Steven M. Sipple: Huskers to watch as spring drills resume; Kiffin’s wisdom; and Dance steps
Things I know, and things I think I know:
March Madness is wildly entertaining (we see you, Big Ten).
What a weekend (we see you, Ja Morant and Cassius Winston).
But perhaps spring football can grab some of your sporting attention. With spring break complete, Nebraska resumes drills Monday.
Eight players I’d like to know more about as the April 13 spring game approaches:
JD Spielman: The 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior seldom does interviews, which makes him all the more intriguing. He’s apparently back to full strength after missing the final two games last season. He’s put up big numbers as a receiver and sets the tone for his group as a blocker. Just a joy to watch play.
Jaevon McQuitty: He’s been a bit of a mystery. After missing all of 2017 with a knee injury, he played in six games last season but didn’t have a reception. He’s 6-foot and 205 pounds but looks bigger than that. NU has a lot of smallish receivers. Can McQuitty step into a sizable role?
Austin Allen: We have a pretty good idea what Nebraska has in junior tight end Jack Stoll (21 receptions in 2018). But the 6-8 Allen, a sophomore TE from Aurora, combines with 6-7 classmate Kurt Rafdal for a formidable front court. But can they stretch a football field?
Luke McCaffrey: The last name immediately gets your attention. So does his speed. He enrolled early and worked hard to learn the offense. He looks the part physically. Can he work himself into the top backup role?
Cameron Jurgens: The ultra-athletic redshirt freshman from Beatrice is playing center for the first time and has a chance to win the starting job. Say no more.
Darrion Daniels/Damion Daniels: Yeah, I’m counting the brother duo as one. Darrion, a senior defensive lineman, evidently has fit in well with teammates to this point after transferring from Oklahoma State. Damion, a 6-3, 340-pound sophomore, flashed enormous power last season and could be ready to rise. They might share duties at nose tackle. Tell me that’s not intriguing.
Collin Miller: He was defensive scout team player of the year in 2016 as an end in a 4-3 system before moving to outside linebacker in 2017 in a 3-4. He moved to inside backer before last season. We have a good idea what NU has at ILB in Mohamed Barry, the team’s leading tackler last season. But Miller’s explosiveness and competitive fire could make for a strong duo in the heart of the defense.
Marquel Dismuke: I’m intrigued by this kid in part because he did something last season that hardly ever happens at Nebraska anymore -- he blocked a punt against Illinois, NU’s first since 2015. A junior safety from Compton, California, he’s had a mostly quiet career. Let’s see if he can change that by winning a starting job.
* Lane Kiffin was a 28-year-old receivers coach at USC in December of 2003 when a news editor pulled me into a side room at the Journal Star and said she was hearing Kiffin might be a candidate for the open Nebraska head coaching job (which Bill Callahan ultimately landed). I never found evidence that Kiffin was in the hunt.
But tell me the entertainment value wouldn’t be high with Kiffin in charge. He often speaks his mind and in most cases makes a lot of sense. To wit: His comments last week regarding the NCAA’s transfer portal and its effect on student-athletes.
According to Kiffin, many players say, “I can get in this portal so I can get some attention -- we’re in a generation of just wanting attention no matter what -- so now, I can go in this (portal), get an article written about me and get re-recruited because I don’t like exactly how something’s going.”
Kiffin, now 43, surely recalls a time when the right thing for a player to do was fight through adversity as opposed to bolt at the first sign of trouble. Some still fight, obviously. But too many don’t.
* I dialed up a handful of college football and basketball coaches last week to ask them if the escalating transfer culture in college sports impacts the way they coach players. Do they hold back harsh words for fear that a good player might bolt to another program?
The consensus was players want to be coached hard. They want discipline in their lives. Aggressive coaching doesn’t necessarily push players out the door, the coaches said. I’m guessing Tom Izzo would agree.
It’s a lack of playing time that often leads players to transfer. Players also might bolt because they don’t like their role on the team -- i.e., a basketball center might want to play on the perimeter more often to showcase his/her athleticism.
If a player leaves a program because he doesn’t want to be coached hard, he probably wouldn’t have helped the team win anyway.
* Loved the story our Parker Gabriel did on how Mario Verduzco teaches Nebraska quarterbacks, especially the stuff about footwork. Speaking of good footwork, Iowa’s big men seem exceptionally skilled in that regard. Ask Tennessee’s bigs. Take a bow, Hawkeyes.
* How about Florida State’s length and athleticism? Wow. I believe to this day that Leonard Hamilton, the 70-year-old head hoops coach at FSU, was former NU athletic director Bill Byrne’s first choice to replace Danny Nee in 2000. The job went to Barry Collier, who was probably fourth or so on Byrne’s list.
* Nobody asked me, but I don’t think Moos will have to go that far down on his list.