By Scottie Spinazola
The grading scale is skewed a bit due to starters and other higher profile newcomers playing only a sliver of the game.
Also, the “thud” format left much to be desired. That being said, here are position grades from the Husker spring game:
QUARTERBACKS – A
Texas transfer and junior quarterback Casey Thompson started the game with the first team, but only played two series and threw four passes, completing three for 31 yards. The outing did not offer much to grade, other than poise in the pocket and short-throw accuracy.
Sophomore Logan Smothers appeared to be running No. 2. After a season where he got to showcase his skills in a few games, Smothers looked rusty in the new system and ended his day 5-for-14 for 46 yards. He had a few nice throws but also a few head-scratchers.
Florida State transfer and redshirt freshman quarterback Chubba Purdy only had a few practices due to a foot injury but looked the most polished of the quarterbacks. He completed five of his 10 passes for 63 yards and added a pair of scrambles for eight yards.
Purdy’s best throw came when he hit redshirt freshman tight end AJ Rollins on a corner route. Purdy fit the ball between two defenders for 27 yards, and Rollins made a nice grab. Purdy also looked fast on his feet. He showed that his future is bright.
Others to get on the field were redshirt freshman Heinrich Haarberg, junior Matt Masker and redshirt freshman Jarrett Synek. Out of that group, Haarberg was the most efficient, going 4-for-7 for 78 yards with a 34-yard TD to redshirt freshman receiver Kamonte Grimes.
Synek had a 42-yard TD pass to redshirt freshman receiver Ty Hahn and also ran for a 16-yard TD.
Overall, it was not fancy and the real offense under Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, wasn’t really on display, but the quarterbacks did what was asked of them and showed savvy and depth. It was a good collective effort.
RUNNING BACKS – A
The thud format pretty much ended any true evaluation, other than to see if the backs knew what they were supposed to do and where they were supposed to go. That said, there was some speed and pass-catching ability on display.
JUCO transfer Anthony Grant showed a good burst and decent speed with a 60-yard touchdown run. He has poise, earned at Florida State and junior college, and made a catch for 15 yards.
It appears, at the moment, there is a solid top three, with a pair of sophomores, Jaquez Yant and Ramir Johnson, and Grant. The format didn’t allow Yant or Johnson to display much.
Running back suddenly looks to be an area of depth. Remember, Gabe Ervin will also be in the mix, as will two incoming freshmen and maybe even well-traveled Markese Stepp.
Those kinds of player numbers indicate that Whipple wants to run and run it hard. Here is where the spring game did offer a glimpse of Whipple’s offense. Outlet passes and two-back sets will give the quarterbacks a big break come fall. No longer will the quarterback be the leading rusher.
RECEIVERS – B
Coach Scott Frost and Whipple said the aerial attack, as well as the bulk of the offensive playbook, would not be divulged. They weren’t kidding. Without a full display by the receivers and a secondary not attacking as it would in a real game, a higher grade here would be misleading and, frankly, unearned. That doesn’t mean these guys won’t live up to the hype.
LSU transfer Trey Palmer and senior Omar Manning all but had the day off. New Mexico State transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda did have the day off. Oliver Martin grabbed one ball. Alante Brown caught none. The top receivers were not the highlight of the game, but some younger players showed well.
Young tight ends did too. Rollins and redshirt freshman tight end Nate Boerkircher finished the game with four and two catches. With arguably the top four tight ends out due to injury, the two younger Huskers stepped up.
A lot will be expected out of the tight ends in the new offensive scheme.
OFFENSIVE LINE – C+
The offensive struggles in the first half could have been because the offense was not attacking, nor showing much, but the line playing without sophomore tackles Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran definitely did not help. New offensive line coach Donovan Raiola will need to get this group up to speed once fall rolls around.
The line’s pass protection is what brought down its grade. The run blocking seemed to be coming along nicely. As the game went on, the run game started to show. That might be because the thud drills were over, but still, there was some good work being done.
DEFENSIVE LINE – A
The defensive front applied constant pressure and did a good job of shedding blockers and clogging holes in the first half.
The quarterbacks were rarely comfortable. The tackles were able to apply pressure and the ends would contain. Junior outside linebacker Garret Nelson found a home in the quarterback’s personal space. In the middle, the most notable player was sophomore Nash Hutmacher, who, at 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, was a disrupting presence. Sophomore Ty Robinson, at 6-6, 305, was also a handful. Some bad news for Nebraska came about 11 days after the game when junior Casey Rogers (6-5, 295) announced he was entering the portal. That makes depth even more of a concern, giving more weight to Frost saying that if the right lineman is available, NU would be active in the portal.
LINEBACKERS – A
This group had nine of the top 10 leading tacklers in the game. That’s a hollow stat, considering that for a half, a touch was considered a tackle, but it shows the ’backers were in the right spots and shedding some blocks.
The leader of the group was a bigger and faster Nelson, who finished with two tackles and two sacks.
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Jimari Butler could be a factor going forward. He had six tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry, and his speed was evident.
DEFENSIVE BACKS – C+
Because of the format in the first half, it’s hard to get a read on this position. Here is how Frost put it: “I thought the DBs played well. Quinton Newsome had a good day, he had a really good spring, and we are going to have to count on him. He’s been the No. 2 guy for us a couple years here and he needs to step up. Myles Farmer needs to step up in the backend. Those two need to transition from following to leading.”
There is lots of talent and length at the corner and safety spots, but it was difficult to tell from the spring game how ready they are.
A work in progress. A 63-yard punt received the first loud roar of the day. Other than that, there was little to see here, thus the non-grade. It’s no secret that special teams need dramatic improvement.