LINCOLN — Lamar Jackson and Stanley Morgan were among players still huffing when they spoke to the media after their second Scott Frost-style practice.
Who has time to catch their breath when the “live bullets” — Jackson’s description for the flurry of plays Nebraska runs in a short time — are flying? There’s a time for teaching and correction, but not during an offensive hyper drive, when repetitions come in bursts fast enough to induce a sort of football tunnel vision.
“Everyone’s flying around,” sophomore wide receiver JD Spielman said. “You’re running play after play after play. There’s no rest time in between the plays or anything. That’s basically the biggest difference between both practices (now and in past years).”
It’s a new format for the program, too, at least in recent history. Bill Callahan’s NFL-style installations were regimented and built upon one another like classroom lessons, which was trouble for anyone who fell behind. Bo Pelini fancied a quicker pace, but left room for discussions between snaps to slow the learning process. Mike Riley’s measured tempo included split units and lots of huddles, which made for long practices.
Under Frost, Nebraska has two 10-minute walk-through sessions built into practice when assistants offer guidance to players. There also are film sessions and walk-throughs before workouts.
Other than that, it’s full speed ahead as Frost and Co. work to condense 130 to 140 total repetitions into each practice as they mold a 4-8 squad from last year into something sleeker.
“I’d say the pace is probably completely different than we’re used to just because it’s fast all practice,” senior linebacker Dedrick Young said. “Not just slowing down, then going fast. So I think it’s completely different than last year.”
Morgan, NU’s record-breaking wideout who eschewed the NFL to return for his senior season, said he also likes the morning setting as opposed to workouts later in the day because of the extra recovery time. Spielman said he arrived at Memorial Stadium at 5:20 a.m. Tuesday after breakfast and ankle taping, then was on the field by 7:10. Players were on the field at 5:25 a.m. for the first practice March 16, he said.
Combine the early starts with running maybe half a dozen new plays in rapid-fire succession, and Morgan agrees this spring is not for the timid or unmotivated.
“It’s a little tough,” Spielman said, “but I’m up for challenges.”
Frost said the practice setup doesn’t mean he expects perfection. Far from it.
Frost cited snapping errors at center and a generally sloppier effort Tuesday than their spring debut. He also acknowledged it’s too soon to identify many standouts this early in the process.
But the frenetic pace will allow coaches to evaluate players in the near future — and it already has. Frost pointed to running back and junior college transfer Greg Bell on Tuesday as an example of someone adjusting well to what the coaches ask.
“Mistakes will happen,” Frost said. “We’ll coach these guys through that and, like I said, hopefully Thursday looks better than (Tuesday).”
After two workouts, Jackson said he’s happy to have added eight pounds of muscle and lost two percent of his body fat. If he’s going to achieve his goals — “hits and picks,” he said — then step No. 1 is staying on the field as the spring sprint continues.
“They going fast,” the defensive back said. “We gonna be tired. We gonna be working. We gonna be competing. Being tired ain’t an excuse, so we ain’t got no choice.
“We gonna have to get up there and line up fast and read and react. So that’s the biggest difference is just the tempo.”
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2018: Flying into the future. The star of the Red team's 49-9 win over the White team didn't play or call one snap. Instead, Scott Frost stood behind the action, part coach, part spectator. He came home and a spring game record crowd of 86,818 welcomed him. "It was a special day for me, " Frost said. Frost had the spotlight. But the kid? The kid took it for a moment. In a quarterback race still far from over, true freshman Adrian Martinez — the player Frost once flew in the middle of the night to recruit — arguably took the lead. He ran for 60 yards, threw for 114 and, most important, amassed four touchdowns.
2017: Two close to call. Quarterback Tanner Lee, right, appeared to be the front-runner for the starting job, connecting on 13 of 19 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, none better than a 30-yard touchdown pass to slot receiver JD Spielman. Close behind was Patrick O’Brien, who hit 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown and got the first snaps of the game with the Reds after winning a pregame coin flip in the locker room. Lee, O’Brien, Tristan Gebbia and Andrew Bunch combined for 702 yards passing, five touchdowns and one interception on the day.
2016: Nebraska walk-on Kyle Kasun’s interception of freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien on the final play produced the six points in the scrimmage’s scoring system that gave the defense a 46-41 victory over the offense. The Huskers racked up 343 yards on 64 carries — with the quarterbacks accounting for 162 of those rushing yards.
2015: Nebraska coach Mike Riley's spring game debut featured 408 punting yards by Sam Foltz, a bizarre safety by quarterback Tommy Armstrong and plenty of growing pains. NU quarterbacks completed 34 of 68 pass attempts, but it ended with a Gatorade bath for Riley. “I loved that,” he said.
