Nebraska opened spring football Monday and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star previewed each position group.
Countdown to spring ball: Entrenched Martinez leads intriguing QB group
Nebraska opens spring football March 4 and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group.
We start with the quarterbacks.
Departed players: None.
Returning players: Sophomores Adrian Martinez and Noah Vedral, junior walk-on Andrew Bunch and redshirt freshman walk-on Matt Masker.
Incoming players: Freshman Luke McCaffrey.
2018 stats: Martinez (11 starts): 224-of-347 (64.6 percent), 2,617 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs, 629 rushing yards (4.8) and 8 TDs. Bunch (5 games, 1 start): 31-of-47 (66), 320, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 40 rushing yards (2.5). Vedral (1 game): 2-of-9 (22.2), 29, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 13 rushing yards (1.9), TD.
Last year, a quarterback battle drove conversation through spring ball and fall camp. Adrian Martinez ended that conversation emphatically.
The Fresno, California, native set several NU freshman records en route to 3,246 total yards of offense. He is the entrenched starter headed into 2019 and is garnering offseason talk of Heisman Trophy consideration. He is a cornerstone player in the Scott Frost era and is seemingly comfortable shouldering the responsibility that comes with that status.
The Huskers won’t be a finished product in 2019, which means NU might pile even more responsibility onto its standout quarterback.
Behind Martinez, NU must find some consistency — how much different might the season have looked had the Huskers beat Troy in September with Andrew Bunch at the helm? — but appears to have the pieces to do so.
Bunch and Noah Vedral provide experience in the system, while incoming freshman Luke McCaffrey has wowed Frost and the staff with his work ethic and athleticism since arriving on campus in January.
The starting job, barring injury, is not up for grabs. But there is plenty to sort out after Martinez. The talented sophomore will certainly get his share of work in the spring, but expect the others to be put in a ton of situations to help identify a pecking order.
Countdown to spring ball: Opportunity looms for running backs looking to move up depth chart
Nebraska opens spring football March 4 and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with running backs.
Departed players: Devine Ozigbo, Mikale Wilbon, Austin Rose.
Returning players: Maurice Washington, Wyatt Mazour, Jaylin Bradley, Miles Jones.
Incoming players: Dedrick Mills, Rahmir Johnson, Ronald Thompkins.
2018 stats: Washington (two starts) 77 carries for 455 yards (5.9) and three touchdowns, as well as 24 receptions for 221 yards and one TD; Mazour 11 for 76 (6.9) and one TD, as well as one catch for 21 yards; Jones one carry for 5 yards as well as one reception for 21.
Overview: This could be a spring of opportunity for a few players.
It's all about being on hand for drills.
Washington, the talented sophomore, is on hand but in the midst of a legal situation in which he faces criminal charges in California.
Two incoming freshmen — Johnson and Thompkins — will arrive in the summer. Same goes for Mills, as long as he completes academic work at Garden City (Kansas) Community College. Nebraska officials felt good enough about his progress to sign him in January.
In the meantime, players such as Jones, Bradley and Mazour could get plenty of reps this spring.
Bradley, a 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore from Bellevue West, is intriguing because in 2017 he flashed potential as a true freshman — 24 carries for 93 yards — but sank to seventh or eighth on the depth chart last season.
The 5-8, 175-pound Jones, a touted speedster from Miramar, Florida, played one game last season — against Bethune-Cookman — before a season-ending injury. He battled injuries throughout the season and remains something of an unknown quantity.
The 5-9, 200-pound Mazour, an Albion native, can't be discounted because of his speed and toughness. In addition to his work last season at running back, he returned three kickoffs for 48 yards.
Whether Washington is available this spring is unknown. Head coach Scott Frost likely will address the matter March 4 during a pre-spring news conference.
Countdown to spring ball: Frost looking for several players to step up at receiver positions
Nebraska opens spring football March 4 and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with receivers.
Departed players: Stanley Morgan, Bryan Reimers, Justin McGriff.
Returning players: JD Spielman, Kade Warner, Mike Williams, Jaron Woodyard, Jaevon McQuitty, Andre Hunt, Jack Stoll, Kurt Rafdal, Austin Allen, Katerian Legrone.
Incoming players: Wandale Robinson, Darien Chase, Jamie Nance, Demariyon Houston, Chris Hickman.
Walk-ons to watch: Wyatt Liewer, Bennett Folkers.
