Nebraska Football: 5 Cornhuskers Primed for Breakout Seasons

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photo and stories by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans will be anxiously watching the 2014 season to see which players will become breakout stars. It’s the breakout stars, not the proven commodities, that can help propel a team like Nebraska from almost-there to contending for conference and national titles.

So who are the Cornhuskers primed for a breakout season? Here are five candidates.

Terrell Newby

A smart and particularly handsome analyst has already tapped Newby as Nebraska’s x-factor for the 2014 season. It’s not hard to see why, given his ability to score every time he touches the ball, and given the trust he’s already earned from the coaches given his playing time last year as a true freshman.

Ameer Abdullah is the undisputed leader of Nebraska’s offense, and Imani Cross is a capable backup and change-of-pace back. But Newby should still get his chance to shine, both on offense and on special teams. If he takes advantage of those opportunities, he could be—well, could be the x-factor for Nebraska’s offense.

Vincent Valentine

Valentine has always had the size (six-foot-three, 320 pounds) to excel as an interior defensive lineman. But towards the end of his freshman campaign last year, Valentine began to show flashes of talent and understanding that could make him a true anchor for Nebraska’s defensive line.

With the size of a true nose tackle, Valentine gives Nebraska the option to run a three-man front and put more pass-rushing specialists on the field. While that might not show up on the stat sheet, Valentine could end up giving the Blackshirts a flexibility to attack opposing offenses not seen in some time.

Cethan Carter

For some reason, Nebraska under Bo Pelini sems hell-bent to ignore talented offensively-minded tight ends. From Mike McNeil to Kyler Reed, Nebraska has discovered true mismatch weapons at tight end—then proceeded to let them wither on the vine.

Nebraska has another opportunity with Cethan Carter, who has the size, speed, and athleticism to be the kind of weapon for NU that Rob Gronkowski is for the New England Patriots. At some point, Nebraska’s coaching staff has to take advantage of an offensive-minded tight end like Carter—right?

Zaire Anderson

Nebraska’s linebacker corps is a mess, but in a good way. So much of Nebraska’s linebacker talent is young, and has yet to truly seize a starting job and a position on the field. Michael Rose may be an exception at MIKE, but other than that the depth chart is pretty fluid.

The exception other than Rose, of course, is Anderson.  As a senior with three years in the program, Anderson should have the experience to help him excel. And if 2014 can keep him free from injuries that have derailed his previous two campaigns, Anderson has the talent to become the true star of Nebraska’s linebacker corps.

Nathan Gerry

Last year, Gerry was able to earn playing time as a true freshman at linebacker. But his size (six-foot-two, 205 pounds) and lack of experience led him to struggle and ultimately lose his playing time.

This year, he has moved from linebacker to safety, a position his size and speed more naturally fit. Opposite Corey Cooper there is a safety spot open to be won, and Gerry has every opportunity to win the job and earn a Black Shirt.

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Five Nebraska Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

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photo and story by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans are always looking for surprises as fall camp opens. While the established stars are well known, fall camp provides an opportunity for new play-makers to arise and take the stage for the upcoming season.

So while “sure to surprise” is a bit of a contradiction in terms (much like the advice from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to “expect the unexpected”), here are five players that might be a bit off fans’ radar screens but could play a major role this season.

Alex Lewis

Lewis has had a remarkable impact as a newcomer, unseating David Knevel (which ain’t easy to do, as Knevel is six-foot-9 and 310 pounds) and coming into fall camp as the likely starter at left tackle. But as can be seen from the Lincoln Journal-Star’s Steven Sipple, Lewis had a great spring.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>My read is DE Randy Gregory is hitting on all cylinders this spring. Fast and tenacious. I'm guessing Alex Lewis would concur. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Huskers?src=hash”>#Huskers</a></p>&mdash; Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip) <a href=”https://twitter.com/HuskerExtraSip/statuses/451533159931584512″>April 3, 2014</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

If he’s able to continue that into the fall, Lewis could become one of the key contributors on Nebraska’s offensive line—and perhaps one of the most important players on offense, period.

Zaire Anderson

Nebraska’s linebacker corps is something of a muddle, with a lot of talented and young players competing for positions. The one exception to that might be Anderson, who along with Trevor Roach is the only senior linebacker on the roster.

Anderson’s career at Nebraska has been marred with injuries, but his talent is unmistakable. If he is able to stay healthy, Anderson could become the standout linebacker Nebraska fans have been looking for.

