4 burning questions for 2005

For the up-coming season, there just simply aren't enough questions to go around. Well, there aren't enough answers either, but Bryan Munson and myself (Steve Ryan) will attempt to answer 4 of the biggest questions that will no doubt have a profound effect on NU either climbing back up or continuing their losing-ways.

1. The QB situation at Nebraska will add two more scholarship quarterbacks into the fold. Who will start and what is the projected 4-deep come September?

Bryan's take:

It seems like this is the question that really looms beyond the questions or concern that are there to fill out the requirements of this recruiting class. One thing is for sure, if we thought that last year would be a horse race to the No. 1 job, this year makes that look like a pony show.

Granted, last year did not turn out to be the race that was anticipated between Dailey and Adams due to Adams mono complications, this year both return and add two big newcomers. Both should be healthy now and it may have been possible that Adams could have played toward the end of last year.

Dailey comes into the situation as a junior and played nearly all of the snaps last year. The only other quarterbacks that received time were Ryan Goodman and Beau Davis. Dailey though, shouldered most of the load and most of the blame for last season.

I am looking for a lot of improvement out of this position this year and I think that everyone else is too. The problem here is that it wasn't just the quarterback that was the problem, but it was the offensive line, running backs and receivers as well.

All of these positions will see their fair share of change, but will any position displace a returning starter and captain to fourth string? That is a real possibility next year.

As of right now, the edge to me to be the starting quarterback next year is Zac Taylor . There is no reason that the coaching staff didn't feel the need to get another quarterback unless they thought that they could get a player in for the spring semester and play this fall.

There will also be a lot of anticipation in the true freshman, Harrison Beck . With the acquisition of Taylor and a host of other scholarship quarterbacks coming back, Beck could see himself in a redshirt year, which could be best.

Regardless, I think that Beck will play next year in scrub duty and may even be the top backup if there were injury. He just has the ability to run this offense and a strong arm. Here is my shot at the top four at the quarterback spot at the beginning of the season:


By the season end you could see Dailey and/or Davis off the list and a player like Joe Ganz or even Beck finding their way onto the four-deep.

Steve's take

When you look at the QB-situation, you have to separate the luster and there's a lot that comes with Harrison Beck . He's been in the hearts and minds of the Nebraska fans since his commit way back when, so for some, he's the shoe-in as the back-up or in this case, highly touted high school athlete often is.

Beck is still just 17 years old, though. And a young 17 at that, so before anyone starts dubbing him as the next whoever, take a look at what Nebraska has coming back and the other one coming in.

First, it's not to say that Joe Dailey can't or won't get better in the off-season and come out shining for the big red. If we can use the learning curve from last year, though, Dailey not only didn't get markedly better, at times he actually appeared worse.

Against marginal teams, Dailey did ok, but against team that had the defense to pressure him some and secondaries that matched up better, Dailey struggled and was close to leading the country on the year in interceptions.

That lack of progress puts Jordan Adams clearly in the spotlight as before his being ruled out of the season due to the removal of his spleen, he was already figured to be an easy number two and expected to vie for the top job even early into last year.

Adams is almost all the way back now, so he will be the front-runner for the position along with new junior college transfer, Zac Taylor .

Taylor threw for over 3,000 yards and over 20 touchdowns his last season with Butler Community College. He's got decent size at 6'2" and 215 pounds and while not agile, Zac has good presence in the pocket.

Beau Davis has since he arrived at NU, put on 23 pounds according to strength and conditioning coach, Dave Kennedy. That still puts him as desperately thin for a consistent look at being the starter for a Division 1-A team.

And frankly, that's all that is holding Davis back as he has the arm, he has the throws and given the opportunities and of course, reps, he's a guy that could cement himself as one of the top three quarterbacks for NU.

Dailey could be the odd man out here if he doesn't show dramatic improvement over the Spring and the off-season leading up to fall practice.

Right now, it would appear to be a two-man race and considering it's between a guy that's never taken a snap for NU and a guy that isn't even at NU as of yet, that speaks well of the issues this position has had here in Lincoln.

2. What will be the difference in this up-coming offensive line versus last year's?

Bryan's take:

Hopefully night and day. There were more than just little problems across the offensive front last year. The poor play up-front can be attributed to kids not being suited for this type of offense or blocking.

This led to poor play not just in one area, but in all areas. Only one person made the most of the poor blocking that was there for him this past season and that was Cory Ross. Without Ross this past season I hate to think about how bad our season might have been.

