The Nebraska football team is beginning spring practices this week three months after it ended the 2020 season with a 3-5 record.
The spring schedule is starting a few weeks later than usual, but head coach Scott Frost said that can be an advantage in a press conference on Monday.
“I think the weather will be good,” he said. “I’m glad we don’t have spring break in the middle of it to break up spring practice, I think we’ll get more out of spring practice that way.”
Frost added that the only real risk is that if a player suffers a long-term injury, the time to recover before the season starts is a bit shorter.
Another change this year is that the team has begun doing “old-school testing” for various drills, like it did in the 1990s, according to Frost. He said that the results from that testing will be released later this week, and also added that the performances were positive overall.
One of the biggest highlights of the testing was senior safety Deontai Williams breaking the program record in the agility run.
Frost said that junior wide receiver Oliver Martin and sophomore wide receiver Wyatt Liewer impressed. Martin recorded a 40-inch vertical, while Liewer tied the previous program record in the agility run before Williams broke it.
Those wideouts are two of many that will be competing for playing time this spring, in a group that Frost said is filled with talent.
“I feel really comfortable saying that’s the best talent we’ve had in that room since I’ve been here, and probably in a long time,” Frost said.
However, the group is largely unproven. Nebraska’s leading returning wide receiver, freshman Zavier Betts, had 12 catches for 131 yards and one touchdown last season. Martin and Liewer combined for eight catches, 85 yards and a single score as well.
Junior Omar Manning and senior Samori Toure could also make an impact in the wide receiver room and add some size. Manning, who is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, didn’t see the field much in the 2020 season, only receiving one target, and sat out for most of the year due to injury.
Toure, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Montana, was a first-team FCS All-American in 2019 with the Grizzlies. Along with Frost, offensive coordinator Matt Lubick praised Toure, who has been playing in the slot.
“He can do a lot of different things,” Lubick said in a press conference Monday. “Big body guy that has great catch radius, can go up and attack the ball in the air, 50/50 balls aren’t 50/50 with him, he goes up and gets them, and then he’s a really good route runner.”
The tight end group will also add more size to the pass game. Junior Austin Allen had the second-most receptions and receiving yards on the team last season, and junior Travis Vokolek and 2020 senior Jack Stoll were fifth and sixth in receiving yards, respectively.
Freshman tight end Thomas Fidone, the top recruit in the Huskers’ 2021 recruiting class, is also expected to contribute almost immediately to that group. Lubick said that both Fidone and Toure could line up at multiple spots on the field.
“Last year if you watched our tight ends, they were all over the place,” Lubick said. “... We think Thomas is going to be right along the line with that, where he can stretch the field vertically but also show some physicality at the line of scrimmage.”
Allen said he’s already built a connection with Fidone, and praised his work ethic.
“He’s learning really fast,” Allen said in a press conference Monday. “He picked up the playbook really well, and I get texts at 10:30 at night asking about mid zone. He’s eager to learn, he’s eager to get out there, I know he’ll do great things.”
Fidone won’t be able to see the field in a game until fall, and which field in particular he will be playing on is somewhat in flux. The Huskers’ season-opening matchup with Illinois that was originally set to take place in Ireland was moved back to Champaign, Illinois, and Nebraska reportedly looked into taking its game with Oklahoma off the schedule.
Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos released a statement saying that the Huskers will face off against the Sooners, but that they did look into adding an eight home game to the schedule.
Frost said that the university is still looking into adding an extra home game in September, which he claimed would help both the economy and getting recruits on campus as early as possible.
“For recruiting, we need home games, and the earlier the better,” Frost said. “... A lot of kids will have made their decisions by [October]. We haven’t had recruits on campus in almost a year and a half, two years, so we’re looking at any and all options to get more home games and get more home games early.”
Nebraska is the only Big Ten team with less than two home games before October, although it still has overall the normal amount of total home games with seven. An eighth home game would give the Huskers more than any other Big Ten team.
Regardless, Frost said that he and the entire team is excited to face off against one of the top teams in the nation.
“I grew up on Nebraska-Oklahoma,” Frost said. “I will tell you that our players are excited to take their chances against a really good team. I’m sure Oklahoma, like they have been recently, is going to be one of the best teams in the country.”