Scholarship Returning: Marcus Washington, Isaiah Garcia-Castenada, Zavier Betts
Scholarship Lost: Omar Manning (done), Oliver Martin (done), Trey Palmer (NFL), Alante Brown (Michigan State), Kamonte Grimes (Northern Iowa), Shawn Hardy II (nowhere), Janiran Bonner (moved to TE), Decoldest Crawford (Louisana Tech), Victor Jones Jr (Liberty)
Scholarship Incoming: Josh Fleeks (Baylor), Billy Kemp IV (Virginia), Malachi Coleman, Jaidyn Doss, Brice Turner, Jaylen Lloyd, Jeremiah Charles, Demetrius Bell, D’Andre Barnes
Phil Steele Ranking in the B1G:
The first two position previews that we had with QB and RB were the top two position units according to Phil Steele when ranking them against other B1G teams (6th). RB makes sense, QB infuriates me since it’s a transfer, and WR has us sitting at 8th which is scary. And if you look at who we lost, the quantity is plentiful when you compare it to scholarships coming back. We also lost a ton of production. Rhule yesterday actually called the WR room “the biggest question on offense” as we have injuries there, and one staffer told me they were thin before fall camp even began.
There is some good news though…
Our RB preview we mentioned how it was one of the easiest positions to get impact players, I will say the same about WR. WR is not played in the trenches, so you can get by not being as strong as you need to be. Further, the playbook is pretty straight-forward for WRs. While there may be some routes that change based on coverage, it’s not as difficult as RB or along the line where protections and blocking schemes can hinder someone getting on the field.
But woof… look at the scholarship guys lost compared to who is coming back, and i’m only counting Betts because otherwise it would look worse as he took last year off essentially. That is a rough looking situation for our youngest coach and having to get them ready to go. Ok, dead horse beaten enough.
As we talked about with QB and what will be a common theme in these previews, the development, coaching, and S&C was absolutely god-awful during the previous regime. They recruited terrible players, and when they did get someone that could play like Wandale Robinson they would just transfer out. To highlight the lack of development, Nebraska’s leading receiver the last 2 seasons were one year graduate transfers in Toure and Palmer. We couldn’t even recruit a WR that we developed to a top WR on the team. Morgan in 2018, Spielman a Riley recruit in 2019 who transferred out, 2021 was Toure, and 2022 was Palmer. The only one Frost and company recruited was Robinson who promptly left for Kentucky once he became our main guy. What a joke.
Fortunately, the transfer portal affords you the ability to get some impact players. Billy Kemp is a shoe-in to start in the slot for us and Fleeks can be someone that knows what is expected of him as he was recruited to Baylor under Rhule. But make no mistake about it, Omar Manning, Oliver Martin, Alante Brown, all of those guys would have been better in 2023 to help us win some games than relying on first-year players here. With that said, the ceiling for some of these incoming freshmen are much higher than what we saw from Martin or Manning.
You also have the recruiting class which brought in 6 very good true freshmen. But if you remember what I said about Frost’s 2019 OL recruiting class, I feel somewhat similar about this WR group. Rhule has made note that he wants things that can’t be coached, even going so far as to say “If I can’t coach a guy that runs a 10.2 to be good at football, what am I doing?” I love it, I get what he’s saying. But I have cautious optimism. There are plenty of guys that are good at track and either don’t love football, or the speed doesn’t translate to the field. For example, one of our recruits chose us over Prairie View A&M. It’s not like the Texas or SEC schools weren’t aware of his elite speed, they chose not to offer. I have my doubts that you can all of a sudden make a track guy good at football, but I also understand that you can do things to help them out.
Art Briles once gave a speech that I was at where he had a 10.2 guy and they couldn’t figure out why he was always dropping balls on slant routes, they figured out he didn’t like contact. So they never ran him on short crossers again, just fly or seam routes where the defense had to account for him.
Listen, of course you want the Malachi Colemans and guys that are highly rated with good track stats, but you need to make sure they love football. Rhule is going to need to develop the guys that are track fast and were recruited lightly by football teams.
Let’s get into the players:
Billy Kemp IV – He transferred in from Virginia, and as we talked about with Sims, all you have to do is look to see if the fanbase is happy or sad to see someone leave if they will be good for you, and the Virginia fans were not pleased. Kemp IV will be our starting slot WR, and with so many veterans gone, he developed instant chemistry with Sims during the spring and summer. This will be your leading WR for the Huskers in 2023. He started 25 games for Virginia, and is in the top 10 all-time for career receptions and yardage. He also is a stand out punt returner that will more than likely start there for us as well.
Marcus Washington – Washington is your leading returning WR from 2022. He caught 31 balls for 471 yards and a touchdown in 2022. He transferred to Nebraska to play with his friend Casey Thompson from Texas, but as we all know Thompson transferred to FAU. I was worried that Washington may be a bit frustrated after that transfer and a coaching change, but luckily how thin we are creates an unbelievable opportunity for him to have a Palmer or Toure like season. Washington sat out much of the summer with a broken hand, and is working his way back this fall. He came back on Monday but tweaked a leg Tuesday, so hopefully it’s something minor. Hopefully he can ditch the injury bug.