There should be a lot of new faces across the offensive line which will ultimately be regarded as a weakness of this team. It is my opinion, if there weren't any changes made in personnel across the line that would have made the OL our weakest unit again next year.

Steve's take

Given the expectations or lack of them, I should say, the offensive line proved to be worthy of the praise they received all year, the accolades increasing as the season went along.

Not the best group in terms of overall talent and still trying to figure out a complex offense with just as difficult terminology to grasp as well, this group over achieved for most of the year.

The loss of Jake Anderson and Mike Erickson is significant and for what seems like a perennial argument in regards to this group, there's going to be a lot of fresh faces across the board.

Lydon Murtha is figured to have at the very least, a spot on the two-deep at either left or right tackle and Cornealius Thomas could figure in for one of the starting tackle-spots this year.

Kurt Mann improved enough over the length of the season that he's right now the odds-on favorite at center and at left guard, Brandon Koch should be fairly cemented there as well.

The other guard spot, the one vacated by Andersen, that's one that right now just hard to figure how it's going to pan out. Greg Austin is iffy at best, fighting that rehab on the knee the entire year, Austin favoring it always and one of the most frequent customers in the team physician's office.

Mike Huff, Andy Christensen and future Huskers like Craig Roark and even Rodney Picou could see at the very least, solid opportunities to get time. It's a numbers game for the interior and while the staff still doesn't have the amount of players they need, there's going to be a lot of shuffling going on until they can get a solid competition. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see this unit almost platooning of sorts as it's only in the real games when you find out who the real players are.

The tackle spots, while there are SOME bodies, there isn't enough of them. The recruiting is going to be key this year, especially at the junior college level to get some additional bigguns on the roster. The loss of Marcus Gordon to Louisville was huge and Nebraska absolutely has to find a replacement in this class.

It's going to be a typically inexperienced unit, but there should be strength from the center on left. That's going to the most dependable area for now until the right side gets figured out.

You'll see better pass-protection this year and while you look at the 16 sacks given up on the season and think that, that is pretty good, keep in mind that NU passed the most in the games against the worst teams and Dailey simply didn't have the amount of instances in the backfield where he was in danger of getting sacked a large amount of times.

Run-blocking is what will be interesting as I am not sure just how this unit will do. That's ironic considering the team we are talking about, but it's obvious that the emphasis has been on pass-blocking, so the running game will be especially key

Again, it probably won't be a stellar unit in regards to talent, speed and size, but this group should be better than last year's surprising-six. It should be one more step above as Wagner and company try to get this line where they would like it to be.

3. How sorely was Demorrio Williams missed and can Steve Octavien fill that type of void ?

Bryan's take:

It was well-known that the coaching staff wanted to upgrade the linebacker unit with junior college players, especially at the outside position. There was a sever lack of athletic playmakers on the field that we have been able to enjoy in the past.

Demorrio really reached his full potential under the scheme and how he was used under Pelini. Octavien will have, roughly, the same measureables and testing numbers that Williams has and some additional weight.

To me, that is just what the doctor ordered to allow us to be able to pressure the quarterback again like we enjoyed last year. Without a doubt, Williams was the biggest void that went unfilled this past year.

Steve's take

The loss of Demorrio Williams was huge in just the statistical category, Williams second on the team in tackles and first in sacks, Williams the only one on the team posting doble-digits in tackles behind the line of scrimmage on the QB.

That lightning-fast explosion off the line that gave offensive tackles fits and literally took Utah State out of their game in the span of about two minutes.

Williams was a difference-maker, something that outside of Barrett Ruud , the Huskers simply didn't have.

What Williams was also, that was sorely missed this last year was the unquestioned emotional leader of that group.

Williams' attitude and confident demeanor was infectious with the blackshirts and it showed on the field. Players went at it harder, appeared to play faster and when things got down, Williams was always there to pick them up, whether by a big play or just that vocal support.

What he brought to the game through tangibles and intangibles made him easily last year's MVP.

Can Steve Octavien do that? Well, we know Octavien has the speed and can assume that he has the quickness. Physically, there's no reason to think that he can't at least in theory do what Williams did in regards to statistics.

