Countdown to Spring: Secondary

Two starters from the secondary graduate and both are drafted, one in the first round, the other in the second, and Nebraska's pass defense actually got better. Go figure. There's more to the story than that, of course, but one more time, Nebraska loses two starters in the secondary, one (Daniel Bullocks), who will undoubtedly go in the draft. Can Nebraska get even better? This spring we aren't likely to find out a lot, but we'll find out some and we'll project just what that means in the fall.

Because Nebraska's secondary is likely to look vastly different in the fall when the bountiful new crop of potential players arrives, I'm going to give you a brief spring breakdown and then paint a picture of just what that will mean come fall. It's more than likely going to be very different in appearance, so let's break this down into two timeframes; "now" and "then".

NOW

You've lost two starting safeties and one of your potentially most athletic safeties (Leon Jackson) has moved back to his original position of running back. What you have left is kind of a mish-mosh of safeties, but converted players, who moved from the cornerback position like Titus Brothers and Tierre Green. Only Andrew Shanle brings a good deal of experience at the position with him going into this spring, so it's not going to be a display of perfection come the annual Red/White game. It's going to instead be very much an exhibition of a work in progress.

At the corner position you have a little more stability, both Cortney Grixby and Zack Bowman returning to take their game to hopefully another level. Just going into year-two of the Elmassian-era at the position, last year to the year before was markedly different in production, so you could probably expect something similar to happen this time around.

Much like safety, though, there's far more inexperience than there is experience, so while the CB portion of the defense may look a little more refined at times over the spring, there will be many opportunities for a real two-deep to develop.

We'll take a look at both positions and as per the usual, I'll list them in the order I think they will end up listed on the depth chart after spring is concluded. When it comes to the cornerback position, though, suffice it to say, the two-deep won't matter this early. There's only one choice at starter for both the strong and weak spots.

SAFETY (Free)

Andrew Shanle (6-1, 205) – He had the inside track to the starting position it seemed as fall practices were progressing. It wasn't long after they started, though, when Shanle found himself once again relegated to the number two spot, Blake Tiedtke taking the starting spot instead. There's not going to be much competition in his way this spring keeping him from that spot, but the biggest question is, will be win it only to lose it again when the newcomers arrive?

Titus Brothers (5-11, 190) – Since his move over to the safety position, Brothers has had to adjust, but from cornerback to safety, the main adjustment is not about his technique necessarily as it is about his role.

From the varying packages of zone versus man, the safeties take on different priorities, which have as much to do with reading the play as they do reading the man. Brothers is athletic enough, he doesn't have to worry about the adjustment physically, except possibly learning how to become a little more physical at the point of attack. The rest will come with time.

SAFETY (Strong)

Tierre Green (6-1, 200) – Forget about worrying about athleticism – Green has all that and then some. It really seems that it's just a matter of finding the position that fits him the best and the one that he will finally become accustomed to enough, so that we can see that athleticism combined with the position he's playing.

That only comes with time. Green, though, is definitely one of the athletes at the position that is more than big enough, fast enough and experienced enough to weather the storm of in-coming stars. The question is, is he physical enough to ward off some of those players like Ricky Thenarse, who seem to relish the role of terminator in the secondary.

Ben Eisenhart (5-11, 200) – You probably would have hoped to slot Ashlee Palmer here and had he showed up instead of having a "Cybil" moment, that might very well be the case. As it is, Ben will make a good enough replacement for now. He's certainly athletic, he's got the work ethic and you don't have to question how hard he tries on the field. Can he combine all that into a potent enough package to be more than an interim at the position when the scholarship athletes arrive?

CORNERBACK (Strong)

Cortney Grixby (5-9, 165) – It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Welcome to Cortney Grixby's world, one which he is underestimated from the second he steps close to the line. That's when he beats you.

There is probably no better athlete on the team on either side of the ball. There is probably no better pure corner on the team right now either. Cory Ross once said of what he wanted for Christmas, he said a couple of more inches in height and then it was "first round bound", Ross citing the fact that the on-paper measurables mean so much. Grixby lives in that world as well, but it won't stop Husker fans from seeing this phenomenal athlete take yet another year of development to the field.

It's not about who can unseat him, because I don't think anyone can. It's about how much better he'll get one year to the next.

CORNERBACK (Weak)

Zack Bowman (6-2, 190) – It took him awhile to catch on, but Bowman always had that impressive athleticism and size to fall back on if things didn't go quite as planned. He finished up the season in fine fashion, especially against Colorado, where he didn't make an impact statistically, but on the field, he was perhaps one of the biggest impacts on that side of the ball. It will be interesting to see where he starts at this spring and if he takes over from where he left off at the end of 2005. If he does do that, Bowman could be in for a pretty spectacular senior year.

