Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Samori Toure (3) waves to fans after their football game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

As Huskers Say Goodbye to Seniors, Uncertainty Remains in Some Spots on Team

November 26, 2021

Nebraska honored 19 players for senior day before Friday’s matchup with Iowa. Some are seniors who have exhausted their eligibility. Some are juniors who have decided to move on. Some are still uncertain about what’s next and have decisions to make regardless of their participation in Friday’s pregame ceremony.

Damion Daniels and Deontre Thomas are two who participated in Nebraska’s senior day ceremony that could still return for another year in 2022. Neither have officially confirmed their plans, although coach Scott Frost did say earlier in the week that some players who chose to walk may still return for one more year.

For someone like defensive lineman Casey Rogers, he trusts the decisions that have yet to be made. If players like Daniels and Thomas opt to move on, he feels confident he—alongside defensive lineman Ty Robinson—would be ready to take over the defensive line room.

“They have decisions to make,” Rogers said post-game. “I trust them to make the right decisions for themselves. When it comes down to that, a lot goes into it like family, what they want. I hope we get some of them back . . . It’s hard losing family. Those guys have been such a crucial part of our d-line room for so long, since I’ve been here.

“Anything without them is kind of a weird thought but on the other side of that, I think Ty and I are kind of ready to take over that room.”

Rogers joked that some people have said Nebraska “looks like we’re cursed.” It’s felt like that at times for him too, but he focuses more on the opportunity he had all season.

“. . . It was an honor to go out and play with those guys, especially those seniors,” Rogers said. “I’ll never forget Stille, who kind of showed me the ropes a little bit and I’m kind of happy to take over what he left. I’m never going to let him down. He did a great job.”

Uncertainty remains elsewhere on the team, too, as Nebraska transitions into the offseason. One room in particular that has seen a lot of change in the last few months and will see even more in the months to come is the running back room. First, the group has been without key depth throughout the season. That’s due to both injury and departures. Players like Rahmir Johnson found a groove only to be injured. Sevion Morrison put his name in the transfer portal. There have been inconsistencies with the group in practice too—wide receiver Brody Belt mentioned Jaquez Yant specifically for an incident he had off the field—which has made things more difficult.

For Belt, he found himself utilized more and more as a running back as a result of the uncertainty and lack of depth.

“I think the room has really dwindled down over the past couple of weeks,” Belt said. “And, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a running back and receiver. I’ll just . . . They throw me in there and I’ll do whatever they want me to do. But we’ve had some injuries, some pretty big injuries and with Sevion (Morrison) leaving and stuff, they kind of threw me in there.”

The running backs will also have a new coach soon. Former running backs coach Ryan Held was one of four coaches fired following the Huskers’ loss to Ohio State. Ron Brown, who previously coached Nebraska’s running backs as part of coach Bo Pelini’s staff from 2011–14, helped coach the room over the final weeks of the 2021 season. He is currently in his fourth season on Frost’s staff and serves as the senior offensive analyst for the team.

“I’m hoping they find, you know, the right guy up there and that they’re going to make the right decision,” Belt said.

There’s also uncertainty at quarterback, where four-year starter Adrian Martinez could opt to return for another year. He was out against Iowa following shoulder surgery, meaning Logan Smothers received his first career start in Martinez’s absence. Smothers completed 16-of-22 passes for 198 yards and rushed 24 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns. In the first half alone, he was 5-of-5 for 58 yards passing and had 14 carries for 64 yards rushing.

From Belt’s perspective though, both Smothers and Martinez have a similar vibe under center which is beneficial. Smothers has room to grow, but the general consensus among teammates was that he did well for his first outing. The Huskers seem confident in whomever leads them at quarterback in 2022, even if they don’t know who that is yet.

For now, the Huskers have a lot of questions. Who is returning for another year? Who will fill the open positions on the staff? Unfortunately, there aren’t many answers yet but they’ll come soon. At least that’s the hope, especially as Nebraska looks toward what’s next.

More news and notes: 

>> Rogers already planned to have his knee looked at in the offseason, but Friday solidified the need for surgery.

“I might be the only player in history to get hurt in victory formation,” Rogers said. “Kind of just did what I did again, which I knew could happen at any point throughout the year. It’s fine though. I mean, I planned on getting it fixed anyway so I kind of got my answer. The question was, ‘Do I get it fixed or do I not?’ And you know, God works in mysterious ways and gave me that answer.”

>> Special teams is something that has plagued Nebraska all season long. How important is it to get fixed in the offseason?

For Nouri Nouili, he wasn’t on the field for the blocked punt—he’s on field goal however—but he recognizes how vital it is that Nebraska fixes its special teams woes.

“It’s the most important thing we need to fix,” Nouili said. “Everything else works. I’ll play on punt team, or whatever they need help in. It’s uncommon for an offensive lineman to be on punt or something like that but shit, we need it and at some point we need to fix that because it’s been struggle all season.”

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