Things to watch for on offense

Nebraska finished last year on a great upswing that you didn't want to see the season end. Beyond that, you saw character and confidence in a team which continued to find ways to win and stay in ball games. Last year did leave you with some things that you would look for this year.

Last year couldn't have ended any better for Nebraska and this year they have nearly everyone picking them to win the North. This is still a team though that has questions that need to be answered. Here are some things that need to be sorted out and should begin to shake out in fall camp.

WHO EMERGES AS THE BACKUP QB

You are hard pressed right now to find a position in the nation where one person means more to their team than Zac Taylor does to his. Nebraska enjoys having a returning starter for the first time since Bill Callahan came to Nebraska. It allows for continuity. However, even Coach Callahan is on the record for having said that no quarterback he has coached before Taylor did so well in their first year.

Behind Taylor though are more questions that answers. Not that there isn't talent, but that talent isn't tested. Harrison Beck seems to be the favorite to backup Taylor, as he did last year, but there were questions this spring and summer about a possible shoulder problem. Word is that Beck threw and threw well this summer.

Behind Taylor and Beck are Joe Ganz and Beau Davis. Through the spring, Ganz took advantage of the extra reps in practice and, according to Jay Norvell, (at the North Texas Nebraskan's Founder's Day) had not thrown an interception all spring before the spring game. Davis seems destined to be at least third string this fall and got a well needed redshirt last year after getting put into some tough situations as a true freshman and not being as physically ready as you might like.

Bottom line here, Beck or Ganz must step up and be ready to come in and be the man. The worst thing that Nebraska could have happen this year is to lose Taylor to injury. His leadership and command of the offense are irreplaceable. It's not necessarily a knock on the players behind him, but more a credit to him.

WHO EMERGES AS THE DOWN TO DOWN RB

Nebraska seems to have the type of depth at the running back position that makes people think back to the stable of running backs that Nebraska once had in the 90's with Ahman Green, Lawrence Phillips, Damon Benning and Clinton Childs. It was really a plug and play situation there that when one guy went down that another was there to shoulder the load.

While Nebraska may have a similar type of situation in terms of depth they might not have the same type of well-versed backs. Meaning that Green, Phillips, Benning and Childs could go down to down, but Nebraska's current running backs seem to fit better into some situations than they do into others.

The leaders for the running back position seem to be Cody Glenn and Marlon Lucky with Kenny Wilson really nipping at their heels. Glenn has lost some weight and really showed a burst that many didn't know he had this spring. Last year he was used more in short yardage situations. This spring it sounds like Glenn has expanded his repertoire and wants to be the opening day starter.

Lucky is lightening in a jar and you need to have him ready. Last year Lucky did appear to be hesitant at times, but as a true freshman picked up valuable experience. The real question surrounding Lucky isn't his running ability, but more his ability to be involved in pass protection. Lucky probably won't find himself in this situation much anyway as you would rather him be involved in the pattern somewhere causing a mismatch because of his speed and play-making ability.

If you watched Wilson's film from Butler you just kept seeing him flash all over on the tape. He shows great power, great size and great speed. People have seen his pictures from the spring game and know that Wilson is put together. The stories surrounding Wilson and summer workouts are almost folktales. The question for Wilson will be can he absorb the offense. A scenario that really favors Glenn and Lucky.

Behind those three are Brandon Jackson and Leon Jackson who quietly sit there. People might be overlooking "BJax", but they shouldn't be. He showed in the Colorado game that he was healthy again and reminded us what he could run like when he was healthy. Leon Jackson however is the wildcard here. His senior film from Pasco is just amazing. But, he practiced at safety and played special teams last year before switching back to offense. He might have got a glimpse at the speed of the game, but he might need to learn the offense a bit better and run between the tackles.

Bottom line here is that it seems that Glenn, Lucky or Wilson needs to step up to become a down to down back. However, I would not look for one back to earn 75% of the total snaps. This is going to be an offense that is going to rely on fresh legs and different skills on different types of plays. That really plays well into this offense. I wouldn't be surprised to have the favorite change after seeing the same guy as a starter for two weeks, another guy have a big week and get promoted to starter. All of them are going to play.

IS HERIAN BACK?

This is a question that, while Nebraska played O.K. without him last year, they are definitely better with him. Herian has a size and speed combination that few have. Herian dealt with a nagging hamstring injury this spring, but played in the spring game and had a quite a few reps.

