May 6, 2016
Randy York N-Sider
Official Blog of the Huskers
It’s been a couple years, but I shared my thoughts Friday with members of Lincoln’s Downtown Athletic Club. To accommodate this small but empowered group, I did something I’d never done – tackled legitimate questions that already have been asked and then used them as the basis for my speech.
Since this group asks substantive questions that match the depth of their knowledge, I decided to share my remarks in an overall Q&A format so the conversations could bounce around to whatever’s important. When Nebraska football is the primary subject, I’ve learned that groups like Lincoln’s Downtown Athletic Club can become, in effect, a microcosm of the entire state.
For the benefit of all Big Red fans, I offer up 16 questions a Husker football fan might have for 2016 and then share my version of reality in answering. Who knows? Perhaps, these 16 questions & answers can be a positive primer for 2,000 Husker fans who will meet and hear Nebraska Coach Mike Riley and Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst in seven public appearances over four days next week. The tour begins next Tuesday in Lincoln and ends next Friday in Omaha with visits to York, Columbus, Kearney, Lexington and North Platte in between.
Four Huskers, Including Two Kickers, Are Legitimate All-America Candidates
1. Who on Nebraska’s 2016 team could emerge as legitimate All-America candidates?
Both kicking specialists, punter Sam Foltz and place-kicker Drew Brown (pictured above), have the talent and meet the performance standard. Safety Nate Gerry is also a worthy candidate, and an N-Sider I trust thinks a healthy De’Mornay Pierson-El becomes a strong punt return All-America candidate. Those four are on Big Ten and national radar, but the Huskers have other worthy candidates who could emerge into legitimate All-America candidates as well.
2. Who has the talent to push seriously for first-team All-Big Ten honors?
Several Huskers fit this category: quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., tight end Cethan Carter, wide receivers Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly; offensive linemen Nick Gates and Dylan Utter; cornerback Joshua Kalu and, perhaps, a linebacker, although it would be hard to pinpoint which one at this stage. Other diamonds could be in the rough, too.
3. Will Nebraska establish a ground game identity or will the pass define the Huskers?
Some believe either side of that doubled-barreled question, but balance is the way, the truth and the light.
4. Can Tommy Armstrong reinvent himself and how will his fourth and final season be different?
That’s easy because there’s no need for Tommy to reinvent himself. He just needs to limit mistakes and play within himself and play within the offense that he leads.
All-Big Ten Sam Foltz a True Pro in All Aspects of His Life, On and Off the Field
5. What Husker player is the best interview on the team and why?
I only had to ask one media member that question and his choice is the same as mine – Husker punter Sam Foltz (No. 27 above). Sean Callahan and I both see Foltz as a humble student-athlete who treats every media member the same way he treats his family, teammates, coaches and everyone else – with total respect. Foltz is always practicing, always interested and always accommodating in a team sort of way. He’s already a pro interview, a pro on and off the field and undoubtedly will become a pro in the NFL soon. Foltz is wholesome, a role model and a bit of a throwback to a different era. His social media is rarely about him. It’s about hunting and fishing and the Kansas City Royals and people he enjoys, such as Drew Brown, his roommate, teammate and fellow special team weapon extraordinaire. Brown, Nebraska’s likeable placekicker, has the same mindset and is also a strong candidate to kick in the NFL.
6. Who will be the starting running back and who will be the primary backup?
7. Winter conditioning and spring practice transform driven players. Where’s the proof?
Offensive lineman Tanner Farmer is Mr. Obvious in my mind. He spent a season with Husker wrestlers, chiseled his body in the weight room and got quicker and stronger, then catapulted himself from the shadows and into the spotlight. Brandon Reilly is another obvious extreme makeover in heart, body and mind. Making the winning catch to hand Michigan State its first loss of the season in November was nice, but coaches want the start and the middle part of the 2016 season to match Nebraska’s 2015 finish.
8. Who will be the most surprising names that make a major difference for Nebraska?
Sophomores Farmer and Jerald Foster fit the bill at guard. My sources also say Kevin Maurice is becoming a mainstay in the middle of the defensive line and from what I gather, Chris Jones is developing into an outstanding corner.
Marcus Newby Top-Ranked Husker in Overall Performance Index Competition
9. What kind of impact has Boyd Epley had on the football team since his return to Nebraska?
Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs recently told me that Nebraska’s strength program “is a lot more sophisticated” since Epley returned. “He’s awesome, man…a real trailblazer,” Burroughs said, adding that Epley was “absolutely necessary for evolution to occur” because “a training system in each athletic program across the country has to continuously succeed and compete.” That’s important because Thursday Epley shared results of Nebraska’s return to a performance index that includes a vertical jump, 10-yard dash and pro agility grill. The top five football players measured on those three standards were: 1) Marcus Newby (No. 3, pictured above); 2) Trey Foster; 3) Devine Ozigbo; 4) Tommy Armstrong Jr.; and 5) Austin Rose. Second-year football strength coach Mark Philipp works well with Epley, and that’s good news for a program that needs to get bigger, faster, stronger and more agile.
10. What are the three scariest regular-season games and rank those three in order?
Most view Ohio State, Oregon and Wisconsin as the most difficult opponents, but fans should remember that Iowa won the West Division last year. We all learned that in the Big Ten, every week is a major battle.
11. What will be the main strengths and weaknesses for Nebraska offensively and why?
My insiders believe strongly that if the offensive line meshes well and limits mistakes and turnovers, Nebraska’s 2016 team can be one of the top 15 offenses in the country.
12. What will be the most obvious defensive strengths and weaknesses and why?
It’s obvious that Nebraska needs to find the right combination and depth on the defensive line. Husker linebackers are much, if not vastly improved and the secondary should be much more cohesive this year.
Will Armstrong, Westerkamp, Gerry Represent Nebraska in Chicago Again?
13. What players will represent Nebraska at this summer’s Big Ten Kickoff event in Chicago?
Armstrong, Westerkamp and Gerry were solid representatives last year and return for this year. No decisions have been made, but several other veterans, including linebacker Josh Banderas, are equally capable of becoming rock-solid student-athlete representatives in Chicago.
14. What kind of impact will John Parrella have on his alma mater in his first year as D-line coach?
The Epitome of a Husker is passionate, hard-working, determined, genuine and honest. Traits like that tend to get woven into the very fabric of those who play for you and around you.
15. Which coach on the Nebraska staff is the most engaged person on social media?
Everyone has the same answer – Keith Williams, Nebraska’s popular and innovative receivers coach.
16. How has Nebraska galvanized its program to attract top-tier recruits in Riley’s second season?
Mike Riley and his staff have done a great job of getting players on campus and once that happens, Nebraska has an excellent chance to convince recruits to come to Lincoln. Seeing, feeling and experiencing the Capital City is a game-changer that paves the road to commitment, contentment and a signed, sealed national letter of intent. Small wonder why young men and women pick up a favored line and agree that there really is no place like Nebraska.
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