For the first time in months, Nebraska football players put on the pads this week.
The practice served as an important landmark in the return to Husker football.
“It’s been awesome finally getting back into pads,” sophomore offensive lineman Cameron Jurgens said. “We’re just excited to finally hit some guys.”
Jurgens is expected to start at center for the second-consecutive year, and says he is excited to start the season healthy. In 2019, Jurgens had a foot injury during the summer of 2019 that led to a shaky start but grew more comfortable in his role by the end of 2019.
With a season of experience and a unique offseason under his belt, Jurgens is much more confident in himself and understands his expectations entering 2020.
“Last year, I feel like I was doing a lot of mental learning,” Jurgens said. “Now, I can learn by doing and not watching.”
The Husker offensive line returns all their starters from a year ago, along with more veteran depth. Senior left guard Boe Wilson, senior right guard Matt Farniok and senior left tackle Braiden Jaimes return as starters. At right tackle, redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart is slated as the starter.
“You put all the stock into them [full practices],” offensive line coach Greg Austin said. “They are the determining factor as to who we put out there as starters and more importantly, the guys backing them up.”
If an offensive lineman were to go down, the Huskers have a wealth of experienced players in the wings to replace them. Austin emphasized his unit’s depth and versatility and its importance this season.
“The other thing we look at is position flexibility,” Austin said. “Can a guy play guard and tackle, guard and center?...All of that comes into play right now.”
Versatility extends not just to players but to coaches as well. Nebraska offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Matt Lubick, a 25-year coaching veteran, looks to invigorate the Husker offense.
According to Lubick, his offensive schemes find success because of their ability to adapt. He noted that at times, his offense resembles more of a pro-style look. At others, it resembles more of a spread offense.
“The best thing about this system is how flexible it is,” Lubick said. “We have the run game you see from NFL teams on Sundays, we have the ability to drop back and throw it and we also have the ability to read guys in the run game and we can do it fast.”
Nebraska’s offense can play off both the pass and run and helps with one of Lubick’s goals as coordinator: make the pieces outside the quarterback much better so that the QB, whether junior Adrian Martinez or redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey, has an easier time executing the plays.
Lubick’s goal hinges on the success of the wide receiver group, the main position group he oversees. The Nebraska wide receivers struggled last season, and the departure of wideout JD Spielman certainly complicates matters.
However, for what the Huskers lost in experience at the wide receiver position, it makes up for with talented new faces and transfers. Lubick says that those new faces are still getting used to the details of his offense.
“When you’re a young guy or brand new, you’re going to make mistakes,” Lubick said. “Mistakes are a good thing because that’s how you learn.”
The mistakes are a part of the learning process for Lubick’s offense. According to Lubick, the new receivers have impressed despite having to master a new playbook in a difficult offseason.
One receiver that has stood out to other players and coaches is freshman wide receiver Alante Brown.
“Alante has turned some eyes,” senior tight end Jack Stoll said. “When he goes full speed, no one can stop him.”
Speaking of the tight end group, the position is arguably one of the Huskers’ biggest strengths entering 2020. In fact, Nebraska’s top three tight ends return from a season ago in Stoll, junior tight end Austin Allen and junior tight end Kurt Rafdal along with Rutgers transfer Travis Vokolek.
The tight end group is one that has a mix of receiving experience with Stoll leading the veteran group. The veteran experience of the tight ends has seen the group get a bigger share of receiving targets during practice.
Nebraska tight end coach Sean Beckton believes a group with as much experience as Nebraska’s tight ends have can change the dynamic of the offense.
“One of the strengths of our offensive scheme is utilizing our tight ends,” Beckton said. “Some of the things that [Lubick] brought to the table is making sure that we have tight end targets.”
Now that padded practices have begun, Nebraska’s offense will see just how much progress it has made over the last six months. Putting the finishing touches on the offense is Lubick’s final hurdle before his first campaign as Nebraska’s offensive coordinator gets underway.
“It’s been sweet seeing our offense coming together,” Jurgens said.