Terrell Newby

A smart and particularly handsome analyst opined that Newby would be Nebraska’s x-factor in 2014. While he will likely start the season as third string (or at least an “-OR-“ second-string) on the depth chart, Newby looks to have an expanded role on offense and on special teams. With his explosiveness, it won’t be a shock to see Newby as the talk of this year’s fall camp.

Charles Jackson

Ciante Evans held down Nebraska’s NICKEL position with experience and intelligence, helping to hold things together and make the smart play in the secondary. His graduation leaves a big hole for Nebraska to fill.

Jackson, who looks to be filling Evans’ spot at NICKEL, in some ways is Evans’ opposite. He has struggled throughout his Nebraska career with discipline on the field. But he is a freakish athletic talent, in a way that Evans simply was not. If he is able to bring at least some of Evans’ vision and experience to the NICKEL role combined with his athleticism and playmaking ability, he could be a remarkable weapon for the Blackshirts.

Alonzo Moore

Imagine a receiver with Kenny Bell’s speed, but with an extra inch of height and ten pounds of weight. In potential, at least, that’s Moore. Injuries have kept Moore from being able to work his way up the depth chart, but he looks to be coming into fall camp healthy. If he can stay that way, and demonstrate route-running and pass-catching to go with his speed, Moore could be one of the big surprises this fall.

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Nebraska Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading Into Fall Camp

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know that fall camp is about to start, and with fall camp comes the depth chart battles that will help define the 2014 season. So while there are no official depth charts, we can speculate as to where things are at least starting out as fall camp opens. Of course, the battles in fall camp will go a long way towards determining what Nebraska’s depth chart will look like on August 30 when NU tees the ball up against Florida Atlantic.

But until then, here’s at least a glimpse of where things might stand. Returning starters are in italics.

Offensive Line

While the offensive line will be seeing a lot of new starters, thanks to the injuries many of this year’s pipeline will have gained valuable experience last year. Colorado transfer Alex Lewis, should he hold the job through fall camp, could be one of the most valuable additions to Nebraska’s roster in 2014.

Left Tackle: Alex Lewis, David Knevel

Left Guard: Jake Cotton, Chongo Kondolo

Center: Mark Pelini, Ryne Reeves

Right Guard: Mike Moudy, Dwayne Johnson

Right Tackle: Zach Sterup, Tanner Farmer

Offensive Backs

While Johnny Stanton may have the talent to be the next guy, it seems as if Ryker Fife has the inside track on the backup spot given his mastery of the playbook. Backups to Ameer Abdullah should be fluid, with Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby seeing packages specific for them.

Quarterback: Tommy Armstrong, Ryker Fife

I-Back: Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross

Fullback: Andy Janovic, Mitch McCann

Receivers

Kenny Bell is the undisputed leader of Nebraska’s receiver corps, but after Bell the depth chart should be fluid throughout the season. Perhaps the most fascinating battle will be at the slot receiver position between Jamal Turner and Jordan Westerkamp—will Turner’s as-of-yet unrealized potential outweigh Westerkamp’s consistency?

Wide Receiver (X): Kenny Bell, Brandon Reilly

Wide Receiver (Z): Alonzo Moore, Taariq Allen

Wide Receiver (A): Jordan Westerkamp, Jamal Turner

Tight End: Cethan Carter, Sam Cotton

Defensive Line

Randy Gregory will be the first name written on any depth chart, but behind him fall camp will go a long way to sort things out. Look for Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen to take advantage of the time to solidify their positions

Defensive End: Randy Gregory, A.J. Natter

Defensive Tackle: Aaron Curry, Maliek Collins

Defensive Tackle: Vincent Valentine, Kevin Maurice

Defensive End: Greg McMullen, Joe Keels

Linebackers

Linebacker is a peculiar position for Nebraska. There is a lot of talent, but there is very little in terms of clearly-won positions. Zaire Anderson looks to be the strongest overall talent, and Michael Rose did a lot to win the MIKE position last year. After that, the depth chart could be in play throughout the linebacker corps.

