Yep, a lot is expected from them. They will be the focal point of conversations around water coolers and coffee tables for the remaining months before the kickoff of the 2010 campaign. As well they should be. But here are a few players who might not be getting a lot of attention now who we think will by the time it's all said and done:
Sean Fisher – LB – Sophomore – 6-6, 235 lbs.
It's only because of all the Spread attacks Nebraska saw last year that you didn't see Fisher on the field more than he was. Out of the 14 games in which he played he started six. He still managed 35 tackles, including two for loss, one of which was a sack. He also had a fumble recovery.
Why he'll play more: Fisher is one of the more athletic linebackers Nebraska has. He's tall to be sure, but this former all-state running back has very good speed, he's tough as nails and if you want football smarts combined with great overall intelligence, he's the complete package. The conference as a whole, while still very much a spread-oriented league, might be running offenses that might allow Nebraska to run their base defense a little more.
Not the "Peso" base defense which lists two linebackers and a safety/linebacker hybrid player. But an actual 4-3 defense. But the good news about that switch to this new defense is that it will allow the linebackers with the most athleticism to find their way onto the field. That's right in Fisher's wheelhouse, and there's nothing saying that the starting job at WILL or even MIKE is a cinch to figure at this point. This season and how the offenses around the league look, seem to be a recipe for success with someone of Fisher's skill and perhaps especially, his size. A linebacker with great side-to-side speed who can also bat balls at the line is a unique combination. I figure it's one that's too good to pass up.
Why he won't play as much: It's all about the "O", as in what offenses will be doing this year against Nebraska. There will be a lot of experimentation by teams who will want to see if that middle of the defensive line can be an area of weakness for the Huskers. When you lose someone like Ndamukong Suh, that's to be expected. Depending on the amount of success teams have at doing just that, will greatly impact Fisher's role. He's a great rangy linebacker, but he'll be the first one to tell you that putting on weight and keeping it on isn't exactly easy for him. Now, you might say that he was a starter in their base 4-3 last year, so why wouldn't he be there this year if they were required to play bigger personnel. It's nothing so much to do with Fisher as it has to do with other players on the team like Eric Martin, who are obviously very physical at the point of attack, but might not have the defense down as much as they should at this point. That makes Martin a situational guy on running downs, and could make Fisher the go-to guy on passing downs or in obvious passing situations.
Overall: Fisher's potential is huge. It's no more than it was last year, though. His size can be both a major advantage for him and especially in short yardage situations, a slight liability. But the kid's a player, and with his intelligence I have no doubt he'll see a lot of time. And if the situation throughout the season, especially in conference play, work to his strengths, he could have a huge impact this season.
Justin Jackson – DT – Sophomore – 6-3, 270
Jackson has yet to play a snap in an actual game for the Huskers. He had offers from some smaller schools, but as it happens frequently in the Cornhusker state, he opted to walk on to the program in 2008.
Why he'll play: I'm not much for Spring stories or practice rumors about who did this and all that. Sometimes you hear that about players who fail to even reach the field their entire career. I don't think Jackson will be one of those, because unlike skill-position players, there's not a lot of hyperbole that goes with the defensive tackle position. All I have heard is that he's a solid player instead, plays with good leverage and is hard to move off the ball. No, that's not exactly going to mirror the upside of Suh. But the key at playing in the position where Suh once played, is to make sure you are not a weakness, before you can prove you are a strength. Jackson has a lot of potential, and I have heard good things about not just his strength, but in regard to his quickness off the ball. And thankfully, they are always accompanied with the opinion that he plays a bit like a junkyard dog. He'll need to, because if he does get time at that spot along side Crick, he might as well expect teams with a penchant for running, are going to look at his spot as the one they test first.
Why he won't play much: There is some stiff competition to be the next Suh, not the least of which comes from junior Terrence Moore, who at 285 lbs. now, certainly looks the part more than he did when he first arrived. And, of course, Baker Steinkuhler, who came into the game as Crick's back up, but will no doubt be tested at that spot along side of the first-team all-American candidate, to see if his impressive athleticism and gradually increasing size can work as a viable, perhaps stellar tandem. Steinkuhler is the full package, but there was no doubt there was a drop off when Crick left the field last season, because what did teams do often when Steinkuhler was taking his spot? Yep, ran right him and sometimes over him. Strength and a bit more size is what he needs, because we know he has everything else. Between those two as well as other players, maybe even true freshman Jay Guy, there are a lot of people vying for that spot. For my money I'd still put Jackson in the mix for solid reps even if he isn't the starter.
Overall: A gritty player who is strong at the point of impact and won't be pushed off the ball. It's not sexy, but early on in the season that might do just fine. This defense was never designed for the defensive tackles to put up the jaw-dropping numbers that both Suh and Crick did last year. It's about creating disruption and moving offenses where you want them to go, and not go where they are taking you. Jackson fits that role right now. Maybe he won't be a starter. But if you want to keep a fresh rotation there, which they will, I won't rule him out as being one of the principle members.
K.C. Hyland – WR – Sophomore – 6-6, 210 lbs.
Hyland comes out of right here in Lincoln, Nebraska and redshirted last year. He's obviously a great mismatch in regard to size, and has by all accounts, been a stellar practice player and on the Scout Team.
Hyland has spent much of his time wearing a different color. But this
year he could be wearing red all the time.
Why he'll play: Let's face it, at 6-6 who is going to cover him? Granted, we have seen that size isn't everything, but the kid is starting to fill out a bit. I don't for one second believe that the 210 lbs. he's listed at, is his actual weight. I'd guess him at least 10 to 15 pounds bigger. He's no burner, but unless you are Randy Moss or some physically freakish guy like that, you wouldn't be expected to be at that size. What he represents is not just a mismatch, but a glorious decoy for other receivers like Paul and Kinnie. Now, I am not pigeonholing him into that role, because I think he's better than that. But he's still young. However, and again, I go back to what you know versus what you hear and trying to differentiate between the two – I have heard nothing but amazing things about this kid's hands in practice. I have even gotten to see some examples of it myself. If he drops balls, I have never seen it. Let's also look at another fact, and that outside of Paul and perhaps now, Kinnie, nobody has a clue what receiver will hit the field and when. It's been musical wideouts since Todd Peterson and Nate Swift were here. That may not get you a lot of continuity, but it offers opportunities, something I think Hyland would take advantage of were he to get his shot.
Why he won't play or play much: It may be easier to catch when you are taller than everyone else. But blocking isn't exactly cake when you are 6-6 and not built like Brent Qvale. And as we have all learned, that seems to be a huge key for wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore. If you can't block, you won't play. It's that simple. For someone as young as Hyland, it's hard to see whether or not he has that aspect down or down to the point where he can be seen as a viable candidate to get onto the field. And again, to follow a point from the previous paragraph, the only thing we know about what receivers will hit the field on any given day stems from their last name being Paul and perhaps, Kinnie. But based on the opportunities of players who don't offer the kind of mismatch that Hyland can, I don't know how much he'll play. But I bet he gets at least a shot here and there to prove what he can do.
Overall: I think the kid has great upside. I know, I hate that term too. It's overused to the point where it's not even a compliment. It's just something you say. But come on, he's a sophomore, he's 6-6 and he apparently has hands of gold. What's not to like about that? Yes, I could see tight end being an eventual fit for him if only because how many 6-6 wide receivers do we see actually pan out? But I think he's still a legit candidate at wideout. On top of that, I think he could be a real weapon if someone gives him a shot.