Nebraska fans have a have a lot of high expectations for their football team this upcoming inaugural Big 10 season. For every expectation there seams to be a question mark on the roster, or the coaching staff.
Nebraska came into the 2010 season off of a big Holiday Bowl blowout over Arizona. The 2011 season is almost the exact opposite. Nebraska is coming off an embarrassing 19-7 loss to a Washington team that they blew out by 35 points earlier in the 2010 season. A lot of Nebraska’s flaws were brought out in the last few games of last season.
With the loss of a few key seniors, Nebraska has a lot question marks at a lot of key positions. Here are the biggest question marks going into the Summer work outs this off season.
5. WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
With the loss of Roy Helu Jr. to the NFL, there is a huge need for a second option behind junior Rex Burkhead. Helu leaves Nebraska as the 4th all time leading rusher, and the single game rushing leader. Pretty big shoes to fill. So who will be coming in to help fill that hole in the back field? The Huskers added two highly touted running backs to the 2011 recruiting class in San Antonio, James Madison High School’s Aaron Green, and Homewood, Alabama, Homewood High’s Ameer Abdullah.
The class also included 2010 recruit Braylon Heard, from Bo Pelini’s alma mater Youngstown Ohio, Carinal Mooney High School. Heard did not qualify academically last season, but arrived in Lincoln this Summer, and will be eligible this Fall.
Green a 6-foot-0, 190 pounder was considered to be among the top 100 players in the country coming out of high school. He rushed for 4,874 yards in his career at Madison. Abdullah, was considered a “sleeper” by most recruiting sites, but the 5-foot-10, 175 pounder averaged over 11 yards a carry in his senior campaign.
In his two seasons at Cardinal Mooney, Heard rushed for 2,932 yards, and was widely considered one of the best players in the recruiting, hot-bed state of Ohio.
All three guys are unproven, but there is a lot of room on the depth chart, and all three will have fall camp, to make their mark as the number two guy behind Burkhead.
4. NO PRINCE IN THE NATION
With the loss of Prince Amukamara to the NFL, Nebraska looses a shut down cornerback and maybe the best player on the defensive side of the ball. It obviously will be difficult to replace a first round draft pick in Amukamara. The Huskers return senior Alfonzo Dennard, who will get preseason All-Big 10 looks. So the question is, who will play opposite Dennard?
Last season sophomore to be, Ciante Evans stepped up in the absence of Dennard in the Missouri game. You may remember Evans stopping Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the 1-yard-line on 4th and goal. Dennard left the game due to injury.
Aside from Evans there is very little experience on the roster at corner. One of the biggest question marks at the position is senior, Anthony Blue. Blue was considered one of the gems of the 2007 recruiting class, but knee injuries have left him sidelined for most of his career. If he can return to top speed like his first season in Lincoln, he will be the other corner. Other candidates will be junior Antonio Bell, redshirt sophomores Andrew Green, and Lazzarri Middelton.
3. WELL WE KNOW YOU, BUT WHO ARE THOSE OTHER GUYS?
Last season Nebraska didn’t have a lot of depth at linebacker. With a leg injury to Sean Fisher it left the cabinet pretty bare. Insert tackling machine Lavonte David. David led the team in tackles with 153, and 6 sacks. David was the main staple at the linebacker position in 2010 with the aid of junior Will Compton.
Fisher, Compton, and David all return in 2011. The question is how will Fisher bounce back from a broken leg, and who will come in behind them?
A lot of the coaches had a lot of expectations for senior to be Mathew May, before he was injured before the 2010 season. May, a 6-foot-1 225lb Imperial, Nebraska native was considered one of the fastest guys on the team before a leg injury sidelined him.
Nebraska adds two impressive incoming freshmen to the linebacker core this season. Max Pirman is a 6-foot-5, 215lb Ohio native. Pirman is a very versatile player. He played both standing up and with his hand on the ground in high school. He is being recruited as a linebacker, but Bo Pelini has never been afraid to take a linebacker and move him up as a pass rusher off the line.
The other player is who I consider the diamond in the rough of the 2011 recruiting class. David Santos is a hard hitting 6-foot-0. 210lb, pure athlete from Klein Collins High School in Klein, TX. To me Santos looks like one of the 2 players who can come in and get playing time immediately aside from Jamal Turner.
2. ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER
One, that is the number of returning wide receivers that had more than one catch as a collegiate receiver last season. That is senior to be Brandon Kinnie. Kinnie lead the Huskers in receptions with 44 for 494 yards, and 5 touchdowns in 2010. He will undoubtedly be Nebraska’s number one receiver in 2011. The question is who will be the Huskers numbers two and three options?
It’s pretty clear that Jamal Turner caught Nebraska fans by surprise. Most people thought the 6-foot-1, 175lb Arlington, TX native to start his career in Lincoln as a quarterback. Due to Turners athletic gifts the NU coaches thought it best to move Turner to wide receiver in the Spring. Turner did not disappoint. He had four catches for 93 yards, that included a jaw dropping 49-yard touchdown pass from Brion Carnes. Turner was not limited to a slot receiver specialist. He also doubled as a kick return artist. He amassed 135 yards on three returns. Kinnie also returned an 88 yard kick for a touchdown.
Other players you can expect to bring life to the Nebraska passing attack are redshirt freshman Kenny Bell, sophomore Quincy Enunwa, and expect Curenski Gilleylen to move from running back, to his natural position of wide receiver.
1. OH, OH IS IT MAGIC?
The biggest difference in the two Washington games was the quarter back play out of Nebraska. In the September 18 meeting in Seattle, redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez rushed for 137 yards on 19 carries, and 3 touchdowns. After a mid-season injuries to his toe and ankle, Martinez was never the same. It showed heavily in the Holiday Bowl. Martinez averaged just 1.6 yards per carry, and was pulled out of the game due to injury.
This season the quarterback position is still an unknown. Is Martinez capable of being productive for a full season, and can he stay healthy. Or will redshirt freshman Brion Carnes be able to unseat Martinez as the starter? In the 2011 Spring Game Martinez completed 4 passes on 13 attempts which included 1 interception. Carnes completed 11 of 15 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Martinez had 2 rushes for -1 yard.
The biggest surprise of the Spring Game for me was the poise and the presence that Ron Kellogg III had in the pocket. Kellogg finished the day 11 of 19 passing for 124 yards. Not mind blowing numbers, but you could tell by the way Kellogg carried himself he felt very comfortable, and his mechanics looked border line flawless.
The most talked about story line this season aside from the Carnes, Martinez battle has been the possible arrival of Gardner, KS quarterback Bubba Starling. Starling is considered to be a top 10 draft pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. If drafted in the top 10, Sarling is predicted to make over $60 million. If he decides to forgo the draft and come to Lincoln, he will be playing both football and baseball.