To play or not to play

I know that you have already ran these scenarios through your head since perhaps even "Signing Day" arrived. Where will this young player contribute and when? It's a question that we all wonder, both fan and media alike. Well, we take a look down the entire class of 2008 and give you our thoughts on just who could see the field their first season with the big red.

Chances of playing this year:






Will Compton - LB - 6-2, 230 lbs
Just to look at him you might say that Compton is ready to go. But we know that it's one thing to look it and another to actually be physically ready for Division 1-A ball. However, between his size, how he seems to have done catching onto the defense and just the sheer need of dependable bodies for depth, Compton is one of the main favorites of this class to see time right away.


Khiry Cooper - WR - 6-2, 180 lbs.
There's still the question of whether or not Cooper will indeed be a Husker. Until the first day of classes comes and goes we just aren't going to know for certain. If he stays, though, Nebraska gets an able wideout with playmaking ability and impressive athleticism. But it's athleticism and potential he'll probably not realize in year-one. To look at him and project him into the line-up in any fashion his first year, is simply hard to do. Cooper's size makes him at best a situational guy, because I just don't see how he will be able to take the pounding of a season, along with being able to be consistent at blocking which is always a major emphasis with the receivers. He's got great upside as they say, but it's upside which I think he'll realize in year-two, not year-one.

Ben Cotton - TE - 6-6, 230 lbs.
If you are looking for an all-around tight end right now, someone who can both be effective in the run-blocking game and as a pass-catcher Cotton is probably a year away. He certainly looks good sporting a very lean athletic build, but even with solid hands at the line and the ability to use leverage effectively, that's only going to get you so far against some of the more stout defensive ends in the conference. It's not impossible to look at him as a situational guy, because he certainly has the athleticism to contribute right now. But down-to-down a redshirt year could do him a world of good.

Alfonzo Dennard - CB - 5-10, 190 lbs.
You need courage and confidence to be an effective cornerback at this level of play - something many receivers say Dennard has in abundance. His lack of height doesn't mean he sports a proportionately slender frame. He's thick. But his thickness doesn't seem to hinder his ability to be maneuverable and explosive. But his strength allows him to do a little dictating at the line rather than worrying a whole lot about receivers doing all the dictating to him. Normally sheer athleticism, which he has, isn't enough to get you on the field, especially at a position like this. But with the depth issuesNebraska has I figure it's only a matter of time before they start working Dennard in the fold. Make no mistake about this kid's potential, because it's considerable. But like Fabian Washington went through during his freshmen year when he had to face the likes of Texas' Roy Wiliams and Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods, it's going to be a baptism by fire. You can only hope, though, that Dennard won't be pressed into starting duty quite that soon. 

Sean Fisher - LB - 6-6, 225 lbs.
To look at him you'd think that Fisher was a defensive end in the making. But he's practices solely at linebacker, and at this point we can only assume that at least for this year, that's just where he's going to play. One thing you can't question about Fisher is his athleticism. He's played just about every offensive position there is to play from his prep-days at Millard North, and he's played most of those on the defensive side as well. Also, typical to what you find out of Millard North, he's a hard-nosed kid who is as gritty as he is athletic. However, at his size, while he's an ideal match up for tight ends it's just hard to see him get a lot of time on the field this year. There's so much room to grow with his frame, and he won't be in danger of losing any of that impressive athleticism. The catch here is that the linebacking corps is thin. It's desperately thin. One injury and Fisher might find himself going from thinking about playing to doing that, whether he wanted to or not. My thought is that he should redshirt. I don't see any real benefit from playing his first year, unless he's willing to cut his teeth on special teams, and don't throw out the idea totally about the defensive end position. There are two seniors starting at the bookends right now, and that young man could down the road, make an ideal replacement.

Ricky Henry - OL - 6-4, 305 lbs.
There really isn't any question about whether or not Henry will play this year. He will. The question simply pertains to when. I could easily see him getting in a healthy rotation in game one, especially if it's going Nebraska's way. What Henry gives you is the meanest cuss on the line since Richie Incognito Jr., but hopefully there will be less penalties to go with it. Henry is working at left guard right, but you could project him to either guard spot easily, as well as being a capable back up at center once he gets the entire system down. This line is seen as the core strength of not just the offense, but the entire team. As they go, so it would seem will go Nebraska's chances this year. Henry will be a big part of that, and should any injuries occur at either guard spot, I don't have a doubt that Henry will fill in nicely and aggressively as well. He's going to be a treat to watch either way.

