Mike Riley knows what to do with gifted wide receivers, just ask Brandin Cooks what that’s like. With speedy De’Mornay Pierson-El rounding in to a true wide receiver and not just a kick and punt return novelty, hope was there for a dynamic Nebraska passing attack developing quickly in 2015.
That hope is now sidelined for six to eight weeks, as the Huskers announced Pierson-El suffered a broken bone in his foot. It was discovered after practice on Tuesday and confirmed with further testing on Wednesday.
Last season, Pierson-El broke on to the scene with his speed as a return man while learning the nuances of his new position, wide receiver. By the halfway point of the season, Pierson-El had become a starter, ending the year with 23 receptions for 321 yards and four receiving touchdowns.
Those numbers were good for third on the team in all three categories, and second amongst all returning receivers for the 2015 season.
It’s a brutal blow to a position group that was already razor-thin thanks to various injuries to experienced players like Brandon Reilly, Taariq Allen, Lane Hovey and Sam Burtch. It was also reported on Wednesday that freshman wide receiver Lavan Alston will miss the season after suffering a knee injury that will require surgery.
That leaves senior Jordan Westerkamp left as the only real proven option, something that isn’t ideal to Riley’s offense.
Without Pierson-El, not only is the passing game hurt, so is the ability to expand the overall playbook with things like the jet sweep and other gadgets expected to be thrown in for the sophomore.
In Pierson-El’s absence, it could be another newcomer stepping up, as Riley has raved about the performance of true freshman Stanley Morgan. The former three-star signee out of Ventura, Cal. has made the most out of all the injuries and happenings around him.
There is also the potential for the return to form of senior Jamal Turner, who is tied with Westerkamp for the lead in career receptions on this team (64). However, he’s been buried further and further on the depth chart as the new offense gets implemented.
Should Pierson-El be able to come back within the early part of the timeline it could provide a needed boost at just the right time. That’s because the October 10th meeting with the Wisconsin Badgers looms large around his timeline.
Adding him to the mix for the game at home against UW could be Nebraska’s difference between a win and a loss against their Big Ten West division rivals.