For some, red shirting is never even an option to the team. Take for instance Joe Dailey and Nebraska last year. Joe probably would have red shirted had Curt Dukes not transferred to Duke. The situation dictated and Joe saw the field as a true freshman. You also had Lane Kelly, Joe Dailey, Greg Austin, Andy Birkel, David Dyches and Brandon Teamer who all saw the field as true freshmen. Darren DeLone from Mount San Antonio College played as a JC transfer.
For some last year injuries ended their freshman seasons just about as soon as they started. Two examples are Andy Birkel and Greg Austin. Birkel saw playing time in the very first few games. It seemed since the Nebraska Shrine Bowl that there was a lot that Birkel could bring to the table to help out with the passing game. An injury shortened Birkel's season and it is unclear whether Birkel will be eligible for a medical redshirt season.
Greg Austin, on the other hand, suited up for all of the games but didn't actually play until about the third or fourth game of the season. Just as it seemed Austin was going to be able to help out with the interior offensive line play, he injured his knee in practice and wasn't able to play again for the remainder of the year.
This year's depth chart shows needs at positions either for incoming players to potentially start or to play significant minutes. What are those positions and who are those players that could play this fall?
The biggest, glaring need has to be at left tackle on the offensive line. This would not have been a need had Richie Incognito not have been moved inside to his natural position of center. Regardless, the depth at the left tackle position is redshirt freshman Kurt Mann and converted defensive tackle Seppo Evwayrae. They are the only two listed on the four-deep chart who even have scholarships.
This helps perfectly set up Cornelius Thomas to come in and contribute immediately. Although he is not coming straight out of high school, due to the fact that he has three years to play two, this will get him mentioned in this commentary. Cornelius Thomas is being called by some the best junior college tackle in the nation. He is 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds. Cornelius should be joining his teammates in June in Lincoln. Expect to see him early in the season if he doesn't start the first game and often this season.
Don't rule out seeing at least one former high school senior seeing playing time across the offensive line either. This year's class of recruits on the offensive line is one of the better groups in recent memory. Lydon Murtha of Minnesota was a consensus All-American and standing up to Cornelius Thomas, Murtha actually looks down on Thomas at 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds.
With Cornelius Thomas and Lydon Murtha the obvious offensive tackles of the class you could also see Mike Huff at 6-foot-5 and 300 out there, but Huff may be more of an "in your face" and aggressive offensive lineman who might be best suited to play interior line much like the other two offensive line recruits. Andy Christensen of Bennington, NE and Danny Muy of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida, both have a little fire in the belly and are best suited to play interior line. Danny is a natural at center while Andy it seems could play either guard position or possibly center. Andy also excelled at playing defensive tackle in high school.
Given the five recruits at the offensive line position the money is on Cornelius Thomas to be on the field in the fall and maybe the season opener given the lack of depth at that position. I would also look for Lydon Murtha to be used to some extent in the fall with the understanding that he may not be on the field as soon as Cornelius or as much during the season. However, if Darren Delone does not come into the fall in better shape than he did last year more help is going to be needed there than just Chris Patrick, a converted defensive end.
Another position of interest is the wide receiver position where Nebraska is bringing in two recruits that could see playing time. The first one to look for would be Terrence Nunn of Cypress Falls High School in Houston, TX. Terrence is a big-play receiver that with players like Isaiah Fluellen and Andy Birkel already on the field with him will cause mismatch problems for other wide receivers and our tight ends. I do not see anyway that Nebraska does not play Nunn immediately given the need for another big-play receiver like Fluellen.
Nathan Swift of Hutchinson, MN and high school team mate of Lydon Murtha, on the other hand may be better suited to a redshirt year. Nunn on film just looks a little better put together physically than Swift and there are some similarities to Andy Birkel when you look at Nathan Swift. One can't help but think that Birkel this year would have been better suited to red shirt.
At the quarterback position there were three recruits brought in this past year, and again for reasons similar to Cornelius Thomas, Jordan Adams will be mentioned in this commentary. Jordan will have four years to complete three and the quarterback position battle could be as competitive as any other position on the field. This is basically because it is just that wide open. You have Joe Dailey who was played as a true freshman last year and junior Mike Stuntz who as a true freshman played wide receiver and then moved back to quarterback.
In the one game that Jordan Adams started this year for Grossmont College he was 30 for 42 and threw for 531 yards as well as four touchdowns. On the season he threw for 1,347 yards, 10 touchdowns and completed 67% of all of his passes. His ability in the pocket may get him on the field as soon as the first game. As of right now I would believe that Joe Dailey is the frontrunner to be the starter this fall, but the competition may be the fiercest at the quarterback position to see who stays on the field.
The biggest question mark right now when it comes to possibly playing or not in the fall as a true freshman has to be Brandon Jackson. Brandon is a running back who can pretty much do it all on the field and who seems to be physically ready to come in and play this fall. The only problem is that Brandon is short one point on his ACT test which he will re-take again to try and become fully qualified. If Brandon does not reach the needed test score expect him to be a partial qualifier for this class.
Moving to the other side of the ball there are really only about two players that I believe will get a look to play this fall as true freshmen as of right now. One is Michael Keenan and the other is Cortney Grixby. Both of these players seems physically and athletically ready to compete for playing time as true freshman and to start building quality depth at their respective positions.
What makes Keenan so intriguing is his combination of size and speed. Keenan is legitimately 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and runs a 4.5 to a 4.6 second 40-yard dash. Michael could come in and play at either outside linebacker positions or he may possibly even be a candidate to play inside. One thing for sure is all positions are in need of quality depth and expect Michael to find the field this fall.
Cortney Grixby may even have more opportunity to get on the field somewhere as a true freshman. Although Grixby comes in at only 5-foot-9 his athleticism is what will catch your eye. Cortney has such a smooth running style and sees the field so well with the ball that Coach Callahan mentioned Grixby could see the field this fall as a returner. There is also a need to develop cornerbacks given the nagging injury to Donald DeFrand and two red shirt freshman backing up our starting cornerbacks.
It is possible, although unlikely, that you could see another recruit or two on the defensive side of the ball play in the fall. If there were two kids to look at I would start with both of the defensive end recruits that Nebraska picked up.
Ty Steinkuhler and Adam Blankenship are both in the 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 range and about 230 to about 240 pounds a piece. Both seem like they could physically contribute. Their position is why I would say there could be a possibility for them to play. The depth on the defensive line next year is extremely thin.
On both sides there is some reason to believe that getting one or both of the defensive end recruits some playing time is a good idea. Adam Carriker having seen time playing at the defensive tackle position could find himself there again if an injury were to hit one of the top two players at either tackle position. Another reason may be Jay Moore's lack of experience at the second string spot behind Benard Thomas. It could be something as small as a person not coming in shape to fall camp, an injury or other reason for a player to miss some playing time to consider either Ty or Adam for playing time this fall.
All in all I think that you can expect to see about six to seven freshmen play again this fall and maybe eight if Brandon Jackson gets fully qualified. That number doesn't seem staggeringly high given how many true freshman saw the field last year or the year before for that matter. Like I said before, expect this number to gradually rise from year to year as well because high school seniors are looking at early playing time as one of the biggest determining factors in choosing a school.
Bryan Munson can be contacted at NURules@comcast.net.