Tyson Hetzer - TE - 6-6, 250 lbs.
With missing the entire Spring and now gone for the Fall camp, it's obvious Hetzer won't see any playing time this year. While the injury certainly isn't a good thing, I think the time for him to learn the system and work on his upper body strength will do him a world of good. Hetzer has the raw physical gifts to be a solid addition to the tight end group, and he's an obvious mismatch issue for any defense trying to stop him. But there's a little seasoning he has to undergo, much of it which can take place in the film room and on the Scout Team if he should happen to make it back sometime this year.

Micah Kreikemeier - LB - 6-3, 210 lbs.
Kreikemeir was put out for the year with a knee injury. He's expected to play either strongside backer when he gets back or could be seen as a potential defensive end given his frame and athleticism.

John Levorson - DB - 6-3, 190 lbs.
Levorson has the frame, but not the size. Call that the reaoning for thinking that it's just not realistic to expect to see him on the field his first year. We all know about what an impressive athlete he is, like Fisher above, Levorson is a kid who could literally do it all. He's a little thicker than Fisher is at this point, but for the safety position I just don't think he's physically ready for Division 1-A ball. Levorson might have some of the best upside of this entire group, though, if you can believe it. It's also no given that he'll stay at safety as his size would allow him to play other positions as well. If he can sit a year, learn more about the defense, perhaps figure out what suits him best, and maybe he'll come to do that if he is used on the Scout Team, we'll see a lot of good things from him down the road.

Tim Marlowe - WR - 5-10, 160 lbs.
Marlowe isn't long on height, but he's got a thick build for an all-purpose type receiver. But it's hard to see him get any real time at the wide receiver position this year. The team will be searching for an identity there to see just what they have. But it's more likely that players like Curenski Gilleylen will be tested in that role to see how it develops before they try to work any newcomers in. Where Marlowe could see time, though, is on special teams. At his size he's a solid open-field runner, and offers playmaking ability in the return game. They have worked him out there over the Fall along with a host of other potential playmakers. My guess would be that he'll sit this year and just get himself worked in so that he can be a more realistic and consistent contributor for the 2009 season.

Cameron Meredith - DE - 6-4, 225 lbs.
There may be no other reason to see Meredith hit the field than I think Bo Pelini and company will be experimenting a lot to see just what they have and what they can do. To look at Meredith, you'd certainly see why someone could see him play right now. But looks aren't everything. Going off his high school film Meredith was a tenacious edge-rusher who was very effective at bending at the knees as he tried to work himself around offensive linemen. That doesn't always equate to instant success, but in certain situations I could see how they could utilize the California native. Strength is a consideration as very, very few players ever really come in ready to take on the kinds of tackles they are going to see. But again, in the right situations I could see how they might get Meredith on the field. The defense as a whole will be trying to figure out just what it can do, and sometimes that means a lot of players are going to get time. I can see Meredith as one who could see the field now and again this year.

Collins Okafor - RB - 6-1, 195 lbs.
If Nebraska needed him, I think Okafor would be a decent contributor this year. I don't think he's ready to step into the role of being an every down back, but he's big enough and athletic enough that he could at least be solid in certain situations. But unless the unthinkable happens and this group of backs gets decimated by injury I just don't see where the team is going to benefit that much from burning his shirt, nor do I see him benefitting by letting it get pulled for what would more than likely be token or mop up duty. Okafor should be a good one, but they simply don't need him right now. Let him shirt, learn, work with the Scout Team and when Lucky steps out the door he can step in and perhaps be Nebraska's next great all-purpose back.

