With a new offense and a new position coach comes a clean slate in the wide receiver room at Nebraska. One of the wideouts who hopes to take advantage is Alante Brown, the Chicago native heading into his third season in Lincoln.
Brown played in every game as a true freshman in 2020, though most of his contributions came as a kick returner. He caught just three passes for 41 yards and ran the ball once for 18 yards.
This past season, Brown filled a similar role, returning kicks while playing sparingly on offense — roughly 120 snaps in 11 games. Quarterbacks targeted him just four times all season, leading to three catches for 30 yards. After playing mostly in garbage time through the first half of the season, the coaches found snaps on offense for him in each of Nebraska’s last five games, though he still wasn’t very involved even when he was out there.
Brown said he didn’t think he got a chance to truly show what he could do last season.
“I did not show what I was capable of, making plays,” Brown said. “I didn’t really show my speed, my awareness in the open field, just making guys miss. So hopefully this year we can make that happen.”
The opportunity certainly seems to be there as Omar Manning is the team’s only pass-catcher who accounted for more than 200 receiving yards last season set to return (though Zavier Betts’ situation is currently up in the air).
Despite his meager production, Brown made a good early impression on his new position coach, Mickey Joseph.
“I didn’t know too much about him before I came here because he’s Chicago kid, but I can see he’s a kid that loves football … Alante loves it,” Joseph said on the first day of spring ball. “He loves the game. You can win with kids when they love the game. When they like it, you’re going to be in trouble. So one thing he brings to the room is leadership, and he works. He’s there all the time, he doesn’t miss, everything he gets in there is 100% and he’s tough.”
The love for the game Joseph spoke of showed up in Brown’s eagerness to take advantage of every opportunity he had to get better.
“When it’s time for routes on air and it’s a Saturday morning, he’s there,” Joseph said. “When the quarterback says we’re throwing routes on air at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, he’s there. When it’s time for meetings, he’s the first one in the room. He’s there.”
In addition to the extra reps on the field, Brown said he’s devoted himself to attacking the new playbook this offseason and to getting more detailed with his route-running. Part of that process is spending more time pouring over the film, critiquing his performance while focusing on the minor details like eye and hand placement, footwork and anything else that might slow him down. He’s not just looking at his own tape, though; he’s studying everything.
“Just having somebody that actually cares, not just about themself but just overall with how the whole room is performing, just helping them fix their mistakes, it’s not going to do anything but make our team better,” Brown said. “Say we’ve got 12 guys that can play, 12 guys are going to play.”
All that work seems to be paying off midway through spring as Joseph made note of the progress the young wideout has made.
“He’s doing a really good job,” Joseph said on Tuesday. “He gets better every day. He’s a kid that comes to work every day, he comes to get it done. He’s probably the most improved guy since the start of this process when I came in that I’ve seen so far.”
In a spring marked by injuries throughout the roster, Brown has managed to stay mostly healthy, really for the first time at Nebraska. He said his approach has changed and that’s led to the gains he seems to be making this spring.
“My freshmen and sophomore year I had injuries on both shoulders, tore my labrum and my rotator cuff in both shoulders,” Brown said. “Just being healthy, playing freely and just knowing the game has slowed down for me a lot. Just being in the film. Everything’s just come together.”
A former teammate who matched up with him numerous times in practice is expecting big things from the third-year receiver as well.
“I feel like once he does step on the scene this year, he will make an impact any time he’s on that field,” Cam Taylor-Britt said after Nebraska’s pro day on Tuesday. “That’s how I feel about it. He has this drive that a lot of people don’t have and I think it’s just because he didn’t get the chance to showcase that. And that’s what you want out of somebody who wants to be on the field and put their best foot forward. So once he gets that chance, I believe he’ll come out there and help the team out in the best way possible.”
Taylor-Britt isn’t there in practice to test him anymore, but the wide receivers are holding each other accountable. Brown credited Manning and newcomer Trey Palmer as the guys who are pushing him to keep making strides.
“Every time if practice isn’t going good, I look at Trey like, ‘Let’s go, brother,’ and vice versa,” Brown said. “With Omar, with all the guys because really, everybody’s ready to grind and ready. Mickey holds us to a high standard so he wants us to exceed that standard. We don’t want to do anything less than that.”
Brown is still relatively new to the wide receiver position as he played quarterback at Simeon High School in Chicago before spending a prep school year in Florida playing receiver. The Huskers saw the potential in him at that position and brought him to Lincoln, and after two years of development he feels he’s ready to break out.
“His routes are a lot better,” Joseph said. “His hands are really good to say he was a quarterback. But I think just the detailing on the routes — because we always say if we paint a pretty picture, the route will be completed. If it’s a bad picture, the route won’t be completed. I think Te’s done a really good job of that. To say that he’s been a quarterback, that’s not an easy transition from quarterback to receiver.”
Joseph’s arrival has somewhat rejuvenated Brown and others in that room. He brings a different personality to the staff than what the Huskers have experienced recently, and for players like Brown, things have really clicked with their new coach.
“If he doesn’t like anything, I’m going to fix it,” Brown said. “Anything that he tells us to do, we’re going to do it. if he wants it this way, we’re going to do it. His energy is different. It just gets us up and gets us ready to go.”
Whereas previously Brown felt the players had to supply their own energy and get themselves fired up every day, Joseph is now the one setting the tone at the start of practices and meetings. Brown credited the veteran coach for “bringing out that dog” in him and unlocking his potential.
“Having that dog in you, I feel like it’s in everybody; it just takes a certain person, it takes a certain way” Brown said. “Everybody gets the dog out differently. Mickey talks to me differently than he talks to Oliver [Martin] or he talks to Trey. He just knows how to talk to his kids, even when they’re tired. That’s what I’m saying. If you’re tired, bring that dog, give everything that you have.”
Alante Brown saw the field quite a bit during his first two seasons, but he doesn’t have a lot of production to show for it. If he has any say in the matter, that will change during the 2022 season as he looks to factor into the outside receiver conversation in a big way.
“Really you’ve got to have that dog turned on every time you step on that field,” Brown said. “When we’re in between them lines, it’s go time. That’s where you make your money. I’m trying to do something for my family so nothing’s going to stop me from doing that.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.