In non-quarterback news, offensive coordinator and wideout coach Troy Walters is starting to see guys making plays and building confidence at the receiver position. The headlines of the morning belonged to redshirt sophomore Patrick O’Brien, but Walters spoke at length about the receiver group when he met with the media after practice Thursday.
“I tell the guys that in the spring we have a pencil depth chart and it’s going to change,” Walters said. “I feel like we’re going to have six, seven, eight guys that are going to be able to play, that we can count on. We’ve got to have depth, we know what [senior] Stanley [Morgan] can do, we’ve got to have depth behind him and that’s what we’ll create in the Spring.”
Husker fans know what they’re going to be getting from Morgan this season. The Huskers’ single-season-yardage record holder is back for his final campaign and looking to go out on a high note. JD Spielman is looking to build off an all-conference freshman campaign. Tyjon Lindsey is waiting to bust loose after a seldom-used first year. But what about some of the other guys?
“[Jaevon] McQuitty’s done a good job,” Walters said. “Justin McGriff is another guy, freshman, and we’re throwing a lot at him but physically he has what it takes. Mike Williams has done a great job, he’s played both inside and outside, so he’s going to be valuable in the fall.”
Williams is probably most known right now for his junior college, the one from Netflix’s “Last Chance U,” but has had his name mentioned by Walters several times now during the spring. McGriff is one of those Florida kids Walters and company were able to bring up to Lincoln and possesses a huge frame — 6-foot-6, 220 pounds — that Nebraska plans to use split out wide to begin his career. He’s also been spotted several times staying late after practices to get in work with quarterback Tristan Gebbia or work on change-of-direction moves against dummies.
Then there’s McQuitty, who lost his entire freshman year to injury last year but by almost all accounts has looked every bit as strong as he did pre-injury.
“He’s getting some of the cobwebs out of him,” Walters said. “He’s physical, he can run and he’s got great size so when the ball’s in the air he can go up and make plays … He’s a competitor.”
Walters also mentioned another name, 5-foot-10 senior Keyan Williams. Walters says Williams is working and competing for time in the slot and, despite joining Nebraska a season ago to work under his father, Keith, Williams has bought into the new staff’s message.
“He bought in from Day One,” Walters said. “Actually his dad called me a couple weeks ago and told me that Keyan is loving the new staff and he’s 100 percent sold out and bought into what we’re doing.
“He wants to be great, he wants to be coached. I told the guys when I came I know Coach Williams is a great receiver coach and I told them, ‘What you learned from him, you have and now you’re going to learn some more from me, and you’ve got more tools in your toolbox.’”
Walters said the biggest thing for his group in terms of continuing to grow will be getting in work with the quarterbacks during the summer.
“It’s important that the receivers and quarterbacks are on the same page,” Walters said. “We emphasize that. As a receiver, that quarterback has to be your best friend. You’ve got to spend time with them not only on the field but off the field and make sure you all are on the same page, and as a receiver we have to make sure that the quarterbacks are confident that we’re going to be in the right place and then when they do throw the ball to us we’re going to make a play.”
“We’re building that this spring and it’s imperative during the summer that the guys really start working out together and start building that chemistry and understanding that when the defender does this, this is what I’m going to do. We’re going to have a lot of depth at receiver, we’ve got depth at quarterback, so it’s up to those guys to spend that extra time together building that chemistry.”
Other News and Notes
>> Patrick O’Brien has requested, and been granted, a scholarship release to transfer from Nebraska. Quarterback coach Mario Verduzco said Thursday O’Brien had slipped to the bottom of the quarterback pecking order, speed and athleticism playing a large factor.
In a statement O’Brien shared on Twitter, he said the new staff’s offense “just wasn’t the right fit” and he “will always be a supporter of Nebraska football and that will last a lifetime.”
It will be interesting to see if there are any restrictions placed on O’Brien’s transfer. On the Big Ten coaches teleconference Wednesday, Frost was adamant about his belief in player freedom and right to choose where they play.
>> When talking about which running backs had stood out during practice so far, Walters said the Huskers were planning to use a by-committee approach with the backfield this season. While that’s not uncommon for this staff and this system, it’s a departure from the approach the previous staff took heading into last season.
“I feel confident and comfortable that we’re going to have three or four guys that are going to be able to run the rock,” Walters said. “Which is good because we’ll be able to wear defenses down and they all do different things well.”
>> Asked about the quarterback competition, Walters was mostly vague and careful not to mention who is ahead of who, but he did have this to say:
“We practice a lot, we take a lot of reps and so Coach Verduzco, really, he’s the one that manages those reps. If it’s a 10-play series, one guy may take five, another three, another two based on how he sees it. He does a great job of making sure everybody gets reps so even though some guys may be getting more, all the quarterbacks are getting enough to make an impression.”
>> There weren’t any “we want to accomplish X and we’ll know it when we see Y” goals for the Huskers this spring, it was just about being better than they were the previous day.
“We kind of took it day-by-day,” Walters said. “We wanted to make sure we installed the foundation of what we do and we’ve done that and so now the guys have a pretty good knowledge of what we expect, what we want to do this fall.”
The comparison to Central Florida keeps getting brought up during questioning as it relates to timetables, but Walters was quick to point out the staff was new to everything the first year in Orlando whereas now they know the system, the details and the nuances “like the back of our hand.”
Walters did say the mental mistakes like busted assignments are starting to go down, they’ve just got to continue polishing things up.
>> We continue to hear good things about tight end Jack Stoll. On Tuesday, Frost said Stoll is a guy that brings fire and energy every practice and on Thursday, tight end coach Sean Beckton said Stoll is currently the top guy in his room.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.