Husker spring roster analysis: Quarterbacks

Redshirt freshman Patrick O'Brien, left, and Tulane transfer Tanner Lee are competing to be Nebraska's starting quarterback next season.

The Nebraska football team will return to work on Tuesday after taking a week off from spring drills. With the Red-White Game looming on April 15, Mike Riley and his staff have only 20 more days before the curtain lifts on one of the country’s best-attended spring games.

Below is a breakdown of the quarterbacks that Danny Langsdorf has been working with this spring. You can also check out analysis on the running backswide receivers/tight endsoffensive linedefensive linelinebackersdefensive backs, and special teams.

* * *


The only player on the Nebraska roster who has taken a snap at quarterback wearing a Husker jersey is receiver Zack Darlington, and that was out of necessity late in the Music City Bowl. NU isn’t totally lacking for experience at the position, however, because junior Tanner Lee started 19 games during the 2014 and ’15 seasons at Tulane. Lee served scout-team duty last fall sitting out after his transfer, and Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien have started spring practice by sharing first-team reps. The two are considered better fits for what Riley and Langsdorf want to do offensively, starting with an improved completion percentage.


Junior-college transfer Andrew Bunch and freshman Tristan Gebbia are getting the leftover practice work, but neither is expected to challenge for time next season unless the Huskers run into injury problems at the position. Bunch played last season at Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College and has three years of eligibility remaining. Gebbia was a prize catch in the last NU recruiting cycle and enrolled in January.


Nebraska goes on without Tommy Armstrong, who left with school records for passing yards (8,871), total offense (10,690), touchdown passes (67) and total TDs (91). It also will lack any run threat similar to what Armstrong provided, meaning some mandatory change at the position. Also gone is Ryker Fyfe, who made his third career start in the Music City Bowl with Armstrong out. Bunch and Gebbia will be the only newcomers in 2017.


Lee was thrust into immediate action at Tulane, and the stats from his freshman and sophomore seasons aren’t exactly pretty — 53.6 percent completion rate with almost as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (23). Those Green Wave teams both went 3-9 and won just a combined three games in American Athletic Conference play. But the arm is good and the reports were always positive last fall about how the team responded to Lee and his potential as a leader.


» Nebraska quarterbacks combined to complete just 50.3 percent of their passes a year ago, better than only Rutgers, UNLV, Air Force, Army and Tulane among FBS programs. The 51.4 percent for Armstrong was a career low.

» Gebbia was listed at 180 pounds on the spring roster and in obvious need of some bulk. For comparison, O’Brien came in around 225 a year ago.

» Nebraska has gotten at least 400 rushing yards from a quarterback in six of the last seven seasons. The exception was 2013, when Armstrong was replacing Taylor Martinez in October after a Martinez injury.

» O’Brien knows about accuracy. He completed 74.3 percent of his passes as a senior in 2015 at San Juan Hills High in San Juan Capistrano, California.

» O’Brien was a regular on the Husker travel roster last season, but NU never wavered with his redshirt plans despite the late-season injuries to Armstrong and Fyfe.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.