With the 2021 campaign in the books and an offseason full of recruiting and transfer portal-ing underway, it’s as good a time as any to look at where each of Nebraska’s position groups sit heading into spring ball.
We’ll be breaking down this series into nine position groups—receivers, tight ends, running backs, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, specialists and, of course, quarterbacks—and giving them a 1-10 score, with 1 meaning the group isn’t looking too good and 10 meaning it’s in great shape and you, the Husker fan, should be excited.
Last, but certainly not least, the quarterbacks. Let’s take a look at what the position is losing, returning and bringing in from the transfer portal and 2022 recruiting class.
Losing: Adrian Martinez (transfer to Kansas State)
Returning (years in the program): Logan Smothers (3rd), Heinrich Haarberg (2nd)
Incoming: Casey Thompson (transfer from Texas), Chubba Purdy (transfer from Florida State), Richard Torres
Walk-ons returning (years in the program): Matt Masker (5th), Jarrett Synek (2nd), Spencer Arceneaux (2nd)
Along with the offensive line’s development, the quarterback position is the most important situation to get settled for head coach Scott Frost as he ventures closer to a make-or-break 2022 season. For the first time in Frost’s career at Nebraska, Martinez won’t be on the sidelines. After becoming the Huskers’ first three-time captain and all-time leader in total yards, Martinez chose to transfer to Kansas State in December.
With only one combined start between Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg, Martinez’s departure and the overall win-now attitude led the program to search for help in the transfer portal. They may have found it, too, in the former Texas quarterback Thompson, who committed to Nebraska on Jan. 7, and Purdy, who spent two seasons at Florida State and committed to the Big Red on Jan. 17.
Thompson, who threw for 2,422 yards and 30 touchdowns during his four seasons with the Longhorns, will be viewed as the shiny new toy in Frost’s quarterback room and the favorite to start with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Purdy may be the plan for the future as he’ll have four seasons left to play. Those two will enter a room that has three other scholarship signal callers in it, including Smothers, Haarberg and the lone quarterback recruit in the 2022 class, Richard Torres, a three-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite who will be coming off a torn ACL from his senior high school season.
Smothers was the one who had his number called in last season’s finale against Iowa when Martinez couldn’t play due to an injury. The Alabama native played well—good enough to win, Frost said after the game—before freshman mistakes caught up to him in the fourth quarter and special team blunders opened the door for a Hawkeyes’ comeback win. Smothers went 16-of-22 for 198 yards and one interception while rushing for 64 yards and two scores. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder is clearly comfortable in the running game:
But the 6-1, 200-pound Thompson provides a change of style from previous run-first quarterbacks recruited by Frost. Thompson showed off a big arm and did much of his work from inside the pocket in head coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense at Texas, which ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring at 35.3 points per game. Thompson can run, he just wasn’t asked to do a lot of it at Texas—having one of the best running backs in the nation, Bijan Robinson, helps in that department—as he had 53 rushing yards on 18 career attempts.
New offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has said that he won’t create a game plan that isn’t tailored to what the quarterback does well.
“I don’t need yes men, I need you to tell me the truth—what do you like and don’t. I’ve got enough stuff, Scott’s got enough stuff,” Whipple said on Dec. 15 during a meeting with the media.
It’s hard to give an accurate gauge for Haarberg, who didn’t see the field in his first season in Lincoln. An athletic quarterback at 6-5 and 200 pounds, Haarberg, a Kearney Catholic graduate, is still growing and developing as a quarterback. He may need more time before he’s ready to contribute on Saturdays, but could very well push for the backup spot.
Nebraska’s offense is going through changes (its defense and special teams is, too). There’s an offensive-minded head coach taking a step back from play-calling, as advised by his Athletic Director. There’s a new offensive coordinator and coaches for the receivers, running backs and offensive line. Depending on who wins the competition, the quarterback could be someone who wasn’t on the team one season ago in Thompson or Purdy.
Are Thompson and Purdy both guaranteed slam-dunk additions at quarterback? On paper, yes, they’re really solid pickups. But it’s too soon to anoint them anything. A collar-bone injury derailed Purdy’s development at Florida State, so he doesn’t have much more playing experience than Smothers does. Thompson, though, brings exactly what the Husker quarterback room needed when Martinez left: experience. Will the new additions light fires under Smothers and Haarberg, or have them wondering what the transfer portal could provide?
There are a lot of questions, but few answers to make one believe everything will click in 2022. The score? Nebraska’s 2022 quarterback room gets a 5/10.