Spring breakthrough time?

Freshmen Matt Farniok, left, and Bryan Brokop are members of a young offensive line in the development stage.

LINCOLN — Enjoy your spring break? Are your NCAA tournament brackets busted in pieces yet?

In Nebraska, where the second weekend of an NCAA tournament remains a hard-to-reach goal for teams inside the state — if not Nebraska native Dana Altman — it’s back to spring football.

The first of the Huskers’ workouts were productive in terms of putting in the backbone of Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 defense and setting quarterbacks Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien on a path to passing enlightenment and efficiency. By my sports writer’s eye, Lee had a slight edge, but both looked sharp and will compete through the April 15 spring game and perhaps well into fall camp.

Quarterback is but one question remaining for the second half of spring practice, which starts again Tuesday.

Here are five others:

» How do those offensive and defensive lines look? It’s accurate, and a little easy, to say both of the lines are probably 18 months away — that is, the 2018 season — from having the kind of seasoning, experience, coaching continuity and player development to meet the highest expectations. If one of the lines, especially the offensive line, arrives 12 months ahead of schedule, all the better. The units went at it pretty good in the first half of spring with the offensive line getting good push on the left side from tackle Nick Gates and guard Jerald Foster. Sophomore Michael Decker leads in the battle for center. On the defensive line, each of NU’s three presumed starters — nose Mick Stoltenberg and ends Freedom Akinmoladun and Carlos Davis — has decent service time built up in the trenches. Their backups don’t yet.

» How much progress can the new outside linebackers make in a few more weeks? If there’s a question mark on the defense, it’s this spot, in part because it’s new to Husker players. Marcus Newby, Luke Gifford, Alex Davis and Sedrick King have received the most snaps to this point.

When they’re out of position, Diaco hasn’t hesitated to tell them. Nebraska will need a good pass rush from Davis/King.

» If Nebraska has three solid receivers — Stanley Morgan, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Bryan Reimers — can coach Keith Williams locate three more clear options by the end of spring? Top candidates include Keyan Williams, JD Spielman, Zack Darlington, Conor Young and Gabe Rahn. Other than Rahn, none has played a significant down as a Nebraska receiver. Williams and Spielman are Nos. 1 and 2 in the slot spot.

» Is the running back corps sneaky good after fans didn’t expect much this spring? You’ve heard the rumblings and reporters have seen some good things from guys like Mikale Wilbon and even walk-ons Wyatt Mazour and Austin Rose. Devine Ozigbo’s bound to have some role — perhaps the old Imani Cross power back role — and Tre Bryant has game-breaking burst. This bunch tends to get far less hype than the receivers since its position coach, Reggie Davis, is a quiet guy. But don’t sleep on the backs.

» How big of a crowd does Nebraska draw for its spring game and will it be NU’s biggest recruiting weekend ever? NU has sold more than 55,000 tickets, according to its Twitter account, and, as long as the weather cooperates, thousands more will walk up on game day. A crowd of more than 70,000 seems possible. And, yes, it could be Nebraska’s biggest and best spring game recruiting event. It’s always hard to tell, since unofficial visits are on the player’s dime — next year, you could see spring game visits become official visits — but NU appears primed to draw at least 20 guys, and probably more, headlined by IMG Academy cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles, who played at Calabasas (California) High with current Huskers Tristan Gebbia and Keyshawn Johnson Jr. last season.

On to the Rewind.

Five stats (very random, mid-spring edition)

11: Commits already for the Big Ten’s highest-rated recruiting class for 2018, Penn State. The Nittany Lions are getting a big, fortuitous bounce from their Big Ten title, five years after the program cratered in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

0: Times since joining the Big Ten that Nebraska’s defense has allowed an average of less than 5 yards per play in a season. The lowest average was 5.20 in 2011. Twenty-six Big Ten defenses have allowed less than 5 yards per play since 2011; Wisconsin had five of those defenses.

3: Times since joining the Big Ten that Nebraska’s offense averaged more than 6 yards per play. Those years — 2012, 2014 and 2015. Just 17 Big Ten teams have done so since 2011: two — the 2011 Wisconsin offense and the 2012 Ohio State offense — averaged more than 7 yards per play.

Seventh: Nebraska’s Big Ten ranking in turnover margin last season. Despite having its best turnover margin (plus five) since 2009, NU still only finished middle of the pack in its own league. The Huskers’ average finish since joining the Big Ten is right around 10th (9.67, but that includes years when it was a 12-team league and NU couldn’t do worse than 12th).

224: Yards allowed to opposing punt returners. That ranked 105th nationally and was a contributing factor to Bruce Read’s departure from Nebraska. The punt game was a hot mess. Diaco will do better in part because just about anything would be better than last season.

Opponent watch

» Oregon doesn’t open spring practice until April 5, or after the Ducks play in the Final Four. Oregon’s football program is likely to undergo a major shift, as Willie Taggart takes over for Mark Helfrich, who was begat by Chip Kelly, who was different from just about every college football coach on the planet in terms of belief systems and practice methodologies. Taggart comes from the Harbaugh School — he played for dad, Jack, at Western Kentucky, and coached with Jim at Stanford — so expect lots of changes to how Oregon does its business. Taggart has suggested he might lift the veil of Oregon’s practice secrecy, for one thing. The Ducks have a quarterback — Justin Herbert was pretty good as a freshman — and a top-shelf defensive coordinator in Jim Leavitt. I’ve watched Taggart at Western Kentucky and South Florida, his two head coaching stops. He’s good. Oregon will be better in 2017.


Rainy days, which may mean indoor practices.

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