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LINCOLN — The first fan question on coach Scott Frost’s monthly radio show on the Husker Sports Network cut right to the chase.
How’s Omar Manning doing?
Manning, the No. 1 junior college receiver in the 2020 class, is being counted on to change the Husker wideout room and give quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey a big downfield target. But on two occasions this summer and fall, offensive coordinator and receivers coach Matt Lubick has been lukewarm on Manning’s progress, suggesting Manning had injury issues that kept him from making a full impact.
Frost confirmed that Wednesday night.
“Omar’s doing great,” Frost said. “He’s missed a little bit of time for health reasons and personal reasons that’s maybe delayed his progress a little bit, but we all know what we have in him and looking forward to him being a big part of the program in the future.”
Frost said the Huskers “need more production” from the receivers, in the run game (as blockers) and pass game (as receivers and blockers).
“We have the right guys,” Frost said of the players in the wide receiver room. Frost said the holdovers from last season have an extra year of experience while the talent improved with the 2020 class, which included Manning, Bellevue West standout Zavier Betts, converted Chicago high school quarterback Alante Brown and more.
Frost said the offense has been simplified so Nebraska can execute it better and faster. NU has made a concerted effort to streamline its scheme in the offseason, using Lubick’s organizational skills to create an efficiency plan for practice.
“He’s done a really good job already making sure we’re organized and dialing into the right things,” Frost said. “As the head coach I have a lot of other things on my plate and it’s great to hand things off to him.”
Nebraska began its padded practices Sept. 30, the same day the Big Ten started its daily antigen testing protocol that league teams must undergo to be in compliance. It’s a three-week ramp-up to the season opener at Ohio State, where the Buckeyes — widely considered to be the favorite to win the Big Ten — will begin their quest for the College Football Playoff. Nebraska, meanwhile, is angling for its first winning season since 2016 against what may be the toughest schedule in the Big Ten West.
The Huskers have purposely chosen under Frost’s direction to have heavy, physical practices, with plenty of live tackling and offensive and defensive lines squaring off against each other. Frost said NU didn’t have the luxury of ramping up slowly. Nebraska will have a live scrimmage this weekend, likely without the aid of music or noise, since the team will be playing in empty Big Ten stadiums.
“We’re going to keep hitting,” Frost said. “I want us to be tough and play with that type of attitude. We’ll keep as many healthy as we can but we need to get more physical.”
More highlights of Frost’s radio appearance:
Nebraska's starting D-line will have a new look, but the Huskers are encouraged from what they've seen from those young guys up front. “I think we’re definitely in a good position with them."
» Frost gave boilerplate praise on quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. He said both have had good camps and he's looking forward to seeing both play this fall.
Martinez is "not the most vocal guy in the world," Frost said, but he's coached great leaders who weren't vocal.
"You're still able to set an example and hold people to that standard even if it's not loud and laced with profanity," Frost said. "We need all types of leaders and all the quarterbacks are doing a really good job."
» At running back, Dedrick Mills is the clear No. 1 guy, and Frost said the battle to figure out the Nos. 2 and 3 backs remains ongoing. Frost mentioned the progress of Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins. The latter has battled knee injuries for three seasons.
» Two players — sophomore William Przystup and freshman Daniel Cerni — are battling for the starting punting job, while LSU transfer Connor Culp and freshman Tyson Crawford are battling for the starting kicker job. Frost said Nebraska is poised to improve in the special teams department after NU struggled mightily in the third phase last season. The Huskers cycled through six placekickers and a study of hidden yardage lost was revealing, Frost said.
"It's gonna be better," Frost said of special teams, which will be coordinated by an off-the-field analyst, Jonathan Rutledge, whom Nebraska lured away from Auburn. "We're gonna make it better."
» In the wake of sophomore corner Braxton Clark's season-ending shoulder injury, junior Cam Taylor-Britt will be a full-time cornerback. Taylor-Britt played corner and safety last season. Dicaprio Bootle will be the cornerback opposite Taylor-Britt. Frost said he likes the younger defensive backs in the program and the position as a whole. Nebraska has to improve its pass rush, he said, to help the secondary.
» The outside linebackers "underperformed" last season, which cost Nebraska in both run and pass defense. New position coach Mike Dawson — who had coached NU's defensive line in 2018 — will coach the group well.
"If nothing else, he's going to get the guys playing hard, using the right technique and being in the right spots," Frost said. "There were a lot of times that mistakes at that position cost us in the run game last year and a few times in the pass game. I love the approach (Dawson) takes."
A "couple guys" have been nicked up at the outside linebackers, which has allowed lots of players to receive practice repetitions.
"Iron sharpens iron" when Nebraska's offensive and defensive lines square off in practice. And one player in particular has enjoyed significant improvement from those physical battles.
» The training table in Memorial Stadium is back open, Frost said, but players pick up pre-packaged meals instead of going through the buffet, and, instead of sitting together, they either eat from at a social distance or they go home and eat. Players eat right after they received their daily antigen test.
Nebraska is not currently meeting as an entire team in the meeting room, Frost said, because of the close quarters. The biggest meetings NU has is unit meeting on offense or defense.
Frost said he's still unclear about whether the Huskers will have to limit their roster when the season begins. NU is still working through options with the Big Ten.
» Frost confirmed Lincoln North Star walk-on Luke Reimer, a sophomore inside linebacker, had received a scholarship. Much like position coach Barrett Ruud and senior teammate Collin Miller on Tuesday praised Reimer's work ethic and playmaking ability, Frost said Reimer "is a great example of what we want our walk-on program to be."
"It took no time at all for us to recognize he was worthy of earning a scholarship," Frost said. "He's such a fast kid with a nose for the football."
Nebraska will have four or five scholarships to hand out to walk-ons soon, Frost said.
» Frost "feels good" about the offensive line and the tight ends. When it comes to NU's defensive line, Frost said, Nebraska won't have definitive answers until it plays a game. One defensive lineman, Pheldarius Payne, has moved to outside linebacker because he lost weight after an illness. Senior Ben Stille is the "anchor" on the defensive line, Frost said.