I have to admit that there were some positions which were so easy you could do it blindfolded, but some which were downright sticky. And that could be bad come the regular season if it's truly that up in the air.
The first position is, of course, quarterback. Based on what Bo Pelini said during Big 12 Media Days, you could sense that he wasn't all that eager to name senior Zac Lee the obvious starter. He said that it was unfortunate that he missed the Spring. That's true, of course. But last year everyone kind of knew he was the guy, and we have come to know Bo a bit in that if someone is the guy, he'll say it. He hasn't said that about Lee. But the problem is, neither Cody Green, the only returning QB with game experience nor Taylor Martinez, the fleet-footed redshirt freshman, proved much beyond the obvious, that being their ability to run.
But for our own peace of mind, however shaky that might be, we have to put Lee in as the starter come the season. It would appear there is going to be a generous amount of experimentation going on throughout the non-conference. But Lee should be the man come the first game and we figure Green's smattering of experience is still better than no experience at all. He'll stay at number two.
At running back this one was easy for me. Roy Helu Jr., despite the issues with his shoulder from Missouri up to Oklahoma, despite having butterfingers for a time as well. Despite having no passing game to take the pressure off the running game, he still managed 1,100 plus yards on the season. Burkhead is a star, and he could make a huge impact this season. He certainly has the ability. But providing Helu is healthy and mentally into the season, he's the top back with Rex just a stutter step behind.
At wide receiver one side is easy, at least for first string. Niles Paul should be in line for a lot of stats this year, and perhaps a few honors as well. Of course, the quarterback has to cooperate with that. It's who is backing him up that is the mystery right now. There are a lot of candidates, but for me right now, I put in sophomore Antonio Bell. Yes, he took some snaps at defensive back over the Summer. But now that we will be back into the season, I figure he'll be back over to wideout and trying to contribute. He has the athleticism to do that. Now can he block well enough for wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore to put him on the field? I think so, but we'll see.
Over at the other wide receiver spot we have Brandon Kinnie, who has caught all the buzz over the off-season, much of it stemming from Paul himself, who said Kinnie has been the driving force behind his own progression through the Spring and Summer. Kinnie is a physical force, much like Paul. And he has good instincts coming back for the ball as he did so well against Texas, and then getting yards after the catch. Backing up Kinnie, I think, Curenski Gilleylen gets the nod. He's one of the few receivers coming back this year with double-digit receptions a season ago. Outside of Paul, you probably had no idea who was going to be in any one game. But you can't argue with Gilleylen's speed, and he did have a game where he almost reached a hundred yards receiving when he notched 92 against Florida Atlantic.
There are a host of names which could break into this group, and I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. Will Henry is now a senior, so the system should be down. Can he finally have an impact and use his impressive size to his advantage? Steven Osborne might be a few pounds short yet on being the big-bodied type like Paul and Kinnie. But the sophomore has always had a tough mentality dating back to his prep days. How about Mr. Pillow Hands, K.C. Hyland? At 6-6, he's an automatic mismatch, and I don't think he has the kind of issues keeping weight on as players like Henry. His hands have made their way into lots of nice stories. Now maybe we'll see some actual game reps.
Of course, you can't forget junior college transfer Stanley-Jean Baptiste. Simply due to the fact that he's a JUCO guy, along with him having decent size right now, standing around 6-3 and weighing close to 210 lbs. You have to consider him, because you can bet that even though he's a sophomore, the staff will do whatever they can to see if they can get him on the field.
At fullback it goes Tyler Legate and Mike Hays. We don't figure that to change as Legate got the lion's share of the reps at FB last year. But don't be surprised if C.J. Zimmerer makes an impact early. He actually got some carries in the Spring game, something a fullback hasn't had for……well…years. And he's a solid athlete with pretty good size right now. So, while we have the status quo remaining, I wouldn't rule out Zimmerer as breaking the two-deep before this season is all said and done.