BUCK Linebacker: Josh Banderas, Courtney Love

MIKE Linebacker: Michael Rose, Trevor Roach

WILL Linebacker: Zaire Anderson, David Santos

Defensive Backs

Nebraska does have some returning experience in the secondary with cornerback Josh Mitchell and safety Corey Cooper. The battle for the other starting cornerback position between Jonathan Rose and Byerson Cockrell could be one of the most entertaining of the fall camp. And seeing the amazing athletic talent of Charles Jackson replace Ciante Evans at NICKEL could be a difference-making change for the Blackshirts.

Cornerback: Josh Mitchell, Boaz Joseph

Safety: Corey Cooper, Nathan Gerry

Safety: LeRoy Alexander, D.J. Singleton

Cornerback: Jonathan Rose, Byerson Cockrell

NICKEL: Charles Jackson

Specialists

Hold your breath, Nebraska fans, we’re likely to see a true freshman enter fall camp as the de facto starting placekicker. How Drew Brown holds up to the pressure could be a defining element of Nebraska’s 2014 campaign. And look for some game-breaking talent to take the reins of the return game, helping to improve from last season.

Placekicker: Drew Brown

Kickoff Specialist: Mauro Bondi

Punter: Sam Foltz

Holder: Sam Foltz

Long Snapper: Gabriel Miller

Punt Returner: Jamal Turner, Terrell Newby

Kick Returner: Jamal Turner, Terrell Newby

Nebraska Football: Five Reasons Cornhuskers Will Flop in 2014

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans are eternal optimists, looking forward to the 2014 season with excitement and hope for future glories. But in every season, there is always the risk of things going south. Nebraska fans need only to remember 2007 to see how quickly the air can escape from the metaphorical balloon.

Certainly, that’s not what Nebraska fans want to see. But the danger is out there. Here are five sharks in the water that could devour the 2014 season.

Tommy Armstrong

Armstrong is a pretty beloved character at this point in his Nebraska career. He is following Taylor Martinez, who was one of the most polarizing figures amongst the Husker faithful. He answered the bell as a freshman, and went 7-1 as a starter. He’s got the charisma and the leadership to take charge of the team and inspire confidence.

But his underlying statistics are disturbing. Last year, he completed less than 52 percent of his passes. Even more worrisome, his touchdown to interception ratio was a terrifying 9/8. While his moxie, his intangibles, and his record as a starter are very encouraging, those numbers are not the stats of a quarterback who will lead a team to a conference title.

Statistics from cfbstats.com.

An Untested Kicking Game

Nebraska’s overtime win over Penn State on the foot of Pat Smith was the most obvious reason as to why a dependable kicking game Alex Henery’s 57-yard bomb against Colorado, in many ways, changed the direction of Nebraska football. So Nebraska fans know how important a reliable kicking game is to the Huskers’ success.

But there is little reason for optimism that Nebraska will have a dependable kicking game in 2014. Mauro Bondi has done nothing to inspire confidence, nor have any of the other kickers on the roster. Many have pinned their hopes on true freshman Drew Brown to answer Nebraska’s kicker needs. But that’s a big ask for a kid less than a year removed from his high school prom to walk on the field in Happy Valley and win a game.

A Green Offensive Line

Nebraska has some exciting things happening on the offensive line, led by Colorado transfer Alex Lewis. But the fact remains that four out of the five starters from last year’s offensive line have graduated. While many on the line do have experience, the fact remains that Nebraska will be breaking in functionally a new offensive line, including a new center.

If that offensive line isn’t able to gel, that struggle will cascade to cause problems with Nebraska’s offense, which in turn will put even more pressure on a defense that was up and down in 2013.

Dark Pelini Returns

This spring, Bo Pelini went through one of the most remarkable public relations rehabilitation in modern history. At the end of the Iowa game, “Coach Chickenbleep” looked like he was about to get fired after an ugly loss and a profanity-laced postgame press conference where Pelini all but challenged Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst to fire him.

Between his tweets during Nebraska basketball’s NCAA tournament game, his embrace of the popular Twitter parody account FauxPelini, and ultimately him carrying a cat out on the field at the Spring Game, Pelini looks far more relaxed and likeable.

But we have seen what Pelini looks like when things go south. After a tough loss or what he perceives to be a raw deal from the officials, it’s not impossible to imagine the post-Iowa Pelini coming out. And if that Pelini surfaces in the middle of a struggling season for Nebraska, the response from the fanbase and the national media could help to pull the 2014 season under the water.

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

In the last three years, Nebraska has played in eight games decided by four points or less. NU is 7-1 in those games. You can look at that in a positive light, showing Nebraska’s internal strength to find ways to win when the going gets tough.

