So far, Casey Thompson’s spring is going better than expected. The high-profile transfer quarterback from Texas is in the process of learning Mark Whipple’s offense, building relationships with his teammates and juggling everything that comes with name, image and likeness.
Learning a new offense is nothing new to the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Thompson. Whipple’s offense will be his fourth system he’s had to learn. Last year Thompson played in Steve Sarkisian’s offense at Texas. Before that, he played in the spread offenses of Mike Yurcich and Tom Herman.
Offensive fit was the top priority for Thompson when he decided to transfer from Texas. Even before he entered his name in the transfer portal, he spent two weeks researching different programs around the country. The thinking was, if he were to transfer out of Austin, where would the legitimate landing spots be? Which offense would fit him best? After watching film of offenses all over the country, he liked what Whipple did with Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh.
With Adrian Martinez transferring to Kansas State, he knew Nebraska would be an option. But before making any decisions, Thompson wanted to wait until after the bowl season, to see how other quarterback rooms were impacted by the portal. When it came down to it, Thompson chose Nebraska over Oklahoma and Auburn.
There was a connection between Thompson’s family and Nebraska—his dad, Charles Thompson, grew up with current Husker receivers coach Mickey Joseph and are still good friends. Thompson said Joseph was a key recruiter in the process and was calling every day trying to get him to commit.
But Thompson knew about Scott Frost, too. Nebraska’s fifth-year head coach recruited Thompson while coaching at Central Florida, so there was a connection there as well. Thompson even remembers being in middle school and studying Oregon’s offense when Frost was offensive coordinator for the Ducks. Once he was interesting in Nebraska, he dug deeper, throwing on tape of the Huskers’ 2020 and 2021 seasons to watch the receivers he’d be throwing to.
“I was looking for a great offense and a good offensive mind. The research that I did, honestly it was just film study, just trying to watch and see what teams around the country have potential and where the good receivers were at,” Thompson said. “And honestly, I think that we have enough talent and plenty of pieces in place here to win ball games and to compete at a high level, so that’s ultimately why I decided to come here.”
It’s only been a couple months since he’s been in Lincoln, but Thompson believes the offense has made real strides since beginning winter conditioning in January.
“I think we’re building continuity. I think we’re starting to understand the offense a little better,” Thompson said. “I think that we’re playing a little faster and we’re getting the details better as far as our blocking schemes, our route running. And for me, I’m just trying to focus on chemistry and timing with the receivers.”
Thompson likes the way Whipple tries to mess with a defense and make it think while trying to run similar plays or concepts. Changing up the formations is a good way to accomplish that, whether that be a condensed look on one play, then spread another. Utilizing motion is another way to create different looks with the same intent.
Considering Whipple’s NFL background, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that there are plenty of NFL passing concepts in Nebraska’s offense, too. Thompson likes that, and feels he’s uniquely qualified to run it because of his past experience in multiple offenses.
“It’s just really like photographic memory for me,” Thompson said. “When he pulls up the concepts or puts it on the board, it’s all concepts that I’ve learned before and I’ve ran at some point in my playing days. But it’s just learning the different terminology and kind of how he coaches it, is the main thing.”
Frost has been impressed with what Thompson’s been doing through five spring practices. With two of the five scholarship quarterbacks, Florida State transfer Chubba Purdy and true freshman Richard Torres, being limited while rehabbing injuries, Thompson, Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg have been getting the reps.
“I think Casey actually is doing the best at some of the new stuff, because everything’s new to him. But it’s a learning process for everybody,” Frost said. “Been really impressed at times, watching and get frustrated and think we need to get better at other times, that’s the process and that’s spring ball. But Casey’s been doing really good things out there, and the biggest thing is we’re getting such good leadership from the quarterback position. Those guys are driving the huddle, they’re pushing the team, they’re setting examples, and we need that as a football team.”
Coming to a new program and trying to become a leader was a challenge for Thompson, but he attacked it head on. In his first week in Lincoln, he laid back and observed while meeting and learning about his new teammates off the field. Then he wanted to build football relationships on the field—that meant numerous pitch-and-catch route-running sessions with receivers followed by meetings in the film room.
Then came trying to get to know the offensive line, the guys who will be keeping him on his feet against some of the best edge rushers in the country. What better way to do that than by feeding them? Thompson took the o-line to Rodizio Grill in Lincoln, then finished the night at Round1 Bowling. The o-line ordered the all-you-can-eat buffet and “a lot of drinks” Thompson said through a laugh.
“Ever since then I think it’s been great. I think it kind of broke the ice a little bit quicker. But it’s been great,” Thompson said of the bonding time with his teammates. “The team, I think they do a good job of just allowing me to be myself and lead whenever I need to. But we have a lot of good voices on this team, and I think that I’m definitely one of the leaders of the offense.”
Being a quarterback at Nebraska comes with extra things off the field, too. Adrian Martinez knows all about that, and Thompson gave the former Husker quarterback and current Kansas State Wildcat a call while researching the Husker program. Martinez was very complimentary of the program, state and fan base, Thompson said.
Thompson hasn’t officially won the starting quarterback job, but he’s already got a taste of what it’s like to be QB1 in Lincoln.
“Here in Nebraska, if I go to a restaurant, or if I go to a local high school basketball game or even just going to the gym down the street to try to get some lifts in on the weekend, I’m gonna end up getting stopped and having to take pictures and stuff like that,” Thompson said. “But it comes with it and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I think the Nebraska fan base is awesome.”
On top of learning a new offense, getting to know his teammates and settling into a new city, Thompson is dealing with what many other high-profile college football quarterbacks are in 2022—NIL opportunities.
There’s going to be plenty of time for sponsored social media posts and speaking appearances, Thompson said, but right now he’s trying to keep his attention on what he’s at Nebraska to do—win football games and make the case that he’s an NFL quarterback.
“Nebraska is probably hands down one of the best programs for NIL and just name, image and likeness opportunities,” Thompson said. “The support and the fan base here, I would say there’s nothing that really compares to this. I’m kind of even surprised and even blown away by how much football is a big deal around here, but it’s been great, it’s been fun.
“I’m kind of at the point now where I’m having to tone down a little bit some of the opportunities just so I can focus on ball, and right now the team and spring ball is my focus.”