Nebraska football’s season-to-season overhaul is far from accidental.
Over the last five months, the Huskers have fired and filled four offensive coaching positions, while their four-year starting quarterback transferred elsewhere. Add in the departure of several key players through either graduation, the transfer portal or the NFL Draft and the result is a Nebraska team that will look noticeably different in 2022.
It will be extremely different. The Huskers rank No. 104 of 131 FBS teams in returning production according to ESPN’s S&P Rankings — the second-lowest mark in the Big Ten. As a result, Nebraska will be reliant on new faces at key positions in perhaps the most important season yet for Husker coach Scott Frost.
One of the headliners of Nebraska’s transfer class is junior wide receiver Trey Palmer, who spent the last three of his collegiate seasons at LSU. Palmer’s most productive season was in 2021, when he totaled 30 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He also contributed in the return game, where he averaged 20.3 yards per kick return for the Tigers.
Palmer followed first-year wide receiver coach Mickey Joseph to Lincoln, and his position coach said he has already noticed the impact he’s made at his new home through five weeks of spring practice.
“He’s really doing a great job of transitioning from Louisiana to Nebraska,” Joseph said. “He’s really coming out with energy, he’s playing hard every snap and he’s doing his best to help this team win.”
Even as a player projected to make a significant impact on Nebraska’s roster next season, adjusting to a completely new environment hasn’t come without its challenges. Palmer said he’s leaned heavily on his longtime coach for support both on and off the field.
“It’s really like a father, you know what I’m saying,” Palmer said. “He looks at me like his own. So to have somebody in my life like that on the field and off the field, it’s very good.”
Still, Palmer said he’s making an impact on the wide receiver room this spring, thanks in large part to his relationship with Joseph. The former three-star recruit describes his leadership style as “silent” and chose instead to lead by example with his play on the field.
Palmer’s play on the field through spring practice has turned plenty of heads. Frost recalled an anecdote from an earlier practice in which Palmer requested the ball during a two-minute drill, and said that Palmer was confident he’d be able to beat his defender and score. Two plays later, Frost drew up a play for Palmer and, sure enough, he scored to end the drill.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t already formed close bonds with his fellow wide receivers, though. Palmer praised the room as a whole, noting how easy it was to get acclimated. What’s more, the group is extremely tight-knit.
“We learn from each other,” Palmer said. “I might pick up something from them one day, they might pick up something from me one day. It’s just learning like a brotherhood, a real brotherhood.”
Palmer said he’s most looking forward to contributing to the Huskers in 2022 with his energy. Palmer radiated enthusiasm with each question he answered, with a mile-wide smile each time he spoke about his excitement to get on the field and show what he can do. While he’ll have to wait a few months and endure another lengthy period of practice before the season gets underway in late August, his attitude and love for the game remains steadfast.
“When I get on the field, I’m just me… On the field I dance and play, let ‘em have fun,” Palmer said. “What’s football without fun?”
Palmer has shared plenty of battles this spring with sophomore cornerback and Arizona State transfer Tommi Hill, who Palmer instantly named when asked about a player he’s enjoyed sharing repetitions with through the spring. Hill joins the Huskers after he spent the 2021 season at Arizona State, and finished his campaign with the Sun Devils with nine total tackles. Like Palmer, he also contributed on special teams at his previous collegiate destination.
Also like Palmer, Hill has brought his confidence and swagger to the Huskers despite only being around the team for a few weeks.
“I think that [the transfers] brought swag to the team, a little more swag,” Hill said. “The team already had swag, we just brought some more, a little touch of it there. Just swag, competitiveness, mentality. That’s what you’re gonna get from us.”
Led by defensive backs coach Travis Fisher, Hill should undoubtedly factor into a Husker secondary that has several key pieces to replace. The Huskers’ cornerback room, in particular, has to replace former cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, who declared for the NFL Draft following the 2021 season.
Hill, to his credit, appears to be up to the task. He said that the only adjustment he needed to make while getting acclimated to Lincoln was in learning the playbook — noting that he’s “already there” athletically to compete with Big Ten wide receivers. Those aforementioned one-on-one battles with Palmer have helped reaffirm that for Hill, and served as an example of the unique mindset he brings to his craft.
“It’s a dog mentality like Kobe, Kobe Bryant,” Hill said. “I build off of him, how he comes to the game and plays. Even when he’s sick, hurt, anything, he tries to play to the best of his abilities.”
Nebraska’s coaches have taken plenty of notice of Hill’s all-or-nothing mentality that he brings to seemingly each repetition at practice. Fisher agreed that Hill’s self-proclaimed “dog” status was a worthy one given his ultra-competitive play in the spring, while Frost has been pleased with the Orlando, Florida native’s playmaking.
“[Hill]’s been a bright spot,” Frost said. “He’s got a lot to learn yet and consistency. But there’s really no doubt of his playmaking ability. I love the energy and passion he brings to the game as well.”
It still remains to be seen how much of an impact both Hill and Palmer will have on Nebraska football on the field in 2022, but they’ve already made an impact on the practice field as the calendar begins to turn towards summer.