Nebraska football training camp: Five position battles to watch

There are always questions to be answered during spring camp. The presence of a post-spring transfer portal window means some of those questions naturally resolve themselves, which was the case with Nebraska’s quarterback spot.
With 2022 starter Casey Thompson sitting out the spring, it appeared a position battle between him and Jeff Sims might stretch all the way into fall camp. But when Thompson entered the portal and quickly landed at Florida Atlantic, NU’s starter was all but guaranteed to be Sims.
Such clarity is yet to emerge at positions like linebacker, where defensive coordinator Tony White is seeking the top three performers to fill those starting roles.
“I’m really interested to see how that linebacker room plays out, (because) that’ll be a big thing for putting guys in the right positions and what kind of personnel groupings you can put together,” White said in April. “That room right there will be key for what we do in the fall.”
Including linebacker, here are five positions set for intense competition in fall camp:
Guard: Nebraska has a good problem on its hands with its offensive line — there are more starting-caliber players than there are starting roles. Certain players like Ben Scott (center) and Bryce Benhart (right tackle) are almost certain to lock down their spots, but things are more jumbled at the guard spots. Turner Corcoran has been a versatile performer for Nebraska, sliding over to tackle from guard multiple times when injuries necessitated it.
Senior Nouredin Nouili was one of NU’s most consistent linemen in 2021, while junior Ethan Piper came on strong late last season and represented the Huskers at Big Ten Media Days. Sophomore Henry Lutovsky also rotated in at guard last fall and will throw his name into the mix. Even if Corcoran were to reprise his role at tackle, a camp competition will be needed to sort out the guard spots.
Wide receiver: Nebraska’s 2023 wide receiver room will look almost nothing like the group that finished the 2022 season. Senior Marcus Washington caught 31 passes a year ago and should almost certainly exceed that number as he takes on a focal role in the offense. The likely candidate to lead the team in catches is Billy Kemp, a Virginia transfer who should eat up targets in the slot. Veteran wideout Joshua Fleeks should also rotate with Kemp, while the likes of Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda and Zavier Betts are well-suited for the outside.
Washington and Kemp should be on the field for the first snap of the season, but who joins them? Don’t rule out a freshman from breaking out in fall camp, either.
Tight end: Things are no clearer at tight end after the spring. Thomas Fidone, yet to catch a pass in his Husker career, has been eagerly awaiting his chance after two season-ending injuries. He’ll get the chance to earn the starting role during fall camp, but there’s plenty of competition to go around. Uncertainty over the NCAA granting a waiver for Arik Gilbert still hangs overhead just one month before the season begins, so NU may have to look elsewhere if the Georgia transfer must sit out the season.
Nate Boerkircher, a former walk-on, earned a scholarship after working as one of NU’s top three tight ends last season. He’ll be an important contributor again this fall. The Nebraska coaching staff is also looking for redshirt freshmen Luke Lindenmeyer and Jake Appleget to make a jump this fall.
Linebacker: The new linebacker roles in Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense — the “Mike,” “Will” and “Jack” — mean some different responsibilities for Husker linebacker than in the past. Senior Luke Reimer has recorded 176 tackles in the last two seasons and should slot into the middle of the defense once again. As for the hybrid edge rusher role required to play as a Jack, the likes of Jimari Butler, MJ Sherman or Chief Borders.
As for the weak-side linebacker, Nick Henrich could retain his starting role after a 2022 season derailed by multiple injuries. Junior walk-on John Bullock impressed coaches this spring and will be a key backup, while redshirt freshman Gage Stenger is bulking up to help his chances of seeing playing time.
Illinois vs. Nebraska, 10.29
Nebraska's Myles Farmer (8) tackles Illinois' Chase Brown in the second quarter on Oct. 29 at Memorial Stadium. Farmer will be one of the first players in the mix to start at safety.
KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star file photo
Safety: The spring helped solidify the likely starters at cornerback — Quinton Newsome and Malcolm Hartzog — but there are plenty of other defensive backs hoping to earn their spots at safety. White and secondary coach Evan Cooper like rotating players around, so there will be plenty of playing time to battle for during fall camp.
Senior Myles Farmer, a key starter for Nebraska last season, is one of the first players in the mix. Junior Marques Buford’s recovery from a season-ending ACL injury will dictate whether he can jump in immediately or will need more time to return to full strength. Isaac Gifford moved over from nickel to fill in for Buford late last season and found plenty of success in that role; he’ll be a major contributor as the rover in NU’s secondary. Florida transfer Corey Collier and DeShon Singleton are two others who could rise up the depth chart with a strong camp performance.

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