This year's hottest position battles (Part I)

JUCO players are usually referred to as "quick fixes". You don't normally bring in a junior college player to develop. There normally isn't time. Coaches and players are dealing with a more physically and mentally mature player and on a shorter timeline than a regular prep player.

Given Nebraska's record last season it was clear through this class that there is a need for difference makers and players that can come in and help immediately. Nebraska took 12 junior college players which is a staggering amount compared to years passed.

It's easier to list positions that aren't impacted by junior college transfers as opposed to positions that will be. The only positions that won't be impacted this spring or fall by a junior college influence, provided all qualify and transfer successfully, are running backs, defensive ends and the kicking position.

What that will leave us with is a spring to work in the five junior college players that are currently on campus. Then you have seven other junior college players leading in 19 other prep players that could challenge for playing time right before the season.

So where will the best battles be for playing time from these newcomers? The Big Red Report breaks down what positions and the players involved at the positions that you will find a heated competition for starter spots and playing time.


SPRING TRANSFERS

Quarterback: Joe Dailey vs. Zac Taylor

All you had to do is listen to Bill Callahan today to understand what was being thought about with bringing Taylor in along with Harrison Beck. It was for the increase of competition at the quarterback position. There are two areas that the competition needs to address: production and leadership.

Taylor will bring them both.

Taylor passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns last fall to earn second-team NJCAA All-America honors. He also led Butler County Community College to the NJCAA National Championship game this past year.

Having a player that can come in and enroll at semester will allow for Taylor to get a jump start at challenging for playing time and the starting position this fall. This spring will be best for both Taylor and the incumbent Dailey and that is a real competition for the job.

This position on paper will get all of the publicity of a heavyweight title fight between two undefeated boxers. Dailey comes in as last year's starter, a captain and with something to prove. Taylor is the newcomer who has the resume and the golden arm.

I expect Dailey will be the "starter" into the spring game. This offense isn't easy. If the starting position isn't Taylor's by the season opener, it will be by the conference opener. I attribute this to Taylor being part of previous pass-firt offenses which will allow him to come in and show qualities like poise in the pocket, throwing with confidence and making the right reads.


Defensive tackle: Ola Dagundero and Barry Cryer vs. Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams

This position battle of the defensive tackles is probably the least glamorous of all the positions on the field. Dagundero was a "late" addition to the spring transfer, commit list and there is probably the least known about Dagundero of all the mid-term, junior college transfers. Cryer on the other hand was someone that nearly was written off as a transfer that may have to wait until after spring.

The irony here is that Dagundero may be the best of all the spring transfers. Consider his teammate, Kevin Myers, saying that Dagundero was the best defensive tackle that he played against and then consider that Myers squared off against Gabe Long.

That is a ringing endorsement. Dagunduro made 72 tackles during his sophomore season at Compton, including four sacks. Ola is a solid run-stopper, two-gap defensive tackle that still has the athleticism to get after the quarterback.

Cryer on the other hand brings the active side of being a defensive tackle to the table. Cryer is an athletic defensive lineman who had 9 ½ sacks and 56 tackles in just nine games last year at Dodge City Community College.

The knock against LeKevin Smith last year was the inability to hold up against the double team. The ability to take on the double-team was something that Smith's predecessor, Ryan Binghom, did so well. That ability to occupy two offensive linemen also allows for linebackers to be more active.

Titus Adams on the other hand was very impressive last season and showed the ability to be an active defensive tackle. Health issues have been a concern in the case of Adams and may be a bigger problem than on the field concerns in the terms of lack of production.

Unseating Smith, probably the most heralded recruit under Solich during his tenure, is probably too big of a feat to have happen. Dagundero though will make his presence known and will be a player of substance this spring and fall for Nebraska. Adams on the other hand has had some problems with the injury bug and that may be where Cryer's real worth will come in. Cryer could be a suitable replacement when called upon. Cryer could also be used more in passing situations to get pressure on the quarterback.


Outside linebackers: Dontrell Moore and Steve Octavien vs. Bo Ruud and Stewart Bradley

The outside linebacker positions may allow for the junior college influence to be felt the most. Both positions lose their starters to graduation. Regardless, this may be the position, on the defensive side of the ball, that needs the largest overhaul.

Stewart Bradley played as a SAM linebacker last year and may have been a little out of his element. Don't tell Bradley that though. Bradley may have been the biggest leader on the defensive side of the ball last year, but he may see himself moved inside to MIKE to make way for more athletic, outside linebackers.

Enter Dontrell Moore and Steve Octavien. One of the worst kept secrets of this recruiting year may have been the need to bring in two junior college outside linebackers. Additionally, there was a need to overhaul the position athletically with players that more resembled Demorrio Williams as opposed to Stewart Bradley.

Bo Ruud is a fine player in his own right and Mark Brungardt would have been penciled in as the starter this winter, but left the team. Bo played well in spot positions and time and stood out on special teams play last year. Bo is more athletic than the starters at the outside linebacker positions last year. Production from the outside linebackers last year was the biggest hole from the previous year.

Moore in junior college last year tallied 50 tackles, including 18 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. In 2003, Octavien finished with 124 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss. Bradley last year from the SAM position was second on the team in tackles with 67 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss and zero sacks. Chad Sievers finished with 54 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss and zero sacks.

Much like the quarterback position you are looking for the production to improve at these two positions. A year ago Demorrio Williams was in on nearly every tackle and was all over the field. He finished the 2003 season with 128 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 11 sacks or 7 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 11 sacks more than the two outside linebacker positions combined in 2004.

Moore and Octavien maybe weren't told that they would be the starter when they came to Nebraska. However, it doesn't a genius to understand the situation with losing two starters to graduation, Brungardt who decided to leave the team and the lack of production at those positions last year that immediate help like Moore and Octavien will help.


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While I am inclined to say that all of the position battles will be heated this spring, some will be hotter than others. The expectations of Taylor to challenge Dailey for the starting quarterback position will catch the headlines. Moore and Octavien may have the easier of the position battles with both starters gone in front of them. Cryer and Dagundero may be able to make their presence known, but there are at least two starters returning at the position who have both had injury problems, but are battle tested and at the very least can provide instant depth to those positions.

Tomorrow Big Red Report will look at the newcomers that will be enrolling at Nebraska this fall and the position battles that they create.


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