Nebraska Football: Five Biggest Additions of Frost’s Overhaul of the Cornhuskers’ Roster

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When Scott Frost was announced as Nebraska’s new head football coach, fans were understandably thrilled with visions of returning to the glory days of the nineties.

Little did they suspect that some of that nineties glory would be Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder’s junior-college-heavy roster building tactics.

Since arriving in Lincoln, Nebraska has added eight (!) junior-college transfers (as observed by Brandon Cavanaugh of Athlon Sports) and a total of 51 (!!) new players since December (according to Parker Gabriel of the Lincoln Journal-Star). Indeed, according to Gabriel, 36.4 percent of the 140 players currently on the roster have been added since December 2017.

That’s … a lot. And it means that Frost was serious about creating an entirely new Nebraska program. So when you see Nebraska come out of the tunnel against Akron on September 01, there will be a lot of new faces and new names to process.

You can keep track of Nebraska’s roster with our own Roster Distribution page, of course. But to help you out, here’s a list of the five biggest new additions to the roster that will help define Frost’s first year in charge.

Tre Neal (S)

Neal’s recruiting numbers won’t blow you away, being a 247 Sports composite 0.8385 as a recruit. But don’t underestimate the importance of this graduate transfer from UCF arriving in Lincoln. Neal was effective in his time with the Knights, and more importantly he has an intimate knowledge of defensive coordinator Eric Chinander’s system. Look for him to see the field right away and be critical in helping the rest of Nebraska’s secondary get on the same page.

Will Honas (ILB)

Nebraska’s linebacker depth coming into 2018 was a little shaky, to put it charitably. Mohammed Barry and Dedrick Young are clearly the class of the returners, but behind them at inside linebacker was only one other scholarship player, Avery Roberts.

So the addition of Honas provides not only depth at the position, but a player ready to start on day one, giving an instant infusion to a position of need for Nebraska.

Vaha Vainuku (DL)

The cliché in all of sports is that you can’t coach size. At six-foot-three and 295 pounds, Vainuku has the frame to fit in immediately at any role in Nebraska’s 3-4 defensive line setup. And while his skill-set may lean more ideally to defensive end, Nebraska’s lack of depth at nose tackle means Vainuku can both literally and figuratively fill a significant hole for NU in 2018.

Breon Dixon (OLB)

One team’s misfortune is always another team’s gain. With Mississippi’s NCAA troubles, their highly-regarded (and at times illegally recruited) stars became available for transfer. Dixon, a four-star linebacker, was targeted by Nebraska, and ultimately given clearance to play right away by the NCAA.

The addition of Dixon at outside linebacker gives Nebraska an instant infusion of SEC-level talent at a position of need. For a team that ranked no. 119 nationally (!) in sacks last year (according to CFB Stats), adding a talent like Dixon could make a huge difference for Frost’s version of the Blackshirts in 2018.

Maurice Washington (RB)

Yeah, I know this probably should be Greg Bell, the junior-college running back transfer that is likely your starting tailback for Nebraska in 2018. Bell’s skills are amazing, and his addition gives Nebraska an instant-impact offensive performer, especially if injuries continue to hamper Tre Bryant’s development at the position.

But I’m including Washington, a true freshman, instead both for what he brings to the field and for the nature of his recruitment. Washington was Nebraska’s third-highest rated offensive recruit (behind quarterback Adrian Martinez and tight end Cameron Jurgens) in 2018, but it looked for the longest time like he would be an academic casualty and at best need a redshirt year and burn a scholarship hole for NU.

That didn’t happen, though, because Washington was able to get his academics cleared and be eligible for 2018. Frost and his staff never waivered on Washington, and their perseverance helped make sure that Nebraska has a potentially game-changing tailback in the mix this season. And with the new redshirt rules that allow players to participate in up to four games without losing redshirt eligibility, it is even more likely that Washington will get an opportunity to show his skills for Nebraska in 2018.

GBR, baby.

Nebraska Football – Pre-Spring Game Offensive Preview

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The problem – well, one of the problems – with missing a bowl game is how long you as a fan have to wait to see football. In an ordinary, bowl-game-including season, the longest wait for Nebraska football is from the Spring Game until kickoff of the new season.

But after Nebraska’s 4-8 campaign in 2017, the firing of Mike Riley, and the hiring of Scott Frost, the wait from the end of the 2017 season to the 2018 Spring Game will be even longer. So if it seems like that ugly loss to Iowa on Black Friday was a long time ago, well, it actually was.

Even with snow still on the ground in April, then, spring football is here, and it’s time to start getting ready for what life will be like under Frost. Let’s take a look at the offense first, to get somewhat of an idea of what to expect.

Quarterback – Three schollies and a lot of questions

There’s a whole bunch of unknowns for Nebraska coming into 2018. But one of the biggest unknowns is who will be Nebraska’s signal-caller to start the season.

Nebraska’s two returning scholarship quarterbacks are redshirt sophomore Patrick O’Brien and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia. O’Brien has the only returning experience, playing in three games including the entirety of Nebraska’s 54-21 loss to Minnesota. Both O’Brien and Gebbia were recruited to play former head coach Mike Riley’s pro-style system, quite different from Frost’s no-huddle, up-tempo attack.

That doesn’t mean O’Brien or Gebbia couldn’t run Frost’s offense, though. As O’Brien told the Lincoln Journal-Star:

“I’ve been paying attention,” O’Brien said of the Knights. “Their offense is really fast, and they’re a good team. It’s going to be exciting for us to run that here. I feel like I fit in it pretty good. I ran something pretty similar to it in high school, and I feel like it fits my skill set, so I’m just ready to go.”