But it can also be seen as riding your luck, big time. And at the risk of succumbing to the gambler’s fallacy, it’s not at all hard to see a circumstance where those close games go the wrong way for Nebraska. Think about what 2013 would have looked like if Ron Kellogg’s prayer to Jordan Westerkamp against Northwestern hadn’t been answered, and if Pat Smith’s kick against Penn State hadn’t gone through the uprights. Nebraska would have ended the season at 6-6, and the ugly loss to Iowa might have had a very different ending for Bo Pelini.

More than likely, Nebraska will have close games again in 2014. If NU isn’t able to keep up its remarkable run in close games, 2014 could be the year when Nebraska’s chickens come home to roost.

Nebraska Football: Why Terrell Newby Will Be Nebraska’s X-Factor in 2014

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know who the stars on offense are for next season—Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Tommy Armstrong, and other players who are household names in Big Red Country. The question becomes who will be the player to step up and make a name for himself in 2014.

A leading candidate for that role should be Terrell Newby, a sophomore I-back. Here’s why.

He’s Fast

You can’t coach speed. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason. Newby has the kind of breakaway, game-changing speed that can terrify an opposing defense. When you have a player, particularly in the backfield, who can score from anywhere on the field if given a seam, it can change the entire structure of an opposing defense.

When he was healthy, Taylor Martinez had that kind of speed, and we saw how it could affect Nebraska’s offense. While he does not have the overall talent of Ameer Abdullah, Newby’s white-hot speed has the potential to transform Nebraska’s offense.

He Can Play Special Teams

If turnovers were Problem 1 for Nebraska, a lack of production in punt returns was problem 1A. Nebraska averaged 3.04 yards per punt return in 2013, ranking no. 123 nationally. That means if on every punt, Nebraska simply caught the ball and immediately fell forward, its average punt return yardage would be only slightly less than what it achieved in 2013. That’s 5.01 yards per return less than the “average” team’s punt return output last year, no. 62 Northern Illinois.

Nebraska had 23 punt returns in 2013, which averaged out to 1.77 punt returns per game (fair catches and punts out of bounds don’t count as returns). So even if Nebraska could just get to “average” in its punt return game, that would yield an additional 8.87 yards of field position in a game in punt returns.

That may not sound like a lot, but if you look at drive statistics from last year (courtesy of FBS Drive Stats), the difference in average starting field position between the worst team and the best team in FBS football last year was 13.1 yards. Now, it’s not exactly a like-for-like comparison, but the underlying takeaway is those 8.87 yards per game of field position Nebraska gave up compared to the “average” punt returning team makes a big difference.

Enter Newby, who looks absolutely primed to make a huge difference in special teams. He has the elusiveness to make a gunner miss, and the electric speed to take a small crease and turn it into a big gain. Combine that with the fact that he is not likely to be the primary ball-carrier, meaning he will be fresh and ready to contribute on special teams, and Newby could be a big difference-maker.

The only glimpse of that we have gotten publicly was in kick return drills at the Spring Game, where Newby (along with Jamal Turner) looked amazing. It may not be the first thing you think of, but if Newby can jump-start Nebraska’s punt return game, that could pay massive dividends to NU’s overall performance.

He’s Got The Coaches’ Trust

Last year, Newby had 54 carries as a true freshman. In the Bo Pelini era, only one true freshman I-back has gotten more carries—Rex Burkhead in 2009, with 81. That means the coaches like what they see in Newby, and want to get him on to the field.

With another year in the program and in the weight room, that workload should only increase. Combine that with an offense that should be less quarterback-centered with the departure of Taylor Martinez, and that suggests a significantly bigger role for Newby in 2014.

Nebraska Football: Four Backups Critical to Cornhuskers’ Success in 2014

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans are legendary for their knowledge, and it is not uncommon for those diehards to know the backups (and the backups for the backups) inside out. Football is a rough game, and a long season means teams will frequently have to rely on their depth to get through a game or more.

So which of Nebraska’s current backups will be most important for NU to challenge for a divisional title? Here are four backups who could prove vital.

Johnny Stanton

Yes, the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy on campus. But as we saw last year, the backup quarterback might also be the most important guy on the team. When Taylor Martinez went down last year, Nebraska’s offense struggled mightily as NU switched between true freshman Tommy Armstrong and senior Ron Kellogg. Neither Armstrong nor Kellogg had the benefit of an offseason as the starter, and their uneven performance should not have been a surprise.

