Antonio Bell – WR – Freshman
There's no doubt that Bell still has a lot to learn about the system, but he seems to have just about everything else. His speed has seemingly surprised people as players and even coaches have commented just how fast he is. At 6-2, if this kid has the kind of wheels we have heard, and with the kind of hands he's shown thus far this Spring, you can forget about speculation if he'll play this year. You can bank on it. The only thing Bell really needs to work on, and it's actually a big deal with Wide Receivers Coach Ted Gilmore, is blocking. It's not uncommon for all-star wideouts like Bell to come out of the prep ranks with only basic blocking skills. Some have none. So, that's something he'll have to iron out this Spring and this Fall, to be more than just a situational guy for the big red.
Marcus Mendoza – WR – Sophomore
The move was a logical one. Mendoza couldn't find himself in much more than situational duty at running back, and with the experience of both Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille, that might have been the only option he would have had. But here's a kid with noted open-field moves and blistering speed, and guess what; he's got hands. He proved that in the Spring Game with a 70-plus yard touchdown reception. And he's continued to prove that over this Spring thus far. But what is surprising about him, especially if you take him at face value, this little guy is physically tenacious. In the one-on-one blocking drills where receivers face off against each other, Mendoza held his own or better against all of his fellow wideouts, including the much bigger and more powerful Niles Paul. For the inevitable battle he'll have at the line of scrimmage just to create some space for himself, this is a very good sign.
Will Compton – MLB – Redshirt Freshman
He's rounding out physically, Compton looking a lot more like a Division 1 middle linebacker than he did when he arrived last year. And it would seem from conversations with Linebacker Coach Mike Ekeler, while this is his first real year being able to learn the Husker system versus having to run the Scout Team, he's getting a real hold on making the calls and getting the defense into the right call. There was no doubt that he'd be a big part of the defense this Fall. He was almost part of it last year as Head Coach Bo Pelini almost pulled him out of his redshirt not once, but twice. He's ready to go now, though, and a lot is expected of him. With that and the unexpected drop down the depth chart by senior Phillip Dillard, Compton might have gone from cementing himself on the top two, to holding the top spot to himself.
Alonzo Whaley – LB – Redshirt Freshman
To look at him you'd say he's a middle linebacker and not even question it. But to Whaley's credit, he's shown the athleticism to play any of the three spots on the field. Depending on what happens at middle linebacker you could see Whaley there, backing up or even starting at weakside or you could say the same for SAM. Whaley's got the strength, size and quickness that you need, but it would also seem that he's getting a hold of this system fairly well. That's sometimes the biggest adjustment for these guys, because a year of Scout Team isn't the same as doing what the team does all the time. This Spring has already shown itself to be very valuable to a group of inexperienced linebackers. Whaley is one of those who has entrenched himself at the very least, as a significant contributor come the Fall.
Derek Meyer – Offensive Line - Senior
It might have been the scenic route, but Meyer finally got to Nebraska, and it looks like he's already guaranteed no worse than a second string job. But that's at two different positions, as Meyer has proved quick enough and strong enough to be viable at both tackle and guard. Right now he's working behind Marcel Jones at right tackle, but could also move to right guard depending on how that situation goes. Having played for Kansas State, Meyer is no stranger to this level of play, and he's proven to be every bit as athletic as most of those he's competing against. At 6-5 and 315 pounds, you'd have to think that guard might be more logical. But with Jaivorio Burkes still dealing with medical issues the tackle spot could be where he'll stay. But Nebraska got a very capable transfer in Meyer, and you could see him no worse then second string at two spots. That's not a bad thing at all.
Baker Steinkuhler – Redshirt Freshman – Defensive Tackle
When Ndamukong Suh calls you a freak, you know you are on the right track. With Steinkuhler, once the move to defense seemed permanent last year, we have been waiting and wondering if he would end up at DT and try to take the place of his now-graduated older brother, or at NT where he would try and help in giving Suh some quality rest on the bench. Now that we seem to be almost assured of him being at the DT spot, Steinkuhler has shown everything you'd expect and saw from his prep days: He's quick, strong, fast and with just his frame he's so far physically now from where he'll be…it's scary. He's already competing with sophomore Jared Crick at the three-technique, and right now it looks like it's a race between those two. Crick still gets out vote for the top spot right now, but if the last half of Spring is similar to the first half, Steinkuhler could make that push for the top.
Cameron Meredith – Redshirt Freshman – Defensive End
It would obviously have to be a frustrating experience for senior defensive end Barry Turner, as he continues to come back from his broken leg suffered early last season. He's on his way, but not being out there as many reps as you would expect a number one guy, even during the Spring, has meant Meredith has gotten more reps. It's obvious that Turner and Pierre Allen are seen as the starting bookends, but Meredith, having put on more weight and seemingly lost none of his quickness, is taking advantage of the extra time on the practice field. He's got a solid motor, and physically, he looks like he could handle both the job as pass rusher or the one that requires him to pay more attention to stopping the run. It's still Turner's job, but Meredith is proving something we figured, at the very least he's going to add solid depth.
Eric Hagg – Junior – Strong Safety
This kid was already a good corner. That's hard to imagine, too, because players 6-3 find themselves having success at corner about as often as you see long snappers running out to catch a fade. It's just not common. He showed the kind of quickness he had last season, mostly in nickel or dime situations, but who can forget the instincts he showed to taking a guy down in the open-field in the Gator Bowl? Yes, the quarterback held onto the ball, but Hagg got him, and that is just one of the many impressive things about him, which have more than carried over to this new position of safety. Forget the athleticism. He's got that. Forget flat out speed. He's got that. And size? Yeah, you get the point. The question is, does he stay behind senior Larry Asante at strong safety or does he move behind senior Rickey Thenarse at free? Hagg is still the starting corner in nickel situations, but I have a feeling that even before this Spring is over he could have another starting spot to his name.
Ricky Henry – Junior – Offensive Line
People hate to make the comparison, but I can't see any way around it, and I don't feel that you are applying off-the-field issues when you do it: Ricky Henry and former Husker Richie Incognito are almost carbon copies of each other when it comes to their style of play. When each is on the field they are about as cuddly as a porcupine and as lovable as a rabid raccoon. But you can't deny that the tenaciousness and ferocity with which they both play is just darn fun to watch. Now, Henry isn't as big, strong or as athletic as Incognito was and is. There's a reason he's still in the NFL despite some of his more colorful antics. But Henry plays like him, grinds like him, and he's got strength, quickness and we don't even need to talk about how he starts and finishes a block. Yes, there are probably going to be a few personal fouls in the future, that a calmer-milder person might not commit. But this kid could win battles at the line just by the person going against him watching what he did the week before. He'll still have to work on his pass blocking, but he's as nasty as they come, and this line could use a little of that right now.
Lester Ward – Redshirt Freshman – Running Back
At 6-3 Ward has unusual size for a running back. It's really only unusual, because of running posture, and as a byproduct of his size, it's simply harder for Ward to run with his pads down at the right level versus someone who isn't as tall. But he's a smooth runner with good athleticism, and most importantly he learns quickly. We know him to be a smart kid, but sometimes running is as much about feel as it is about knowledge. When the ball is snapped your instincts take over and it ceases to be a thinking-man's game. That's where he's probably pushed along the farthest in just being able to show those instincts, run with the right pad level , but still keep the kind of versatility that he has. The running back race right now is two guys and everyone else. But Ward is making a nice push for time based on what he's doing right now. Fellow redshirt Collins Okafor should be seriously considered in that mix as well, because while he's also battling a bit in just how high to run, his quickness is something you can't deny.