Also competing for the position will be true freshman Adrian Martinez, a four-star dual-threat quarterback. Frost was not shy about his praise of Martinez, according to Land of 10.

“I’m excited about him. He has a lot of potential,” Frost said. “When I was evaluating quarterbacks a year ago around the country, he was my favorite one. His ability to run and throw and his maturity as a kid are going to serve him really well, and for the offense that we run, I didn’t think there was a better fit in the country. Once we took the Nebraska job, we got a hold of him right away and we’re thrilled to have him on campus.”

So yes, Husker fan, at some point in the near future you’ll have a Martinez slinging the ball around Memorial Stadium. Get ready for your flashbacks.

It’s tempting to thing that Martinez will get the nod when Nebraska tees it up against Akron in September. At Central Florida, Frost didn’t hesitate to play a freshman quarterback in McKenzie Milton. But don’t discount the experience and athleticism of both O’Brien and Gebbia.

It’s likely that Frost and co. will want Martinez to show up ready and win the job. But it’s very unlikely that a true freshman will be able to pull of that feat. Look for O’Brien or Gebbia to get the nod, at least to start the season.

I-Back – Questions about the guys coming back, and the guys showing up

Nebraska looked like it had a real answer at I-back with Tre Bryant. For two games, Bryant looked to be the go-to back Nebraska had been hoping for since Ameer Abdullah,  averaging 5.86 yards per carry and 149.5 yards per game.

But lingering injuries sidelined Bryant for the rest of the season, and he remains a question mark as to what he will be able to contribute in 2018. Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon will be the backs returning with the most experience. Sophomore Jaylin Bradley flashed some potential, as well, in the limited opportunity he got towards the end of the season. And with the demise of the fullback, it’s likely that Ben Miles will look for his ability to contribute as an I-back, if not on special teams – if he remains part of the program.

This year’s recruiting class, however, has put some new faces into the mix. Junior college transfer Greg Bell was a jewel of the class, and with two years of eligibility left it’s hard not to see Bell competing hard for playing time right away. And on signing day (well, old school signing day anyway), one of Nebraska’s big wins was four-star running back Maurice Washington.

What the I-back position will look like in Frost’s new offense is still an open question. And given the new and returning faces in the room, who will be filling the role next season is just as much of an open question.

Wide Receiver – Stan’s squad

One of the best pieces of news Frost got upon taking the job in Lincoln was learning that wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr was returning for his senior season. Morgan’s offensive output last year – 61 catches, 987 yards, 10 touchdowns – was one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2017 season. Indeed, while Morgan did break Johnny Rogers’ 1972 single-season receiving record, his chase for 1,000 receiving yards ended up being about the only compelling thing to watch for Nebraska fans as the season wore down.

Also returning is JD Spielman, who had a breakout freshman campaign with 55 receptions, 830 yards, and two touchdowns. Spielman’s game would seem to translate well to Frost’s speed-based offense, and his year of experience should set him up well to contribute next year.

Tyjon Lindsey, one of the prize recruits from last year’s class, also returns with a year of experience. Lindsey struggled to find his place in the offense last year, but he remains one of the players for whom a year of experience and a change in system might pay the biggest rewards.

Nebraska’s also got some returning question marks, including Jaevon McQuitty coming off of an injury, and Keyan Williams looking for an opportunity to make his contribution. There was also a swell of receiving talent arriving in this year’s recruiting class, including junior college transfers like the speedy Jaron Woodyard and big-bodied Mike Williams. Incoming freshmen Miles Jones, Dominick Watt, and Andre Hunt will also find themselves competing for playing time in 2018.

Tight End – Spoiled for choices

Nebraska has one returning tight end with any experience, sophomore Jack Stoll, who hauled in eight catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.

So, there’s some holes to fill for Nebraska at the position. The tight end is another position that looks to undergo some big changes in Frost’s offense, and the advantage Frost has is that he’ll have some options to choose from.

Stoll, as the only returning contributor, likely has an advantage in competing for playing time. But he’ll be fighting with oft-injured Matt Snyder, as well as highly-recruited Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal. And don’t be surprised if Nebraska native David Engelhaupt is in the mix this season as well.

This year’s recruiting class also brought in three big-bodied, move-style tight end weapons in Cameron Jurgens, Katerian Lagrone, and Justin McGriff. So while Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of experience coming back, at the very least it will have a lot of options from which to choose.

Offensive Line – The perennial question

Nebraska should feel comfortable with returning talent at guard, as Tanner Farmer, Jerald Foster, and Brendan Jaimes will all be back. At center, Michael Decker and Cole Conrad will likely be competing for the spot, but both have injury issues that will limit their participation in spring practice.

Tackle is by far the biggest question on Nebraska’s offensive line – and that’s a big position at which to have a question. Matt Farniok will get a shot to slide out to tackle, and it also is time for Broc Bando and Christian Gaylord to step up and make their mark.

Nebraska has some additional line depth – Chris Walker, Boe Wilson, Jalin Barnett, and Matt Sichtermann will all have their opportunities. Freshmen Will Farniok and Willie Canty will be coming to Lincoln, but it’s always a challenge for freshmen linemen to play.

(h/t to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald for his offensive line preview)

GBR, baby.

All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated.