Things to watch...

It's that time of year and while you can't wait for the next three to four weeks to fly to begin the season we are all happy to say that football is back. That being said, it's time to start thinking about what this team might look like when it takes the field against Chattanooga on September 3rd. It starts with the personnel and it shifts to the scheme from there on both sides of the football.

Day 1 Practice Footage

It's time to compete. A team shows how good they are in games, but get better from day-to-day out on the practice field. There isn't a time on the practice field that it more important than fall camp. It's here where players will stake their claim to either getting that starting nod or at least getting put into a rotation to play.

There are battles to watch, depth that needs to be straightened out, schemes that could emerge and questions that need to be answered. This is a year though where there seems to be more answers than in years passed; particularly on offense. Still, there are things to pay attention to and these are the things that I will be watching:

Bo talking Bubba
Bubba watch: Yes, I don't believe that Bubba Starling will be a part of the team this year because eventually he will sign a Major League Baseball deal with the Kansas City Royals. However, this makes my list at the top simply because Bubba was in Lincoln for roughly the last month. Word on the street was that he was folding in nicely to the culture in Lincoln, was making friends with his possible team mates and really didn't come off of a guy that was just going to be there just temporarily before becoming a millionaire. Even I at one time thought he might consider staying in Lincoln based on that news. We'll see what happens, but that fact that it was reported today that he was not out there with the team is discouraging.

Depth emerging: I can't tell you enough about how fired up I am about the young talent at the running back position. It seems that every where I turn I hear a story about one of the freshman running backs doing this well, looking this way or being better than expected coming in that I can now say that I have heard that about all three of them now. Rex Burkhead will be the go-to guy and the workhorse of the offensive backfield. But, even ask Rex and he will tell you that he can't do it alone. Like I have said before, I don't think that any of Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah or Braylon Heard redshirt despite the remarks by head coach Bo Pelini at the Big Ten media days press conference a week ago about true freshman and red-shirting.

Taylor Martinez day one of Nebraska practice.
Developing depth at QB: There shouldn't be any questions who the starting quarterback is in Lincoln; while Brion Carnes shined brightly in the spring game the starting position obviously belongs to Taylor Martinez. And, if Martinez is 100% healthy and I will even say improved in a way that he's added some size to his frame, then he is a possible Heisman Trophy contender. With Starling's days in Lincoln likely being over and with Carnes back there behind Martinez you have to consider the addition of walk-on, true freshman Tyson Broekemeier to the 105-man roster as at least interesting. Now, Broekemeier lit up the Shine Bowl game, but more than that people genuinely came away impressed that this could be a real contender to see the field for Nebraska at the quarterback position. To go along with Carnes and Broekemeier is obviously Ron Kellogg, Jr. who in my opinion could be a tailor-made player for what I kind of envision the offense under Tim Beck might look like (Kellogg is another walk-on like Broekemeier).

Freshman on the O-line: It's possible that Nebraska could have two starting offensive lineman that will either be red-shirt or true freshman. I have heard some pretty good things about Jake Cotton and Tyler Moore this summer and it would not surprise me at all if both find their way onto the field as starters if not for the season opener then at some point eventually. Regardless, it's nice to hear that some of the young guns are stepping up and could be ready to contribute. The luxury of depth has not been something that Barney Cotton has enjoyed the past two years or so along the offensive line for one reason or another. You could also hear a rumble or two about Ryne Reeves eventually too. Maybe not early on, but if an opportunity presents itself he could have a chance to step up.

Being offensive: For the better part of the last two years you could say that the best offensive weapon that Nebraska has had was kicker Alex Henery. That's saying something. This year though Nebraska seems to have some athleticism at some of the skill positions that could really present some mismatch issues for the opposition. The aforementioned running backs will surely get moved around on the field, along with Burkhead, then you have a player like Jamal Turner who like Burkhead could take snaps as the quarterback, play in the offensive backfield as a running back, could motion out and also could line up wide. There hasn't been more than just a guy like Niles Paul that maybe required defenses to account for him on the field at all time. Now, Nebraska could have two or three lined up at various places.

