When first-year receivers coach Rich Fisher first came to Nebraska in the spring, he saw a receiving corps that was both young and full of talent and potential.
He also saw the need for a complete change in culture within the unit.
Especially during the Huskers' offensive struggles last season, the wide receivers were often viewed as a weak point in the offense for their occasional propensity for drops and seeming lack of playmaking ability.
That's why in the seven months Fisher has been at Nebraska, one of his top priorities has been instilling a new confidence and purpose within his wide outs. Of the 15 receivers on NU's roster, nine are sophomores or younger, and Brandon Kinnie is the lone senior.
If there was ever a year to set a new tone at the position, Fisher knows this is it.
"I think it's huge for me," Fisher said. "We talk about culture. We talk about establishing culture and talk about what we want that wide receiver position to consist of in terms of toughness, in terms of preparation, in terms of playmaking. It's the total package, and it's something that we coach, we talk about, we have high expectations, and so they're learning that.
"They're learning how I want them to perform, my expectations of them in practice in terms of how we're going from drill to drill and our concentration and our effort."
When Fisher was hired back in February to replace former receivers coach Ted Gilmore, he saw a group of young wide outs with plenty of ability but a noticeable lack of motivation.
From what he saw interacting with his new players and from watching film from last season, Fisher said Nebraska's limited playing time rotation at receiver left some receivers resigned to the fact that they would never see the field, therefore they didn't have to push as hard in practice.
One player he saw that from in particular was sophomore Qunicy Enunwa. Despite playing behind future NFL draft pick Niles Paul, Enunwa was pulled from his redshirt to play immediately as a true freshman. He saw time in 10 games of spot duty, recording just one catch for 10 yards in the season opener.
After seeing what an obvious talent Enunwa was in practice, it didn't take long for Fisher to realize he needed to reach out and let him know things would be different from now on.
"He came in as a true freshman last year, and I think he backed up a guy (Paul) who in his mind it got to the point where he thought he was never going to get on the field unless (Paul) needed a blow or got hurt," Fisher said. "So I think maybe his competitive juices weren't what they should be knowing that he was not going to play.
"He's one of the guys who has totally bought into the system and my coaching, and I see it go from drill work to practice. He's making plays and he's strong, and he's got a lot of confidence. Confidence comes with understanding what you're supposed to do, and I've been extremely pleased with Quincy."
Sophomore Stanley Jean-Baptiste is another guy Fisher sensed needed a boost in motivation.
A late transfer from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, Jean-Baptiste redshirted last season and was somewhat lost in the shuffle by the end of the year. When Fisher saw the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who ran a 4.45 40-yard dash, he knew immediately that he needed to give Jean-Baptiste a chance for a fresh start.
"Stanley's another guy who I think didn't have a lot of expectations put upon him last year, so here's a guy who's basically starting from scratch," Fisher said. "He's a tremendous athlete, a big, strong, physical guy who can go up and compete for the ball. I expect big things from him."
Kinnie has seen the transformation of Nebraska's receivers first hand this offseason. He said he's noticed a huge difference in the unit's eagerness to learn in practice, meetings and film sessions, and said the biggest reason for it is everyone now truly believes they have a chance to compete for playing time.
As the senior leader of the group, Kinnie has taken it upon himself to help Fisher groom a new identity at the receiver position.
"We've come a long, long way," Kinnie said. "I think I gained the trust of those guys, and I respect them. The biggest thing though is that we all hold each other accountable. That's the biggest thing I've noticed with us. We've been a close, tight-nit group in that room, and it's just been fun to be a part of a group like that, especially leading them and them looking up to you and not being mad to take criticism. They take it, they run with it and they get better at it."
Nebraska's receivers have made some big strides in changing the overall culture at the position, but Fisher said the unit is still a long way to go. Luckily, all that youth and untapped potential within the receiving corps should allow for plenty of time to get there.
"What I'm looking for is week to week, day to day, meeting to meeting, that we're continuing to get better and not be repeat offenders and repeat mistake makers," Fisher said. "If we're repeat mistake makers, then that tells me either it's not important to you or you just really don't care. We're seeing some things getting fixed, and we're seeing the application take place. I'm excited."
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