The unofficial debut of the Scott Frost era is now less than a week away, and the format for Nebraska’s annual Red-White Spring Game is starting to take shape.
Frost announced following Tuesday’s practice that he and his staff had decided to make the scrimmage a close to a real game as possible to give the sold-out crowd a Memorial Stadium their money’s worst.
“We’re going to have a real game minus some kicking plays that’ll just kind of be on air,” Frost said. “But we’ll go just a normal game format for the first half and have a running clock for the second half until the last five minutes and then have a regular clock again.”
As for how the rosters will be made up, Frost said it would be Nebraska’s top offensive and defensive units against the reserves, with some projected starters at positions with thinner depth only seeing a handful of snaps to start the game.
“We’re going to put honestly the majority of the guys that are doing well on one side,” Frost said. “I want to get some guys some experience and have some success on both sides of the ball. Of course, we’ve done it that way before and the other team would win.
“So I expect great competition. There will be a couple guys that get some reps and we’re going to get out of there for health’s sake, and I expect a pretty even ball game after that.”
Frost said he would put little value regarding player evaluation on the Spring Game, as it was still far too early in the building process to fairly gauge a potential depth chart.
Instead, Frost is hoping the Huskers take the field with the same level of excitement as the 90,000-plus fans that will pack Memorial Stadium for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kick, which will be televised on Big Ten Network.
“I just want to see guys makes plays,” Frost said. “It’s kind of a game; we’re going to roll the balls out in front of the fans. There’s going to be some mistakes and we’re going to live with those and teach through them, but I want to see guys come excited to play football and make some plays.”
- Robin Washut
Huskers suffer scary injury, while illness hitting team
Nebraska had a scary situation during Tuesday’s practice, as an unnamed player was taken to the hospital in an ambulance after a hard collision.
Frost declined to reveal which player it was but said more information would be announced later this afternoon once he got a better idea of the player’s condition.
“We had a collision today and had to take one of our players to the hospital,” Frost said. “We think it’s just precautionary and think he’s going to be OK, but we’ll find out more and I’ll find out more when I get to my office…
“Those things are hard to see. Unfortunately, those things happen in our game a little bit. It wasn’t a malicious play, it was just one of the things that happens in a non-tackle practice, just a collision. The first thing I’ll do when I get to my office is check on him and get ahold of family, and then we’ll get some news out about it.”
On top of that, the Huskers had several other players sidelined for Tuesday’s session due to an illness that’s been going around the team.
None of the sick players have been ruled out for the Spring Game as of yet, but Frost said the staff would continue to monitor their status through the week.
“We have a pretty good virus going around right now and were missing a lot of guys today because of sickness,” Frost said. “Hopefully our guys are tough enough to practice through a little sniffle here and there, but we have some guys with bad fevers and a lot of guys sick…
“We’re trying to get them all healthy and hopefully get them ready for the spring game. But we’ll see how we can contain this thing and try to keep everybody healthy. Right now our numbers are kind of dangerously low going into the Spring Game.”
- Robin Washut
Frost: Far too early to gauge QB battle
While all eyes will be on the play of Nebraska’s quarterbacks during Saturday’s Spring Game, Frost assured that the scrimmage would be only a small piece in the overall evaluation of the position this offseason.
In fact, Frost said he didn’t expect a starting quarterback to be named until the end of fall camp, potentially only days before NU’s season opener vs. Akron on Sept. 1.
Even with the quarterback picture getting a little bit clearer following the transfer of sophomore Patrick O’Brien last week, Frost said it was far too early to know where the pecking order stood at the position right now.
“The quarterback decision won’t come for a long time,” Frost said. “I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate those guys until people are really familiar with the system so you’re not having mistakes that are really going to get fixed just as they get more reps.
“We want to evaluate the guys all through spring and all through fall camp. We’ve got a group of guys that are doing some really good things and I see improvement these every day, but we’re a long way from getting to a point where we’re going to evaluate starters.”
- Robin Washut
Turnovers continue to be an emphasis for defense
If there’s one thing that’s been different for the defense this spring, it’s been the extra emphasis placed by Erik Chinander on forcing turnovers.
Chinander constantly talks about it with this guys, and no matter what team drill they are doing, they are going after the ball carrier to force a turnover, even if it’s after the whistle.
“You feel more of a savage,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “You feel like you have to go. That’s the way he makes you feel. Ok, the play is not done. You’ve got to do more, you’ve got to do more, you’ve got to do more. (Chinander) is setting the standard for us. We have to get turnovers. We have to go after the ball.
“Sometimes it’s going to be luck, and sometimes it’s going to be just technique or skill. You feel like the play is never done, even in practice. When someone tags someone off, you are still running like a savage after the ball carries.”
In general, after 11 practices, Barry said the foundation of what they want to be on defense has been set.
