Cole Conrad knows many players at many schools say the same thing. But he really thinks he’s in the best shape of his life.
The senior lineman from Fremont is measuring 6-foot-5, 300 pounds this spring. He added 12½ pounds of muscle and dropped five pounds of fat in the offseason. Though he called the offense’s performance “sluggish” Saturday, that isn’t how he would describe himself.
“I think I have the most muscle on my frame right now that I ever have,” Conrad said. “So that’s definitely a good thing.”
Conrad said he has been “just a little limited right now” but has been around and practicing the past few weeks. Last year’s starting center for seven games — the first three of the season and the final four after Michael Decker was hurt and Conrad had recovered from his own injury — said the offensive line is taking quickly to the new staff, and particularly position coach Greg Austin.
And while the line continues to train at various spots, Conrad said competition continues in earnest to earn a starting job. Whoever can learn the system and shows physical talent now will have an edge when fall camp begins.
“It’s important to establish yourself,” Conrad said. “I think in the springtime guys can make moves everywhere. I think springtime is great for some of those guys to work up, some guys to win position battles and things like that. So I think it’s great. Everybody’s competing and grinding — it’s just a good time.”
Praise for freshman center
Nebraska’s offensive line didn’t have its best day Saturday, Austin said, but will take the adversity and rebound from it.
The position coach noted, however, he liked the work being done by redshirt freshman walk-on Hunter Miller, the graduate of Cross County High School near Stromsburg who has taken advantage of injuries to two returning centers, Decker and Conrad.
“He’s the next man up,” Austin said. “We’re continuing to get him better with his technique and fundamentals, but it’s a necessity more than anything … he’s doing a pretty good job of hanging in there and rolling with the punches.”
Most of Nebraska’s new offensive playbook has been introduced to players this spring, offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Saturday, and the Huskers’ repetition-heavy practice style is building up a body of work that coaches can tweak and correct over the final two weeks before the April 21 spring game.
“A lot of the details are going to come from getting extra reps and watching film,” Walters said. “Making sure we’re champions in the film room. If we’re doing that, we’ll be where we want to be come fall.”
The combination of Nebraska’s aggressive, pressure-heavy defense throwing a lot at the offense — and coaches asking players to drink from a fire hose — means the offense “sometimes doesn’t look as good as it needs to be.”
» Nebraska’s offense doesn’t use a fullback, but Walters said the fullbacks — scholarship player Ben Miles among them — are getting work on special teams.
“Anywhere and anyplace they can help the team,” Walters said. “Because we don’t use that traditional fullback, their roles are kind of limited.”
» Brenden Jaimes is more comfortable at left tackle than right tackle, Austin said. Jaimes, forced into action as a true freshman, will benefit from that trial by fire heading into his sophomore season, Austin said.
“There’s nothing that can compare to the actual game reps that you get,” Austin said. “He knows the speed of the game, he knows the expectations. He’s going to go out there and excel next year.”
Conrad said Jaimes’ emergence at NU has been “pretty remarkable.”
“I don’t know if I could have played as a true freshman,” he said. “It’s just pretty remarkable what he’s done and is continuing to do.”
» Austin said backup guards include Boe Wilson, John Raridon, Broc Bando and Jalin Barnett. True freshman center Will Farniok of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is getting a look at guard, too.
» Sophomore defensive end Ben Stille said he put on 20 pounds — up to 280 — in his transition from outside linebacker.
» Several players Saturday referred to coach Scott Frost as the “No. 1 coach in the nation.”
» When asked about the progress of former junior college running back Greg Bell, Held had some specific advice for him before expanding to all his rushers.
“I want to see him try to outrun the guy, not cross his face and score — I told him that,” said Held, adding that Bell had a good workout. “But he did some really good things. He’s picking it up. I think our guys, they gotta get used to, when we’re running eight, nine, plays in a row and we’re going fast, you gotta be in great shape. I don’t want to have to substitute you. You better suck it up.
“When I was the head guy, I’d call it the little man. You gotta beat the little man in your head that’s telling you you’re too tired. You gotta be able to run that same rep like the first rep, because the defense is tired, too.”
» Deontre Thomas said he’s liking his move from nose tackle to defensive end to start his sophomore campaign. “I feel like I fit better there,” he said. “I want to do it, too. I can make more plays on the edge.”