Friday, May 3, 2013
Nebraska Cornhuskers spring wrap
By Brian Bennett
2012 record: 10-4
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first in Legends Division, lost in Big Ten championship game)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 0
QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, WR Kenny Bell, OG Spencer Long, DB Ciante Evans, OT Jeremiah Sirles, DE Jason Ankrah, WR Jamal Turner
RB Rex Burkhead, LB Will Compton, DE Eric Martin, DE Cameron Meredith, S Daimion Stafford, TE Kyler Reed, K/P Brett Maher
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Ameer Abdullah* (1,137 yards)
Passing: Taylor Martinez* (2,871 yards)
Receiving: Kenny Bell* (863 yards)
Tackles: Will Compton (110)
Sacks: Eric Martin (8.5)
Interceptions: Daimion Stafford (4)
1. Loaded on offense: Nebraska has a great chance to rank among the top-scoring teams in the country this year. Almost everybody is back from what was an already potent attack, and senior quarterback Taylor Martinez appeared to take another step forward with a steady, mistake-avoiding spring. The Huskers might already have the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, and Jamal Turner looks poised to raise his game to another level. Starting running back Ameer Abdullah missed most of the spring with a knee injury, but that gave Imani Cross more opportunities. Cross should emerge as a strong complementary option in the backfield. Add in some other emerging weapons like wideout Alonzo Moore, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck has to feel like he has a full toy box to play with.
2. Emergency plan in place: Though Nebraska hopes that Martinez plays every meaningful snap at quarterback, the Huskers don't have to fear the worst if that doesn't happen. Backups Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg each played very well during the spring game, and Armstrong showed some nice zip on his throws. Of course, a spring game is a lot different than an actual fall Saturday. But at least Nebraska might not have to completely panic should Martinez miss any time.
3. Santos stands out: There are many questions about Nebraska's defense, which we'll get to in a minute. But linebacker David Santos isn't one of them. The sophomore proved to the coaches this spring that he's ready to step into a much larger role, and despite his youth he is becoming a leader of the green linebacker corps. Right now, he's the starting middle linebacker, though he has the speed and versatility to play on the outside as well.
1. Defensive front seven: Spring practice did little to calm questions about the inexperienced defensive line and linebacker crew. Defensive end Jason Ankrah was the only returning starter among the group this spring, and it showed, especially in a lackluster spring game performance. The defensive line is particularly worrisome, though the expected healthy return of tackle Thad Randle and the arrival of junior-college star Randy Gregory should help matters. The linebackers will no doubt make mistakes but the hope is that their speed erases problems. There's no doubt that the defensive front is Nebraska's No. 1 question, especially after a group of veterans couldn't prevent last year's massive breakdowns.
2. Ball security: The Huskers tried to address their 2012 turnover problems this spring by making every player in the offensive lineup do up-downs as physical punishment any time the ball hit the ground. Martinez showed good decision-making this spring in avoiding bad throws. Nebraska hopes the extra focus on ball security will help this fall, but that remains to be seen. Martinez has had a bad habit of fumbling during his career. Cutting down turnovers will be key, because the Huskers offense can often only be stopped by itself.
3. Kicking concerns: Replacing Brett Maher, who was one of the best in the Big Ten at both punting and field goals, won't be easy. The strong-legged Mauro Bondi will take over place-kicking and hopes to continue in the tradition set by Maher and Alex Henery. But he'll have to prove it when the lights come on. Nebraska also struggled on kickoff returns down the stretch last year. With the defense still a question mark, the Huskers need to make sure they're rock solid on special teams.