Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Spring Football, Depth Chart Predictions and More

April 13, 2022

It’s mailbag time, and it’s understandably heavy on the spring football side of things.

This week’s edition deals with possible attrition at certain positions in the football program, as well as some spring game thoughts and hypotheticals.

Without further ado, let’s get to it. 

What positions are we most likely to see attrition? (@lredeugene) 

Greg Smith: I have an eye on every position that had a lot of competition this spring. Every offensive position but tight end is on watch for attrition. Maybe there is a defensive back who doesn’t fit into the long-term equation now with all the additions? If I had to narrow it down, though, I’d say wide receiver is the most likely spot.  

Steve Marik: I’ll go with defensive back. There are just a lot of faces in that room, some of whom have been in the program for over three years and have yet to crack the rotation with the first-team defense. 

Jacob Padilla: Any time you have some depth at quarterback, you always have to be on the lookout for possible attrition. I think we could see somebody leave that running back room. Perhaps one or two of the offensive linemen that are way down the depth chart after a couple years in the program could look elsewhere. Maybe one of those young wideouts gets impatient. Basically, Greg was correct that any offensive position outside of tight end could maybe lose a guy. On defense, I don’t think they have enough depth up front to lose anybody at this point. I like the look of that inside linebacker room. Maybe somebody from the secondary looks elsewhere. Basically, for “most likely” I’d start by looking at any position that has a veteran who has yet to crack to rotation on offense or defense and doesn’t look to be a sure bet to do so this year.

When does the next school session begin? This will give us insight on new transfers. (@lredeugene) 

Erin Sorensen: Nebraska’s Spring 2022 academic calendar ends on Friday, May 13. With that said, the last day of classes is Saturday, May 7. The week that follows is finals week. Summer courses then begin Monday, May 16. At this point, a player can choose to enter the portal at any time. They don’t have to wait until the end of classes to make that decision. If they do, however, those are your dates to keep in mind.

Any news on possible media rights partners? (@lredeugene) 

Mike Babcock: Trev Alberts said they’re still looking but because it’s a long-term deal (12 years?), they need the right fit. They determined JMI wasn’t the right fit, though the person with whom he had been working was a friend. Nothing beyond that as of Saturday.

What does our running back room look like for week one? (@lredeugene) 

Steve: I think there will primarily be three guys in a rotation early in the season, and they each bring something different to the table. Let’s start with Rahmir Johnson. He’s emerged as a leader of that room. I believe he’s got the best receiving hands of the backs and might be the fastest, too. The thing with Johnson is his size—at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he doesn’t look like your typical big, physical Big Ten running back. But Johnson obviously doesn’t care how big he is—he still runs hard. Plus, he showed nice things in picking up blitzes in the spring game, and that’s important if a back wants to stay on the field on third downs.

Next, I’d say Anthony Grant and Jaquez Yant will be in the mix. Grant had a great spring game (even though it was mostly two-hand touch when he was in) and showed off that side-to-side shiftiness that every back desires—he moves well. First-year running backs coach Bryan Applewhite recruited Grant to TCU while Grant was at New Mexico Military Institute, so he obviously liked what Grant has shown on film, and why wouldn’t you. Yant has the power and is more elusive than you’d think for a back that stands 6-2, 232 pounds. It sounds like he’s really tried to better himself this offseason, both physically and mentally. Both of those things needed to happen; we’ll see if they make a real difference when the season comes around.

It’d be wise to keep an eye on Ajay Allen, too, a four-star recruit in the 2022 class who will get to Lincoln this summer. Allen was committed to TCU when Applewhite was still coaching there. Me personally, I’ll be very interested to see how Gabe Ervin Jr. comes back from that knee injury he suffered in last season’s Oklahoma game. I believe Ervin, who was the first true freshman to start at running back at Nebraska in the modern era, has the whole package. He picked up the blitz well and was just starting to find his stride before the knee injury happened.

If you had to make the depth chart right now, who would be where at quarterback and why?  

Mike: Thompson, Smothers and Purdy. Thompson is the most experienced and probably the best fit for Whipple’s offense. Smothers provides more of a run threat and has been in the program, though the offense has changed. Purdy missed some time in the spring. 

Jacob: I’d agree with Mike’s depth chart coming out of the spring. I don’t see anybody knocking off Thompson at the top this fall, but I think that back-up spot is very much still up for grabs and depends on what kind of progress Smothers shows as a passer and whether or not Purdy can stay healthy and log enough reps to make his case. 

The defensive line, especially on the edge with Garrett Nelson, had a great spring game. Do you think that’s because those players have improved at getting to the quarterback, or because they were going against an offensive line that was missing key players and is a work in progress right now? 

Greg: I’d say it’s a bit of both. Nelson spoke during the post-game interview about focusing on getting faster off the edge this spring. That work looks to have paid off. It does need to be taken with a grain of salt though based on the competition he faced in the game. That offensive line might come together when fully healthy but it might take longer than anyone wants. It’s asking a lot for Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran to hit the ground running in a new scheme as young players.  

Jacob: Yeah, I thought the tackles looked pretty rough in the spring game, but at the same time Nelson looked faster around the end than I’d seen from him previously. His bend and explosion was impressive. I liked what I saw from Jimari Butler, and Caleb Tannor and Blaise Gunnerson each made plays as well. I do think that is a position group that is continuing to make progress as a whole, which Nebraska really needs.

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