2018 stats: Spielman (10 starts) 66 catches for 818 yards and eight touchdowns; Stoll (12 starts) 21-245-3; Warner (seven) 17-95; Williams (two) 12-122; Rafdal 4-67; Allen 2-54; Woodyard 1-10.
Overview: Nebraska obviously must move forward without gifted wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who produced team-leading totals of 70 catches for 1,004 yards last season. He was the team's best vertical threat. That part won't be easy to replicate.
Meanwhile, Spielman, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior, apparently is recovered from a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for the final two games last season. In fact, Spielman was close to being ready for the season-ending Iowa game, Nebraska coach Scott Frost said earlier this month.
Spielman could be leaned on heavily in Morgan's absence.
"Hopefully some of these young kids we brought in can help fill the gap, and there are some guys already on campus I'm expecting to make huge jumps this year," Frost said. "A lot of times in the first year in a system, some kids don't quite flourish and they make a huge jump in year two. But there are a bunch of guys already on the roster — from McQuitty to Woody (Woodyard) to Mike (Williams) to Andre Hunt, even some walk-ons like Wyatt and Folkers. There are a bunch of guys who I think could take a step forward and help us."
He's looking for guys to fill spots in all those three- and four-receiver sets. Along those lines, Robinson, a true freshman from Frankfort, Kentucky, will no doubt get a long look from coaches this spring. The 5-9, 175-pound Robinson, an early enrollee, totaled 8,582 yards from scrimmage with 118 touchdowns during an illustrious high school career.
Countdown to spring ball: Greg Austin's crew looks to build on last season's improvement
Nebraska opens spring football March 4 and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with the offensive line.
Departed linemen: Jerald Foster, Tanner Farmer, Cole Conrad.
Returning linemen: Brenden Jaimes (12 starts in 2018); Matt Farniok (12); Boe Wilson (nine); Christian Gaylord; John Raridon; Broc Bando; Matt Sichterman; Will Farniok; Hunter Miller; Trent Hixson; Cameron Jurgens.
Incoming linemen: Matthew Anderson, Bryce Benhart, Jimmy Fritzsche, Michael Lynn.
Overview: Watch film of Nebraska's last two games of 2018, a 9-6 win against Michigan State and a 31-28 loss at Iowa. Husker offensive line coach Greg Austin's crew hung tough against a Sparty defense that ranked No. 1 nationally against the run and a Hawkeye unit that was No. 8 against the run and No. 6 overall.
Nebraska rushed 30 times for 103 yards (3.4 per carry) against MSU, and followed it up with 33 carries for 140 yards (4.2) against Iowa.
Husker returning starters Matt Farniok (right tackle), Boe Wilson (right guard) and Brenden Jaimes (left tackle) surely generated some confidence from those experiences.
"I think (the 2018 season), especially the last half of the year, has been a major springboard into spring ball and into fall," Austin has said. "There's so much good film on the server right now that we're going to be able to teach from for years to come; it's ridiculous."
There's no question Nebraska's offensive line made significant improvement last season. After all, NU averaged 456.2 yards of total offense, the most for a Husker team since 2012, when Tim Beck's spread system averaged 460.8 yards during a 10-4 season. The Huskers last season averaged 209.0 rushing yards, the most since the 2014 squad under Beck averaged 240.2.
In 2017, Mike Riley's final season as Nebraska head coach, the Huskers averaged a paltry 107.5 rushing yards.
This spring, much of the focus will be on the battle for the starting center job. The principals in that battle could include Miller, a sophomore walk-on from Stromsburg; redshirt freshman Will Farniok; and Cameron Jurgens, a redshirt freshman from Beatrice who originally was recruited as a tight end.
Countdown to spring ball: Pickering's mental strength became clear as last season progressed
Nebraska opens spring football March 4 and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with special teams.
Departed players: Punt returner Stanley Morgan; place-kicker Cole Frahm (transfer).
Returning players: Place-kicker Barret Pickering; punters Isaac Armstrong and Caleb Lightbourn; holder Armstrong; return men Maurice Washington, JD Spielman, Jaron Woodyard and Wyatt Mazour.
Walk-on to watch: Punter William Przystup (transfer from Michigan State).
Overview: One of Pickering's most important traits became evident as last season progressed.
The rookie didn't dwell on misses.
"Just have a short memory and move on," he said. "Trusting myself to go out there and make the next kick is all I'm worried about."
