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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska’s 2023 Spring Football Position Reset: Quarterbacks

February 14, 2023

**In total, Nebraska’s new coaching staff added 39 new scholarship players in the 2023 recruiting class. This puts the program’s scholarship numbers over triple digits in spring camp. With winter workouts ongoing and spring ball likely to impact who stands out to this coaching staff, Hail Varsity is taking a deeper look at what each position looks like right now.**

There is a quarterback competition at Nebraska. Last season’s starter, Casey Thompson, will miss large portions of the spring as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The same can be said for Logan Smothers, who played in a backup capacity in the last two seasons. Rhule’s coaching staff shopped portal quarterbacks and landed former Georgia Tech play caller Jeff Sims. There’s also Chubba Purdy, who started during Thompson’s injury last year before undergoing surgery himself on a high ankle sprain. Additionally, the room includes homegrown sophomores Heinrich Haarberg and Jarret Synek and redshirt freshmen Richard Torres, Mikey Pauley and Cooper Hausmann.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield likes this crop. He’s excited about the room’s depth and experience. Four of them have Power 5 experience, three of them with significant snaps at Nebraska last year.

Rhule previously said he likes the room too. He hopes they get a little bit better every day and focus on the process. He quoted NFL all-pro Christian McCaffery who once told his Panthers teammates, “We just need to play loud.” Nebraska’s head coach wants to harness that blue collar mentality at the offense’s focal position.

“The quarterbacks to me, they can just be serious about themselves, academically, athletically and in the community,” Rhule said. “They can be the same people when the coaches aren’t around as when the coaches are around. That sends a real message to the team, and then when they know everybody’s name on the team, and they know the people who work in the cafeteria’s names, and then they become someone that people want to follow. So, I like the group.”

Thompson threw for 2,407 yards with 63.1% completions, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His QBR last season was 64.5. All but completion percentage were career highs (he completed 63.2% at Texas the year before on fewer completions and attempts). Thompson ranked outside the top 50 nationally in all those categories. Of course, he did that as a new arrival in Lincoln under an offensive coordinator in his first season at Nebraska. Rhule looks forward to Thompson getting healthy and moving forward. The senior could throw at points in the spring but won’t be healthy enough for full-speed reps.

Sims comes from Georgia Tech, where Rhule watched him play for former co-worker Geoff Collins. During those Saturdays watching college football before NFL Sundays, Rhule said he fell in love with Sims. He’s a big, smart, dynamic athlete with a precision arm in the pocket. Sims battled injury last season when he threw for 1,115 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions with a 44.0 QBR. He battled a sprained foot late in the year and didn’t play after the Oct. 20 game against Virginia. Sims showed potential in wins over Pittsburgh and Duke, when he combined for 505 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns with no turnovers.

“Everyone recognizes that he is an NFL talent. You get to know him, his personality is elite,” Rhule said. “He is a really good person about the right things. His former coaches, they loved him. So, it was easy if it worked out.”

Purdy’s 2022 campaign underwhelmed before its abrupt ending to injury. The offense lacked cohesion when he took over at times. He finished with 147 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions last season. Smothers also struggled in a limited backup role last season. He played against Northwestern and Georgia Southern in run-based packages but didn’t take a snap again until Thompson’s injury. He didn’t score and threw for just 96 yards while running for just 28 yards all season.

Then there’s the quarterbacks with no significant college experience. Synek played late minutes at Michigan last year, having traveled with the team as third-string quarterback. Former interim head coach Mickey Joseph explained that move at the time, saying it’s because Synek was more of a versatile athlete than the other quarterbacks in that position. He was asked if the other quarterbacks were ready for college football. Joseph chuckled and shook his head.

Kearney Catholic graduate Heinrich Haarberg hasn’t played in his two seasons after becoming the first in-state quarterback to sign with the school since 2001. His father is a former Husker walk-on and Haarberg himself was a top-20 national dual-threat quarterback out of high school. Norris graduate Cooper Hausmann was a three-sport athlete for the Titans before walking on. Pauley signed with the Nebraska baseball team but remains an option at quarterback. Torres came to Nebraska after a reputable career in San Antonio, becoming a 3-star recruit who Texas high school football experts thought highly of.

Each are undergoing workouts and will get an opportunity. The offensive coaching staff is still figuring out scheme. Satterfield’s historical offenses suggest multiple tight ends, a physical run game with game-managing quarterbacks. His South Carolina offense garnered criticism last year until the final two regular-season games when the Gamecocks’ offense outgunned both Tennessee and Clemson. Satterfield credited those performances to the players sticking with the process.

Satterfield also said his offense will huddle. He wants a pro-style offense led by a vocal quarterback.

“I think in a huddle, and the way we play football,” Satterfield said, “it gives our quarterback a chance to be a vocal leader of our offense.”

Whoever emerges from the spring as a component of fall camp has to have those leadership abilities that Satterfield, and Rhule, are looking for.

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