If you’re searching for some clarity in the wide receiver room as Nebraska tracks under two weeks until its season-opener against Ohio State, you’re not alone. One high-profile guy is right there with you.
“I’m pleased overall with the depth and the play at that position, but that needs to work itself out pretty quickly—who’s healthy and who’s available—and we need to get dialed in for the first game,” Husker head coach Scott Frost said Tuesday when asked about the group.
The wideout room, Frost says, is a work in progress still, an equation that still needs solved.
One rather large variable in that equation is Omar Manning.
The top-rated junior college receiver from the previous recruiting cycle, much was expected of the 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver. And right away, it should be added. Nebraska needed to add size to its wideout room following a season in which only three guys caught more than 10 balls. One of those guys transferred, and one exhausted his eligibility. The only remaining guy in the room, Wan’Dale Robinson, is best in the slot.
Nebraska needed and still needs a deep-ball/red zone threat.
That was presumed to be Manning, who Frost called a “Sunday guy” once he got to campus.
Internet speculation and unsubstantiated rumors cropped up over the weekend calling into question Manning’s status for the new season. Asked directly Tuesday if he expected Manning would be ready to play on Oct. 24 against Ohio State, Frost said simply: “I hope so.”
Perhaps too early to sound any alarms. Frost still expects to have the wideout.
"When Omar’s been out there, he’s looked really good,” Frost said. “He’s been dealing with some health things that’s kind of kept him in and out. We need him out there more consistently if he’s going to help us the way we expect him to and hope that he will.”
Previously, Frost has said personal issues have also played a role in limiting Manning’s practice availability. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick first revealed a few weeks ago Manning had been dealing with “nagging” injuries throughout the offseason.
He’s not the only one, though.
“Wan’Dale’s been there for the most part, (but) been nicked up a little bit,” Frost said. “Alante Brown’s been out there, (but) nicked up a little bit.”
Brown made an impression on his teammates early in camp, and has been name-dropped several times as a guy standing out. A true freshman wideout from Chicago, Lubick said he’s earned the respect of his teammates through his work before and after practices.
Robinson is the team’s leading returning receiver.
Most expected those three names—Robinson, Manning, and Brown—to be Nebraska’s top wideouts come gametime. That they’ve all either dealt with or are currently dealing with hindrances as the season approaches would certainly seem to be cause for pause.
Remember, Lubick said on Oct. 1 that his wideout room was in a really good place. The optimist need look no further than the walk-on group of receivers, who have had the proverbial door opened for them a bit more than expected this camp.
Third-year sophomore wideout Wyatt Liewer has now been mentioned by quarterback Adrian Martinez and Frost as a guy making the most of his opportunities. (Liewer, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, has not played in a game yet while at Nebraska.) When cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt was asked about wideouts standing out, he named graduate transfer walk-on Levi Falck. “We’ve had some other guys that look like they’re stepping up,” Frost said.
One name that has been consistently mentioned is junior walk-on Kade Warner, who Frost said has done a “wonderful job” in camp.
“Kade’s been a leader for us,” he said. “The best thing he’s done is he’s been out there the entire time. I don’t think he’s missed any time. If you’re gonna play, you gotta be on the field, and he’s been out there the entire time. Done a good job leading at that position.”
Junior tight end Austin Allen echoed that sentiment, also letting slip that Warner was recently placed on scholarship.
“His leadership is unmatched in the receiver corps,” Allen said. Allen and Warner are roommates. He says Warner will bring other wideouts over to watch Monday Night or Thursday Night Football together. “We’ll have a whiteboard in the living room and he’ll say, ‘Let me talk you through this defense, let me talk you through this offense.’”
Allen said the room has shown good speed. “I think that’s something we’ll see a lot of this fall,” he said. Taylor-Britt says the physicality from the group has been good.
Nebraska has other scholarship options at wideout it can turn to if Manning or any of its other top guys continues to be bothered, namely the two freshmen—Marcus Fleming and Zavier Betts—and redshirt freshman Chris Hickman. Waiting in the wings are Jamie Nance and Demariyon Houston.
Additionally, Nebraska has other walk-on guys it feels are promising. Ty Hahn, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound true freshman, entered with some excitement. It should also be noted Brody Belt is listed as a wideout now on the team’s online roster; he played running back last season.
But, ultimately, this is a room that will be defined by the big dogs. Nebraska was planning for Manning to be a key piece of its offense in 2020. If that has changed, it would present an issue. Frost was not asked specifically nor did he say if Manning participated in the team scrimmage last Saturday.
His status remains uncertain. Frost wants that sorted out soon.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.