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.
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.
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.
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.
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.