Circumstances are aligning for Jaylin Bradley to prove himself. Now coaches are eager to find out if the running back can.
The sophomore from Bellevue West didn’t get mentioned by the Nebraska staff last fall as he disappeared into the depth chart. After playing in seven games as a true freshman in 2017, he didn’t step on the field in Scott Frost’s first season as coach.
But if ever there was a chance at redemption, it’s this spring.
Leading rusher Devine Ozigbo graduated. Maurice Washington missed Monday’s practice and will remain limited as he works through his legal situation. Early enrollee Wan’Dale Robinson, a receiver/back hybrid, even sat out Monday with a slight hamstring strain, and senior Wyatt Mazour just returned after missing time with an injury.
And though redshirt freshman walk-on Brody Belt has received some praise from coaches, Bradley is the Huskers’ most veteran and healthiest back this spring.
But that’ll change when junior college transfer Dedrick Mills and true freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins arrive this summer. So the time for Bradley to impress is now.
Running backs coach Ryan Held said Bradley has “trimmed up” from last season, when he was listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters said he’s in shape and understands the offense.
“He’s getting better with those opportunities,” Held said. “The more reps you get, the better you’re going to be. We need to see what Jaylin can do. He’s a guy that has shown signs of really good things, so we gotta be more consistent in that. Because, again, come fall there’s more guys coming.
“So this is your opportunity. You better make the most of it. … You couldn’t ask for a better situation right now to show what you can do.”
Williams vies for starting spot
Mike Williams was supposed to be Nebraska’s deep threat last year, able to take the top off the defense and add a new dynamic to the passing attack.
But that didn’t happen.
Williams hardly saw the field in the latter part of last season. The reason? He didn’t block well enough.
“I told him from day one, that’s what’s gonna keep him off the field, is his blocking, is his physicality,” Walters said.
Williams caught 12 passes for 122 yards after transferring from East Mississippi Community College, where he averaged 23 yards per catch. He had one catch longer than 20 yards last season.
So Williams said he’s focusing on blocking. He’s one of the strongest guys in the weight room, Walters said. He just has to trust his technique.
Walters sees a lot in Williams, comparing him to Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill.
“He’s a smaller guy, but he’s explosive. He’s got good speed. He can get in and out of his breaks,” Walters said. “When he plays fast he’s a good football player.”
Beyond JD Spielman, the wide receiver positions are wide open, Walters said, so Williams will have a chance to secure a starting spot.
Defense ‘looks a lot better’
The Huskers are back in pads, and Frost has liked the sound of the collisions so far on defense.
“I really think the whole defense looks a lot better,” Frost said.
The defense finished near the bottom of the Big Ten last season in several statistical categories. Nebraska returns most of its starters but will have open spots all over the field, particularly in the secondary.
Frost, like many coaches this spring, praised what the defensive backs have done so far.
“Once you know what you’re doing, you have an opportunity to do it faster and with more confidence, and kinda seeing that from everybody on that defensive side,” Frost said.
» The running backs emphasized gaining lean muscle mass for being explosive on the field, Held said. No body builders allowed.
“We’re not getting ready for Cancun and spring break,” Held said. “We’re getting ready for being an explosive athlete on the field.”
» The defensive line had the most visible strength improvement from the offseason, Held said.
“The Davis brothers and (Ben) Stille and those guys are just more explosive,” Held said. “… You can just see a difference.”
» The center battle “is going,” offensive line coach Greg Austin said. Candidates continue to be Cameron Jurgens, Will Farniok, Hunter Miller and AJ Forbes.
“They know what the job is, they know what the procedure is,” Austin said. “So the best guy’ll win it.”
» Sophomore offensive lineman Trent Hixson worked more at left guard Monday after spending much of last week on the right side. Austin said the Omaha Skutt grad is a better run blocker than pass blocker right now.
“He plays with his hair on fire,” Austin said. “If you can get a guy that plays with their hair on fire, there’s always going to be technique things that you’re working on. Always. The hardest thing to coach is effort. It’s like speed — you can’t coach speed.”