There is little doubt that Taylor could use a weapon like Herian to stretch the field from the inside. Herian is too fast for most linebackers and too tall for most safeties to cover. He will have to learn to use his body more as a tight end, but Coach Shawn Watson may be just what the doctor ordered there.

Bottom line, Nebraska is better with Herian than they are without him. It would be great to see him return this year, but there has been talk about Justin Tomerlin's progress as a tight end. Returning you should also see Josh Mueller and David Harvey who have more flex-tight end abilities that J.B. Phillips or Clayton Sievers seem to. And you might get an early look at Mike McNeil this fall.

DEPTH AND HEALTH ACROSS THE OL

Recent rumors have some shifting taking place across the offensive front. Shifting that Big Red Report said to look for as early as the end of the season with the moving of Matt Slauson to guard. But what does this mean to the rest of the line?

With Slauson inside, and the return of Andy Christensen from a shoulder injury, this could be a 180 from last year which saw the interior line not play up to expectations last year. Injuries hit this team hard losing Christensen before the season began, Greg Austin consistently playing with sore knees and Kurt Mann playing injured.

Those injuries were just the tip of the iceberg for Coach Dennis Wagner and Nebraska to endure. Nebraska then lost their two starting offensive tackles into the conference play which required players that were younger, and one even that just converted from defensive end, to step up quickly.

Matt Slauson may be the unsung hero of last year coming in and playing as a true freshman. Slauson seems destined to move inside after being chiefly a fixture at right tackle. Behind him you should look for junior college transfer Victory Haines. Haines was here for spring and needs to get up to the speed of the game and catch up on the blocking schemes.

The other junior college transfer from last year is Carl Nicks. Nicks seems to have the left tackle spot with his name all over it. He supposedly came into camp in better shape than what Nebraska is accustomed to seeing their late transfers arrive in and after seeing his film he could be special at the left tackle position. Behind Nicks will be Murtha who seemed to come into his own at times last year, but needs to stay healthy. He is a very athletic offensive tackle and just needs some more time.

Bottom line here, the interior line looks to be beefed up and improved on paper with a healthy Christensen and Slauson sliding inside. At the tackle position there is potential, but still some questions. Will Nicks be ready? Is Patrick capable? Can Murtha stay healthy? From what you saw last year, they can pull it together when they need to.

WHO GETS THE REDSHIRT AT WR?

This is a very important situation at receiver this year. To stagger your depth by class. There is little doubt that Terrence Nunn, Nathan Swift, Todd Peterson and Frantz Hardy should be locks to play and play a lot this year given their roles last year.

Beyond that though you have Isaiah Fluellen that seems to be healthy for the first time in what seems to be years. Fluellen had a break out year as a redshirt freshman and does have amazing speed. Even if on the field he is more to stretch the field. His speed could be useful and Fluellen is a senior.

After those four you have to mention Chris Brooks. Brooks was a promising receiver out of high school that had an early knee injury last fall and never really seemed to become a go-to guy in the offense like Nunn, Swift, Peterson and even Hardy did. Brooks could consider a redshirt this year, but it might be very difficult to talk him into it.

Then you have to talk about Maurice Purify and Tyrell Spain. The journey of Spain was a bit unusual as most Husker fans looked for him last year. After finishing up at Lincoln Southeast C.C. he is qualified and could be one of the big immediate impact players after two promising summers.

The real impact could come from Purify though who dazzled those in the few summer workouts he took part in. He seems to play the game at a whole other speed when you watch his film and catches the ball if it's just in the same zip code. Purify has big play ability, but more than that a confidence and swagger that could elevate all of the other receivers around him.

Beyond these players, expect for maybe Brooks, here begins the question of who gets the redshirt. It seems that it might be a bit wasteful to pull the shirts on both Menelik Holt and Will Henry this year, but it might happen. Holt and Henry are both big receivers with great speed for their size. Both are physically ready to play which might further the dilemma of who might red shirt.

Bottom line, you are looking for production in your top six to seven that should include Nunn, Swift, Peterson, Hardy, Spain, Purify and possibly Brooks. However, you have the option to go back and give a year to Brooks and give players like Holt and/or Henry to get a year in the system because there isn't a pressing need to get them on the field immediately.


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