The intangibles are a different deal entirely, though, and we simply won't know that until he hits the field. Wh

en NU lost Williams and T.J. Hollowell and got Chad Sievers and Stewart Bradley instead, yes, they did lose some of that speed and some of the quickness, but it should be noted that in my estimation, they didn't lose the intensity. Both Bradley and Sievers played hard, but Williams was simply a cut above the rest when it came to what he could do with that fanatical intensity.

Octavien could indeed be that guy, but more than that, for NU to regain some of their defensive success, he has to be.

4. Of the redshirt freshman, Junior College transfers and true freshman, who will play and have the biggest impacts?

Bryan's take:

Wow, there could be a bunch. Let's start with the redshirt freshman listed in order of who I see will make the biggest impact:

1. Lydon Murtha - May have played this year had he not injured his leg.
2. Andrew Christensen - Looks like he could provide instant depth at the interior positions.
3. Mike Huff - Another OL that could play nearly all of the positions on the OL.
4. Clayton Sievers - TE will need some players to step up and provide depth immediately.
5. Nathan Swift - Heard a lot of good things about Swift toward the last part of the year.

Junior college transfers from last year:

1. Cornealius Thomas - There were initial thoughts that he could be a bust, but I see him penciled in as a starter in the spring.
2. Jordan Adams - Might have been a little of a let-down to not have him this season. Should challenge for top spot at QB.

Junior college transfers from this year that are currently committed or signed:

1. Zach Bowman - Stud, nuff said. Gives NU freedom in the secondary with a great man to man cover cornerback.
2. Steve Octavien - Gives NU that pass rush threat that left with Demorrio Williams.
3. Zac Taylor - Seeing Taylor is penciled in as my season starter says something about how good Bowman and Octavien are.
4. Ola Dagundero - Should be considered even an upgrade over Barry Cryer at the DT position. Hug upside.
5. Dontrell Moore - The more athleticism in the linebacking corps the better!

True freshman from this year's recruiting class that is currently committed:

1. Marlon Lucky - There is no way that this kid doesn't see the field, if he gets qualified.
2. Robert Rands - Not a lot of hype here, but provides instant improvement at easily the most disappointing part of NU's special teams.
3. Jordan Congdon - Again, not a lot of hype, but upgrades the second worst sore spot on special teams.
4. Phillip Dillard - Will instantly get a shot at MIKE and may split snaps there all season.
5. Craig Roark - Will instantly be one of the top interior players and could be the No. 2 at LG, C, and RG.
6. Leon Jackson - No way that he doesn't see the field at RB, WR, or safety next year in Lincoln.
7. Rodney Picou - Should he get qualified I see him getting spot duty at either OT or even at OG, if needed.
8. Brodrick Hunter - Big receiver, great route runner and good speed. Can become a weapon with Nunn next to him.
9. Wallace Franklin - Another academic risk, but could be a player on either side of the ball.
10. Harrison Beck - One of the biggest names of this class and would be higher if he was the only QB in this class.
11. Calvin Mickens - We need tall CBs now and would be nice next to Bowman back there.
12. Nick Covey - Covey is a big athletic player and could play LB or TE. Downing may like to see him get a look over there, especially if Herian isn't the same.

Yes, I could see as many as 12 of the true FR playing next year and possibly more.

Steve's take

An impact player should be defined as someone that makes your team better than it was. A player that makes plays on third and long, fourth and short or can bust the momentum of another team's offense in a single play.

On offense, it's that big play at a big time, the long run, the big catch or the crucial throw. A key block or whatever, difference makers make plays when plays have to be made.

If you are going to look at this group and who's coming in, the first difference maker could be Jordan Congdon .

A kicker and that in and of itself might make this seem ridiculous, but based on the special teams-struggles of last year in pretty much every phase outside of punting, you can't put enough value on what some term as the points that have to be scored.

Congdon has done that his entire career, which makes him one of the country's best, so if he can translate that to this year, Congdon could end up as one of the team's MVPs.

Zack Bowman and his super-freakish athleticism make him an obvious candidate. He can play wherever, whenever and do just about whatever you need him to do. Fast, quick, good size – he's a skill-position freak and a nightmare for anyone that has to stop him and try and do anything on offense with him being directly in the way. This guy isn't just instant-impact, he's instant-mayhem for the big red.