Armstrong looks to be the clear-cut starter coming into 2014. But if something happens to Armstrong, it looks to be Stanton (with all due respect to Ryker Fife) that would take the reins of Nebraska’s offense. Should that need arise, Nebraska would need Stanton to shine right away.

Imani Cross

Ameer Abdullah is without a doubt Nebraska’s best offensive weapon—indeed, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the best player on the team overall. And every year we keep thinking that Nebraska’s brain trust will spread the wealth and even out the carries between NU’s I-backs, only to find one back becoming the bellcow.

But if there is to be a rotation, Cross is in a perfect position to take advantage. His size and strength make him a true bruiser, a perfect change of pace from the elusive Abdullah. But in the Spring Game, Cross demonstrated a surprising amount of wiggle and burst, elements of his game we didn’t see last year. No one will be confusing Cross for Terrell Newby, but if Cross can be more balanced he could provide a strong change of pace for Nebraska at I-back.

Maliek Collins

It might be a little unfair to list Collins as a backup, as he ended the season as a co-number one on the depth chart at defensive tackle. But I’m going to presume he’s going to be at least an “-OR-“ at defensive end alongside Vincent Valentine, which means he will be important in the defensive end rotation.

But what really makes Collins valuable and important is the time he may see as a specialized pass rusher. Much like linebacker Marcus Newby, Collins has seen time as a pass rush specialist this spring. If he is able to bring this skill to bear, in addition to his contributions on the offensive line, he could be a critical piece of the Blackshirts’ puzzle.

David Knevel

Another great football cliché is that left tackle is the most important position on the offense, as it is the left tackle’s job to keep the right-handed quarterback upright and clean. Alex Lewis looks to have secured the starting job, but Knevel will be right behind Lewis, pushing for the spot and for time in the rotation.

Knevel’s size (six-foot-nine, 310 pounds) should in and of itself demonstrate his potential. If he is able to couple technique with his massive frame, he could be a huge asset to Nebraska’s offensive line.

Nebraska Football: Fixing Field Position Key For Cornhusker Championship Dreams

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photo and article by Patrick Runge

Nebraska football fans know the numbers all too well—NU has never lost fewer than four games in Bo Pelini’s six years at the helm in Lincoln, and has failed to win a conference championship since 1999. Fixing Nebraska’s field position woes is one key for Nebraska to take that next step and put a new number on the façade of the West Stadium.

Based on some great work by Brandon Vogel of Hail Varsity and the mind-blowingly useful FBSDriveStats.com, we can see some concrete data that backs up what most Nebraska fans suspected—NU was making things awfully hard on itself in 2013. All the drive data from here going forward is from FBSDriveStats unless noted otherwise.

Last year, Nebraska’s average starting field position was 72.4 yards away from the end zone (which would be NU’s own 27.6 yard line, if there was a line for every tenth of a yard. But of course there isn’t, so please can everyone stop saying the “X-and-a-half yard line” when there isn’t a freaking line there and save my sanity just a little? Sorry, pet peeve rant over now.)

That was only good enough to be no. 10 (!) in the Big Ten conference, and no. 107 (!!) nationally. It was almost three yards worse than the B1G average (69.7, or the 30.3 yard “line”) and more than two yards worse than the national average (70.2, or the 29.8 yard “line.”)

Two or three yards. Is that really such a big deal? Well, keep in mind that those numbers are the average starting position per drive.

Perhaps this will help put it into more perspective. BCFToys.com is an amazingly cool site with some splashy graphs and some fantastic numbers to help understand college football.  One of the toys on this site is a graph calculating the average points per possession based on starting field position from 2007-2012. Points on the board, of course, is the ultimate determinative of how well a team is doing.

For Nebraska’s average starting field position in 2013, teams averaged 1.7 points per possession from 2007-2012. For the national and league average starting field position, teams averaged 1.9 points per possession.  For the best team in the league in average field position in 2013, Penn State which averaged starting 66.3 yards away from the end zone, teams averaged 2.0 points per possession.

Again, those look like tiny numbers, a difference of 0.2 or 0.3 points. What does that mean? Well, given that teams averaged 11 drives per game in 2013, that means Nebraska was spotting its opponents 2.2 points per game, and spotting Penn State 3.3 points per game.

