Notebook: Huskers now look toward offseason work; tackling improvement; O’Brien at game
The tempo of spring practice reached its apex with Saturday’s spring game, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the Nebraska football team will try to accomplish before the 2018 season opener against Akron.
The Huskers will hold one more practice, Monday morning, before calling it a spring. That will give the team 14 workouts before coaches head out to recruit and players get into their offseason training regimens.
As for what NU will work on in Monday’s practice, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said it doesn’t matter as long as something gets accomplished.
“I don’t want to waste a practice. I don’t like that. I don’t like going out and just messing around. I want to work,” Chinander said. “Even if it’s just a fundamental practice with their individual coaches when we’re doing an hour of individual drills and a little bit of team, I’m fine with that. If we need to do team to clean up some scheme stuff I’m good with that, too. But I want to take advantage of the practice we have.”
As for what happens after that practice, it will be up to the players to decide how much they want to improve, Chinander said. There will be a return to Zach Duval’s strength and conditioning program, and of course the long hours of work in the summer with no coaches around.
“The most important thing for our team is to get with Coach Duval right now. We’re going to win and lose games this summer in the weight room, in conditioning, getting faster, getting bigger, getting stronger,” Chinander said. “And not only just physically, but mentally, when those guys get stronger in the weight room, when they get faster, their confidence just goes big.
“You see kids walk around all hunched over,” Chinander continued before puffing out his chest, “then all of a sudden you see kids walking around campus like this once they see how they look in the mirror. So we’ve got a long ways to go this summer, and it’s going to start in that room right there.”
Tackling the tackling issue: Chinander didn’t mince words when talking about the improvement the Huskers made in tackling as the spring moved along.
“The tackling, to be quite honest with you, the first week and a half or so was awful,” Chinander said. “And it’s gotten better and better and better. Now, we’re not there yet. We’ve got a long way to go. But we’ve gotten much, much better, and I think we’ll watch this tape today and see guys at least shot their guns and took their chances.”
Nebraska’s Red defense held its White counterparts to 217 total yards and 3.7 yards per play while intercepting two passes and forcing and recovering a fumble.
Linebacker Alex Davis stood out for the Red, finishing with three sacks and an interception. The Red finished with 12 tackles for loss and four pass breakups.
Mohamed Barry led the Red with eight tackles. Jacob Weinmaster paced the White with 13 stops. Junior college transfer Will Honas had six tackles, including one tackle for loss.
Bird’s-eye view: Nebraska coach Scott Frost stood behind the action by about 15-20 yards Saturday while Troy Walters (Red team) and Ryan Held (White team) called the plays.
Frost said he was focused on watching the players’ effort.
“Mostly watching the offense, because I’ve got a lot of guys on the defensive staff that I trust to do their job,” he said.
By putting play-calling duties to the side for a day, Frost said he was able to enjoy the game a little bit as a fan.
“I don’t really get to just watch football very often,” he added. “I was coaching some but also just kind of taking it in and enjoying the experience.”
Cleaning it up: The Red and White teams combined for nine penalties in the first half Saturday, but cleaned it up after the break. There were no flags thrown in the second half.
Were those penalties a result of players not keeping up with the pace?
“No, that’s detail,” Frost said. “That’s discipline and we’ve got to keep coming along with that. Those things get even harder when you’re tired, those things get even harder when you’re pushing the pace, but those things aren’t acceptable around here.
“We’ll keep cleaning things up and getting better from that standpoint.”
One flag negated a White touchdown connection between Andrew Bunch and Bryan Reimers.
Depth chart will wait: There are several position battles to be hashed out, but it appears it will wait until closer to the Sept. 1 opener against Akron.
One, it’s only spring. Two, players are still trying to figure out schemes.
“It’s really hard to judge people until everyone is familiar with the scheme and playing on an even playing field,” Frost said. “Once everybody knows what we’re doing, then we can evaluate who’s doing a better job than somebody else.”
Frost said he will start individual meetings with players Monday.
O’Brien welcome among former teammates: It could have been awkward, Patrick O’Brien milling on the sideline before Saturday’s spring game.
However, the redshirt sophomore quarterback who asked for and received his release almost two weeks ago seemed at ease chatting with now-former teammates and getting a quick greeting from quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco before kickoff.
Adrian Martinez said it “was kind of a surprise,” to see O’Brien, but made it very clear how he feels about the fellow California native.
“I love Pat,” Martinez said. “He’s been nothing but a good friend to me and he’s always going to be a friend to me. Wherever he goes, he has a Patrick O’Brien fan here in myself.”
A big play, but Jackson after consistency: Lamar Jackson got his interception.
“About time I got one in a game situation,” the junior cornerback deadpanned afterward. “I plan on getting more.”
More generally, Jackson said his cornerback group and the safety group have been improving communications consistently through the spring. Calls originate with the safeties, but Jackson said the positions feel more on the same page each time they go out.
“It has its ups and downs. It’s kind of up to the safeties, like the quarterback (of the defense) to line everyone up and get them in the right positions. The coaches ride the safeties a lot harder than the corners because it’s up to them, rather than me. I’ve just got to listen and react. So my job is a lot easier, but it just helps if I know more so I can help them out at times. It helps when we are on the same page because when we are, then everything should be all right.”
Chinander said Jackson continued to make strides, not only from the start of spring practice to Saturday, but during the spring game as well.
“I was proud of him in the fact that, he was one of the guys who missed a tackle, then the very next play he came up and knifed somebody down,” Chinander said. “So it was good to see him miss one, then get right back on the horse and go shoot his guns again — not be hesitant, not be afraid to miss again.”
Getting their kicks: Replacing Drew Brown at kicker is among the Huskers’ tasks this offseason, and both Cole Frahm and Barret Pickering got work in Saturday.
Both had mixed results. Frahm, a redshirt freshman from Omaha Burke, made a 30-yard field goal in the first half, but later missed a 43-yarder. He also missed an extra point. Pickering missed his only field-goal attempt, a 27-yarder toward the end of the game.
“Definitely felt a little nervous on that first one,” Frahm said. “That’s just how it goes. You got to settle into it, I think.”
Frahm said Saturday was a missed opportunity for him.
“I wish I would have performed better,” he said. “Come back this summer and see what we can do.”
Feeling like gameday: For several Husker assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Troy Walters, Saturday’s atmosphere gave them another taste of Nebraska football.
“Man, it was exciting,” Walters said. “I actually walked from the Haymarket this morning ... at about 6:30 (a.m.) and it felt like gameday then.”
Most of the assistant coaches jogged out ahead of the team, giving head man Frost his moment in front of his home-state fans.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t take time to take things in.
“I think all the coaches, we were all kind of looking around at each other going, man, did anybody tell these people it’s a practice? And I think they did and they don’t care, because they truly are the best fans in America,” Chinander said. “The way those guys came out, the way the stadium looked, the Tunnel Walk, everything was amazing. It’s going to be awesome to play here every time we get a chance at home. So I’m very excited, very thankful that we get that chance.”