We will start our position previews with the quarterback spot. I have to give a warning with these offensive previews, a new OC, tons of new faces, i’m not even sure if we know what we are going to be doing. But at minimum we can dive into who we have and what i’ve seen from the one practice so far.
Gone is our four year starter Adrian Martinez. The guy that was looked at as “If Frost could go 13-0 with Milton, four star Martinez who ran our offense in high school is going to get us where we need to be” just never really got going. I’m not as low on Martinez as some people. Everyone always points to some of his turnovers and late game stats, but I actually attribute that to 3 things…
First, our OL play was so bad. Whenever that happens typically coaches will start inserting the QB into the run game. We got so bad that our bread and butter at times was a QB power with Mills or someone as our lead blocker. That’s not on Martinez. Secondly, I think we just had no one around Martinez to help him out so we asked him to do so much that he was bound to have a play or two that went bad.
But my third reason is why I wish Martinez was still here. Any of you that followed me from the message board know I really disliked Verduzco. From the first speech he gave where several Omaha area coaches got up and started rolling their eyes afterwards, he just seemed off to me. There are several coaches out there that are odd, but he was on another level. The way he coached was “you rarely set your feet when you throw in a football game so i’m going to teach you the bodies mechanics to throw without your feet set.” In turn you get some errant throws and when you are just teaching players to do abnormal techniques you are going to get turnovers and bad plays from time to time.
It wasn’t all bad with Verduzco in my opinion. His pitch resonated with the ultra-athletic QBs he was recruiting like Martinez, McCaffrey, and Smothers. “Hey kid, all of these teams are telling you that you need to work on mechanics or they are going to play you at another position, i’m going to teach you how to excel at QB maximizing your athleticism.” It was like a viagra pill for those recruits who weren’t sure if they had the arm strength, they were going to be taught to play with their strengths.
I only go on this rant because I would really like to see what Martinez could have done with a different QB coach. If Martinez stays healthy, I think people will be shocked what they see from him with good coaching down in Manhattan.
So in comes our starter Casey Thompson from Texas. Thompson threw for 24 TDs and 9 INTs and over 2,000 yards (Martinez 14/10, 2,863). Thompson was forced out at Texas due to an overhaul by head coach Sarkesian who is bringing in some top-tier talent, but it’s tough to ignore the passing differences we should have on our roster compared to last year. However, Thompson only rushed for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns while Martinez rushed for 525 yards and 13 touchdowns. While it’s tough to say how Whipple will use Thompson in the running game, it’s easy to say we don’t have as dynamic as a runner starting for us this year. I think Thompson will be capable to make teams pay if they forget about him, but he’s not someone other teams will be overly worried about.
So just like in 2021 when I told people there was no competition for the starting QB job, 2022 brings us the same thing. With that said, the backup QB spot is what will be very interesting to watch. Right now you have Logan Smothers who was recruited to another offense going against Chubba Purdy, the Florida State transfer who left the team mid-season in 2021. This one will be fascinating to me, as I would give the leg up to Purdy who actually has a start for Florida State under his belt. But Smothers needs some credit as he has been able to keep up with the transfers and hold his own. Again, if I were a betting man I’d take Purdy here, but the wildcard is if Whipple figures out that Smothers’ legs are a threat to defenses with some special packages designed for him, I think you could see some significant playing time.
One of the other QBs that intrigues me is Heinrich Haarberg out of Kearney Catholic. If you would have asked me when Whipple was hired who the darkhorse is, this is it. Haarberg had Auburn coming after him hard in the recruiting process due to his arm strength, and at 6’5″ he has the tools to get where he needs to be. If we move off of Smothers as a #2 this is who I would tab to take his spot to fight Purdy for the nod after Thompson is gone.
Last scholarship QB is Richard Torres who is a true freshman from Texas. While I don’t know a ton about him, Torres had a knee injury his senior year of high school then got here for the spring to learn the offense. Further, I can also tell you that he probably has the strongest arm on the team, he just needs to know where it goes. He probably will take a year or two to adjust to college life and ball, but if Whipple is going to throw it as much as he says then not a bad option for later down the road.
Of course, we also have walk-on Matt Masker (also of Kearney Catholic). I always admire the walk-ons, especially at QB. This position isn’t like others where multiple players play. Typically teams have one guy and stick with him, that’s why you see more QBs enter the portal once the depth chart shakes out. If nothing else, Masker is the most seasoned guy here with how Frost wants things to look in practice. But you never know, maybe he can make a push for some playing time against teams like North Dakota.
I like what Frost and Whipple did in the offseason. If you are going to cut your 4 year starter loose, you have to give yourself options. They went into the portal and grabbed two guys with starting experience.
When I look at it from a Thompson to Martinez trade, it’s tough to tell if we upgraded or not. People seem to be giddy over Thompson and think he is so much better, but it’s hard for me to say that the guy that got ran out of town at Texas is going to be better than the guy we ran out of town at Nebraska.
Further, I understand that Thompson stated our offensive line is better than Texas’ and people really ran with that. I think it’s a good example of the offseason hype-machine. I’m not mad at Thompson for saying it, he needs to talk us up. But if the media or fans really take a step back and realize that in 2021 our line was definitely a liability, we lost our best OL to the draft in Cam Jurgens, our next two best OL were out when the comment was made due to injury, and our fourth best guy is suspended for the 2022 season. You look at all of that and the statement basically is trying to say that all of our backups that didn’t play last year were better than the OL that started down at Texas. That’s tough for me to get behind. I’m sure we will be better this year than we were in 2021 with playcalling going to their strengths, but I just can’t hear that and believe it. I’ll believe my eyes, not my ears.
Last thing on this point, I have to believe Thompson had better skill players down there as well. Texas had a first-team all-conference RB, WR, and OL in Thompsons only year as starter in Austin. Their WR was chosen freshman of the year in the Big12 as well. Since Scott Frost has been our coach (4 years), Nebraska has only had one first team all-conference player on offense, and that was last year in Austin Allen. To hammer the point home, Thompson had 3 in one season that he got to play with. I’m not saying we don’t have first team all-conference players on the roster potentially, i’m just saying Thompson was surrounded by really good players and a really good offensive mind in Sarkisian.
To circle it back positive, I do think we are going to look much better offensively with Whipple calling the shots instead of Lubick and instead of Verduzco at the position meetings/practices. That will go a long way. I also think guys like Trey Palmer and the additions we made to our WR and RB room can help a lot. So I think we have some pieces here.
I just have caution with this because rarely do you get rid of an entire offensive staff, get rid of your 4 year starter at QB, get a new QB, and everything just gels instantly. There will be some growing pains. But I do think in the end this transformation we have made is going to work out better for us than any of the past 4 years. Here’s hoping Thompson and Whipple can make it work in a hurry, as Dublin is right around the corner.
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