Pickering enters his second year in the program with a strong finish to 2018 under his belt, as he made his final 10 field-goal attempts and final 26 extra-point tries. All told, the Alabama native connected on 40-of-41 extra-point tries and 14-of-18 field-goal attempts, going 13-of-14 from inside 40 yards.
He also served as Nebraska's kickoff specialist in the final three games. In his 18 kickoffs, Pickering had six touchbacks and his directional kicking helped the Huskers limit opponents to just 16.9 yards per return. NU had a decent year defending kickoff returns.
Isaac Armstrong served as Nebraska's starting punter in the final seven games, averaging 43.6 yards, the ninth-highest average in program history. Armstrong pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line nine times and had seven punts of 50 yards or longer. Perhaps most impressively, only six of his 32 punts were returned, including two fumbled returns. Even so, the Huskers ranked only 111th nationally in punt-return defense, allowing an average of 11.3 yards on 18 returns.
Armstrong will be pushed this spring by fellow senior Lightbourn. Przystup, the transfer from Michigan State, has applied for immediate eligibility.
Nebraska ranked just 126th in kickoff returns, averaging 15.81 yards on 31 returns. Washington returned 13 kickoffs for 204 yards (15.7), while Spielman had eight returns for 169 yards (21.1). Spielman returned six punts for 104 yards (17.3), highlighted by a 77-yard return for a touchdown against Bethune-Cookman.
Countdown to spring ball: New faces join long list of veterans along Husker defensive front
Nebraska opens spring football Monday and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with the defensive line.
Departed: Freedom Akinmoladun, Mick Stoltenberg, Peyton Newell, Matt Jarzynka.
Returning players: Khalil Davis, Carlos Davis, DaiShon Neal, Ben Stille, Damion Daniels, Deontre Thomas, Vaha Vainuku, Fyn Anderson, Chris Walker, Ben Lingenfelter, Casey Rogers, Tate Wildeman, Damian Jackson.
Incoming players: Darrion Daniels (grad transfer), Brant Banks (freshman).
2018 statistical leaders: Khalil Davis 41 tackles (three sacks), Carlos Davis 27 tackles (three TFLs), Stille 25 tackles (five sacks), Daniels 12 tackles (one TFL).
Overview: In the second year of the Scott Frost era, there should be progress in a lot of areas and from a lot of players. That's usually how it works for teams.
There's a few reasons for that, including this:
"It was like they had to learn a new language (last season),” said Mike Dawson, who coached Nebraska's defensive linemen in 2018 before recently accepting a job as outside linebackers coach for the New York Giants. “Last season it was like, ‘What are these new words you’re saying?’ Now they know what the new words are and they can really start to understand what they mean and how it affects not only them, but guys around them.”
This will be an interesting spring for Nebraska's defensive linemen as they begin the process of learning under Tony Tuioti, who on Tuesday was officially named as Dawson's replacement. The 42-year-old Tuioti spent the past two seasons at Cal.
In addition to Tuioti, another new face will garner plenty of attention in coming weeks: Darrion Daniels, the graduate transfer defensive tackle from Oklahoma State. He told the Journal Star recently that he knows at least one way he can help the Huskers in 2019.
"One thing I’ve been told I’m good at and I know I’m good at is raising the level of competition," he said. "I’m passionate when I play and it’s contagious. I also have experience playing everywhere on the defensive line, so wherever I’m needed is where I’ll be more than willing to contribute."
"He brings a lot to the table," said Darrion's younger brother, Damion Daniels, a Husker sophomore-to-be. "He's a guy we can hold accountable to get things done. He could play everything from nose tackle to end just like Carlos (Davis) and Khalil (Davis)."
Countdown to spring ball: Gifford's production at OLB will be missed, but cupboard isn't bare
Nebraska opens spring football Monday and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with the outside linebackers.
Departed: Luke Gifford, Guy Thomas (transfer).
Returning players: Tyrin Ferguson, sr.; Alex Davis, sr.; Quayshon Alexander, jr.; Pernell Jefferson, jr.; Caleb Tannor, so.; Breon Dixon, so.; Jordan Paup, so.; David Alston, rfr.
Incoming players: Jamin Graham, Garrett Nelson.
2018 statistical leaders: Ferguson, 36 tackles (six TFLs) in eight games; Tannor, 10 tackles (one sack); Davis, five tackles.
Overview: Beefing up the pass rush has to be one of Nebraska's most pressing needs overall, as the Huskers tied for 76th nationally last season with 25 sacks, including seven against Colorado.