Courtney Osborne - DB - 6-3, 175 lbs.
Much like Levorson Osborne has the frame for the future. That usually means he's not quite ready to put that out there on the field in an actual game. Courtney is very similar in build to Levorson, but Levorson has perhaps a little better overall athleticism. As it is, both project very well down the road and if you can recall any of this Osborne's feats, he's someone you don't have to ask to be more aggressive or tell him to look for the ball. He is that and does that very well. I am one of those who is anxious to see what this kid can do, because he has Rickey Thenarse aggressiveness, with just a tad better sense of where he's going to go. That bodes well for those of us who love watching safeties coming into the screen ala Ronnie Lott of the famous 49ers as he bares down to lay something unmerciful on the other guy. I'm not ready to put Osborne in there with a legend, but I like his mentality and the way he plays the game. I just think you will have to wait one more year to see it for yourself.

Steven Osborne - WR - 6-4, 185 lbs.
Osborne has all his brother's aggressiveness, but his brother has a little thickness he doesn't. It's not hard to see from first glance that this particular Osborne needs to find the training table and then the weight room. That's not a bad thing as he's got loads of athleticism, a good frame for building upon and he has a defensive player's mentality on the offensive side of the ball. In a word, blocking. That's something wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore preaches about, and unlike most kids coming out of the prep ranks, that's something this kid actually enjoys. Once he gets his physique to match up with his style of play, he should be a good all around wideout for the big red. But he needs size and a least a year's worth putting it on.

Kyler Reed - TE - 6-3, 220 lbs.
If Reed were a wide receiver right now, because I haven't had a chance to see him really practice, I wouldn't know how he moved with that size. But just to look at him, he's impressive when you think of him at that position. He looks physically formidable, certainly thick enough to take a hit, which should make him strong enough to get off the line and work well with close coverage. At tight end, though, that's another story. I should clarify his position in that he's being worked out at the "U-Back" position, which seems basically the same as the "H Back", where you have a fullback who is basically a moving blocker, but is also a pass receiving threat coming out of the backfield. As it is, Reed seems like he's about a year away from having the kind of size to play that particular role, and a tweaked hamstring which has him out even now almost cements it: He'll play, but more than likely not this year.

P.J. Smith - DB - 6-2, 205 lbs.
What you see him listed at and what Smith might actually be, at least as far as weight, could be two very different things. Here's a young man whose high school film is impressive, from his ability to tackle to flat out lay it on someone. But he's going to need some time. It's really impossible to gauge just how he's going to do in the future, but one thing I am pretty dead certain of right now - he's simply not ready to play D-1 ball. From just the good old eyeball test, I'd say 20 pounds might get him there, and for a safety, that's a lot of weight to put on, especially when you are as lean as he is. But he needs it to be sure. So, I figure him to shirt and we'll see what he looks like next year. The only thing that may bring him out of that shirt is if Rickey Thenarse doesn't take his progression into this system, to the next level. Then Smith might have to play at some point.

Kody Spano - QB - 6-2, 210 lbs.
If there's no reason to play him...don't. Spano has the advantage going into this season of having a Spring already under his belt, but I don't think anyone should look at that as a sign he might actually get some reps this year. He could, theoretically, but the adjustment to the pro-style system even with a lot more spread, is a stretch, mentally, from the all-spread days of his prep career. Kody certainly looks good, physically, but this really isn't a question about how he looks, how he throws or anything else. The only way that would make a difference is if he was blowing everyone away to such an extent that you couldn't keep him off the field. With this offensive system, I doubt anyone could have accomplished that. So, consider him a good quarterback with a bright future. It's just not going to happen this year.

Baker Steinkuhler - DT - 6-6, 290 lbs.
With older brother, Ty, having chronic back issues, and there still being a lot of untested or really unproven players behind him like Ben Martin, Terrence Moore and Jared Crick, it is feasible that the younger Steinkuhler could actually play his first year. But I would only consider that as a last resort, and I do mean the very last resort. While Baker certainly was a freak of sorts, physically, at the prep level, he comes into the collegiate level as being a very lean guy who might actually have to add a little weight. If you are muscular, which he is, 290 lbs. doesn't look like a whole lot on a 6 foot, 6 inch frame. Plus., it's college and the younger Steinkuhler might have some back issues of his own. Redshirt him. I wouldn't even think twice about it, and only pull him if you have no other choice. The kid is good now, but he could be what maybe everyone hopes he will be down the road. I think everyone can wait one year to actually see him play.

