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Nebraska Football 2023 Spring Preview: The Quarterbacks

This “room” is definitely loaded. Who honestly will see snaps this fall?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The Huskers enter spring camp with eight quarterbacks on the roster and a situation where the camp will almost certainly end without a named starter. The incumbent is injured, the transfer brought in to challenge is trying to learn the system and a younger reserve with no playing time has been raising eyebrows. A few notes:

  • Returning starter Casey Thompson is recovering from shoulder surgery and will only be doing light work.
  • Only four of the eight QB’s have seen live game action.
  • Four are transfers.
  • There are six scholarship QB’s and two walk-ons.
  • Four of the five who have been in school for over a year have been recognized by their conferences for their academic achievements.
  • Haarberg is the only Nebraska native in the QB room. (Barring additional walk-ons, this appears likely to continue through next season with the pursuit of Dylan Raiola and Daniel Kaelin already committed to Missouri.)

While spring won’t answer the starting QB question, I would say the odds lean toward a thinning of the scholarship QB’s. While anything’s possible, the staff likely will not carry six into the 2023 season. Add in that five of these guys could likely start somewhere right now, odds are four of those won’t all be satisfied riding the pine.

Anyway, let’s run down the list. I’ve put it in order of how I’d set the depth chart today if you put a gun to my head. I’ve thrown in a few facts and stats about everyone and below that are some way, WAY too early predictions (read: wild guesses) about how things might play out and where everyone will stand on opening day.

As always, please add your thoughts in the comments section below!

Way Too Early Projected Depth Chart

#11 - Casey Thompson - Sr - Oklahoma City - 2023 - 173-274 2407yds 63% 17TD’s 10 INT’s, 5 Rush TD’s. 12th Nationally 13.9 YdsPerCompletion, 14th Nationally 8.8 YPAttempt - Dec 2022, received Masters Degree in Applied Science at UNL (transferred from Texas where he was 1st Team Academic All-Big 12 in 2020 and ‘21.)

Basically just rehabbing from shoulder surgery this spring, the early thoughts were that Sims already had a huge lead in the QB1 race since Rhule gushed about him after his transfer while not saying much about Thompson. However, it appears Casey has won the HC over with his already firm grasp of the new offense. Rhule mentioning consistency will be a huge factor in who gets the nod along with Thompson’s competitive fire and leadership has me projecting him under center for the first snaps of 2023. Also, I really want to see what he can do when not always running for his life.

#14 - Jeff Sims - Jr - Jacksonville - Started 23 games 2020-2022 amassing over 5500 yards of total offense. He was a 3-time ACC Rookie of the Week in 2020 and ACC All-Academic selection in 2021. (transferred from Georgia Tech)

Sims brings a combination of size, speed and arm strength which has Rhule drooling, but don’t overlook his smarts or leadership which are also gaining notice. His stats at Tech were not overly impressive at times, but that could be a Josh Allen-type situation in which he was not exactly surrounded with elite talent. I believe he will start the season as the back-up, but I also believe we will see him in much more than mop-up duty this year as well.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

#10 - Heinrich Haarberg - Soph - Kearney - Academic All-Big 10, Brook Berringer Citizenship Team and Tom Osborne Citizenship Team in 2022. In addition to football awards in high school, he also excelled in track finishing 2nd in the 200m dash and 4x100m relay and 3rd in the 100m dash and high jump at the Class C state track meet. Coach Ruhle has called him one of the fastest men on the team.

The spring might be as important to Haarberg as anyone on the roster. His size, speed, athleticism and arm being basically ignored by the previous offensive coordinator had many scratching their heads when the Huskers’ top three QB’s were all banged up in some form last season. Rhule and his staff noticed him right away sending him to one of the first press conferences with players. Can he force his way into the starter conversation? Probably not, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. He might be a transfer possibility, but he also has not closed the door on a position switch. This staff appears to really want him on the field.

Northwestern v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

#18 - Logan Smothers - Jr - Muscle Shoals, AL - Smothers was limited somewhat by injury in 2022 but saw action in 5 games, most while Casey Thompson was sitting out due to injury. He started the last game of 2021 against Iowa when Adrian Martinez was hurt. Smothers grabbed Academic All-Big 10 honors in both 2021 and ‘22.

Smothers name has come up the last couple of years as a transfer possibility but thus far, he has not budged from remaining in Lincoln. He enters 2023 as a fourth year junior and appears to be a longshot to start anymore barring another slew of injuries. Is he truly happy in Lincoln or does he decide he wants at some regular playing time before he hangs up his cleats?

NCAA Football: Fordham at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

#12 - Chubba Purdy - Soph - Queen Creek, AZ - Played in 6 games in 2022 as Thompson’s backup with 2 starts while Casey Thompson was injured (transferred from Florida State)

There’s no easy to put this - when Thompson went down against Illinois, Purdy got the call for that and the next two games and he was a disaster. But to be fair, against Michigan he was actually starting to move the offense a little when he went down with an injury. He has a clean slate with Rhule’s staff and - let’s face it - his luck can’t possibly be any worse. However, in 2022, he had the advantage of being Whipple’s handpicked guy, an advantage which won’t be there this time. His best shot here may have passed him by and if that’s the case, I could definitely see him wanting to start fresh somewhere else.

#15 - Richard Torres - RFr - San Antonio - did not play in 2022.

Torres is another QB recruited by the previous staff and appears to be way down in the pecking order and also has seen three transfer QB’s brought in since he’s been on the roster. This spring feels like his chance to impress and try to jump a few spots to position himself for playing time in 2024 and beyond. If he comes out of it believing he’s still in 5th or 6th place, he also might be a candidate to look for a better opportunity.

#17 - Mikey Pauley - RFr - Overland Park, KS - did not play in 2022. Is a football walk-on while on scholarship for Husker baseball (turned down multiple football scholarship offers)

Pauley was actually a highly recruited QB as stated above but has chosen baseball as his #1 sport. His name hasn’t been mentioned much yet, but if he flashes some magic in fall camp, does he start re-thinking that decision? More likely, if he’s stays buried on the depth chart - and rising will be tough if he’s not with the football team in the springs - he eventually commits full-time to baseball.

#19 - Jack Woche - RFr - Austin, TX - (Walk-on) Reserve on the IMG Academy team which was crowned the HS National Champion in 2020. (transferred from Mississippi)

My best guess here is that Rhule sees coaching in Woche’s future and that this will be something of a Garrett McGuire situation where he has brought him in as the first step in a mentoring situation. Football-wise, I don’t ever expect him to take a snap in anything but the 4th quarter of a Spring Game.

There you have it. If I even get 25% of this correct, I’ll feel like I beat Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. As requested above, please feel free to throw in your own thoughts and tell me what I’ve already gotten wrong. GBR

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