Wrap your head around that. Nebraska’s field position woes are bad enough that it’s almost like NU gives its opponents a field goal before kickoff.  Think that makes winning games harder?

One of the neat things about looking at field position as a reason for Nebraska’s struggles is that it takes some of Nebraska’s other problems into consideration. Take turnovers, for example, which just about everyone knows is a problem for Nebraska. Here’s how, in 2013, starting field position and turnovers correlated.

Team Conference Rank, Starting Field Position Conference Rank, Turnovers
Penn State 1 9
Michigan 2 2
Ohio State 3 3
Iowa 4 5
Wisconsin 5 7
Michigan State 6 1
Indiana 7 4
Purdue 8 10
Northwestern 9 6
Nebraska 10 11
Minnesota 11 8
Illinois 12 12

 

Pretty amazing how much the two line up, isn’t it? Seven out of the twelve teams (as highlighted)—over half of the conference—have their starting field position and turnover conference ranks within two of each other. That would suggest what we probably know intuitively—that the more turnovers you have, the worse your average starting field position will be.

(The table also demonstrates some other interesting facts, such as how efficient Penn State’s offense was—no. 1 in field position despite being no. 9 in turnovers, and how poor Michigan State’s offense was—no. 6 in field position despite being no. 1 in turnovers. Math is awesome.)

So maybe a better way to think about it is that fixing field position isn’t necessarily the goal for Nebraska. Instead, field position can be looked at as the indicator to determine if some of the other underlying factors (like turnovers, punt returns, and other areas where Nebraska has struggled) have improved.

Nebraska Football: 5 Freshmen Who Must Shine In Fall Practice

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photo and article by Patrick Runge
Nebraska football fans are anxiously awaiting the beginning of fall practice, when they will start to see which freshmen may shine. While the established stars are known, fall practice is the first real opportunity for the freshmen on the roster to claim a spot on the field.
So who will those freshmen be that shine? Who will be the new stars for Nebraska? Here are five candidates.
Adam Taylor
Once again, Nebraska has a plethora of young I-backs. Behind senior Ameer Abdullah is junior Imani Cross and sophomore Terrell Newby, before getting to redshirt freshman Adam Taylor. While Taylor came in a little ahead of Newby in terms of recruiting rankings, Newby was able to see the field right away given his unique set of skills.
Taylor redshirted, and as a result is looking up at three talented I-backs on the depth chart. If Taylor wants to earn any kind of significant playing time, a strong fall practice will be crucial.
David Knevel
At the start of last season, it would have been pretty easy to pencil in Knevel as a starting tackle. His size alone (six-foot-nine, 305 pounds) makes him an imposing presence on the offensive line.
But then Colorado transfer Alex Lewis shone in spring practice, looking to have won the starting left tackle position. A strong fall practice will help Knevel move his way back up the depth chart, or at least earn himself significant playing time in a rotation.
Drew Brown
It could be argued that Brown might be the most important signing of this year’s class, at least for 2014. Given the departure of Pat Smith, last year’s placekicker, and the failure to impress by Mauro Bondi and the other kickers currently on the roster, it is likely that Brown will come in and have a shot to win the starting job from day one.
For Nebraska’s sake, Brown needs to have a strong fall practice—and a good 2014 campaign.
A.J. Natter
There’s little question that Randy Gregory will be occupying one of the two starting defensive end positions. But the other position looks up for grabs. Junior college transfer Joe Keels should have the inside track on the position, simply given his experience.
But a strong performance from redshirt freshman A.J. Natter could push Keels for playing time, or at least give Bo Pelini and the coaching staff some options to rotate the defensive line. And with three years of eligibility after 2014, a strong showing from Natter this year would provide a good base for years to come.
Marcus Newby
Nebraska is deep and young at linebacker. Other than Zaire Anderson, there looks to be only one upper-classman (junior David Santos) that will be in the starting rotation. So there will be work for Newby to do if he wants to see the field as a linebacker.
But Newby has a bit of a secret weapon in his locker. During the Spring Game, Newby was used as a hybrid defensive end or outside linebacker in a three-man front look. Functionally, though, Newby’s role was as a pure outside pass rusher, and he excelled. While Newby might be a ways down the depth chart as a linebacker, if he can excel as a pass rusher in fall practice he can earn playing time—and provide a real weapon for the Blackshirts in 2014.