With all the returning experience on the offensive line, this one really didn't seem all that difficult. You have Keith Wiliams starting at left guard for the third year. Junior Marcel Jones is now finally healthy, as is the entire line (knock on wood), so he's the shoo-in to start at right tackle. He started 11 games last year. His cohort on the right side has been D. J. Jones, who is going into his final year. We figure that will remain for right now. But Jesse Coffey now goes into his redshirt freshman year, and they are going to have to slot him in somewhere. If left tackle holds up as we think it will with junior college transfer Jermarcus Hardrick starting at left tackle and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Sirles backing him up, Coffey trying his hand at right tackle makes sense. This was an area of concern last year, especially against quick edge rushers. Whoever shows the best in that regard will cement themselves on the two-deep here.
At right guard it's going to be a nice battle, but we think that both Ricky Henry, who is going into his last year and Brent Qvale, who is going to be a redshirt freshman, will get ample amounts of reps. That's what is going to make this line s good as it will be, because you can shuffle out Henry, who should be a contender for all-conference honors, and bring in Qvale, who would have played last year were it not for an injury. The right side of this line is going to be ridiculous, I think.
At center, junior Mike Caputo isn't a worry in the run game to quarterback and lead this offense. We think he'll remind people of all those smashmouth centers from back in the day. Well, almost all. It's pass blocking where I am not sure just how he will do. But he's going to be the easy pick to take the place of Jacob Hickman who started for three years. Backing him up should be Cole Pensick, who is going to be a redshirt freshman. Between him and Caputo, you have two of the strongest players on the team, pound-for-pound. And both should be very good on the running side of things. Senior Mike Smith was moved to center for a bit during the Spring. But I actually think it makes more sense to move him behind Williams. Smith is now looked at as an ideal interior guy, and the position behind Williams isn't clear cut. Redshirt freshman Nick Ash will probably be the other guy competing for time at center. But I think it's Caputo and Pensick who make up the two-deep right now.
At tight end Dreu Young becomes the man with fellow senior Michael McNeill now making the move to "adjuster." I'm still not sure what in the heck that is all about. They tell you he has this new title, but then they say it's really no different than what he did before. Either way, with McNeill not being a tight end, per se', Young takes the spot at the top with Ben Cotton, going into his sophomore season, hanging close behind. Cotton has great size and athleticism, and we think these two will probably be on the field a lot, at the same time. But for the sake of not listing a starting depth chart with a two tight end set, Young gets the nod and Cotton gets number two. Don't think I forgot about Kyler Reed. I didn't. But even now he's a situational guy to me. So, with that being said he's number three, but close to the top two.
The offense is going to be better. I don't know what that will mean, because there are still so many unknowns at key positions, not the least of which is at quarterback. If Nebraska simply had a QB which they knew for a fact what they would be getting, this might be a bit easier to figure out. But right now it's completely up in the air, because we don't even know what Lee will bring to the table, having to come back from that elbow rehab. That's the worst position to have the most questions, but that's exactly what Nebraska has right now.
Outside of the JUCO guys, the potential breakthrough players on offense, those being the newcomers to the program, if I have to put money on anyone getting a shot their first year, I have to first go with a position where newcomers simply don't play that much: Offensive line. I think Mike Moudy could surprise some people. Actually, I think he will, because true freshmen just don't play offensive line. Well, not often anyway. But he's got great size. Does he have the strength? Does he have the conditioning? We'll see. The only other player who might get a shot is wide receiver Quincy Enunwa. I think he's a great situational guy and a solid possession receiver with solid stuff after the catch. But let's face it, when it comes to this position, he could look great, be electric and all that. And we still might not see him until he's a junior.
I would have said tight end Chase Harper would have been a favorite to play early and perhaps make an impact. But he didn't have the credits to make it to NU this Fall. And I am still holding out to see if running back Braylon Heard makes it in this year, but I'm figuring next year to be safe. The coaches talked so much about this kid being a homerun hitter, I have to figure they would have given him at least a shot in certain situations. Now we just have to see when he makes it Nebraska.
On paper, though, this is a nice offense. There is a load of potential, and the thing I like the most about it is, that you can't pigeonhole it as this kind or that kind of offense, just based on the types of players they have. I think they have bigger players across the board, but they have some stud athletes, some of whom could have monster years this season. But it's going to depend on the QB. That offensive line might be good, but it's not Nebraska of the 90s good, and only those kinds of teams could run when everyone knew they were going to, and still make first downs. This line needs a passing game to go with it.
|PROJECTED DEPTH CHART - OFFENSE|
|1||Roy Helu Jr.||Sr|