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Nebraska Football: Cornhuskers' 2022 Spring Preview

Nebraska Football: How Scott Frost is Maximizing His Roster

This spring is a critical one for head coach Scott Frost coming off of a fourth straight losing season leading the Cornhuskers

Nebraska begins an important spring practice under coach Scott Frost on Monday for the 2022 college football season. Frost is facing a make-or-break campaign after agreeing to a salary and buyout reduction following last year’s 3-9 record. Since taking over at his alma mater, Frost is just 15-29 and has yet to post a winning season or reach a bowl. The former Nebraska quarterback hopes a revamped staff helps get the program on track, but the depth chart features question marks on both sides of the ball. Also, a schedule featuring a non-conference matchup versus Oklahoma and a crossover game against Michigan in Big Ten play provides its share of challenges.

Considering not all rosters are settled and newcomers in place on campus, it’s hard to gain too much from spring practice. However, every team has storylines and things to watch as the path to the ’22 season officially gets underway. Here’s a look at what’s on tap for Nebraska this spring:

Nebraska Football: Cornhuskers' 2022 Spring Preview

1. Changes on Offense
The path to six (or more) wins and a bowl trip starts with improving on offense in 2022. New play-caller Mark Whipple arrives in Lincoln after a successful stint at Pitt, where he guided the offense to an average of 6.4 yards per play and 41.4 points a game last year. Also, he was instrumental in the development of quarterback Kenny Pickett into potential first-round pick status. The Panthers leaned more on the pass over the last two years than Nebraska has in that span, so this attack is likely to look different than the one deployed in Lincoln under Frost. Also, Whipple isn’t the only new assistant on the offensive side of the ball. Mickey Joseph was brought in to coach receivers, Bryan Applewhite tutors running backs, and Donovan Raiola now leads the offensive line. What tweaks will Whipple implement with this offense this spring? And how will the new staff blend all of their ideas together in their first chance to implement this offense?

Related: Early Big Ten 2022 QB Preview and Rankings

2. The Quarterbacks
The quarterback room in Lincoln will look different this fall after four-year starter Adrian Martinez transferred to Kansas State. Frost and Whipple mined the portal for instant help and depth, landing Casey Thompson (Texas) and Chubba Purdy (Florida State) to compete with Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg. Smothers started the regular-season finale against Iowa and completed 16 of 22 passes for 198 yards and added 64 yards and two scores on the ground. Although Smothers has played for two years in Lincoln, Thompson could be the favorite to take the first snap in the ’22 opener. The Oklahoma native played in all 12 games with the Longhorns last year, throwing for 2,113 yards and 24 touchdowns (tops in the Big 12) and rushing for 157 yards and four scores. With the new system under Whipple, along with the transfer additions, there’s a lot of uncertainty and intrigue surrounding Nebraska’s quarterback situation this spring.

3. Building Blocks Up Front
Although the quarterback position will draw plenty of attention this offseason, Nebraska’s offensive line is arguably an even bigger concern. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cornhuskers ranked No. 74 nationally in run blocking and No. 126 in pass blocking last year. This group also allowed 23 sacks in Big Ten play. Replacing center Cam Jurgens is crucial, and Raiola will get his first look at the candidates this spring. Nouredin Nouili, Trent Hixson or Ethan Piper could be an option at the pivot to replace Jurgens. Tackles Teddy Prochazka and Turner Corcoran should fit into the starting five somewhere in ’22, but both players will miss spring ball due to injury. Bryce Benhart returns after starting 10 games at right tackle last year, with transfers Hunter Anthony (Oklahoma State) and Kevin Williams (Northern Colorado) also expected to push for snaps.

Related: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Cornhuskers

4. Filling the Gaps on Defense
Last year’s 3-9 record certainly wasn’t a reflection of how Nebraska’s defense performed in ‘21. The Cornhuskers held teams to 22.7 points a game and 5.3 yards per play. Also, only two teams scored more than 31 points in a contest against this unit. Coordinator Erik Chinander has a full to-do list ahead this spring, however. Damion Daniels and Ben Stille must be replaced up front, with versatile defender JoJo Domann also on the list of departures. Three starters – including standout cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt – are gone in the secondary. Transfers Tommi Hill (Arizona State) and Omar Brown (Northern Iowa) are expected to step in right away. Quinton Newsome is back to anchor one corner spot, and Myles Farmer is likely to start at safety after manning that spot for the final four games last year. The linebacker unit should be a strength with Caleb Tannor (edge rusher), Luke Reimer, Nick Henrich and Garrett Wilson (edge rusher) returning next fall.

Nebraska probably won’t find all of the answers to plug the gaps on defense this spring, but this set of practices is the first look at how those areas are shaping up.

Related: Ranking the Big Ten Transfer Classes for 2022

5. Special Teams
Special teams have been a major issue for Nebraska in recent years, but there’s optimism this unit could turn things around in ’22. Frost devoted a full-time assistant (Bill Busch) to the position, and the ‘Huskers dipped into the portal for a new kicker (Timmy Bleekrode) and punter (Brian Buschini). After losing eight games by one score last year, improvement on the margins with special teams would help Nebraska inch closer to a winning mark.

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