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Position battles: Nebraska Cornhuskers

2/12/2015

Our pre-spring journey around the Big Ten continues with a look at open-for-competition positions at Nebraska.

I-back: Among the most difficult tasks thrust before new coach Mike Riley and his staff is finding a replacement for three-time 1,000-yard rusher Ameer Abdullah. Many options exist, starting with rising senior Imani Cross, who has scored 22 touchdowns in situational play over the past three seasons. Where Cross is limited, Terrell Newby offers quickness and a receiving threat out of the backfield. Adam Taylor features perhaps the best blend of skills, showing diversity in practice last year before an ankle injury ended his redshirt freshman season in August. Additionally, Mikale Wilbon impressed teammates and coaches as a redshirt last fall, and new signee Devine Ozigbo figures to get a look in August.

Offensive guard: Starters Mike Moudy and Jake Cotton are gone, leaving a competitive situation to assess in spring practice. No one appears locked into a starting spot, though Chongo Kondolo owns an experience edge after playing a key backup role as a sophomore in 2014. First on the list of challenges for new offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh is to simply separate candidates to play guard from center -- and, in some cases, tackle, where the situation looks more solid. The group at guard figures to include Tanner Farmer, a top recruit in 2014, classmate Jerald Foster, sophomore Zach Hannon and junior walk-on Dylan Utter, who rose to fill a top reserve spot late last year amid depth issues. Senior Ryne Reeves will likely start somewhere; if not center, he has experience at guard. And Jalin Barnett joins the program in the summer as an elite recruit.

Defensive end: An already thin position took offseason hits as Randy Gregory declared for the NFL draft and Avery Moss’ expulsion from school was upheld. It leaves the Huskers with junior Greg McMullen as a returning starter and a scramble to win the other spot in Mark Banker’s 4-3 alignment. Senior Jack Gangwish, a walk-on, has played his way into a key role and enters the spring with an experience advantage. Joe Keels made only a minor contribution last year in his first season out of junior college. A.J. Natter is an intriguing prospect as a sophomore, and Sedrick King will enter the mix after a redshirt season. Don’t be surprised also if a new candidate or two emerges as a result of position shifts. Speculation about a move to defense has followed redshirt freshman Freedom Akinmoladun since before his arrival in Lincoln last year.