Going in: With Niles Paul gone as well as some other experienced players, this was a position which probably didn't give people a lot of confidence going in. Brandon Kinnie was returning for his last year, but with a unit which was marred by big drops in big games as well as simply a lack of production, not all of if their fault.
When Rich Fisher was added as the new wide receivers coach, I thought it was telling that regardless of Fisher's experience overall, you'd think that there would be this sense of loss in losing a college coach at the position and replacing them with a coach straight out of the prep ranks. But I haven't seen that or heard that at all. It's been mostly positive, because this is a position where I feel that the perception was that they weren't living up to expectations, so change, no matter who it was to, was going to be good.
But with Brandon Kinnie being by far the most experienced player coming back, and so many new faces going into this season, there will be a learning curve to be sure.
As for tight end, Ben Cotton is a great anchor for this group, but it's a thin group which has become even more depleted with the loss of Michael McNeill, who played a hybrid role between receiver
and tight end, as well as Dreu Young who has now graduated. Then there is Mychael McClure and Ryan Hill who ended their careers early due to concerns with injuries. Kyler Reed, Nebraska's lone true deep threat at the position is back, and Cotton gives you great blocking at the line as well as being a threat in the passing game in the short to mid-field range. But there's precious little outside of that, when it comes to actual experience.
What Happened: It's about status quo, especially since we have precious little game experience for many of the younger players. But the buzz, if you can call it that, has been mostly on players who have yet to see the field or have seen it very little.
Redshirt freshman Kenny Bell is a player who seems to have everyone excited. He's right around 6-1, but if he's 180, he's about as lean a 180 lbs. as I have ever seen. But let's face it, this kid was recruited, because of his speed. And he apparently has that and then some.
We get into one of these Spring deals, or perhaps I will just call it a trend. It happens every year. One player or a group of them, especially at a position where there perhaps wasn't the production people thought there should be - finds itself with one or more anointed prodigies or at the very least, the next big thing. We don't want to take away from the player, but this is a yearly deal. There are a host of players who get labeled that next guy, and Bell is certainly one of them.
The Huskers have had speed threats at the position. Paul was certainly its most physically impressive, because he was still so fast even looking a little like a linebacker. But Bell has scat back moves and impressive straight line speed. As for his hands, we have heard good things, but again, we hear that every single year. Physically, though, he's impressive, and he promises to be pretty hard to cover for just about anyone.
Curenski Gilleylen moved to the running back position, which I think was just a way to try and get him the ball in space as well as get him the ball in a way where he could consistently make plays. Gilleylen has always been a guy that when you ask someone who is among the fastest on the team - he always comes up. But he's had issues being a consistent threat when it comes to catching the ball. Sometimes he's been great, sometimes not so much. The move to running back makes sense, because it gives him an easier way to get the ball, but also gives him chances to get the ball in space, albeit behind the line of scrimmage instead of 20 yards beyond it.
The big news was the move of Jamal Turner to wide receiver, a move which may be permanent, but I think we'll have to see how the quarterback position plays out. There's no doubt he's an impressive athlete. He is on the smallish side right now, too, but they didn't move him to this position because he's looked at as another solid blocker in this scheme. The kid has impressive speed, great ability to cut and as you know from his prep career where he had over 10,000 yards in total offense, he can make yards in bunches.
Where it Stands: Now, when it comes to interviews we do with players following practice, invariably we ask what they think of other players and how they have done. But just as consistently, we get the usual responses in that everyone is great, everyone is unbelievable, everyone can play.
Kenny Bell is fast. Yeah, we know that. Stanley Jean-Baptiste has speed, too. OK, that's great. K.C. Hyland is a walk-on, but he might have some of the best hands on the team and he's 6 foot, 5 inches...at least. You have Robert Barry, a sophomore tight end and another walk on who actually towers above Hyland, measuring in at around 6 foot, 8 inches tall.
That's what you have. A lot of stories, not many actual stats and a new coach and offense to boot. Outside of Kinnie, this group is a complete unknown.
Going forward: This group is perhaps the biggest mystery of all, not just in who will be the next big producers, but even as simple as something as what they will be asked to do. Does Quincy Enunwa finally get a chance to really show some of that impressive athleticism we saw once, maybe twice all year as he was pulled out of a redshirt and was then seldom used?
Honestly, right now all we have are questions. Brandon Kinnie can't be the only threat in the passing game. If he is, a struggling offense is going to struggle even more. Whether any of the aforementioned players take that next step or if it is someone else entirely, Nebraska is going to need some of them to do just that. It's not that it will be nice if they do. It's about being necessary that they do.
"Balance", at least up to this point, has been more myth than reality for the Husker offense. That simply has to change.