Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

‘He’s an All-Around Great Player’: Those in the Know Like What They See From Casey Thompson

March 08, 2022

Of the storylines surrounding the Nebraska football team this spring—and there are many—the quarterback situation is perhaps the most enticing. That makes sense—after all, the quarterback is the most important position on the team. Generally, he’s the face of the program.

For the first time since 2018, Adrian Martinez won’t be commanding the offense. Instead, he’ll be vying for the QB1 role with a new team, Kansas State, in a new conference, the Big 12. He hopes to replicate what Wildcats’ offensive coordinator Collin Klein did during his quarterbacking days in Manhattan, but will have to beat out Kansas State’s backup from last year, Will Howard, a big and physical 6-foot-5, 242-pound tank who started three games last year while starter Skylar Thompson dealt with injuries.

One of Nebraska’s candidates to be QB1, Casey Thompson, is going the reverse route that Martinez took. The Texas transfer, who threw 30 touchdowns in four seasons with the Longhorns, is going from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, and according to one teammate, defensive back Marques Buford Jr., he’s already been seeing differences in how his current conference plays defense through film study.

“Casey is a pro, I’ll say that. Even off the field, not everybody talks about what happens off the field. I see Casey in here all day, every day,” Buford said. “He’s in here watching film, he’s not just reading our coverages, like, I know we’re going against each other in spring ball right now, but at the end of the day we’re going to be playing against other teams.

“I know he came from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, he’s just been going talking about really how Big Ten teams cover different than Big 12 teams, and really getting a fit in. I think he’s been doing a great job so far.”

It’s a five-man quarterback race this spring and potentially fall, depending on when head coach Scott Frost and first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple choose to name a starter. Thompson is one of two scholarship transfers added to the Huskers’ quarterback room over the offseason, the other being Chubba Purdy from Florida State. They joined two scholarship quarterbacks who were already in Lincoln, Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg. The lone quarterback recruit in the 2022 class, Richard Torres, is an early enrollee.

All the quarterbacks have been getting reps this spring. Last week, Whipple didn’t mess around when asked who took the first snap in drills—it was the veteran Thompson. Whipple also said he was the most impressive after one day, though he noted that could change daily.

Nebraska’s defensive coordinator likes what he’s seeing from those who’ve been throwing passes during spring practices. Though, Erik Chinander admits sometimes he doesn’t see who’s doing the throwing.

“So far they’ve done a really nice job from my end looking at them, but sometimes I don’t even know which quarterback is in there because I’ve got too much other stuff going on,” he said. “But I thought they’ve done a really nice job throwing the ball down the field, they’ve done a really nice job keeping themselves alive in the pocket. I haven’t seen them throw very many wild balls around out there, so that’s really good. So, so far so good, I think.”

After four practices, Buford has noticed Thompson’s pocket awareness and footwork. Thompson hasn’t been asked to run the ball as much as previous Frost quarterbacks, like Martinez and Smothers. He has 210 career rushing yards, five touchdowns and has never averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry in a season.

While the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, native is a pass-first quarterback, he’s still athletic enough to elude pass rushers while extending the play. Growing up in Oklahoma and playing for Newcastle High School, he showed what kind of athlete he was by rushing for over 3,000 yards and 47 touchdowns in his four seasons.

That athletic ability can help create big plays, something Nebraska was good at doing last year—it was second in the Big Ten in number of 70- and 60-yard plays (five and eight, respectively) and third in most 40- and 20-yarders (20 and 74, respectively).

“He’s an all-around great player,” Buford said. “He’s able to move around out of the pocket, but he’s not just going to go straight out of the pocket, he’s going to sit in the pocket, look for his reads, let the play develop before he just goes and runs.”

With Nebraska in the middle of installing the Whipple-Frost offense, that means Chinander’s defense is seeing things it hasn’t before, including a brand new quarterbacks. While what they’re seeing right now doesn’t make a huge impact on what Chinander wants to do, it does help that the players are seeing different passing and running concepts with new formations sprinkled in, too.

“I don’t think it effects what we do, but it’s been nice to see a bunch of different stuff,” Chinander said. “Every time you run a route versus cover three or quarters or whatever, every time we see a new concept, that’s something the kids have to adjust to, that’s something that we have to coach through, especially if we haven’t see it.”

Those who are in the know like what they see from Casey Thompson, who seems to be at the forefront of what can be considered the biggest storyline in a spring full of them in Lincoln.

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