When head coach Scott Frost spoke last Tuesday, he called the first practice after spring break “a little sloppier” than the first workout on March 16.
What a difference a week makes.
“Today was far and away our best day as a team,” Frost said. “I saw great enthusiasm. We had a competition day, so we kept track of every rep offense or defense. It came right down to the end. I’m seeing guys start to get it. Guys starting to understand our schemes on both sides, and what we’re looking for from a pace standpoint and an effort standpoint.
“We talk all the time about setting a new standard daily and trying to beat that standard, and we definitely had our practice today, so it’s going to be a challenge Saturday to come out and do better than that.”
Frost saw his team having fun, helping each other, communicating and getting better in their conditioning.
“That’s what spring ball is for,” he said. “I think we’ve made a lot of strides in five practices.”
Junior College players
It was “junior college day” at Tuesday’s practice, as juniors Will Honas, Greg Bell, Mike Williams and sophomore Deontai Williams all spoke with the media for the first time since getting on campus in January.
These four, along with freshmen Adrian Martinez, Will Farniok, Barret Pickering and Justin McGriff signed early in December and enrolled on campus this semester.
“All of the new guys, the incoming freshmen that are early enrollees and the junior college guys have done a really good job as a group,” Frost said. “Coming in and just kind of establishing themselves as part of the team. They’ve done a good job learning at the same pace as everybody else, which is better than most situations you would come into as one of those guys.”
The 6-2, 225-pound linebacker from Butler Community College in Kansas has made a splash early on as an inside LB, and has stood out as one of the leaders in that group despite being new on campus.
Honas is a physical specimen, but volume is one thing he’s lacked so far.
“We’re lucky to have Will Honas,” Frost said. “I love him as a kid and as a player. His biggest challenge I think is talking louder. He’s kind of a quiet guy, and he’ll hit you, but we’ve got get him running the defense and speaking up and barking out commands to everybody and being a floor general. Everything else is going to come really natural to him.”
Honas says inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud has made his transition into Nebraska as smooth as possible.
“Coach Ruud is a really good coach,” Honas said. “He knows his stuff, he’s got all of the experience, all of the knowledge and he’s so detailed. He’s just a great coach to learn from and get better.”
No quarterback has been singled out as the go-to starter at this time, but it seems that coach Mario Verduzco has them moving in the right direction.
“They’re all doing really good things,” Frost said. “Been happy with the quarterback group. They’ve got the best quarterbacks coach in the country, and I see improvement everyday. I thought we had our best practice as a quarterback group today.”
Frost also said all of the QBs need to learn how to operate the offense better “at better pace and with a quicker understanding” of what’s going on.
“I saw big improvement today.”
The junior running back out of Arizona Western College sat out Tuesday’s practice due to a back spasm, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be out much longer.
“Nothing major,” Frost said. “Sometimes, when you push yourself past what you’re used to pushing yourself, your body can break down a little bit, and that’s kind of what’s happening to us right now. I think these guys are working harder than they have in the past. Shoot, if I went out and ran a 1×400, I’d probably lock up, too. So, that’s good. That’s going to be natural to have a few little things, but for the most part, we’ve been healthy this spring. Nothing major.”
The junior receiver had stops at Georgia Southern and East Mississippi State Community College before coming to Lincoln. After making a strong impression on strength coach Zach Duval in the weight room, the Lake City, FL native made a strong impression on the field Tuesday.
“I really saw him start to cut it loose today,” Frost said. “I saw him just go today, and he looked like a different guy. We need more and more guys just starting to cut it loose. I’d rather have guys make mistakes full speed than be slow and do the right thing.”
Williams said his favorite part of this offense is the equal amount of reps everyone is getting at each position.
“Spread it around, everybody eats,” Williams said. “You want the next man to eat as bad as you want to eat.”
His time in junior college taught him a valuable lesson before stepping foot in a power five program.
“Be humble,” Williams said. “Ju-co, it humbles you a lot, it makes you appreciate football more than you actually did before you actually came to Ju-co.”
Defensive and offensive line
Defensive line coach Mike Dawson talked on Saturday about how seniors Freedom Akinmoladun and Mick Stoltenberg have taken on a leadership role along the D-line.
Frost didn’t point out anyone in particular on Tuesday, but sees a lot of capable players in that group that could see significant playing time.
“I think we have some depth at that position,” Frost said. “We just need some guys to step up and take it and be the lead guys at that position, but I’m pleased with the effort and the depth at that spot.”
On the flip side, redshirt freshman walk-on and Stromsburg, NE native Hunter Miller is one of the younger players who’s seen some reps at center this spring the absence of senior Cole Conrad and junior Michael Decker.
“He’s doing a great job,” Frost said of Miller. “Hunter’s one of the younger guys that I think is doing well, but there’s a lot of them. We’re not really concerned about who’s running with which group right now. We’ve got a long time decide who’s running with (the first team) and who’s running with (the second team).”
Frost has noticed the offensive line get stronger than they were when spring began in the way they’ve been moving up front.
“That all comes to weight room,” he said. “It’s been that way in Lincoln, NE for a long time, and we’re going to keep pushing the envelope there.”
Sophomores Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke were pointed out as two guys who like to hit people in the secondary on Tuesday. Tackling is an art that Frost is going to be teaching more and more carefully as the spring goes on.
“I’m passionate about that,” Frost said. “I was a bad NFL tackler for five years of my NFL career until I got to Tampa (in 2003) and they taught us the right way. That’s how we teach guys to tackle – on the move and to and through the ball carrier all the time with the right technique. We’re going to work on it every single day until these guys master it.”
Frost won’t be hiring anyone to help his staff teach tackling.
“They pay us good money to coach. If we don’t know what we’re doing, they probably need a different coach.”
Nebraska has practice again on Thursday and Saturday of this week.
You can contact Tommy at 402-840-5226, or you can follow him on Twitter @Tommy_KLIN.