2014: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini kicked off the spring game by carrying a cat onto the field during the tunnel walk — a nod to Faux Pelini, his Twitter parody account. Red defeated White 55-46, behind running back Imani Cross, who had 100 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
2013: Team Jack stole the show. Midway through the fourth quarter, Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez handed off to 7-year-old Jack Hoffman — a pediatric brain cancer patient who became close friends with former Husker Rex Burkhead — for a 69-yard touchdown. Both sidelines emptied to converge on Jack, who was raised to the shoulders of a couple of players. The play was named USA Today’s “Best Emotional Moment of 2013″ and awarded the ESPY for best sports moment.
2012: Fans take shelter in the concourse at Memorial Stadium to avoid the rain. Nebraska chose not to play the 2012 spring game when a severe thunderstorm blew through the area about 90 minutes before kickoff. It was the only spring game canceled in NU's 65-year history of the scrimmage.
2011: After missing a field goal for White seconds before, Brett Maher kicked the game-winner for Red, giving them a 32-29 win. True freshman Jamal Turner racked up 228 all-purpose yards on just seven touches.
2010: The Taylor & Cody show. Taylor Martinez (pictured) passed for two scores and added nine carries for 60 yards. Cody Green’s highlight was a 72-yard touchdown throw to Will Henry that showed off his arm. He finished 7 of 15, passing for 155 yards for White, but Red won 21-16.
2009: Quarterback Zac Lee finished the game with 214 yards and three touchdowns and directed Red to a 31-17 win. He completed 15 of his 18 attempts, hardly looking rattled in front of 77,670 Husker fans who had been waiting all spring, maybe somewhat anxiously, for a chance to see the team’s new leader in action.
2008: I-back Marcus Mendoza eyes the end zone, but is pushed out of bounds by Mathew May of Imperial, Neb. Mendoza gained 33 yards on seven carries in Red's 24-14 win. The Bo Pelini era began with a school-record 80,149 fans in attendance.
2007: NU quarterbacks Sam Keller and Joe Ganz combined to complete 21 of 31 passes for 350 yards against No. 2 and No. 3 defensive players. Keller and Ganz led Red to a 38-0 win. “The coaching staff obviously has a handle on this (deciding on a No. 1),” Keller said after the game.
2006: Cody Glenn, No. 34, tries to run against White Team defenders, including Phillip Dillard, No. 38, and Kevin Luhrs, No. 89. Glenn finished with 98 yards on 16 carries. Red defeated White, 35-7, racking up 28 first downs and 219 rushing yards compared to two first downs and -10 for White.
2005: Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor is greeted by fans as he enters the field. Taylor, a transfer from Butler County (Kan.) Community College, finished 20 of 27 for 357 yards and three touchdowns, leading White to a 42-14 victory. Taylor’s 357 passing yards, and the 606 combined passing yards by White and Red, set spring game records.
2004: White's Brandon Rigoni and Tyler Fisher break up a pass intended for Ross Pilkington. New coach Bill Callahan unveiled a new pass-happy attack and set multiple spring game passing records, including attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. Husker quarterback Joe Dailey threw 49 times for Red, completing 29 for 241 yards and four touchdowns in 35-6 victory. “I had a good time,’’ Dailey said. “It was a great day. I think there’s more to come. This is the very tip of the iceberg.’’
2003: White's Joel Jackson catches a pass and is tackled by Mark Brungardt, left, and Stewart Bradley. Defense was the theme of the day in Red's 13-0 win, led by new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. NU defenders recorded six interceptions and three sacks, despite lining up in just one front. "I just chose to hold back," said Pelini. "It wasn't about beating the offense. All we wanted to do is have our guys lined up in a base defense and play hard."
2002: Red's Ira Cooper blocks Sam Koch's punt in the second quarter. The blocked punt set up Red's first touchdown in their 17-7 win. Junior-college transfer linebacker Demorrio Williams made a game-high 13 tackles for White, while Red's Dahrran Diedrick averaged 8.0 yards a carry en route to 96 yards and a touchdown.
2001: Thunder Collins had 55 yards on 13 carries for White, but defense ruled the day in Red's 16-7 win. The Red and White defenses combined for 16 sacks and limited the offenses to a combined 426 yards. "We feel like we made progress this spring," NU defensive coordinator Craig Bohl said.
2000: Red Team quarterback Joe Chrisman tries to escape from DeJuan Groce and the White Team defense. Eric Crouch and Jammal Lord sat out the spring game with injuries, leaving the Huskers with three inexperienced quarterbacks. White rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the last one coming on a 46-yard pass from converted split end Brett Lindstrom to Ryan Ommert with 2:24 remaining, tying Red 21-21. The no-decision marked the first time since 1950 that the game ended in a tie.