Prior to the start of spring practice, I identified five questions I wanted to see Nebraska answer this spring.
With spring practice already halfway over, and the Huskers (presumably) off sunning themselves in exotic locales for spring break, let’s take a look at where those questions stand based on the information gleaned from two weeks worth of practices.
1. Who will anchor this linebacker corps?
The easy answer coming in was sophomore David Santos. The sophomore had the most experience but he played weakside linebacker all last year. The Huskers’ scheme has traditionally run through the middle linebacker. In a clear indication of just how valuable experience is for Nebraska defensively, Santos has made the move to the middle. Based on conversations with the coaches, none of the traditional middle linebackers on the roster (Trevor Roach, Michael Rose) has stepped up to unseat Santos so, for now, that’s where he’ll stay. Zaire Anderson (WILL) and Thomas Brown (SAM) were the other two first-string linebackers early on this spring. Early enrollee Courtney Love seems more and more like a player who is going to play this year in certain situations.
2. Who is ready to play at defensive tackle and safety?
At defensive tackle, it doesn’t seem like we’re much closer to an answer though that’s not totally surprising. Defensive end Jason Ankrah continues to drop inside in certain situations and sophomore Kevin Williams is probably the leader at defensive tackle based solely on, again, experience. In Thad Randle’s absence Aaron Curry is probably Nebraska’s other defensive tackle at this point but the competition is still wide open. So wide open that walk-on offensive lineman Brodrick Nickens switched to defensive tackle last week and started running with the No. 2′s.
At safety a few new names have emerged. Corey Cooper is earning praise for his progress this spring but he still might be a dime formation specialist. Harvey Jackson has the experience edge but then it gets interesting. Coaches continue to mention senior walk-on Wil Richards, a guy few we’re considering before this March. The same could be said for redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander. He’s in the mix as well along with two young players Husker fans already have high expectations for – converted cornerback Charles Jackson and early enrollee D.J. Singleton. This is an interesting battle between experience (Jackson, Cooper, Richards) and youthful athleticism (Alexander, Jackson, Singleton).
3. Is there a running back capable of adding depth on the roster right now?
This question changed somewhat with the injury to Ameer Abdullah, but it may have changed for the better. Abdullah was a known, perhaps the only one at running back. His injury means that the slimmed-down and faster Imani Cross gets to play the role of featured back, a role nobody is sure he can play yet, while the walk-ons behind him get added reps. Bo Pelini singled out King Frazier as a player on the move this spring while Graham Nabity is probably next in line at least for the spring. My early read is that Nebraska will be comfortable playing at least one of those guys this fall but the Huskers may not have to. A lot depends on how quickly Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby move up the charts.
4. What’s the ideal run/pass split?
5. How fast does Nebraska want to go?
These two are lumped together not just because they’re both offensive scheme questions but also because they’ve effectively been tabled until the fall. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck indicated within the first few practices this spring that Nebraska wouldn’t spend much time on offensive pace largely because there was so much youth on defense. For the team as a whole, he thought it would be counterproductive.
As for the question of the run/pass split, this still seems to me like a season where Nebraska throws slightly more. That’s based almost entirely on the personnel at this point — senior quarterback plus dynamic receivers minus running back depth and tight end experience. To me, that indicates a lot fewer traditional power sets and, accordingly, fewer power runs. The Huskers will still be a run-first team, but I’d be surprised if Nebraska didn’t edge closer to Beck’s ideal 50-50 run-pass split in 2013.