So, the Double Extra Point has been on a bit of a hiatus, not posting since November 04.
It’s been … an eventful few months, with the turnover of the entire offensive coaching staff, the departure of the entire leadership cadre of players including talismanic quarterback Adrian Martinez, the remake of the roster through the transfer portal and *gasp* the hiring of a special teams coordinator.
Now we are back at that annual rite of passage, the beginning of spring practice. But in a year unlike any other, expect a spring practice unlike any other. Here’s five things to be watching for.
WHO IS GOING TO PLAY QUARTERBACK?
Martinez will be leading the Kansas State Wildcat offense in 2022, which will be a strange enough sight. But Nebraska’s quarterback room is quite full. Nebraska signed two transfer portal quarterbacks in Casey Thompson and Chubba Purdy. Nebraska also signed a scholarship high school quarterback in Richard Torres. And Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg are still on the roster and will be fighting for playing time.
For the first time in quite some time – and certainly the first time in Scott Frost’s history at Nebraska – we will be seeing a legitimate quarterback battle.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE?
Of all the departures from the 2021 squad, it’s possible defensive tackle Damion Daniels’ loss will be the most keenly felt. Particularly in the B1G, being able to have a strong presence in the middle of the defensive front to stand up against the run is of paramount importance.
Sophomore Nash Hutmacher will like be called upon first to fill Daniels’ role. Hutmacher saw limited playing time last year, but he (and the players behind him) will have a lot to prove.
WHO ARE THE OFFENSIVE SKILL PLAYERS?
Like with quarterback, the transfer portal saw a remaking of Nebraska’s receiving corps. Nebraska added Trey Purdy, an electric playmaker and return specialist, and Isaiah Garcia-Castenada to a group likely led by Omar Manning and Oliver Martin.
But perhaps the biggest addition to Nebraska’s pass-catchers will be the star of last year’s recruiting class, tight end Thomas Fidone. The five-star recruit from Iowa was sidelined last year after an injury in spring practice, but looks ready to contribute in 2022.
WHAT WILL THE OFFENSE LOOK LIKE?
Of all the new arrivals on Nebraska’s coaching staff, new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple might be the most intriguing. Frost arrived at Nebraska with a reputation for innovative, high-scoring offensive prowess. But after four years, his offenses have not exactly lived up to that billing.
Whipple’s arrival signals a number of things. First, he’s been successful wherever he has been, most recently guiding an offense that lead quarterback Kenny Pickett to a Heisman finalist season and likely a first-round selection in this year’s NFL Draft. Second, and perhaps just as important, Whipple brings a wealth of experience.
When Frost arrived in Lincoln, he brought his entire coaching staff from Central Florida. While that made some sense at the time given UCF’s success, one thing that was missing was a voice of experience to help guide and advise Frost. I still believe that one element of former head coach Bo Pelini’s downfall was his refusal to bring in coaches with outside experience that could challenge him and help him to grow.
Frost has done that with Whipple, at least in the hiring. How much that will translate to offensive performance on the field remains to be seen.
WILL SPECIAL TEAMS BE NOT QUITE AS TERRIBLE?
Even if Nebraska were just as mediocre as it was on offense and defense in the last two years – and that’s been plenty mediocre, believe me – Nebraska would still have made bowl games in each of those years were it not for comically, hysterically, inexcusably bad special teams play. Just last year, a win on the road against Michigan State – which could very well have inspired confidence and sparked more of a run the rest of the season – turned into a loss on a punt return.
That’s just one example of Nebraska’s special teams disaster area, from an inability to kick a field goal to the inevitable touchdown kickoff returns against Iowa and Wisconsin (including on the opening kickoff against Sconnie last year *insert angry face emoji*). If Nebraska was just average – not good, just average – in special teams over Frost’s career, NU would have been in bowl games each of those seasons.
It was very much an open question as to whether Frost would hire a special teams coordinator. After the end of last season, he seemed quite stubborn in his perception that special teams was not an area that needed drastic change.
But Nebraska did hire Bill Busch as a special teams coordinator, a reflection that at least special teams will get individualized attention. Now, having a special teams coordinator is no guarantee of success – Mike Riley had Bruce Read in that position, and Nebraska’s special teams that season were about as bad as they have been under Frost.
However, at least Nebraska is trying something different this year. And while one hesitates to say this for all the karma it can bring, statistically speaking it would really be hard for Nebraska to get much worse than it has been.