With the spring portion of Nebraska football’s offseason in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to revisit the series we did in January that scored each position group on the team 1 through 10.
A score of 1 was low and meant the group wasn’t looking too good while a 10 meant it’s looking great, and fans should be excited. Like we did before, we’ll start this re-scoring series with the receivers, a group that has seen a bit of a shakeup since spring practices began.
Here’s the original post on the receivers, which went into spring with a score of 6. But there’s been change since then.
The largest development in Mickey Joseph’s room was the departure of Zavier Betts, who was entering his third season with the Huskers. After catching 12 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown as a true freshman in 2020, the former four-star recruit out of Bellevue (Omaha) West High School saw career-highs in 2021 with 20 catches for 286 yards.
Out of everyone in that room, Betts was widely viewed as the one who would benefit the most under Joseph, who has a track record for developing young receivers into NFL products. But Betts never returned to the team following spring break.
“Zavier is not a member of the team right now,” head coach Scott Frost said on March 24.
It’s unclear if Betts will rejoin the program. On April 6, Joseph touched on the situation and showed support.
“We visit with Zavier. He’s not on the team right now, but we visit with Zavier,” Joseph said. “And we’re going to visit that again down the road. Like I said, it’s going to be Frost’s decision about what he wants to do with him. But you know, my thing with Zavier is, Zavier is always going to be a part of me, and a part of this program. But we’ll deal with that down the line.”
While Betts’ career numbers—32 catches for 417 yards and a score—won’t blow anyone away from a production standpoint, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder still had playing experience at Nebraska and potential to be a dynamic receiving threat in an offense coordinated by Mark Whipple, whose attack at Pittsburgh last year helped produce the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner, Jordan Addison. Now the experience and potential that Betts provided is gone.
But while one door closes, another opens for someone else. The Huskers’ receivers room is full of pass catchers who have shown flashes in the past and are capable of breaking out.
That group is led by four players who coaches have mentioned by name in media availabilities as guys who have impressed: Trey Palmer, Omar Manning, Alante Brown and Oliver Martin.
Palmer, a transfer from LSU, oozes confidence. There’s no doubt that Whipple, who likes to feature certain receivers in his offenses, views the 6-1, 190-pound Palmer as an option to feed the ball like he did with Addison. Palmer has shown explosiveness at the SEC level, both offensively and as a returner on special teams. Against Texas A&M last November, he took a short screen pass 61 yards for a touchdown. In 2019, he returned a punt for a touchdown. Last year he brought back a kickoff for a score against South Carolina.
Palmer has injected life and personality to the offense. His head coach, Scott Frost, has seen it first-hand.
“Trey has fit great, and he fits in great because of his personality,” Frost said. “He brings energy every single day. Has made a lot of plays out there, he can really run. So, I think with some more time working with him he has a chance to do some special things, and I’m looking forward to seeing that development.”
Following a 2020 campaign where he only played in one game, Manning saw success in 2021 with 26 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. The former No. 1 junior-college receiver in the 2020 class will try to build on what he accomplished last year, and he thinks Joseph’s demanding style will help him get there.
“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.”
While Brown caught three passes in each of his first two seasons at Nebraska, it’s sounding like he’ll get the opportunity that he felt he never had in 2022. The 5-10, 185-pounder is sure he can help the offense, he just needs to be on the field to do it.
“I did not show what I was capable of, making plays,” Brown said. “I didn’t really show my speed, my awareness in the open field, just making guys miss. So hopefully this year we can make that happen.”
One thing that will help Brown get on the field and stay there is his passion for the game. Joseph has seen it, and it’s made an impact.
“He loves the game. You can win with kids when they love the game. When they like it, you’re going to be in trouble,” Joseph said of Brown. “So one thing he brings to the room is leadership, and he works. He’s there all the time, he doesn’t miss, everything he gets in there is 100% and he’s tough.”
Martin is hoping to regain what was taken from him last year. The 6-1, 200-pounder burst onto the scene last year with a six-catch, 103-yard, one-touchdown outing in the season-opener at Illinois. But after the game, a lingering knee injury got worse and wound up derailing his season.
But Martin is healthy now, and he’s ready to show what he can do on the field.
“It’s been a while since then, so I feel like I’ve regained all my strength and explosiveness,” Martin said, “and I feel like I’m playing at a high level right now.”
Helping Martin along the way is his relationship with Joseph, who has made a real affect on him.
“He’s a big relationship guy,” Martin said of Joseph. “That’s one thing that stuck out to me compared to the other coaches I’ve had, is he made relationships with all the guys and they’re pretty tight-knit and there’s a pretty good brotherhood in the room.”
Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, a speedy transfer wideout from New Mexico State, was expected to be in the mix during spring ball but was limited with injury. Wyatt Liewer and walk-on Brody Belt provide experienced options as well. Liewer has caught seven passes for 46 yards and one touchdown in the past two seasons while the versatile Belt caught six passes for 68 yards and rushed 10 times for 48 yards last year.
It remains to be seen if any of the redshirt freshmen—Kamonte Grimes, Latrell Neville and Shawn Hardy—will emerge. Ditto for the three true freshmen, including Victor Jones, Decoldest Crawford and Janiran Bonner.
While Betts’ departure isn’t some monumental loss that the room won’t be able to overcome, it does hurt it some. Betts has big-play ability, and he’s shown it. It didn’t appear as much as the team and fans would have liked, but it was there, and you’d like to have receivers who have made big plays before be on the field.
Yes, Palmer has big-play ability. Heck, he made those plays in what’s considered the best conference in the country, the SEC. But he hasn’t done it at Nebraska yet. Manning, Brown and Martin all have that potential, too, but haven’t shown it—yet. The one player who has isn’t with the team anymore.
Simply put, there are still unknowns about this room. The score: 5.