Well, this will be a fun one. New OC, new position coach, new transfer portal guys, new recruits… if anyone tells you what’s going to happen here and their name doesn’t end with Joseph, Whipple, or Frost, they are just guessing. So allow me to guess for a bit…
I’ve said that getting Whipple and Joseph hired basically make whether you are a 4th or 5th year guy here or a first-year guy here, you are all in the same boat. Really the only advantage a guy like Martin, Manning, Liewer, etc., have is that they know what Frost likes in a program. But it’s their WR coach and OC that they have to impress to get on the field. So experience really only gets you so far in terms of knowing what college is like in Lincoln, etc.
Let’s talk about what we lost from last year, while we discussed losing Austin Allen on Monday from the TE room, Nebraska also loses their leading WR Samori Toure from 2021. Toure had 46 receptions for 898 yards and 5 touchdowns. That means Nebraska’s top 2 pass catchers are gone. When you add to that the fact that we also lost a 4 year starter at QB, it means there’s a lot of work to do to not only find the right guys, but get them to gel in a new offense. Everything is new to these guys from where to freaking park for practice, to actually playing in this offense. Nebraska also loses their 4th and 5th leading receivers from 2021 in Zavier Betts (quit) and Levi Falck (graduated).
That is quite a bit of production lost and pertty eye-opening, but with the transfer portal being rampant nowadays, it’s not a tough situation to be in. I mean don’t get me wrong, would love to have a guy like Toure back or Stanley Morgan, but when you have a new OC, WR coach, and QB, does returning a seasoned guy to new everything really even matter? Further, wide receiver is probably the easiest position to get on the field in a hurry in college football. Strength is not really an issue, and you play outside the grown men on the lines, so really if you are fast/quick enough and can get the playbook down, your impact can be made quickly.
So what do we have returning? Omar Manning was third on the team last year with 26 receptions and 380 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mickey Joseph has mentioned him as one of the top guys now, and if you ever get to a practice or get to stand on the field next to that guy running a route, you can see why. A big presence that is smooth and physical… he has all the tools. I said with a new OC and position coach that things will go one of two ways for Manning and not in between, he will either thrive being held more accountable, or he won’t be on the team at the end of the year. As it stands now, I expect him to be one of our outside WRs and eclipse 30 receptions this year.
Our 7th leading WR from last year was Oliver Martin, who returns for what seems like his dozenth season of playing college football after heading to Michigan, then Iowa, and now landing in Lincoln. Martin battled injuries last year so never really got going, but did help in our punt return game as a sure-handed guy to have back there. Not exactly what he was thinking when he transferred here to be the guy that fair-catches a ball and gets our offense on the field. I see him battling out with Omar Manning for one of the outside spots. Looking at it from MJs perspective, you have a guy with an unbelievably high ceiling in Manning, or a guy that is consistent and much better than your average WR in Martin. Which one do you go with?
Another returning WR is Alante Brown, who had 3 catches for 30 yards last year, and I have to be honest I have zero idea why the kid didn’t have more production or play more. He is becoming more vocal in the room and possesses the skills necessary to be thought of in our top 3 at WR. The problem is I just haven’t seen enough from him to make any bold proclamation.
Two walk-ons that played last year and are back are Wyatt Liewer from O’Neill, Nebraska and Brody Belt from Omaha, NE. I liked what both of them brought to the table, but I have to be honest, if we are going anywhere you have to get players like the ones mentioned before on the field. I hate to break things down that way, but we haven’t made a bowl game in 5 seasons, and at Nebraska you should be able to recruit skill guys that are matchup problems.
Let’s move on to the transfers we brought in, starting with former 5 star WR Trey Palmer who followed Joseph up from LSU. He’s been every bit as advertised and I plan on Joseph using him as a “see, when you’re my guy you’re my guy” example for recruiting pitches. They played Palmer a lot at the slot this spring, but they are mixing and matching quite a bit this fall. I think they will see how guys like Brown and Garcia-Castenada do in the slot and plug Palmer in where necessary. Palmer had 30 receptions for 344 yards at LSU, and I expect that to be matched at Nebraska.
Speaking of Garcia-Castenada, he transferred in from New Mexico State where he had 37 receptions for 578 yards. What’s interesting is I would say that Nebraska has had more luck with transfers coming here from lower levels to play as opposed to grabbing guys from Ohio State, USC, etc. So this probably bodes well for IGC. With that said, he sat out this spring with an injury, so he has a lot of catching up to do. But I believe he could be firmly in the mix as he is very explosive. As mentioned earlier, I expect him and Brown to battle for the starting slot WR role.
The late addition transfer we brought in was Marcus Washington, who was a WR at Texas and followed Thompson up to Nebraska. He had 18 receptions for 277 yards last year and 2 touchdowns. While he’s relatively unknown to me and I think others have a bit better skill, his connection with Thompson from their days playing together may lessen that gap in a hurry.
We have 2 WRs from last years class in Kamonte Grimes and Shawn Hardy II that I still don’t know much about. If I had to guess, i’d tell you that they are going to fall victim to not being one of MJs “guys” and we may see them move on, but they are so young it’s impossible to tell at this point. Long story short, i’d be surprised to see them in 2022, but they have multiple years in front of them.
Nebraska grabbed 3 WRs in this years recruiting class in Decoldest Crawford, Janiran Bonner, and Victor Jones Jr. I haven’t really seen much so I would be speaking out of turn on these guys. With that said, to break into a room that has so many veterans and transfers would be really tough as true freshmen. Crawford probably has the leg up right now, but it’s early for them just like with Grimes and Hardy II.
So we went through a ton of guys, but really the biggest thing is going to be who grasps the playbook the best and who can gel with Thompson. As we’ve seen from previous years like when Kade Warner was the security blanket for Martinez, sometimes it’s not the most physically gifted guy. It can be the one where we know they will be in the right spot and is doing everything right.
Whipple likes to open up the running game with the passing game, so we will have plenty of opportunities to see what happens, but it’s going to be pretty neat to watch how this unfolds through the season. Things will be pretty easy the first 3 games, then Oklahoma and conference play starts happening and the rubber will meet the road. Don’t be shocked to see a starter in Dublin almost become non-existent later down the road. Spring/fall camp looks way different than B1G football in October and November.
Come back on Friday to read our OL preview, where things are pretty settled every where except center and one guard spot.
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