The Huskers count on their outside linebackers to provide all sorts of disruption.
Gifford, a Lincoln Southeast graduate, was Nebraska's most disruptive outside linebacker last season, recording team-leading totals of 13 tackles for loss and 5½ sacks. His production obviously will be missed.
It would help matters greatly if Ferguson could enjoy a season of good health. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder from New Orleans showed flashes last season. In addition to Ferguson, Nebraska has all kinds of body types at OLB, from Davis (6-5, 255 pounds) to Dixon (5-11, 205) to Tannor (6-2, 210) and others.
The Huskers hope Tannor can develop into a pass-rushing force. A four-star recruit from Miller Grove High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia, he possesses the sort of length and athleticism that coaches seek at the position. But his lack of bulk was obvious last season, especially in Big Ten play.
Dixon flashed last spring, but got lost in the shuffle during the fall. But he's definitely someone to keep an eye on this spring.
Another player to watch is JoJo Domann, who is capable of playing a variety of positions. He has the tools to be an excellent safety.
So, Nebraska will continue to search for disruptive OLBs. The program hasn't had a premier pass rusher since Randy Gregory in 2014.
Countdown to spring ball: Who rounds out the two-deep in thin, talented ILB room?
Nebraska opens spring football Monday and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with the inside linebackers.
Departed: Dedrick Young, Jacob Weinmaster (medically retired).
Returning players: Mohamed Barry, sr.; Will Honas, jr.; Collin Miller, jr.
Incoming players: Freshmen Nick Henrich, Jackson Hannah and Garrett Snodgrass.
Walk-on to watch: Joey Johnson, rfr.
2018 statistical leaders: Barry 112 tackles (11 TFL), 2 sacks, 1 PBU; Miller 17 tackles (1 TFL); Honas (4 games) 15 tackles (1 for loss).
Overview: There is perhaps no position group with more extremes than Barrett Ruud’s. Mohamed Barry finished 2018 with 112 tackles and is a near surefire captain in 2019. After that? A lot of question marks and not much depth.
Juniors Will Honas and Collin Miller are next in line, but Honas is coming off a major knee injury in October and Miller only moved inside at the outset of preseason camp last year.
There is also much excitement, though, about the incoming freshman trio of Nick Henrich, Jackson Hannah and Garrett Snodgrass. Henrich is the only one who is already on campus, and he — assuming his own knee injuries have healed sufficiently — will get plenty of run this spring.
Ruud told the Journal Star that Miller just needs time and repetitions inside. He’ll get a ton over the next six weeks. Honas was starting to settle into more of a groove and was learning how to be a good practice player, according to Ruud, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Purdue.
Hannah is a polished high school player from Tennessee and is big at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, while Snodgrass (6-3, 225) is a versatile, athletic in-state player. They will add depth and skill to the position when they arrive this summer.
This is one of the positions where a walk-on or two could factor on the two-deep, particularly this spring. Gretna’s Joey Johnson might be the leader in the clubhouse, though he’s listed as an outside linebacker on the school’s website. Other redshirt freshmen include Chris Cassidy, Anthony Banderas and Jake Archer.
Countdown to spring ball: A weakness entering last season, NU corners now regarded as strength
Nebraska opens spring football Monday and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with the cornerbacks.
Returning players: Lamar Jackson, sr.; Eric Lee, sr.; Avery Anderson, sr.; Jeremiah Stovall, sr.; Dicaprio Bootle, jr.; Tony Butler, jr.; Cam Taylor, so.; Braxton Clark, rfr.; Moses Bryant, rfr.
Incoming players: Javin Wright.
Overview: Going into last season, Nebraska's corner situation was regarded as, well, an issue.
Entering the 2019 season, however, the corner position is regarded as a strong spot on the defense.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Bootle, whose 15 pass breakups last season tied for the Big Ten lead, has emerged as a potential captain, such is his reliability and steady demeanor. His average of 1.3 passes defended per game last season ranked 16th nationally. For his efforts, Bootle was named a third-team All-Big Ten selection, becoming the first Husker cornerback to be honored by the conference since 2015.
Meanwhile, the 6-3, 215-pound Jackson overcame a midseason benching and emerged as one of the team’s most improved players. He started 11 of 12 games — all except the Oct. 6 contest at Wisconsin — and registered 28 tackles, a career-high seven pass breakups and his first two career interceptions while also forcing the first fumble of his career.
