Let’s talk quarterbacks, shall we?
With spring ball over, it’s a good time to revisit the series we did in January that broke down the position groups at Nebraska and scored them 1 through 10. If a position was given a score of 1, there’s not a ton of confidence there. If it was given a 10, it’s looking like it’s in great shape and there should be excitement for the fall.
Now it’s the quarterbacks’ turn—the last, but certainly not least, offensive position left. Here’s what we wrote about the quarterbacks in January, before the team’s 15 spring practices. The room got a score of 5 back then. But what about now, after spring ball? Let’s talk about it.
To get things started, let’s ask a question: Who are the actual contenders to be Nebraska’s QB1? Right now there are five scholarship quarterbacks: Casey Thompson, Logan Smothers, Chubba Purdy, Heinrich Haarberg and Richard Torres. Are all off them real candidates to win the job? No. And whether it’s right or wrong, one could look at the spring game to help determine who’s actually in the running.
During the scrimmage three quarterbacks were wearing green no-contact jerseys. Those in green included Thompson, Smothers and Purdy. The ones wearing red, Haarberg and walk-ons Matt Masker and Jarrett Synek, were playing full-fledged tackle football in the second half. Torres will be limited this year as he continues to rehab a torn ACL from his senior high school season last fall.
So if we’re to go by green jerseys, it’s a three-man competition between Thompson, Smothers and Purdy.
Next, let’s talk about experience, because that’s important, especially in a make-or-break season for head coach Scott Frost. Thompson has the most in the room as a whole. It will be his fifth year of college football in 2022 while it’ll be the third for both Smothers and Purdy. Thompson has 10 career starts under his belt and has played on big stages like the Red River Showdown against Oklahoma and the Alamo Bowl against Colorado.
Smothers and Purdy each have one start to their name—Smothers in last year’s season finale against Iowa and Purdy at North Carolina State in 2020. And, going back to the spring game again, it was Thompson who had the lightest workload, throwing just four passes while quarterbacking only the first two series. That could mean Frost and new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple wanted to get Thompson in and out in front of fans as quickly as possible to avoid any freak injury.
It doesn’t take a football genius to determine Thompson is the leader in the clubhouse right now. While the Texas transfer likely enters the summer as the leading candidate to win the job, the backup role between Smothers and Purdy isn’t as settled. If Smothers entered the spring game as the No. 2 quarterback, Purdy made you wonder if he could make a push after it.
Spring games likely mean very little for the quarterbacks in the grand scheme of things. The first 14 practices told the coaches more than the last one. But if we’re going off the eye test, Purdy looked awfully comfortable for it being just his third practice of the spring. Sure, that could have been because he knew the defense wasn’t allowed to touch him, but he looked very natural maneuvering around the pocket and was throwing good balls.
Purdy’s passes had zip as he went 5-of-10 for 63 yards. He was the one who threw the prettiest completion of anyone that day—a 27-yarder to tight end AJ Rollins. To be fair, Smothers, who didn’t look as comfortable and went 5-of-14 for 46 yards, had a great pass, too, on a deep ball to Oliver Martin, it just fell complete thanks to a pass breakup from corner Quinton Newsome.
During an appearance on Sports Nightly last Monday, Frost said he wanted to see more consistency from the quarterbacks.
“I think it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be fun,” Frost said of the competition. “The tough part is getting reps to everybody and we’re going to have to pare it down pretty quick to make sure that we’re getting enough repetitions that the guy or guys playing are ready to go.”
The two transfers, Thompson and Purdy, came from successful programs and know football well, Frost said.
“Chubba’s younger and I think has a little more learning to do,” Frost said. “But both have talent and I’m looking forward to watching them compete. They’re both real competitors, which is really nice to see at that position.”
It remains to be seen when exactly Frost will name a starter. It could come at the start of fall practice, right in the middle of it, or the day before the Northwestern game. Anything can happen.
So, what’s the re-score? Outside of the competition for backup, there hasn’t been a drastic change in Nebraska’s quarterback room. As of right now, the starting quarterback job is Thompson’s to lose, which many would have guessed before spring ball started. Because of that, the score stays the same with a 5.