Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scot Frost during their spring football game
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Projecting Nebraska’s Depth Chart Following Spring Ball

May 03, 2021

With spring football now wrapped, the Hail Varsity team offers up their thoughts on what the depth chart will look like for Nebraska this season.

We’ll start with the offense.

RB1SteppScott IIISteppStepp
RB2Scott IIIErvinScott IIIScott III

What position or position group do you feel like you know the most about exiting spring? 

ES: Quarterback, to a degree. We know who QB1 is, and while there technically is a battle for the backup spot, I feel like we have a pretty good idea about the players at this position. I say that cautiously, of course, because a lot can change between now and fall. However, everything Derek shared about Heinrich Haarberg from his time watching Kearney Catholic last season seems to be right on for the freshman QB. We are finally seeing Logan Smothers to a degree we haven’t before, so there is some unknown there but I still feel pretty confident he’s QB2 this fall. Quarterback feels like one of those positions where I feel like we know a lot, even if we know nothing. Maybe that’s what happens when you know who QB1 is at this point. 

GS: The offensive line. We mostly went into the spring knowing 4 of 5 positions. It feels like Sichterman has played his way into the lead at right guard heading into the summer. 

JP: To be different, I’ll go with tight end. The biggest wildcard in that room was probably how much Thomas Fidone would play, and now that he’s suffered an injury that will keep him out for a while it probably clears things up a bit further. Austin Allen is the leader in the room, Travis Vokolek is right there with him and then the leftover snaps will likely go to Chris Hickman, James Carnie and AJ Rollins (in that order, I’d imagine).  

DP: I’d go with the offensive line as well. I feel like we know who the starting five will be, I feel like we know what to expect from the group, and I feel like we know who the top guys off the bench will be.  

What position or position group do you feel like you know the least about exiting spring? 

ES: Running back and wide receiver. I think the talent is there. The question is will that talent be available, and will it be healthy. 

GS: Running back. There are four or five guys that we could pick to go out for the first snap against Illinois. None of those picks would be wild. Moves can be made in that room this summer and in camp. 

JP: I’ll go with running back as well. I thought every back that touched the ball showed something on Saturday, so the Spring Game did nothing to clear that picture up for me, especially considering Markese Stepp and Rahmir Johnson didn’t even play. I could see any combination of Stepp, Johnson, Marvin Scott III, Sevion Morrison, Ronald Thompkins and maybe even Jaquez Yant making up Nebraska’s running back rotation in 2021. They all seem to bring their own strengths to the table, so it’s going to come down to who is available, who the coaches prefer and who performs on Saturdays. 

DP: Quarterback, but not for the reasons you’d expect. What Erin said about them one section up applies. We know who is generally going to be where. The biggest question I have regarding the offense—can the vertical passing game take off—can’t really be answered until the real games start. I like the pieces Nebraska has to make it work, but I need to see it in a game before I know it’s something that can be relied on. My biggest question remains unanswered, though nothing spring gave us could have answered it. Well, not nothing. Nebraska could have thrown for 500 yards in the spring game and I would have had to re-evaluate. 

Do you feel comfortable with Nebraska’s quarterback play/depth having now seen the spring game? 

ES: To go along with my first answer from this section: No. “But you just said it’s the group you feel you know the most about,” you’re saying. Correct, but I feel like knowing what’s there also lends itself to not feeling overly confident in the position. The issue is that Martinez has been injured at some point during every season he’s been at Nebraska. With what we know about Haarberg and Smothers right now, I don’t have enough confidence to say either is ready for that “starting” role if need be. However, Haarberg showed some cool confidence in that final play of the game. As Derek said, it was a nice throw. 

GS: This is very tough. I’m going to say no. I think Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg could have bright futures. I’m not sure they’d lead Nebraska to many conference wins right now. 

JP: I don’t really feel any different than I did before the game. Nebraska is younger and more unproven behind a starter that hasn’t played a full season yet than you’d like to be, but then again, that was the case last season too. That being said, I also don’t think they need to add a quarterback to the room because I think they’d have an incredibly hard time finding someone that would be worth taking that would be OK being a back-up. If Martinez gets hurt, I’d rather just throw a freshman to the fire and build for the future than bring in someone older that isn’t really a difference-maker. I believe Martinez is going to determine how this season goes, and Saturday wasn’t something we could learn anything meaningful from regarding his growth. 

