Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Counting Down Nebraska’s Most Important Newcomers: Nos. 12-10

May 29, 2022

The countdown goes on.

This is the third installment of our attempt at ranking Nebraska’s 18 scholarship newcomers—15 Division I transfers and three junior-college products—from least to most important.

This is a countdown, so we’re starting from No. 18 and making our way to No.1. If you’d like to see which players were in the first two batches of rankings, you can find them right here:

Nos. 18-16 | No. 15-13

As always, before we get start let’s define what we mean by least to most important. This isn’t a ranking about talent or what kind of statistical production the player had at his previous program. In this exercise, we ask ourselves questions like these: How important is this player to the position they play at Nebraska? How badly would it hurt the position if this player wasn’t there?

On with the countdown.

No. 12 | Kevin Williams Jr. | 6-foot-5, 330 pounds | Offensive lineman

There’s been change on the offensive side of the ball at Nebraska.

There’s a new offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple, a veteran coach of 40-plus years who is coming off a great 2021 campaign at Pittsburgh. He helped lead the Panthers to an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and maximize the potential of fifth-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns.

There are also new assistant coaches for the running backs (Bryan Applewhite), receivers (Mickey Joseph) and offensive line (Donovan Raiola).

On top of all that, there’s going to be a new starting quarterback for the first time in four years. Longtime starter Adrian Martinez transferred to Kansas State while the Huskers brought in two transfers at the position—Casey Thompson from Texas, the leading candidate to be QB1 right now, and Chubba Purdy from Florida State—to compete with who’s already in Lincoln, including Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg.

For all of that change to turn into success on the field, the offensive line will need to jell quickly. It’s a group that, for the most part, struggled last year trying to block Big Ten edge rushers. Three-year starter at center Cam Jurgens was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Starting right guard Matt Sichterman moved on the program as well.

Now Raiola—a first-time Division I offensive line coach—is tasked with determining who the best five linemen are and how they can fit together on the field. Oh, and he’s teaching his own style of blocking, which is different than what his predecessor Greg Austin preferred. And if that’s not tough enough, two of his projected starters, tackles Turner Corcoran and Teddy Prochazka, didn’t practice this spring as they both rehabbed injuries.

So, yes, there are plenty of moving parts on offense. Intriguing talent, sure, but not many knowns. If the Whipple-led attack is going to see success, it starts with the offensive line. And Kevin Williams Jr., an Omaha native, can help in that department.

Williams returns to his home state after spending four seasons at Northern Colorado, an FCS program, where he saw starts at both guard and tackle. He’s a big and strong veteran who has played a lot of football. While he might be on the outside looking in at a starting spot right now, that can easily change during fall camp. If he winds up not being a starter, having a backup with the playing experience like Williams is good to have if there’s an injury.

No. 11 | DeShon Singleton | 6-3, 205 | Safety

DeShon Singleton drew out a great quote from defensive backs coach Travis Fisher this past spring. Fisher was asked about his new addition from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College who had 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and two pass breakups in his lone season there.

“He’s big, and I can’t coach that. He can run, and I can’t coach that either,” Fisher said.

Fisher is right. Throw on Singleton’s film from Hutchinson and you’ll see a big, versatile athlete with a Big Ten-ready frame making plays. Singleton is the kind of athlete who can step on to a Big Ten field and not miss a beat physically. The only question is—and this goes for all newcomers to Nebraska’s roster—how quickly can he learn the playbook?

That understandably isn’t just going to happen right away. It’s a process, learning different words with new meanings and having enough confidence that it allows you to play hard and fast. Singleton spoke on how he was doing with the playbook prior to the spring game in April.

“As far as learning the playbook, I came a long way,” he said. “Everything is starting to become second nature now, and I’m starting to play fast. So really, right now I’m trying to work on perfecting that so I can play as fast as I can.”

Others at safety who may be in front of Singleton right now—guys like returning starter Myles Farmer and rising sophomore Marques Buford Jr.—have been in the program and, as Fisher likes to say, are old guys. They know defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s defense and where to be on every play.

Don’t be surprised to see Singleton with the first-team defense at times this season. Maybe he sees the field in specific packages when another safety is inserted.

No. 10 | Marcus Washington | 6-2, 191 | Receiver

The addition of Marcus Washington almost makes too much sense.

Following the departure of Zavier Betts from the program and New Mexico State transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda not being healthy enough to practice in the spring, the Huskers were looking to add another wideout to Mickey Joseph’s room. Marcus Washington, who entered the transfer portal while at Texas, was on the market and just last season was catching passes from Thompson.

It’s a no-brainer to bring in an experienced receiver who already has chemistry with the quarterback.

Washington spent the past three seasons with the Longhorns. His relationship with Thompson could put Washington in a unique position to contribute right away in the rotation, even if he didn’t go through spring ball in Lincoln. He’ll need to earn that right with Joseph of course.

During his three seasons in Austin, Washington caught 25 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. The former four-star prospect in the 2019 class out of Trinity Catholic High School in St. Louis is coming off his most productive year—he hauled in 18 catches for 277 yards and two touchdowns.

 

 

Against the best defenses Texas played—Baylor and Oklahoma State—Washington showed he’s capable of being a down-field threat. Against Baylor, Washington caught seven passes for 70 yards with a long of 22 yards. Against Oklahoma State, Washington split a couple unsure defenders for a 58-yard gain.

 

Nebraska needs to replace the best big-play threat it had at receiver last year, Samori Touré, who’s currently trying to make the Green Bay Packers’ roster. Washington showed flashes of being that guy at Texas. Maybe a change of scenery with his former quarterback will do the trick in Lincoln.

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