Ola Dagundaro adds depth at the very least with his recent commit to the Huskers. At 6'3" – 293 lbs, Dagundaro is run-stopper almost by simply just being there, but his quickness off the ball allows him to play up-field almost the entire game. NU has its starters at the position, but Dagundaro is almost a shoe-in for the two-deep if he's the only junior college DT to make it to NU. And, with the way that the staff rotated guys last year, you could

Steve Octavien and Dontrell Moore are at least to me, a matched set. The bookends, if you will, at the linebacker position, they could be the filler for the void that was left with the departure of Demorrio Williams and T.J. Hollowell. Moore is faster and quicker than T.J., while Octavien has better straight line speed than Williams did. Does that mean better results than what either D.W. or T.J. did for NU? No, because at least for Williams, he was special in so many ways, his athleticism just a part of it. From a pure numbers standpoint, these guys should be able to add something legit to the LB mix right away and we'll see as the year goes along if they can be true impact players.

If you are a receiver, you have a chance to make an impact right away and you will get every opportunity to do so. Guys coming in like Brodrick Hunter, Wallace Franklin and redshirt freshman, Nathan Swift will all be given ample chances to prove they can vie for the top six spots in this wide open wide receiving core.

Other true impact players could be Robert Rands , who's punt-returning prowess should serve Nebraska well if he wins that position. He'll have stiff competition, but the smallish, yet lightning-quick Rands showed in Summer camps and throughout his regular season in his final year of high school ball that if you give him the open-field, look out, because he can make things happen. Nebraska needs a desperate upgrade in this area and Rands could be just what the doctor ordered.

One guy that better be an impact player is junior college transfer – offensive lineman, Cornealius Thomas . He absolutely has to be in there to compete for the starting job on either side, because Nebraska is in sore need of solid pass-blocking studs on the outside that can get off the ball quick and have those long arms that are almost demanded of successful OTs. There's no illusion as to what Thomas might do. He either has to or he's a major disappointment.

Everyone is looking at Marlon Lucky as the impact-back for the 2004 season. Hard to discount with one of the best all around backs in the country should be able to do, but I'm not quite ready to dub him Reggie Bush Jr. just yet. Everything is there to say Lucky has a shot of playing and doing quite well. I'm interested in just how he will progress through Fall. If I had to choose out of the group of new backs that I think could be impact-friendly right away, I look to the more physically daunting backs, simply because we just don't know what this offensive line is going to do. Cody Glenn , to me, he's as ready as ready can be from a physical standpoint, able to go up the middle until the sun doesn't shine, but has the feet and a good enough burst to move outside if needed. If he doesn't find himself moved to fullback, this is a young man that could see the field right away, simply because he's physically ready to go.

Zac Taylor has the keys to the car right now. At least, as a junior college kid transferring in, that's the idea. It's my belief that you don't bring in junior college players for the skill positions to add depth, you are intending them to start. I believe that was the case with Jordan Adams and I believe that now of Taylor. If NU is lucky, Harrison Beck redshirts and it will come down to Taylor and Adams for the job. Taylor has the stats to show he's prolific and if he does pan out, obviously Nebraska's offense will look markedly different and better than it did last year.

When Matt Herian went down, a back up group of tight ends that were considered serviceable suddenly became needed to try and fill the void for at the time, Nebraska's most prolific receiver. Dusty Keiser will be sorely missed as he was the only player that could even come close to being that middle to deep threat that helped Dailey and Nebraska's passing-game early on.

Josh Mueller and J.B. Phillips are serviceable at the position, but it could be Clayton Sievers that might make the biggest impact, at least for number two behind a hopefully healthy Matt Herian. Sievers doesn't have the sheer athleticism that is almost freakish for someone his size, but Sievers is quick off the ball, good change of direction and has the hands for the job. If Herian isn't there, Sievers could be the guy that will be looked to, to pick up the slack.

Lydon Murtha has been a hot-topic ever since he stepped onto campus. The tall and pretty lean Minnesota standout at least physically proved to have an up-side that went and still seems to be going. It's probably a good thing that the injury he had early on last year didn't ultimately land him on the field as a true frosh, because now, he's got a full four years to show just what he can do. It's hard to say that the staff has penciled Murtha in for one of those starting-spots, but he'll get plenty of chances to show that it's his job to lose.

A redshirt freshman that is on nobody's radar right now is Ponderosa High's, Thomas Lawson . A running back that during his senior year at Ponderosa in Parker, Colorado, Lawson ran for 1,800 yards while from the fullback position. Great size at 6'0" and 215 lbs., was a track star in high school as well and could be an impact, possibly because nobody expects anything from him at all.

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