DP: See my answer above. 

Now for the defense.

Nickel 1DomannDomannDomannDomann
Nickel 2GiffordGiffordWrightWright/Gifford

What position or position group do you feel like you know the most about exiting spring? 

ES: The secondary without question. The depth at that position? The talent at that position? Add that to defensive backs coach Travis Fisher saying he thinks the secondary can be the best in the nation? I’m sold. 

GS: The secondary. There was only a question of health coming into spring and who would play corner opposite Cam Taylor-Britt. Those questions seem to be answered for now. 

JP: I’ll actually go a different direction and say defensive line here, mostly because Tony Tuioti only lost two players from his room: one walk-on and one scholarship player who combined for seven appearances and three tackles in 2020. Tuioti is returning every player of significance led by veteran Ben Stille, and the likes of Damion Daniels, Ty Robinson, Casey Rogers and Deontre Thomas have played a lot of football at this point while showing quite a bit of promise. 

DP: The secondary, for the same reasons everyone above me listed.  

What position or position group do you feel like you know the least about exiting spring? 

ES: Probably outsider linebacker. I’ll let Greg tell you why. 

GS: Outside linebacker. Is the Nick Henrich experiment at the position over? Can Pheldarius Payne barge into the starting lineup? Is the light fully on for Caleb Tannor? There are plenty of questions there.  

JP: Nebraska will have at least two new starters in 2021 after Dicaprio Bootle’s departure and Will Honas’ injury. Everybody else is back, so from that perspective cornerback and inside linebacker should probably be the answer here. However, I do like the collection of talent Nebraska has at those two positions. For that reason I’ll go with outside linebacker too even if all the same guys are back from last year. Young guys like Jimari Butler and Blaise Gunnerson might still be a ways off from cracking the rotation – unless Caleb Tannor and/or Garrett Nelson don’t make the leap Nebraska needs them to make. And like Greg said, the Nick Henrich question is still out there as well. 

DP: Inside linebacker for me. Will Honas being out of the picture muddies the water a bit. They really like Chris Kolarevic, but without Honas it becomes pretty important he be ready to handle a major role right from the get-go. It also makes it more imperative that Luke Reimer takes the next step toward more consistent play. Is Nick Henrich the reliable third? Who is the fourth? This is a bit nit-picky, but the defense is so set everywhere else. I don’t really have any pressing questions about the defense, but if I had to answer the question this is where I’d go. 

Do any of the defensive injuries—JoJo Domann missing spring, Ben Stille missing spring, Will Honas going down, etc.—give you concern heading into the summer and fall? 

ES: Not worried about Domann or Stille. In the case of Stille, his “injury” sounded like something they just wanted to take care of now so he had more time to prepare before fall. He’s been through spring ball before, he didn’t need it. I think Domann’s absence certainly allowed younger players to make some noise, and they’ll continue to make their case. I’m still not worried about him. As for Honas, it sounds like he’s out for awhile. That sucks. My feelings are less concern about depth—Nebraska has enough of it at middle linebacker—but more about him as a person. Rough deal. 

GS: Domann is the most concerning because the drop-off is significant after him. But in this case it seems like him being out just gave a lot of quality reps to Isaac Gifford and Javin Wright. That was needed. 

JP: Honas seems to be the only one with significant long-term consequences, and like Erin said, I feel terrible for him. He’s already missed most of one season in Lincoln, and he seemed genuinely fired up to get one more chance to play for the Huskers. Looking at the big picture, I think the addition of Chris Kolarevic and the promise of the young ‘backers in that room should allow Nebraska to survive losing Honas. 

DP: I’m not concerned about either Domann or Stille sitting; the former has been through this before and the latter doesn’t need to be an every-down player so missing a spring period in his sixth year isn’t a major deal. Honas’ situation is a little worrisome for the reasons I outlined above. But taken together, I think Nebraska made the most of a bad situation getting snaps to young guys. Javin Wright and Isaac Gifford seemed to make the most of their chances this spring. There shouldn’t be any concern about that side of the ball. 


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