Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Mickey Joseph Wants to Ignite a Battle in the Husker WR Room; That Attitude Can Help Several

December 19, 2021

Maybe he meant it as a sales pitch, a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to anyone listening who might still have some eligibility left at the collegiate level. My guess is he was simply speaking openly and honestly about this wondrously weird process coaches go through in the final weeks of November and into December anymore.

But when Mickey Joseph, Nebraska’s new wideout coach and passing game coordinator, said “We could have went other places, but at the end of the day I think Scott’s got this program going in the right direction,” all of me felt like that was a subliminal message, intentional or not.

That is, after all, the whole recruiting game, isn’t it? Hello, 4-star with lots of offers to go lots of places in much nicer weather much closer to home. Come play here instead. This is going in the right direction. 

The message from Nebraska at the moment is one of optimism. Look at the additions in the last two weeks! Mickey Joseph is big on his own. A 4-star wideout picked Nebraska sight unseen because of the relationship and trust in Joseph. Mark Whipple can walk into a home or high school and say, “Do you know who Kenny Pickett is?” 

New coaches tend to breathe new life, and boy do things feel spry right now. 

It’s hard to not be encouraged by Joseph. 

“I never seen a bad coach with good players,” he said this week in his first public meeting with reporters since his hire. “And I never seen a good coach with bad players. So, I don’t mind being known as a recruiter, because I know I can coach football.”

Joseph has good players available to him at Nebraska. His job—as it is with all coaches—is to make those players better. When he talks about how one can go about accomplishing that goal, he strikes a chord I haven’t necessarily heard around here in a hot minute, at least on the offensive side of the ball. 

“I don’t really want it to be friendly,” he said. “I want it to be professional. It don’t matter if they don’t like each other. Now when we get off the field, we like each other. That’s keeping it professional. … I want them to be upset at each other, you know, because that might be part of losing close games.”

Feels like him and Travis Fisher will get along nicely. Fitting that’s your wideout coach and your defensive backs coach.

Battles should be intense. Nebraska has added 4-star corner Jaeden Gould and highly sought-after wideout Decoldest Crawford. It has added a 4-star transfer corner in Tommi Hill and a wideout in Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda who had a better season this past year than any returning wideout on the Husker roster. 

“We’re going to get after each other because if we can battle with each other within that room, when we get to the DBs we’re about to eat them up,” Joseph said.

Inject some talent into the room with that mindset and things get interesting, for everyone. 

That can apply across the board, as well, if the team adopts the same mindset. 

In that vein, I have four names who could potentially stand to benefit a great deal from the offseason changes of the past few weeks:

Zavier Betts, second-year freshman wideout

Of course, right? He’s the top name on everyone’s mind. He was the first name that jumped to mind when Joseph was announced. He’s arguably the player on the roster with the highest ceiling regardless of position. He’s averaging 15 yards per touch over the course of his first two seasons. He’s a 6-foot-2 wideout with a catch radius and Jetts. If there’s an NFL player in there, and I think there is, Joseph is the one to get it out. He’s done it before. 

Markese Stepp, fourth-year sophomore running back

In all honesty, I wonder if Stepp regrets transferring to Nebraska. The position coach he originally committed to was fired before his first year in Lincoln was up, and then the school he left hired one of the best offensive minds in football. This is a curious case for a player who has been in school for four years now and has yet to really get a chance. The lack of opportunity at USC brought him to Lincoln, but then it was more of the same. You obviously have to wonder what the weeks look like, but Stepp had a 100-yard game in NU’s second outing on only 18 carries, then had only 24 carries in the final 10 games. Rahmir Johnson ran hard until injury. Gabe Irvin Jr. looked very promising until injury. What kind of offseason are those two in for? And what kind of ground can Stepp make up while they take it easy in recovery? Joseph’s success so far suggests Nebraska is plenty attractive still with the right coach making the ask; does NU look for the same kind of profile out of its next running backs coach? That’ll impact how this all goes as well. Let’s see what a fully healthy offseason can do for Stepp.

Alante Brown, second-year freshman wideout

Brown has a shiftiness and a speed to his game that’s just enticing. His skillset is like a drug, to me what the Philadelphia 76ers have been in the past to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Just can’t quit it. Brown hasn’t gotten any kind of consistent opportunity on offense through his first two seasons, and he has been asked more often than not to wave his arms as a kick returner. Here was the top overall prep school player in the class of 2020 and a 4-star recruit by 247Sports. That talent that made him such an exciting prospect is still in there and someone is going to help him realize it, either at NU or elsewhere. Like with Betts, I’ll be curious to see if Joseph gives the 5-foot-10 Chicago native more of a chance. What’s stopping Nebraska from giving Brown an audition for the role it hoped to initially put, say, Wan’Dale Robinson in? 

Henry Lutovsky, first-year freshman lineman

Forgive the language here (for those who get the reference), but Lutovsky feels like a quintessential BAMF Midwest offensive lineman. An absolute beast of a first-year player, Lutovsky showed up looking more senior than some of Nebraska’s veteran linemen. NU has already added a piece up front with Kevin Williams Jr., a transfer from Northern Colorado with nearly 20 games of starting experience at both guard and tackle. He should factor in to new line coach Donovan Raiola’s plans. After a disastrous 2021 season, I wonder if Ethan Piper gets another look. Teddy Prochazka’s injury recovery muddies the tackle picture. But following the season the offensive line had, no one is owed anything when it comes to the two-deep. With Cam Jurgens jumping to the NFL, Nebraska’s lack of development at center behind him could mean a guard leaves the picture at the spot and moves to the middle. Lutovsky could make moves amid the storm. Nebraska needs nasty. There wasn’t enough push off the ball, and I’d wager Lutovsky could make a brick wall shudder. Let’s see what Raiola can get out of him. 

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