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Photo Credit: John Peterson

Perfect Storm of Circumstances Putting More Attention on Huskers’ Young Receivers

August 10, 2023

Don’t look now but the Nebraska wide receiver core is currently asking more questions than it’s answering.

The Huskers came into the fall with little returning productivity out wide. Six of the Huskers’ top eight pass catchers from 2022 are not in Lincoln for 2023. One of the two remaining, receiver Marcus Washington, broke a bone in his hand in the summer. Washington fully returned to camp on Monday only to land weird and suffer another injury. Head coach Matt Rhule described it as a scary moment and said they expect him back by the weekend. The other of those two pass catchers is running back Anthony Grant.

Bellevue West graduate Zavier Betts, who gained praise from teammates and coaches for his efforts to earn eligibility, is injured. Rhule did not elaborate on the severity of Betts’ injury or how long he’ll be out. Transfer arrival Josh Fleeks from Baylor missed the first two days of camp because he returned to campus “significantly overweight.” Virginia transfer Billy Kemp IV is not only the presumptive top target based on previous productivity, he’s the only one left standing right now.

“I want my role to be whatever the offense needs,” Kemp said last week in camp. “Whatever you need me to do I’m here.”

Receivers worked with quarterbacks during 7-on-7 sessions this summer. Quarterback Jeff Sims likes Kemp’s work ethic and the two already sense football chemistry between each other. Kemp said all the receivers have some degree of chemistry with the quarterbacks. That includes Alex Bullock, the Creighton Prep walk-on receiver whose work ethic stands out to coaches. Rhule also pointed to Ty Hahn as someone who could use his veteran presence to find the field.

“I think the key in our receiver room right now is there’s a couple guys like Ty Hahn and Alex Bullock, really good and dependable football players,” Rhule said last week. “I challenge Alex all the time like he’s not a walk-on, he’s a guy who came here as a walk-on. He’s a starting-caliber receiver I believe.”

Whether those veterans step up or not, the Huskers need some of the speedy freshmen to contribute. That need becomes larger with each missed rep or missed practice from the veteran group. But even the freshmen weren’t spared the injury bug, Lincoln East graduate Malachi Coleman did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. The youngsters blew coaches away with their collective speed. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said they pop in one-on-one drills. They’re also learning the offense and the differences within college ball.

When asked earlier in camp, Satterfield wasn’t sure how many he expects to play right away. Coaches threw a lot of the playbook at the young receivers and some players don’t take to it right away. There’s a chance a few freshmen stand out in the season opener while others get integrated onto the field by November. “If those guys can learn what to do and play, match the physical elements they need, we don’t care how old they are as long as they can produce,” Satterfield said last week. The head coach is in the same camp, even as the receiver group thins during practice and younger receivers get more reps.

“Everybody says they want to play as a freshman but it’s really hard to do,” Rhule said on Tuesday. “Especially in today’s day and age when we’re so distracted. You have to have time to learn. Jaylen Lloyd, Jaidyn Doss are getting some opportunities to play and we’ll see where they’re at. They’re trending in the right direction.”

Last week, Rhule described the freshmen receivers as unbelievably fast, tough and physical. He was proud of them at the start of camp. Kemp sees the same work ethic and physical capabilities within the freshmen group.

“They made tremendous jumps so far, just in their short time here,” Kemp said last week. “All our freshmen at receiver are hard workers. I think that’s what really helps them out. They want to learn they want to work and they want to play. We’ve been working and they’ve been attacking it head first.”

Freshmen are not available to media during preseason camp, a Rhule policy that isn’t unusual in college football. So we haven’t heard how the freshmen see themselves in this dynamic. If the first 10 days are any significant indicator, they’ll need to be ready to play.

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