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Nebraska Football's 10 Biggest Developments Since Spring Game

Nebraska Football's 10 Biggest Developments Since Spring Game
Nebraska Football's 10 Biggest Developments Since Spring Game


LINCOLN, Neb. — Roster changes, recruiting moves and personnel turnover in college football know no offseason.

Nebraska was hit with a surprise staff change on Friday when secondary coach Evan Cooper abruptly left the program. The university confirmed Cooper's departure but did not provide details. Cooper did not respond to a request for comment.

Since early May, a week after the spring game at Memorial Stadium, a flurry of trades has changed the face of the Huskers. The changes may not be over yet, with three weeks to go before the start of preseason camp. But a picture of the midseason is starting to come into focus.

Below is a summary of events, including those not yet finalized, over the past two months in Lincoln, listed in order of importance:

1. Cooper's departure. It came as a shock because Nebraska coach Matt Rhule holds the 37-year-old coach in such high regard. Cooper has worked with Rhule in each of his four head coaching stops and has turned down at least one opportunity to advance his career after last season. Cooper was the rare Rhule assistant allowed to offer scholarships based on his own evaluations. He was set to make $670,000 this year, behind only defensive coordinator Tony White ($1.6 million), offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield ($1.4 million) and co-OC Glenn Thomas ($800,000).

More than half of the scholarship players in the secondary were recruited to Nebraska after Coopers arrived. He helped develop cornerback Tommi Hill and safeties DeShon Singleton and Isaac Gifford last season, who are expected to be leaders in the defensive backfield in 2024.

2. Possible addition of John Butler. The Huskers are working to sign Butler to replace Coopers, a team source said. Butler, 51, resigned as the Buffalo Bills' secondary coach in February after a successful six-year run, saying at the time that he wanted to pursue a chance to run a defense in the NFL or college football.

This could be it. Several programs expressed interest in White as a head coaching candidate after last season, his first with the Huskers. White is positioned to lead a program soon and is seen as a rising star in the industry. Butler could fit in as White's eventual replacement.

Players in Buffalo have spoken highly of Butler. If a deal is struck with Nebraska, he will be tasked with quickly familiarizing himself with the Huskers' 3-3-5 scheme and integrating his style into the Nebraska system.

3. Addition of cornerback Ceyair Wright. The Huskers stayed in the secondary, adding a late transfer of the former USC cornerback after his visit to Lincoln in June. Wright started 11 games in 2022 for an 11-3 team. His playing time declined last year before leaving the Trojans in the second half of the season. He did not appear on USC’s spring roster.

If Wright finds a solid fit with White and possibly Butler, the former top-100 national recruit from Los Angeles could fill a key need for the Huskers. They lost transfer Blye Hill in the spring game to an injury that could keep him out for the early part of the season. It creates an opportunity for Wright, a fourth-year junior, to slot in at cornerback opposite Tommi Hill while the Huskers audition a group of freshmen and sophomores.

4. Addition of quarterback Jalyn Gramstad. No one fell into the Huskers’ lap like the QB from Northwestern (Iowa) College. The 2023 NAIA Player of the Year, he threw for 3,281 yards with 35 touchdowns before making an unannounced appearance at a post-graduate camp in Lincoln on June 10. More important than Gramstad’s numbers or his level of college competition is the breadth of experience he brings to the Nebraska QB group. His input and presence should help the development of freshmen Dylan Raiola, the likely starter, and Danny Kaelin.

Junior Heinrich Haarberg could benefit even more. Haarberg is a special athlete. He can provide a wild-card element to the offense while still retaining his QB skills. But if he is stuck at QB due to limited depth, that would limit his versatility. Gramstad could solve the problem.

5. Addition of running back Mekhi Nelson. June also brought a surprise at running back, with Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson still recovering from injuries. Nebraska did not sign a high school running back this year, adding former four-star prospect Dante Dowdell as a transfer from Oregon. But Nelson, at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, fits into a role similar to Johnson's.

The Huskers also have Emmett Johnson back, who has started six of the last seven games in 2023. Depth is essential in the backfield. Nebraska will rely more on that position for the bulk of its rushing attempts this year because it takes the pressure off the QB position.

Nelson expected to spend the fall at a prep school in Connecticut two months ago. Instead, he’s in the mix for the Huskers.

6. The recruitment supplements. There’s no flood of summer commitments like there was a year ago. The Huskers passed on in-state tight ends Reiman Zebert (bound for Stanford) and Chase Loftin (Florida State). But the position group remains deep in Lincoln, and Nebraska has begun to fill out the offensive line with recent commitments Shawn Hammerbeck, Houston Kaahaaina-Torres and Brian Tapu.

Quarterback TJ Lateef accepted an offer in May. Running back Jamarion Parker, a priority target, defensive lineman Malcolm Simpson and athletes Pierce Mooberry and Jeremiah Jones followed in June and early July, bringing the Huskers' total to 15 commitments.

None of this will directly impact Nebraska in 2024, but the recruiting momentum is permeating the program. The class is somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten, with a chance to grow in prestige if the first half of the season catches the eye of a few prospects.

7. Departure of cornerback Ethan Nation. The former three-star player, who played in seven games as a true freshman last year and intercepted Kaelin in the spring game, did not return in June when the team gathered for the start of summer practice.

Nation may have fallen off the pace in the race for playing time at corner this offseason, but his contributions were significant on special teams in 2023. Nebraska is still inexperienced at the spot he vacated, though his departure did help the Huskers seek a trade. And Wright they found.

8. Addition of lineman David Hoffken. The paths that led Nebraska to Gramstad and Nelson were considered unusual, but none top the story of Hoffkens. He showed up at two satellite camps in Texas last month, less than a week after first setting foot in North America. The 22-year-old German impressed many coaches, but Nebraska’s Donovan Raiola and Terrance Knighton were the first from a major school to make the move.

A physical specimen with pure soccer talent, Hoffken said he expects to try the offensive side of the ball first. But nothing is set in stone until he gets a student visa in Germany, returns to the United States and settles in Lincoln.

9. Departure of lineman RuQuan Buckley. The fourth-year lineman jumped into the transfer portal in late April. Buckley had earned positive reviews for his work in practice on the offensive line after moving from the defensive side late last season. His attitude lifted the room, teammates and coaches said. He landed at Michigan State.

10. Addition of kicker John Hohl. The Huskers remained unsettled at kicker after the spring. Tristan Alvano, who held the job as a true freshman last season, missed a pair of field goals in the first half on April 27. Competition will come from newcomer Nico Ottomanelli and now Hohl, the Iowa Western Community College transfer who graduated from Lincoln Southwest a year ago.

(Photo by Ceyair Wright: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)




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