Isaiah Garcia- Castenada – IGC showed what he was capable of immediately in Ireland where he caught 4 balls for 120 yards and a touchdown in his debut, only to see 3 targets the rest of the year and eventually got into it with Mickey Joseph and entered the portal. Luckily, with a coaching change we are back to having him in the fold, as we need him. I expect him to battle it out with Betts for an outside WR spot opposite Washington.
Zavier Betts – What an interesting one, Betts burst onto the scene during the Covid season and immediately showed flashes of why he was so highly ranked out of Bellevue West. In 2021, he played in all 12 games with 5 starts tallying 20 receptions for 286 yards as well as 3 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. His talent has never been deniable, it’s off the field he has to do the right things. It appears he is doing that. Betts has the ability to stretch the field like Rhule and Saaterfield want in case the defense starts collapsing down to stop our run. Can he bounce back after sitting out all of 2022? It’s tough, but with how thin we are I expect him to get it done even though he has been absent from practice as well as of late.
Josh Fleeks – A transfer in from Baylor, not sure how much time I should spend on this guy since he showed up to camp too fat and had to be sent home. He has made it back to Lincoln and it’s someone this staff is going to need to get ready to go:
Recap returners for a second:
So let’s just take a moment here to drive the point home, as i’ve seen people that think our WR room is loaded. We have 5 guys that have any Power 5 football experience. Fleeks is one of them that was sent home and just got back, Betts is another who took all of last year off and is sitting out currently, IGC is another who stopped playing after the first month and entered the portal so took last year off essentially, leaving us with just Kemp and Washington who played meaningful snaps in Power 5 football the season prior. Piling on, Washington had a broken hand and may have tweaked a leg, leaving us really only with Kemp who only played in 7 games last fall due to an ankle injury where he had 16 catches for 116 yards.
I just can’t believe how thin this posiiton group is, and some of the first-year guys are going to have to help us out. So let’s get into them…
Malachi Coleman – Let’s start with the big one here. The premier recruit from the city of Lincoln was a must get for this staff in 2023. But there are some definite red flags. He didn’t enroll early in the spring to try and get a track title, but ends up sitting out his track season due to injury. However, we all saw him sending videos out of 40 times to get us excited, coupled with coming to nearly every spring practice to have the media talk about the intrigue with him there. He sat out multiple times this summer, was sitting out the practice I was at, but managed to participate when the B1G network was there, and is back to sitting out again. He gives me some Daishon Neal vibes who wouldn’t go to home basketball games but would go to all away games so local media could ask him about his Husker commitment. He is a guy that can absolutely help us, much like Omar Manning. But he has to figure out if he can put in the effort to get on the field. If he has the want to, he has All-Conference all over him. And i’m not trying to shit on a kid when injuries are there, but as one strength coach told me, if you aren’t on the field you can’t help the team.
Jaidyn Doss – Doss was pointed out to me by Cavazos as a player to keep an eye on. He has been consistent in practice and they are needing someone to add depth. I don’t know a ton about him, but if he continues to be on the field and not miss reps, he’s a guy I expect to possibly get to 10 or 15 receptions as we will need one of these recruits to step up, especially with Coleman out for now. I would put him as our top recruit at this point in time.
Jaylen Lloyd – Another track star that was set to go to Florida in college for track, decided to give football a try once Rhule offered. And Rhule has singled him out as a player getting a lot of reps due to all of the injuries. However, I want to see the ability on the field as his natural talent is as good as it gets. Make me a believer.
Brice Turner – This is one of the guys i’m curious about. A track star with an offer from Prairie View A&M, can we make him into a Power 5 guy? I have to admit, I have my doubts. Again, prove me wrong Rhule.
Jeremiah Charles – Another track guy that didn’t go out for football until his senior year, he is a 47 foot triple jumper that Rhule is trying to make into a football player. Just prove it to me. We beat out North Texas for him.
Demetrius Bell – While not a track star, another guy that Rhule and staff found to try and bring speed to the team. Show me.
This preview was a bit sobering for me, as we lost a ton of guys and have to get players ready in a hurry from the portal or recruiting class. Again, WR is one of the easiest spots to play early, but we are razor thin here. Washington and Betts being out the last couple days made it so Hahn (walk-on) and Bullock (walk-on) were getting reps with the 1s. Bad news.
I have no doubt that Rhule and his team will get some of these guys ready, even some of the track stars i’m concerned about. But the reality is with Kemp and IGC returning punts, it only takes one injury for us to be in a bad spot.
Between how thin we are at WR and our pass blocking inability, that’s what is going to have us running a majority of the time whether it works or it doesn’t. Hopefully we can get a push.
Wrapping this up positively, I love our top guys. Kemp is going to be a stud, I always thought IGC was great, Betts we know what he can do, Washington will probably be our leading outside WR, but once any of those guys go down you are all of a sudden calling on guys that have never played in front of 90,000 people before on a Saturday.
Join us Friday when we go over TEs!
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