“I think our mentality is starting to take over,” Barry said. “We know that good practice is not only about having good assignments, but actually dominating and getting to the ball and running hard. All that stuff the fans want to see – effort and mentality.
"That’s the biggest thing as a defense. You have to have that mentality. I think that’s the biggest stride we took this spring, that we are really changing our mentality.”
- Sean Callahan
Defensive line getting comfortable with new scheme
To say senior defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun has been around the block would probably be an understatement.
Going into his fifth season at NU, this will be the fourth different position coach he’s played under when you count his time at tight end under Barney Cotton in 2014, then defensive line coaches Hank Hughes, John Parrella and now Mike Dawson.
When Akinmoladun looks at Dawson, thus far he’s been impressed with how he teaches his craft.
“There’s a lot that comes out of him,” Akinmoladun said of Dawson. “He really relates to the players a lot. He has a way of explaining this defense, and some coaches don’t know to explain certain types of defenses. He knows exactly what he wants. He always helps us with the smallest details.”
As for the defense as a whole, Akinmoladun says this group has really turned the corner heading into this final stretch.
“It helps me a lot because I actually understand what I’m doing,” Akinmoladun said. “I can also help people behind me, like the twins, Damion Daniels and (Deontre Thomas) with the technique stuff that they need to see on the field.”
- Sean Callahan
Daniels ready physically, mentally after redshirt season
Sitting out as a redshirt as a true freshman is never much fun, but often times is the best thing for a player’s development.
Defensive tackle Damion Daniels is coming off of a redshirt season and feels he has grown an awful lot as a player because of it.
One the biggest areas Daniels has improved since arriving in Lincoln has been with his conditioning. Head strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval has played a large role in reshaping Daniels’ body, and playing against Frost’s up-tempo offense in practice has also been a large factor.
“I’m at 6-3, 325,” Daniels said. “Last year, I was pretty heavy. I could still move, but I feel like I can move a lot better and I’m more mobile than I was last year. Being a big boy in this scheme, you’re going to get your wind up under you. Playing everybody else in the Big Ten, it ain't going to be that fast.
"So it’s good having that offense with a high tempo. Instead of being a first and second down dude, I want to be able to go first, second, third and probably on fourth, too.”
In addition to his physical changes, Daniels said his mindset is different this year as well.
“Last year I was really worried about getting better and better,” Daniels said. “Now, since I’m probably going to be seeing the field this year, I’m really focusing on getting to and from the ball and really dialing in on all of the plays.”
Fellow defensive lineman Carlos Davis chimed in and said he was excited about what Daniels was going to add up front this year.
“I’m a fan of his strength and what he can do with his frame,” Davis said.
- Nate Clouse
***Frost said there was still no update on the eligibility status of Ole Miss transfer linebacker Breon Dixon.
***Frost said receiver Jaevon McQuitty “has really turned a corner the last two practices” and was “starting to get it” in the new offense. One of the biggest changes is that McQuitty seems to be grasping the playbook better, which in turn has allowed him to play faster.
***Frost said the overall development of the team was still very much a “work in progress.” He said he’s seen improvement from the group every practice, but sometimes it was “two steps forward and one step back.”
***Frost said he already knows the Spring Game isn’t going to be as good as he wants it to be, but added that no spring practice will be as good as he wants it to be right now. He said there was no way the team was going to get where it needed to be in just one spring, as this was just the start of a long building process.
***Frost said the coaching staff would be divided in half between the two Spring Game teams, and he would not be calling any plays in the game. He said that might allow him to step back and “smell the roses a little bit” during the game and appreciate the atmosphere more than he normally would.
***Frost said he remembers his first spring game as a Husker back in 1995 when he threw two touchdowns to Riley Washington. His second was a much different story in ’96, when he said NU’s defense was so good that he didn’t think the offense “gained a yard.” He said his final Spring Game in ’97 was much more evenly matched.
***Frost said the Huskers also had a long way to go in establishing the necessary player leadership. He said he wasn’t sure that the previous staff developed leadership the way they need to, and now they were having to help bring out those leadership qualities in some players who should take on those roles.
***McQuitty said he wouldn’t wish the ACL injury he suffered last year “on my worst enemy”, but noted that it might have been a good thing for him in retrospect because it allowed him to take a step back and ease his way into the college game.
***Asked what his biggest goal for the spring game was, McQuitty said he wanted to throw a key block that sprung a touchdown for one of his teammates. McQuitty said OC/receivers coach Troy Walters has really stressed blocking with the wideouts, and the keep a chart of blocking points in the WR room. McQuitty said he’s been credited with five pancake blocks so far this spring.
***Defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun said he’s made more strength and conditioning gains this offseason than he has in his entire life. He said he never could have imaged squatting nearly 700 pounds and lifting the same weight as d-linemen Carlos and Khalil Davis.