LINCOLN — Andre Hunt didn’t necessarily learn how to be a good route runner before he arrived at Nebraska. The redshirt freshman receiver just knew he was good at it.
“Just the fundamentals,” Hunt said. “Knowing when to break down and know what foot to break off of is a really big part.”
Blocking is another issue entirely. Hunt said he’s learned “a lot” since his arrival on how to do it. His growth has drawn praise from NU receivers coach Troy Walters and allowed Hunt a few reps with the top offense this spring as he and others try to replace the production of Stanley Morgan.
“If you can’t block, you probably won’t play,” Hunt said. “You have to have that ‘dog’ in you to be able to block.”
Walters said Hunt has “matured a lot” because he’s learned the playbook and is no longer “lackadaisical” in practice because he’s working with the No. 1 offense.
“His role has changed,” Walters said. “Last year, he went from a 5 or 6 to a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, working with the 1s.”
Backup QBs find going tough
Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco didn’t offer many specifics, but he said Saturday’s team scrimmage was “rough” for his players. A “goofy” day.
“It didn’t seem like we could ever get ourselves in rhythm, and that hasn’t happened for a long time in my recollection,” Verduzco said. Quarterbacks had near misses in interceptions and their eyeballs in the wrong places, Verduzco said.
While sophomore Adrian Martinez is the clear starter for the Huskers, Verduzco spends just as much time with the backup quarterbacks, and he’d like to have more clarity as to who NU’s No. 2 quarterback is by the end of spring camp.
“I suspect that we will, but Coach (Scott) Frost and I will talk, we’ll talk to the staff and the whole shooting match and that sort of thing, but it might go into fall,” Verduzco said.
Junior Andrew Bunch’s decision to return to NU’s program after putting his name into the transfer portal “fired me up,” Verduzco said. The coach had fielded several calls from other coaches for an evaluation on Bunch, but one week before spring practices started he called Verduzco with the good news.
“I was excited,” Verduzco said. “Having a young guy like that around is invaluable, just because of the type of person he is, No. 1. No. 2, just in terms of the numbers for us.”
Good scrimmage for Junior Day
High-school prospects attending Nebraska’s Junior Day last weekend were able to meet with coaches and tour the facilities. But running backs coach Ryan Held said the scrimmage portion of Saturday’s workout might have been the most enlightening for potential Huskers.
The reason, Held said, is they get an up-close look at an innovative offense and NFL-style defense, all wrapped into a fun and fast-paced practice style. They can see their prospective position coach in action — and compare that to what he’s like as a recruiter.
“What I love about our staff is it’s not a (Jekyll and Hyde),” Held said. “We’re not any different because the players are out there for Junior Days. We are who we are. And I think that’s been a winning edge for us is that we don’t bait and switch guys. They don’t come in here and be like, ‘Oh golly, Coach, you’re different.’ We are who we are.”
Bradley still has work to do
To hear Held describe it last month, this is a “make or break” spring for sophomore Jaylin Bradley.
Now with the Red-White game coming in less than two weeks, the coach said Bradley still has work to do.
“I’ve seen it in spurts,” Held said. “I’ve seen things I really like and then I see things that I don’t like. He has to continue to understand what’s happening up front with the blocking scheme. I’d like to see him play lower. I think he runs too high. I used a Roger Craig analogy — he’s got to get low and get his knees up and run through the smoke, the hole.”
The 6-footer has trimmed up from his listed weight last year of 210 pounds, Held said. But the Bellevue West grad still needs to run lower and straighter than he did during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Held said. “I’d just like him to be more consistent in his running style of not dancing, not going sideways. At some point you just gotta go north and get what you can get. So I gotta keep instilling that in him on a day-to-day basis.”
Bradley redshirted last season. He appeared in seven games and rushed 24 times for 93 yards as a true freshman in 2017.
Belt ‘continues to make plays’
With the running back depth chart all over the place, one name keeps coming up, Walters said.
That’s walk-on and Millard West grad Brody Belt.
“I mean, he’s doing an awesome job,” Walters said.
Belt was on the practice squad last year and joined the team as a walk-on last spring. He ran for 1,567 yards as a high school senior. Walters said he’s playing in the Duck-R position with Miles Jones and Wan’Dale Robinson.
“A guy that can run the ball well in the backfield, but also he’s a weapon on the perimeter,” Walters said. “We get him matched up against linebackers he’s gonna win that most of the time. So he’s done a tremendous job in terms of that group and he’s going to continue to see more work.”
Walters said Belt kind of came out of nowhere, but he does what he’s told and clearly knows the playbook.
And the OC likes the attitude Belt brings to the running back room.
“He has that grit, he has that want-to that you like, he wants to be great and he kinda plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Walters said. “Walk-on, undersized, but that’s not gonna stop him. I love his attitude and he continues to make plays.”
» Sophomore Damion Daniels, a 340-pound defensive lineman, has earned the nickname “Snacks” among teammates.
» Held said Monday’s workout was “not great” to start. It picked up later, but the challenge to the offense is to be sharp from the first snap.
“The last half of practice was lights out,” Held said. “But in a game, you don’t get to redo it. You don’t get to hit the restart button like you do on these video games these guys play. So you gotta come out first play and ‘Let’s go.'”
» Held opened his time with reporters by saying “The mayor’s in town, I like that,” referring to new men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. The Kansas City native recalled being a fan of Hoiberg when he played in the city’s old Kemper Arena during Big Eight tournaments.
“Obviously we love Coach (Tim) Miles and everything he did for us,” Held said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t work out. So Hoiberg’s part of the family now. He’s going to bring a really good brand of basketball and gotta go out and recruit and get some more guys and have a great staff. We’ll be there to support him, absolutely.”
» Tight end Jack Stoll left practice wearing a green no-contact jersey.
» Nebraska’s offense struggled on Saturday and struggled again Monday morning, Walters said, in part because NU’s defense is playing so well.
“They’re making us work, and if we don’t bring our A game, they’re embarrassing us,” Walters said. “And today, for the first half of practice, they got after us. We didn’t have our A game, and it showed.”
» Walters said center Cam Jurgens is “still rusty” after recovering from a foot injury he suffered last fall but should be 100 percent by fall camp.
» No, NU backup quarterback Noah Vedral was not asked to potentially play for the Husker basketball team when its roster numbers got thin for the Big Ten tournament and NIT. At least Vedral wasn’t personally approached about it. Vedral, who led Wahoo Neumann to a state title as a guard, said he played quite often against NU walk-on and instant celebrity Johnny Trueblood, who played a key role in Nebraska’s late-season run.
» If Vedral had to pick four players to join him in a pickup game, he said he’d go with receiver Christian Banker, outside linebacker Alex Davis, tight end Austin Allen and quarterback Adrian Martinez, though Vedral said Martinez has to work on his jumper.