nebraska isn’t sniffing the first round until it starts winning football games. There’s a symbiotic relationship at play, obviously, between Nebraska’s high-ceiling players having individually great seasons and the team winning games, but you won’t convince me Lamar Jackson, Stanley Morgan Jr., and Devine Ozigbo are all still going undrafted if their teams won eight or nine games. You also need to land high 4- and 5-stars to occupy the tippy-top of the draft, and Nebraska needs to win to get those dudes as well.  

Who’s getting drafted from Nebraska football next year? (@bethanyadw) 

JP: We were just discussing this as a staff the other day. Greg Austin thought Brenden Jaimes had a chance to get drafted this year had he declared, so I think he has to be at the top of the list in this discussion. Perhaps if Matt Farniok does make the switch to guard and plays well, he’ll have a chance. I think Dicaprio Bootle is a draftable player; he doesn’t have Lamar Jackson’s length or pedigree but I think he does have more speed and has been very productive throughout his career. Deontai Williams will have a good case for getting a sixth year of eligibility if he wants it, but if he’s as good as some in the program think he is he could have a chance to put himself on draft radars with his playmaking ability in the back end.  

DP: Looks like someone has come around on Deontai Williams…  

Favorite Nebraska game, across any sport, you’ve been to? (@ChicagoStation) 

MB: I’m repeating myself here, but the 1978 football game against Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium. It was my first OU game as a reporter for the Lincoln Journal and Star. Close second, the 1964 Michigan basketball game at the Coliseum. I was with my dad, watching Fred Hare flip a shot up over his head for the winner, 74-73. Michigan (like Oklahoma) was No. 1. 

What’s going on in Omaha? What’s behind this surge of major talent coming out of the Omaha Metro area over the past years and moving forward? 

JP: I think there are a lot of factors at play here. One, former high-level athletes have kids that are going through high school right now (see Keagan Johnson at Bellevue West, son of former Husker Clester Johnson, or Hunter Sallis at Millard North, the son of Jessica Haynes, one of the best female basketball players to come out of the Metro). Two, talent in a state with a small population like Nebraska tends to be cyclical, and I think we’re on the upswing right now after a down period. Three, we’ve seen investment in youth sports and development go through the roof with organizations like the Warren Academy in football and Omaha Sports Academy in basketball and quality skills or strength trainers all over the place. Better coaching, more exposure and more work by the players leads to more high-level scholarship offers for athletes.  

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