“He’s a guy that’s really figured some things out last year and at the end of the year was playing at a really high level,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said on the radio earlier this week. “He’s a great team guy now, he’s working hard, has all the talent in the world. He’s kind of an example of the turnaround in that room. We had a long way to go in the defensive backfield a year ago, and now I’m excited about that group.”
Taylor, the sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama, played quarterback in high school, but made a successful transition to defense last season, recording 12 tackles and three pass breakups. He typically was the team's No. 3 corner, entering the game when the Huskers went to a dime defense.
Lee and Clark also will push for playing time this spring.
Jackson's two interceptions were the only ones recorded by Nebraska corners last season. Husker second-year secondary coach Travis Fisher no doubt will stress the need for more picks in 2019.
Countdown to spring ball: 'Sniper' Deontai Williams prime candidate for starting role in 2019
Nebraska opens spring football Monday and is set for a five-week session before the Red-White Spring Game on April 13 at Memorial Stadium. In the days before spring ball starts, the Journal Star is previewing each position group. We continue with the safeties.
Departed: Aaron Williams, Tre Neal, Antonio Reed.
Returning players: Marquel Dismuke, jr.; JoJo Domann, jr.; Deontai Williams, jr.; CJ Smith, rfr.; Cam'ron Jones, rfr.
Incoming players: Noa Pola-Gates, Quinton Newsome, Myles Farmer.
Walk-on to watch: Reid Karel, sr.
Returning statistical leaders: Williams, 23 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles; Domann, 19 tackles and two forced fumbles; Dismuke, 10 tackles and one forced fumble.
Overview: The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Deontai Williams showed flashes last season of the bravado contained in his comments to the Journal Star in late 2017, when he verbally committed to Nebraska.
"I call myself a sniper," he said then. "That’s what I do. I'm just sniping people on the field -- one-shot kill. I’m very vicious and very aggressive. I’m an aggressive player and I feel like I have that dog in me. You can’t teach somebody to be a dog. You just either have that in you or you don’t."
Williams has an excellent chance to become a starter in 2019 in the wake of heavy personnel losses at the position. To wit: Aaron Williams, Neal and Reed ranked among the team's top six tacklers in 2018. In 2019, Deontai Williams may be joined in the lineup at safety by Domann, who showed some "dog" last season with his sack of Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Nov. 3 at the Big House.
The 6-1, 225-pound Domann had been listed exclusively at safety on the depth chart until the week of the Oct. 27 win against Bethune-Cookman, when he suddenly shared an “or” designation with outside linebacker Alex Davis as backups behind starter Tyrin Ferguson. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said at the time the change was not a position move, but rather a way for the team to add depth at linebacker. The outside linebacker and nickel spots are interchangeable in NU’s defense.
Domann could play multiple positions. He just wants to contribute.
"Like I've said many times, I'm a football player," he said. "I'm not just a safety. I'm not just a cover guy. I like to be able to do every aspect of the game."
Dismuke also is a prime candidate to land a starting role. Meanwhile, CJ Smith will miss the spring as he recovers from a knee injury suffered Oct. 13 at Northwestern.
Nine storylines to follow as the Huskers begin spring football
No quarterback competition? No problem. Nebraska spring ball starts Monday and runs through the Red-White Spring Game on April 13, and though sophomore Adrian Martinez is entrenched as the Huskers’ starter under center, there are still plenty of intriguing storylines to follow.
Here are nine to watch as head coach Scott Frost begins his second go-round at his alma mater.
Wide open wide receivers room
The NU receivers group looks like this: Junior JD Spielman and then … what?
The 5-foot-10 junior has racked up 121 catches for 1,648 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two college seasons and can do a little bit — or a lot — of everything.
After him, there are only question marks. Seniors such as Mike Williams (12 catches in 2018) and Jaron Woodyard (1) are up against the clock, as is sophomore Jaevon McQuitty (0), who's in his third year in the program. Freshmen such as Jamie Nance and Wan’Dale Robinson are already on campus and will be fighting for snaps. The staff is high on redshirt freshman Andre Hunt. Freshmen Demariyon Houston and Darien Chase join the fold this summer. Walk-on Kade Warner is actually NU’s second-leading returning receiver by catches (17).
Opportunities abound and the Huskers have several pieces to work with, but we’re not talking about filling one spot. There are three or four major roles to determine, at least. Let the wild rumpus begin.
