Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Post-Practice Sessions With Quarterbacks Helping Receivers Reach Potential

March 24, 2022

Omar Manning wanted to take his over route up the field. He saw open grass and figured that was the right move.

This is spring ball, and Nebraska’s offense is in transition mode. Instead of it being a Scott Frost offense, there’s going to be a heavy dose of what Mark Whipple likes to do. Add in the fact that the Huskers will have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2018, and it’s important to get things right before a make-or-break fall for the program.

In an effort to speed up the process, the quarterbacks are staying after practice and throwing to the receivers. After that play with Manning, quarterback Casey Thompson went up to the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder and told him to flatten his over route more. A minor tweak, sure. But it was the small things that cost Big Red last year. Manning and the rest of the receiving corps want to make sure that death by a thousand paper cuts doesn’t happen again.

“Even after practice he’s like, ‘I’m coming to ya’ll’s meeting room a little early to talk,'” Manning said of Thompson. “That shows a lot of leadership ability, the intangibles you can’t really teach or coach.”

Manning is entering his third season at Nebraska. After barely seeing the field and not recording one catch in 2020, he saw improvement last year by hauling in 26 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. He wants more in 2022 and thinks new receivers coach Mickey Joseph can help him reach his potential.

Joseph is demanding and doesn’t let much slip with his receivers at practice. Manning said it hasn’t been since his junior-college days at Kilgore College in Texas that he’s had a coach be as blunt with him as Joseph is. That’s alright, though. Manning wants it to be like this.

“I love that, that’s my style I like to play with,” Manning said of Joseph’s in-your-face coaching approach. “I want a coach who’s going to be in my ear and tell me what I did wrong or right on every play. Every play he looks at and he talks to us. That’s what I like, that’s a coach I love to play for.”

But it’s not just Joseph who’s been doing the coaching—teammates are helping each other. Alante Brown’s name has surfaced from Frost and other assistant coaches this spring. Brown is entering his third season in Lincoln, too, and he’s hoping to get more consistent playing time than he did last year.

From what Manning has seen, the 5-10, 185-pound Brown is doing exactly what he needs to do to see the field and stay on it.

“Nobody’s jamming Alante at the line. His releases are great. His route running is the best I’ve seen,” Manning said of Brown. “I watch film, study our routes and one-on-ones and watching myself, but he stands out every day.”

Brown is using everything he can to improve his own play and that of others, like Manning. That includes his past experience as a quarterback at Simeon High School in Chicago, where he started under center for three years before going the prep-school route and making the switch to receiver at St. Thomas More in Connecticut.

Brown has read defensive coverages before. That provides a unique perspective when running routes, and he tries to help his teammates see what he does during plays.

“If I’m on the inside in the slot, and we’re watching film and I’ve got two high (safeties), he’ll tell me, ‘OK, you have to read from the safety to the cornerback to the linebacker,’ to see which coverage they’re in so I can know how to run my route,” Manning said. “Whether I flatten out or not or keep it high. Just little things like that.”

Brown watches film every night before he goes to sleep and even before and after team film sessions. He’s looking for mistakes, whether that’s false steps or other things about receiver play that might sound minuscule to those outside a wideout room, but are quite important inside it.

“Anything that’s going to help me become a better receiver,” Brown said. “Maybe just not getting my eyes on the ball or just not getting his hand off my shoulder. Smaller things like that.”

Brown said everyone has been pushing him this offseason, but he mentioned two players—Manning and Trey Palmer—who have helped him the most this spring. Those two know he has the talent to be a receiver who grabs more than six catches in two seasons, which Brown currently has. But to reach his potential, Brown needs to show Joseph what he wants to see from all his receivers.

A standard has been set, and Brown wants to be one of the guys who’s leading the charge of wideouts who meet it in every day and every rep.

“We know what Mickey wants, he holds us to a high standard,” Brown said, “so we want to succeed that standard, we don’t want to do anything less than that.”

Manning mentioned Oliver Martin and Brody Belt as fellow wideouts who have been impressing him. But both Manning and Brown are excited about what Palmer brings to the table. The energy is easy to see with the LSU transfer who Joseph clearly has a string relationship with.

“His play style, he attacks the ball, he runs great routes, he’s fast,” Brown said of Palmer. “Just being versatile all over the field. We can put him anywhere, and we have multiple guys like that.”

Said Manning of Palmer: “He brings a lot of quickness. I like the attitude he brings.”

One thing about Nebraska’s practices—they’re fast-paced and full of reps. They have a “live bullets” feeling to them, as Manning called it. But the after-practice sessions between the quarterbacks and receivers are different. It’s not as rapid-fire. They can sit down, take a breath and analyze.

That’s what helps iron out the details. Because in football, you never know—flattening out an over route could be the difference between a first down or a punt. A win or loss. And it’s time Nebraska gets more of the former.

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