For many college football players in their third, fourth or fifth years in a program, the days of “potential” are generally over. Time to realize that potential. Quickly. Or risk being overtaken by younger players.
These are the players who need to prove it. At Nebraska, there are several and — good news for them — they get a blank slate with a chance to prove it to a new staff.
The Huskers are coming off a 4-8 season. So few players can feel comfortable in their starting spots; after all, they didn’t win many games in those roles.
For veteran players with still much to prove, again, that’s good news. Their sense of urgency syncs up with a coach’s open mind.
Can all the pieces fit together for these eight? Time to see.
Outside linebacker Alex Davis: Having just played one season of high school football, Davis was going to be a project once he reached college. It’s his third spring on campus, and he has a career 1.5 sacks. Davis will be pushed by plenty of backups, but he’ll have a shot to start and a clean slate with a new staff. Davis has the size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) to be effective.
Offensive tackle Christian Gaylord: He’s a tackle and Nebraska is in need of tackles. Gaylord has appeared in 23 games, mostly on special teams, and he’ll have every chance to become a starter on this team. With Nick Gates declaring for the NFL draft, NU has two guys — Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok — who have played most of their careers at tackle and a former walk-on, Cole Conrad, who played tackle in a pinch in 2016.
Defensive end DaiShon Neal: At 6-7, 275 pounds, Neal has prototypical size. With three career tackles, Neal doesn’t have ideal production. With Ben Stille sliding in at defensive end, Neal will have to battle for playing time.
Defensive tackle Peyton Newell: A fifth-year senior, Newell could help provide depth to a defensive line that needs it. To this point, Newell hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup or get many backup repetitions.
Interior offensive linemen John Raridon and Boe Wilson: Third-year sophomores, Raridon and Wilson were part of a strong 2016 offensive line recruiting class. Reporters have heard their names since they arrived and, in that second spring on campus, it’s time to see if the duo can push presumed starters Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer at guard.
Running backs Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo: Nebraska’s two leading rushers from 2017 should, in theory, be top candidates to repeat in that role. Yet nothing is guaranteed for these two seniors, who have been part of some of the Huskers’ worst rushing offenses over the past several years. Both can catch the ball, and both haven’t had much open space for running in 2016 and 2017. Neither, though, would be considered heavy favorites to start headed into this spring.