THEN

Ok, we have gotten the principles out of the way for the spring. Now let's look at how this pans out in the fall. Yeah, I am not going to be the guy that says he knows what these incoming recruits are going to do, because right now it's a crapshoot that they will even end up playing the positions they are slotted to play right now.

But as conjecture is just that, I'll give you mine as to where I think these players end up, providing all of them actually make it to Nebraska. Plus, I'll list them according to the impact I think they will make. Now, I am intentionally leaving off the above list of players, but within the description of each, I'll let you know who I think has a shot to take a spot on the two-deep or even the starting spot for their own.

SAFETY (Free)

Ricky Thenarse (6-1, 180) – You've seen his film and much like any film of legit scholarship Division 1-A athletes, Ricky has the moves, the speed and the body to contribute right away. What I like most about him, especially for this position, however, is that he's also got the right frame of mind.

The kid loves to hit.

He not only loves to hit, he loves to destroy. If he sees it and it happens to have the ball, he's blowing it up. Combine that ferocity with his impressive athleticism and yes, size, that's a great combination. Can he compete for a starting spot with only three weeks to prepare? That's a bigger question and really, it's THE question. Thenarse is more than physically capable. It's the mental part he has to get down. And three weeks isn't a lot of time to break starter, but he should be a shoo-in for the two-deep. He can grab the starting spot later on in the year.

Corey Young (6-0, 195) – The biggest question for Young is how healthy he'll be when fall arrives. Chances are he won't be ready to go, at least not one hundred percent. So, that could mean a redshirt year for him, but when it's all said and done,

I think he's going to make a great safety prospect, because he brings the athleticism you need, he's a typically hard-nosed and physical Millard North alumni and he's got a solid frame. Young has become literally the comeback kid, so I don't expect that to change at all. He'll come back and I think on paper, he's got a great upside at this position.

SAFETY (Strong)

Anthony West (6-1, 185) – If speed kills, put 4.34 speed in the body and mind of a safety. West got most of his luster on the offensive side of the ball, but just looking at this kid's measurements and speed, imagine what a force he could be at one of the hardest hitting positions on the field.

This position, in fact both safety positions, rely on kids that can combine ferocity with velocity. West certainly has the latter, but we're going to need to see the former up close and personal. If he's got that as well, he could be a raw gem just waiting to be honed and refined by safety's coach Bill Busch.

Major Culbert (5-11, 195) – To be honest, I'm torn a bit with Culbert. I know he's slated to play secondary, with no real concrete evidence to specify just where he might play. I waffled a bit between this and corner and really couldn't make up my mind. So, I am listing him at both.

Now, my question is, I understand elusiveness on offense and being great in the open field, but that doesn't always translate to great hips on defense and that 4.5/40 worries me, at least to a degree. Sure, he could make a great nickel guy ideally, if he fits the position at all, but I think it's safe to say that Culbert can more than match what he needs at safety and given the time, it think he could be as good as any of those listed just above.

But at corner, that's an acquired taste, where some athleticism helps you, but you need a specific type of athleticism to be good to go there.


CORNERBACK (Strong)

Andre Jones (6-0, 195) – Yeah, I can already hear everyone saying that Cortney Grixby's days are numbered and that he's going to have to give way to the bigger-more formidable Andre Jones, who brings in an All-American tag and superstar hype.

The problem is, I seem to remember that exact same speculation last year. Grixby is the starter, no question about it, so it's up to Jones to fit in where he can, because as we saw with Bowman, a lot of hype and ability doesn't translate as quickly as you would hope. With that being said, Jones is a very special athlete and he's got as much potential as Bowman did last year.

That makes him invaluable to this group, because regardless of how set they are at starter, they are going to need all the bodies they can get. Nebraska should just expect to be in Nickel for good parts of games against certain opponents and Jones should fit right in. Now, can he take someone's starting spot? Maybe, but not Grixby's. That kid is there to stay.

CORNERBACK (Weak)

Major Culbert (see above)

The great thing about both then and now, it offers a lot of athleticism and versatility to play various positions on the field. The problem is about experience and the fact that there is simply not going to be enough of it, especially at safety.

Bowman and Grixby will do fine at corner, but they do need a rest and when nickel and dime packages are called, you can't look at that as a potential disaster in the making.

No matter how you look at this group, both corner and safety, there are going to be a lot of baptisms by fire going on. I can't rule out a single incoming player, outside of possibly Young and that's only because he probably won't be ready to go. Outside of that, I can't see how any of them are kept off the field, because there will be a lot of experimenting to see just who fits which position the best.

After that, who knows, but this spring will be barely interesting, because how it is set up should be how it ends. But when the fall comes, that's when the changes will really start to take place.

I'll be as interested as anyone to see just who ends up where and more importantly, when.

Next up the defensive tackles and with the loss of two starters to the eventual Draft, some players need to step up. And believe it or not, this position all of a sudden becomes a must-have for recruiting next year.

Stay tuned.


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