Washington’s status going forward
This one is pretty simple. Will sophomore running back Maurice Washington participate in spring ball fully in the midst of his legal proceedings in California? That should clear up some when Frost addresses reporters Tuesday. Then it may depend on exactly how the case plays out in the Bay Area.
Considering junior college back Dedrick Mills and freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins don’t arrive until the summer, this spring is a golden opportunity for sophomore Jaylin Bradley and senior Wyatt Mazour to try to earn their ways up the depth chart regardless of Washington's status.
Moving pieces on defensive staff
Frost said recently that outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt is battling a form of throat cancer. Dewitt indicated to the Journal Star that he’s going to try to be around a lot during the spring, but the extent to which he coaches on the field remains to be seen.
The Huskers also just hired new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti.
So Tuioti is getting caught up to speed and Dewitt may be unavailable — obviously he’s dealing with much more important stuff than work — meaning it’s a slightly more complicated spring for Erik Chinander and the defensive staff.
Jobs up for grabs on O-line
Nebraska must replace departed center Tanner Farmer and left guard Jerald Foster, and the battle for those spots will be intense.
Will Cameron Jurgens be healthy and available this spring? Can senior Christian Gaylord make a push at tackle, allowing Matt Farniok to potentially kick inside to guard? We won’t know if freshman Bryce Benhart — or any of NU’s other trio of rookie linemen — can make a push until they all arrive this summer.
Perhaps Farniok, who Frost recently called NU’s most consistent lineman in 2018, stays at right tackle. If the plan long-term is to move him, though, we may learn it this spring.
The time is now for players such as walk-on Trent Hixson and junior John Raridon. Is center a three-way battle between Jurgens, walk-on sophomore Hunter Miller and redshirt freshman Will Farniok? Or will the Huskers try others in the middle, too?
This will be one of the most intriguing groups overall.
Follow the leaders
Leadership development has undoubtedly started over the course of winter conditioning, but spring ball is the next step.
There are natural candidates on both sides of the ball, of course. Senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry and junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle, for example. Perhaps senior corner Lamar Jackson or one of the Davis brothers on the front line. Offensively, it’s going to be Martinez’s show. Who joins him? Is it Spielman? Perhaps Farniok or junior left tackle Brenden Jaimes.
Martinez's next step
A continuation of the previous item in some ways, but Martinez will also be looking for improvement and refinement on the field. Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco is sure his 2018 completion percentage of 64.6 can still rise considerably. Martinez can protect the ball better. He can be more decisive in the run game.
And despite his clear physical prowess as a 6-2, 220-pound freshman, he can continue to get bigger, stronger and faster as well.
The goal for Martinez will just be steady progress over the next six weeks.
Guys who need it
Every spring, there are players at every schools who face turning points in their careers. These become make-or-break weeks, where guys either get into the heat of position battles or find themselves on the outside looking in.
There are many on the roster in that spot this spring. Some, like Bradley and McQuitty and Raridon, have already been mentioned. You can put a bunch of upperclassmen — linebackers Pernell Jefferson, Quayshon Alexander and even Alex Davis; defensive lineman DaiShon Neal; defensive backs Marquel Dismuke and Avery Anderson; punter Caleb Lightbourn — on the list. Who rises to the challenge?
Newcomers draw eyeballs
On the opposite side of the coin, newcomers are always a popular topic of conversation in the spring. The Huskers have eight: Robinson and Nance at receiver, in-state linebackers Garrett Nelson and Nick Henrich, defensive lineman Brant Banks, in-state tight end Chris Hickman, quarterback Luke McCaffrey and Oklahoma State graduate transfer Darrion Daniels.
Several will have the chance to make an impact as early as this fall. Most years, McCaffrey would be among the most-talked-about members of a recruiting class.
The Huskers have at least 19 more arriving this summer, but these eight have the first chance to impress the coaches. And as a bonus, the fans will get to see them in action April 13.
Backup quarterback situation
The Huskers’ depth is definitely in a better situation than it was at the outset of the 2018 season. Behind Martinez, NU has sophomore Noah Vedral, junior walk-on Andrew Bunch and McCaffrey, plus redshirt freshman walk-on Matt Masker.
NU might have a No. 2 and No. 3 technically speaking, but in the regular season, you can see situations in which Frost and Verduzco would want to get looks at any of the above signal-callers and for sure the first three behind Martinez.
Still, it will be spirited competition. Frost said recently that he’s never seen a quarterback work as hard to pick up an offense as McCaffrey has since arriving on campus in January.