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.
Well, one of the deepest quarterback rooms in the country thinned out in less than a week.
Two-year backup quarterback Logan Smothers entered the transfer portal following the spring game, albeit with the possibility of withdrawing his name. Smothers played in 11 games over the past two seasons. He continues to recover from the injuries of last season. They limited his inclusion in winter workouts and spring practices. Redshirt freshman Richard Torres also entered the transfer portal. The big arm recruit from San Antonio went 9-of-18 with an interception in the Red-White game. Last year’s starting quarterback, Casey Thompson, also entered his name into the transfer portal. Thompson threw for 2,407 yards during an injury riddled 2022 season. He’s medically cleared to throw following shoulder surgery but Nebraska coaches stayed cautious with him this spring.
That leaves three scholarship quarterbacks in Nebraska’s ranks. Transfer arrival Jeff Sims appears to be the clear-cut favorite to start on August 31 against Minnesota. Chubba Purdy remains a potential second option, although Kearney Catholic graduate Heinrich Haarberg impressed the coaching staff throughout winter workouts and provided a powerful running option in spring practice. The Huskers also gained walk-on transfer Jack Woche from Ole Miss, who aims to develop under the current coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said early in the spring that the coaches wanted to distribute reps as evenly as they could.
Sims was 9-of-13 for 139 yards in the Red-White game while playing largely on the first-team offense. He, like most of the quarterbacks, didn’t try airing the ball deep in that game. Sims found receiver Billy Kemp IV near the sidelines for a 24-yard gain and threw to tight end Nate Boerkircher in the seam for what became a 38-yard gain. Sims went to Marcus Washington twice on potential touchdown throws. One in the first quarter sailed a few steps ahead of the diving Washington and the other, in the second half, came behind Washington after a pump fake. Early enrollee Syncere Safeeullah timed his jump and the pass hit him in the back.
The former Georgia Tech transfer showed his true separation may be with his mobility. In one third quarter snap, Sims rolled away from an unblocked Princewill Umanmielen off the edge. He then spun out of an attempted tackle from Nash Hutmacher and ran for a modest gain. On a separate play, Sims rolled to his right and delivered a near-perfect ball to Washington while extending the play. Head coach Matt Rhule pointed to that play afterwards as one of Sims’ strengths. Overall, Rhule thought Sims performed well in the spring game.
“Jeff (Sims) is really cool and calm out there,” Rhule said. “I like his demeanor and feel. He’s played a lot of football, so I thought he thought he looked pretty good.”
The head coach went on to say Sims looked on time and his stats reflected his game management skills. Sims also ran for a touchdown on a designed run up the middle where he eluded two tacklers.
“I thought it looked like – he’s a passer. He’s a passer who runs 4.4, he’s not a runner that throws. He’s a passer,” Rhule said. “I think he does some things with his legs, extending plays, you know, the one he spun out, so that’s really what we’re looking for from him.”
Purdy finished 4-of-9 with a long of 13 yards. He practiced well last season but couldn’t replicate that confidence or success on the field. He once again threw well in practices this spring. The Florida State transfer avoided risky throws during the Red-White game against a swarming defense. Haarberg was 2-of-9 for minus-1 yards in the Red-White Game. He missed a few intended targets in that stretch. He also ran for 19 yards, including setting up Gabe Ervin Jr.’s touchdown.
Including former walk-on Jarrett Synek, who officially entered the portal this spring after not working out with the team this winter, five Husker quarterbacks on its spring 2023 roster played in an FBS game. Now, that number is down to two and one of their major options, the homegrown Haarberg, isn’t one of them. Sims was asked about the quarterback room depth after the spring game. Before anyone transferred out, he mentioned the benefits of competition.
“Heinrich (Haarberg) is a workhorse,” Sims said. “He’s big, physical, strong, and can throw the ball. He’s definitely been working hard. All the quarterbacks have. We’ve been feeding off each other and pushing each other. I think that’s something that has helped us a lot throughout the spring. Helping each other out, pushing each other, competing. I think that always drives us to be better.”
Competition remains among Nebraska’s quarterbacks. The room just looks a lot different now.