LINCOLN — Captains, practice formats and the Unity Council. Nebraska coach Scott Frost said all could see some form of change this season.
Perhaps the most drastic will be the players-only council, which Frost declined to restart last season amid a coaching transition. The group — best known in the 1990s for player reps serving as the team voice to coaches — will return soon to a version of what it was. Coaches have already identified some Huskers who meet with them on occasion.
“I think we’re real close to sitting down and trying to figure out how to implement the Unity Council closer to the way people in Nebraska know it,” Frost said.
Frost also gave a nod to another tradition from his playing days: sessions of 1s-on-1s in practice. He said former coach Tom Osborne spoke at UCF camp before the 2017 season about the value the Huskers used to get from those hard-hitting reps Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season.
UCF adopted the idea despite risk of injury. The upside of staying sharp and refining toughness, Frost said, is worth it. NU did 1s against 1s at times last year, he added, but is in better position now with more endurance and talent.
“That’s a tough decision to make as a head coach, but I think it paid off that year,” Frost said. “I think we’re deep enough or getting close to deep enough this year that we’re going to be able to do some of the same things.”
Nebraska players will continue to vote on four captains, Frost said. But coaches are now considering allowing underclassmen to be eligible for the honor.
Jurgens may not be ready
Redshirt freshman Cameron Jurgens will be on Nebraska’s 110-man roster, Frost said, but it’s not clear whether the center will be ready for the start of training camp. Another redshirt freshman, Will Farniok, will likely get first crack at playing the position. Hunter Miller, Trent Hixson and Ethan Piper are also potential options, Frost said.
Jurgens’ injury has not been disclosed because Frost doesn’t talk about injuries.
At running back, Frost expects that everyone will get plenty of repetitions — so many that a few wide receivers who used to play running back, like Miles Jones and Wan’Dale Robinson, may get those reps. Coaches are optimistic about the progress of junior college running back Dedrick Mills, even if he hasn’t seen him on the field.
Freshman running back Ronald Thompkins — who is rehabbing his second knee injury — will not be a part of the 110-man roster. He can visit with NU trainers but not attend meetings.
“I don’t think he’ll be full-go at the beginning at this camp,” Frost said.
Ex-SEAL among leaders
Nebraska’s player-led leadership council — which meets with Frost and tries to resolve disciplinary issues before they reach the coach — includes two true sophomores, Davis said: Martinez and cornerback Cam Taylor. And the leader of the bunch might be a redshirt sophomore, albeit an unconventional one, in Damian Jackson.
The 27-year-old Jackson is an ex-Navy SEAL. His strength, Davis said, is being “level-headed, even when he’s mad.”
“He knows to handle it, and that’s props to him,” Davis said. “Even when he addresses me, it’s always as a man, he’s not trying to belittle me. I respect that about him.”
The leadership group has helped clean up Nebraska’s culture.
“All the lists have cut down tremendously,” Davis said. “A lot fewer people being disciplined.”
DT ready to ‘dominate’
Deontre Thomas wore a loose white shirt and big grin as he milled around the Memorial Stadium press box chatting with reporters Thursday. On the eve of fall camp, this doesn’t just feel like a new year for the defensive lineman. It’s a new start.
Recruited by the previous staff, Thomas played 10 games as a true freshman in 2017 as a 265-pound nose tackle. A hand injury forced him to redshirt last fall as he moved to end.
“I feel I haven’t really had a season yet at all,” said Thomas, now 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds. “I’m hungry. I’m ready to get out there and show people what I can do — dominate. I’m hungry.”
Thomas said the downtime last year allowed him to get his body right. He focused on school, learned Erik Chinander’s defense scheme and observed football in a way he hadn’t since his early high school days in Oklahoma.
Now a guy with 18 career tackles in 14 games feels like he’s resetting in the best way possible. He probably won’t start, but he vows to make a difference.
“I’m bigger, I’m stronger,” Thomas said. “I’m ready.”
Jackson, DBs want picks
Lamar Jackson led the team in interceptions during the spring.
“I”m trying to get picks. I want picks,” Jackson said. “But that’s practice.”
In other words: Thanks, but no thanks. The senior corner wants picks in games. More than the two he had as a junior, which tied for the most on the team.
Nebraska was among the worst in the Big Ten in takeaways last season. So the focus for the fall for the DBs stays the same as it was in the spring and summer.
“When the ball’s in the sky, we want it,” Jackson said.
If you drop a pick in practice, that’s 15 pushups.
Dicaprio Bootle led the Big Ten in pass breakups last season. But he had zero takeaways. And that bothers him, Jackson said.
Jackson said he’s feeling as good as ever, both mentally and physically.
“I feel I have it figured out,” Jackson said. “We’re gonna both ball.”
Jaimes confident in line
Brenden Jaimes is one of two solidified starters on the offensive line. Next to him at the two guard spots and at center, questions of Nebraska’s starters and season loom.
But Jaimes, a three-year starter, has seen good things this summer.
“I think everybody has worked extremely hard; no one has really outshined anybody else,” Jaimes said. “I think whoever gets those starting five positions deserves them, but it’s not permanent, so they need to keep working every week.”
With the graduation of Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster, the O-line is now absent loud leaders up front. Jaimes said he and fellow tackle Matt Farniok learned a lot from those two, and are trying to fill in their shoes.
“I think they left that part of the leadership with us,” Jaimes said. “Everybody on that field needs to be a leader; it can’t just be me or Matt.”
Stoll has bold look, talk
It’s not just a bold look, mullet and all, Jack Stoll has some bold things to stay.
Including this: “Some of our expectations, I mean, double-digit wins and a Big Ten championship. I didn’t come to Nebraska to go 4-8. That’s absolutely unacceptable. We came here to win a Big Ten championship, and that’s kinda our expectations this season.”
The junior tight end is on the Mackey Award watch list for the second straight season. And he said the biggest difference between this year and last is the buy-in. That’s a good early sign, he said.
“A lot of guys are coming out to play,” Stoll said. “This year it seems like everyone has seemed like they’ve bought in, and the people that aren’t, they aren’t here anymore.”