The Depth Chart Puzzle – Offense
Both of Nebraska’s coordinators said on Thursday that Nebraska’s written-in-pencil depth chart is “a good problem to have.” Two coaches, different sides of the ball, the exact same answer. Competition is king. That’s been the rallying cry, to the consternation of some, for the Bo Pelini era and it’s as true in 2012 as any other year.
Based on the comments out of fall camp, reading between the lines, and, frankly, a couple best guesses, here’s my version of Nebraska’s offensive depth chart right now. Written in pencil, of course.
QUARTERBACK: 1) Taylor Martinez, 2) Brion Carnes, 3) Ron Kellogg, 4) Tommy Armstrong
There’s no question who’s number one. The real intrigue lies behind Martinez and for all the buzz Tommy Armstrong has generated — and part of that is inherent to being the new guy with a championship pedigree — it’s tough for me to see a situation where the Texas freshman plays this year, barring a significant injury to Martinez. Carnes may not have a ton of game snaps, but he does have three years of college football under his belt and a full-year under OC Tim Beck. Even if it’s close between Carnes and Armstrong, I suspect the staff will play it conservative and try to reserve a redshirt year for Armstrong. Kellogg is ahead of Armstrong based on that idea. He remains the “forgotten man” of the QB corps, but I get the sense he contributes in ways that we many never see on the field of play.
RUNNING BACK: 1) Rex Burkhead, 2) Ameer Abdullah, 3) Imani Cross, 4) Braylon Heard.
Burkhead’s set in stone and Abdullah provides a nice, and literal, change of pace. Too high for Imani Cross? I try to be measured when it comes to preseason hype but, as I mentioned earlier this week, he looks as physically ready for big time football as anybody on the team. If Cross lives up to the preseason billing, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up close to Abdullah in total carries by the time the season’s over. Nebraska just doesn’t have a back like him at the moment.
FULLBACK: 1) Mike Marrow, 2) C.J. Zimmerer, 3) Andy Janovich.
Marrow is in his fourth year as a college football player, and third different school, and has yet to play in a college game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an impressive season now that he finally gets on the field. True freshman walk-on Andy Janovich is the real surprise here. It sounds like he’ll certainly contribute on special teams but Pelini said he’s still outside the top two at fullback overall.
WIDE RECEIVER: 1X) Kenny Bell, 1Y) Quincy Enunwa, 2) Tim Marlowe, 3) Jamal Turner, 4) Taariq Allen, 5+) Jordan Westerkamp, Steven Osborne,Tyler Wullenwaber.
The top three seem pretty well set with Marlowe holding a slight edge over Turner. Almost everything beyond that is still a mystery. The coaches like Allen but he’s been slowed slightly this fall by injury. Is Westerkamp too talented to keep off the field? A lot of that depends on the development of Tuner. My hunch is Westerkamp plays next Saturday. Walk-on Wullenwaber probably wouldn’t even be up for consideration if not for the fact that Taylor Martinez keeps mentioning him. It’s hard to see him challenging for serious snaps, but if Wullenwaber’s speed is to be believed it’s likely he’ll get on the field in some capacity.
TIGHT END: 1A) Ben Cotton, 1B) Kyler Reed, 2) Jake Long, 3A) Sam Cotton, 3B) Trey Foster.
Cotton and Reed are a potent duo who really provide Nebraska with as much versatility as they could possibly hope for at the position. Long is clearly the top backup while true freshmen Cotton and Foster received some praise from the staff this week. If everything goes according to plan, those two redshirt.
TACKLE: 1-Left) Brent Qvale, 1-Right) Andrew Rodriguez, 2) Jeremiah Sirles 3) Zach Sterup 4) Givens Price.
It looks like Qvale and Rodriguez right now with Sirles being the primary backup on both sides. Depth is nice, but that’s not necessarily a red flag. Sometimes limitations are a good thing. That said, the best case scenario for Nebraska is that Sterup progresses to the point where Sirles can concentrate on one side or the other. Price, who was 16 when he enrolled, still looks like a project.
GUARD: 1-Left) Spencer Long, 1-Right) Seung Hoon Choi 2) Jake Cotton, 3) Brandon Thompson, 4) Ryne Reeves.
Long and Choi are going to be the core of this line and I think Nebraska is in pretty good shape at guard. I give Cotton the nod over Thompson based on his higher upside but Thompson is plenty reliable. Reeves, like Sterup, was a highly-touted in-state prospect who could move up quickly.
CENTER: 1) Justin Jackson, 2) Cole Pensick, 3) Mark Pelini.
Jackson’s emergence as the top center is a bit of a surprise given Pensick’s experience as a two-year backup to Mike Caputo but according to the coaches Jackson has a slight lead. Offensive line coach Barney Cotton has considered rotating centers, but I don’t think that’s the perfect situation for the “quarterback of the offensive line.” Pensick has been working some at guard and could provide additional depth there.
KICKER: 1) Brett Maher, 2) Mauro Bondi.
Pretty straightforward here. Maher is capable of handling all the kicking duties and Pelini said earlier in camp that he would consider redshirting Bondi.
Coming up later today, we’ll tackle the Blackshirts.