Reed is on the Mackey Award Watch List.
X-Factor – Kyler Reed: Somewhere in all of the other stories going on with the offensive side of the ball Kyler Reed gets lost in the mix. Reed is only being considered as a pre-season all-conference selection by Lindy's, Athlon, Sporting News and Phil Steele this year. He only set the touchdown catches record for a tight end with eight last season. While the deep play threat last year was supposed to be Paul you would typically find more fear on the defensive side of the football by Reed because he's simply a mismatch to either a linebacker or a safety. Reed is a guy that will allow for players around him to succeed and that is the real value that he brings to the football field. Not known to be a great blocker Reed though can take heat off of guys like Turner with providing another vertical threat.

Who emerges at DE?: This might be the million dollar question. The frontrunners to earn the other starting position opposite Cameron Meredith are Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah. Both Williams and Ankrah got on the field in limited roles last year backing up Pierre Allen. However, Nebraska felt compelled to go out and get a junior college DE in Joe Carter. Carter brings a lot to the table physically and athletically that Nebraska doesn't have at defensive end. The ACC has recently been a huge producer of those 6-foot-5+ and 260+-pound defensive ends that just have that "look". Nebraska saw that look against Clemson in the Gator Bowl a couple of years ago. Of course Nebraska won that game, but physically that is a team that Nebraska wished they looked more like and they are now getting there.

Two, three or four linebackers?: This maybe where things get interesting for Nebraska. The Huskers are healthy going into fall camp and that is saying something. Last year Nebraska had lost Sean Fisher for the season before fall camp opened up and lost Will Compton for a good portion of it right after it started. Those losses thrust Lavonte David into a major role on the defense that he of course stepped up for. Now Nebraska heads to the Big Ten and the Big Ten might as well be polar opposite of the Big Twelve in terms of offensive scheme. There just isn't a lot of spread going on in the Big Ten and there is a much larger emphasis on establishing the run first as opposed to picking you apart through the air and then keeping you honest underneath like you might see with Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri, etc. With a guy like David Santos coming in there might be a luxury to back another body off of the line of scrimmage and allow players to flow, come to balance and make tackles with another linebacker on the field possibly. Another defensive change considering the competition like the peso.

Lots of bodies in the secondary: Nebraska lost a plethora of experience and talent last year with guys like Prince Amukamara, Eric Hagg and Dejon Gomes getting drafted into the NFL. That being said, the cabinet wasn't exactly bare with all of them leaving considering guys like Alfonzo Dennard, Austin Cassidy, Courtney Osborne and P.J. Smith all started multiple games last season. Nebraska also returns experience with guys like Ciante Evans, Antonio Bell, Jase Dean, Lance Thorell, Justin Blatchford and a wildcard like Anthony Blue who suffered two major knee injuries after finding the field as a true freshman. You can also consider guys like Josh Mitchell, Bronson Marsh, Andrew Green, Dijon Washington, Corey Cooper, Harvey Jackson and Daimion Stafford will be trying to find the field too in a secondary that is filled with athletes and talent.

Shore up the kicking game: The biggest question about the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2011 to me doesn't have anything to do with the new conference, Taylor Martinez or true freshmen. The biggest question mark has to do with the kicking game and it's not because there might not be answers, but there are no answers on the roster as reliable as either Alex Henery or Adi Kunalic. That being said, Brett Maher could actually be a very good weapon for Nebraska as a punter this year. But, that was the easy part of the question to answer. You still have to find yourself a kicker and that might be where true freshman Mauro Bondi comes into the picture. I can honestly say I was very impressed with Bondi's film last year on field goals and kickoffs, but on punting he didn't move the mercury with me. And while he comes in green and untested the kicking game won't be a huge strength for Nebraska like is has been with Henery and Kunalic, but it might not be as big of a sore spot as what some might think it is.

Bryan Munson has worked with Big Red Report for nine years, covering recruiting and football. His work can also be seen in's SuperPrep Magazine
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