Brandon Thompson - OL - 6-6, 295 lbs.
Brandon Thompson has it made. He can work with the big boys and doesn't have the pressure on him to get everything in right now, because he will most definitely have to play. Honestly, I don't envision a scenario outside of a complete disaster in terms of injuries, where they might even think of playing Thompson this year. Don't take that to mean he's bad or undersized. Thompson might actually have to put on a few pounds, but in a system like this if you could do it, it would probably be good to redshirt every single offensive lineman that comes in. It's the system, the terminology, the calls at the line and everything else which make going your first year not just daunting, but impractical. Thompson has the luxury of being able to learn from a host of veterans who are out the door after this year and will help him in every possible way right now, so when they leave the team is good for at least the next go around in 2009. Thompson will benefit from that greatly.

Quintin Toailoa - DT  - 6-4, 300 lbs.
He has the girth, but probably not the size to play his first year. Call it a theme similar to the one the entire team has taken on stemming from the off-season Jenny Craig movement. Toailoa's issue, though, isn't nearly as pronounced as it was for Matt Slauson, who lost close to 40 pounds between the end of last year and now. All signs point to Toailoa fitting in well with the system, learning quickly and being a tough competitor inside. But the issue with him is that with the idea that you could already be shuffling a lot of new faces in across that interior, how much will be really benefit him or the team by throwing a true freshman into the mix? If the kid can play, he can play. But it all looks at this point like he'll redshirt his first year, which I think is just what he needs.

Mason Wald - DB - 5-11, 205 lbs.
Wald is about as thick as you might expect of someone who seems to be a runaway truck when he hits someone the way he did in high school. He's built, and he also has the height. The question now revolves around speed, quickness and how well he adjusts to playing pass coverage. If you have ever seen his highlight film there is some pass coverage, but this kid's a hitter. A knockdown-drag-slam-you-in-the-face mauler who delights in the other guy not getting up. That doesn't take into account the finesse part, which is something he's simply going to have to learn. For that reason I'd say that you shouldn't expect to see him, but I can somehow imagine that special teams wouldn't mind another sledgehammer going toward the wedge. Think Brandon Rigoni style, but with close to Rickey Thenarse size. Yeah, I'd say he gets on the field in year one.

Lester Ward - RB - 6-3, 215 lbs.
I don't mean to jinx the young man, but at least from the situation, you could see a lot of Leon Jackson in Ward. He's got that kind of versatility, though, I don't think he has Jackson's speed. The issue now is just size and the fact that he needs more of it – maybe 15 lbs. There's no pressure on him to play right away which is good. But I can't get the idea out of my head that running back may be where he is at, but it may not be where he'll stay. Let's just hope that if he does end up switching positions, his situation and Jackson's don't follow similar paths.

Alonzo Whaley - LB - 6-1, 225 lbs.
There's a big difference between 6-1 and 225 lbs as a senior in high school versus someone the same size, but who is a senior at the collegiate level. Whaley certainly looks the part right now. He's stout, thick and by all accounts a pretty fair athlete. But can he play his first year with the program? Just the sheer depth at the linebacker spots or lack thereof would be enough to say that Whaley will have a reasonable shot. Plus, he's got the physical stature right now to be a contributor on special teams. I just don't see him as an every down linebacker right now. I'd have to see or at least hear that he's athletically farther along than I think he is at this developmental part of his career. I think there is good upside there, but unless he can be a real contributor on special teams, a redshirt-year would be a good call, I'd say. After that we'll see what he can do.

Josh Williams - DE - 6-4, 225 lbs.
If you want someone fairly close to what Barry Turner looked like coming out of high school Williams would be a decent comparison. Turner was a bit bigger than Williams, and it would be asking a lot for anyone to be as quick as Turner was his first year with the program. But I could easily see Williams as a situational guy, ideal for pass rush situations if they can't quite get the rush they want out of the players on the two-deep right now. If for only that reason and that the pass rush will be a premium this year I'd say Williams will get at least a decent regular-season look. He may even turn a few heads here and there.

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