Two transfer portals, winter workouts and an entire spring season have passed. There’s now a clearer picture for Nebraska’s scheme and personnel. Hail Varsity is taking a closer look at what we’ve learned about each position now that the spring season is over and the portal is closed.
Previous resets: Quarterbacks, Running backs.
Nebraska’s 2023 wide receiver room could be broken down into two camps—veteran and promising. A collective of young receivers arrive later this month and represent a shift within the program’s vision. The 2023 spring season already provided a glimpse of the former.
The most familiar of faces to Husker fans within this group is Marcus Washington. He transferred from Texas ahead of the 2022 season and finished a distant second on the team with 31 catches for 471 yards. Other than Washington, Nebraska returns no primary pass catcher who tallied more than five catches last season (Anthony Grant logged 18 catches from the backfield). It’s worth noting Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda had five catches before his production dropped with the coaching change and then altogether when he entered the transfer portal. He’s back on the roster this season, as is Zavier Betts, who sat out the 2022 season.
Several others return without any breakout performances to their name. Cooper Hausmann, Ty Hahn, Barron Miles Jr., Roman Mangini, Taveon Thompson, Alex Bullock and Elliott Brown made contributions throughout spring. The room dwindled slightly this spring with the departures of Victor Jones Jr. and Shawn Hardy II through the transfer portal. Jones is a redshirt freshman and Hardy is a sophomore.
Billy Kemp IV is the new headline name in the group. He finished fourth in Virginia program history with 192 catches and comes to Lincoln for a final season of college ball. Rhule’s coaching staff brought him in as a dependable and versatile set of hands with explosive speed. Former Baylor receiver Joshua Fleeks also transferred to Nebraska for a final season with a familiar coaching staff.
New wide receiver coach Garrett McGuire likes the veteran savvy of the group. He complimented Washington and Kemp throughout the spring and knows Fleeks well from being high school teammates at one point. McGuire shied away from individually naming standout performers in the spring because he wanted walk-ons like Bullock, Brown and Mangini to be noticed for their work ethic as well.
“I think we’re all in different stages in that room,” McGuire said of the room’s development during the spring. “We’ve got guys who are in their sixth year and we’ve got guys who are in year two or three.”
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield likes the different body types and skillsets each provides. To varying degrees, they were able to showcase those during the Red-White Game. Washington was the only receiver with with more than two catches in the scrimmage. He ran crisp routes and came back to the ball when needed. He also secured catches when needed. Quarterback Jeff Sims rolled to his right to avoid pressure and fired a ball on the run to Washington. The returning receiver went to the ground to ensure he caught it for a first down. Kemp and Hahn both made two catches. Kemp utilized his speed to create separation from his corner and Sims put a 24-yard gain into his chest during the first quarter.
Route combinations, typically working against five defensive backs, included working different levels. The Huskers worked largely with short-yardage routes and stayed away from a true deep ball. Betts, Fleeks and Brown were all limited to minor gains on their catches. Against an aggressive defense that forces the offense to make calls, receivers took advantage of miscommunications when they could. Kemp caught an easy two-point conversion from Heinrich Haarberg on a busted coverage. Kemp lined up behind Shawn Hardy II on the outside. The two corners followed Hardy out of the stack to the inside and left Kemp unattended on the out route.
Receivers also showed potential in the run game. End arounds with Kemp showed the staff not only wants to get the ball into the hands of its speedy receivers, they want receivers to block downfield. Physical receivers like Washington and Betts showed they can open running lanes on the outside.
Quarterbacks utilized their check downs often in the spring game. That includes running backs, tight ends and even receivers staying in flare routes for reliable modest gains. Frequent check downs won’t typically result in explosive plays but, statistically, it limits the chances of turnovers and could cause opposing defenses to pressure the line of scrimmage. That’s when the Huskers’ potential speed becomes its biggest asset. And speed is on the way.
Six potential receivers arrive this summer. That’s Malachi Coleman, Jaidyn Doss, Brice Turner, Jaylen Lloyd, Jeremiah Charles and Demetrius Bell. Lloyd just recently jumped 48-foot-8 in the triple jump, Coleman clocked a 10.4 in the 100, Turner runs a 10.25 in the 100 and Charles broke 50 feet in the triple jump earlier this spring. Both Rhule and McGuire mentioned the need for one of those young, dynamic playmakers to provide a lift for the offense immediately.