Notes: Huskers not buying rebuilding year narrative
The look in Tanner Farmer’s eyes said it all.
While each of the handful of Nebraska seniors who took the podium for Thursday’s opening fall camp press conference stressed the message that 2018 would by no means be a rebuilding season, Farmer’s tone was especially emphatic.
Over his four previous seasons as a Husker, the third-year starting offensive lineman said he’s seen the program steadily fall from a unified purpose to downright “chaos” internally.
That’s all changed since the arrival of new head coach Scott Frost, though.
"We did have a great relationship and sometimes that was put under stress in the past. The thing we needed was direction," Farmer said. "We just needed direction on what way we needed to go. We were eager to work hard. One thing this (new) staff told us was, 'We didn't have to coach you on working hard. The guys here are working hard. We just need to give guys proper direction.'
"Just point me where I need to go. I'll give you my all and I'll be there. I don't even know what games we have; what time do we need to be there? Bring me to the game. Point me at the guy I need to hit and I'm going to hit him. I just need direction. That's what I need. I know how to work hard. I knew football. I just needed to bring it together.
“This is the staff that was able to do it. They were able to bring us together for the common cause. We had too many guys shooting off in too many directions, doing different things. That causes chaos, and we can't have chaos on a football team.
"Now we're all in harmony right now, and it’s awesome.”
Other seniors like defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun, linebacker Luke Gifford, running back Devine Ozigbo, and linebacker Dedrick Young echoed Farmer’s sentiments about the complete overhaul of Nebraska’s team culture since Frost took over.
It started with strength coach Zach Duval and the offseason conditioning program, where players were pushed out of their comfort zones during workouts and ended up achieving physical gains they never thought possible.
It continued with how they saw the entire NU fan base unify together for the first time since any of them had been in Lincoln, which only continued to feed their buy-in with the new staff’s message.
Now entering the start of fall camp, the Huskers have built up a confidence and belief in themselves that far surpasses any outside expectations of what the 2018 season could and should be.
The players have set a team goal of not only contending for a Big Ten championship this year, but winning the whole thing.
Farmer, to no surprise, said he wants to take those aspirations even further.
“I don’t just want to win the Big Ten Championship; I want to win the championship,” Farmer said. “That’s my goal. You say, ‘Is that an unrealistic goal?’ A lot of people say winning the national championship isn’t a realistic goal. Well I’m not about realistic. I want it all. Go big or go home.”
All positives on fall camp roster report
While every offseason generally features some form of roster attrition, Nebraska’s turnover has for the most part been all for the better.
Frost said there was no new roster news to report heading into fall camp, and they have already locked in 106 of their 110 camp roster spots. The staff is still waiting on the eligibility statuses of three more players, which would put them at 109 if all goes according to plan.
Frost also confirmed that freshman running back Maurice Washington was fully cleared academically and would arrive in Lincoln on Thursday.
He also said NU was very optimistic about the status of fellow freshman Dominick Watt, who has also reportedly done the work needed to be cleared but is still awaiting official word from the NCAA.
“We feel real positive about it,” Frost said of Watt’s situation. “Actually we feel real positive it could happen really quickly.”
“Both of those kids did a great job of going to work and getting done what they needed to get done,” Frost added. “They’ve had some really smart and good people kind of shepherding them through the process to make sure that they got finished.”
Frost also confirmed the arrival of Central Florida graduate transfer safety Tre Neal, who started 18 games over the past two seasons with NU’s staff.
“He’s a great kid and did great things for UCF when I was there,” Frost said. “He graduated and wanted an opportunity here, and we’re glad to have him. He played a big role in what we wanted to accomplish. I think he’ll be up and ready to go Practice 1.”
There also had been some speculation regarding senior running back Mikale Wilbon’s status with the team, but Frost said Wilbon was on the fall camp roster and would be on the field for Friday’s first practice.
Huskers feeling good about Bryant's recovery
One of the bigger questions facing Nebraska’s offense coming into camp was at running back and the health of junior Tre Bryant.
After rushing for nearly 300 yards over the first six quarters of last season, Bryant was sidelined for the year after re-aggravating a lingering knee injury that has been bothering him since high school.
The good news is that the St. Louis native has been cleared to return to work this fall, and while the staff will still be cautious with his workload early on, Frost said he’s excited to finally see what Bryant can do in his offense.
“We feel good about where Tre Bryant is…” Frost said. “I’m just going to have to be really attentive to what’s going on, listen to (head trainer) Mark Meyer, listen to Zach Duval, make sure they keep me up to speed on how he’s feeling.
“As long as he’s ready to play when it’s his time, I’ll feel good about it. He’ll be able to share reps with those other guys and we’ll just kind of take it as it goes and see how he feels from day to day.”
Bryant hasn’t played full-contact football since early in the third quarter at Oregon last season, but Ozigbo has been continually impressed with the progress his fellow back has made in his recovery.
“Seeing Tre coming back from (summer) break, he’s definitely looking super healthy,” Ozigbo said. “He was definitely getting on that good path before we left, but coming back talking to him and seeing him move, he definitely looks good.
“Tre’s going to push himself as hard as he can to be that guy, and I definitely think he can be and he’s definitely looking at it.”
***The question about Nebraska's quarterback competition obviously came up on Thursday, and Frost had a pretty good analogy to describe where things stood entering fall camp.
“Have you ever played Monopoly?" he asked with a grin. "You know how the race car and the horse and the iron and the battleship are all on ‘GO’ to begin with? Everybody’s on ‘GO’ right now. We might even roll a dice to see who can roll a six and take the first rep. We’ll see.”
***Frost said he and his staff were still figuring out how they plan to handle assigning team captains this season
“I want to make sure the guys that are representing us on the field before the game are guys that have earned it and deserve it," Frost said. "We’ll see how many we have before Game 1. Our M.O. at (Central Florida) was to have a leadership council and rotate guys that were captains for games off that leadership council. That’s not how it’s been done here and I’m going to be really careful not to break too many traditions.”
***Nebraska is still awaiting word from the NCAA on the appeal sent in this spring to get quarterback Noah Vedral immediately eligible this season.
“We’re still trying to decide I think whether we’re going to push for that or not.," Frost said. "We’d love to see Noah be able to play. I know what he can do on a football field, and he’s been as good of a teammate this offseason and worked as hard as anybody in our program. So we’ll go to bat for him just like we’ll go to bat for any player if we have an opportunity to.”
***After answering a question about receiver J.D. Spielman's injury status entering camp (he's fine and ready to go), Frost went on to announce that he would not be commenting on injuries during the season going forward.
“We’re not going to talk a lot about injuries during the year, and it’s for no other season than I want to keep our kids safe," Frost said. "As much as we can keep it in house if somebody has a little something wrong with them. So as we go forward and get closer to games, there won’t be much update on that.”