Nebraska Football 2012: Early Depth Chart Projections

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIFebruary 26, 2012

Nebraska Football 2012: Early Depth Chart Projections

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    The 2012 college football offseason has just begun, but it's never too early to take a peek at this coming season.

    The Nebraska Cornhuskers had mixed results in their first season in the Big Ten Conference, going 9-4. They have a lot of work to do this spring, summer and fall to improve upon that record, and they'll have a few new faces making contributions for them.

    Here is an early projection of next season's depth chart.

Quarterback

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    Starter: Taylor Martinez (Jr.)

    Backup: Brion Carnes (So.)

    Taylor Martinez has been the object of a lot of criticism since he burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman and quickly tailed off toward the end of that season.

    However, he made significant strides last year in several different areas, and although his throwing motion may never improve, he still has a chance to be a high-quality signal-caller for the Huskers.

    To do that, Martinez will need to put in a ton of work and gain a lot of confidence this offseason, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to spend a lot of time with Rex Burkhead, whose outstanding intangibles could rub off on his quarterback.

    Either way, Martinez was said to be two steps ahead of all other competitors when it came to knowledge of the system last season, and it shouldn't be too much different this season. His backup will more than likely be Brion Carnes, who looked decent in heavily limited playing time.

    True freshman Tommy Armstrong looks like he could come in and push both of them right away, but unless there is an injury, he should probably be redshirted. Walk-on Tyson Broekemeier shouldn't be forgotten about, either.

I-Back

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    Starter: Rex Burkhead (Sr.)

    Backups: Aaron Green (So.), Ameer Abdullah (So.)

    Rex Burkhead had an outstanding 2011 season for Nebraska and is becoming one of the most loved Huskers in program history.

    The 5'11", 210-pounder piled up 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground while adding another 177 yards and two touchdowns out of the backfield. The senior-to-be really seemed to wear down toward the end of the year, though, and he shouldn't have to carry the ball 284 times this coming season.

    Freshmen Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah should both get a lot more involved in the offense and take some of the pressure off Burkhead.

Fullback

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    Starter: Mike Marrow (Jr.)

    Backup: CJ Zimmerer (Jr.)

    With the graduation of Tyler Legate, the fullback position is wide open. I suspect 2011 Eastern Michigan transfer Mike Marrow (who began his career with Alabama) will end up with the starting position.

    Marrow was supposed to come in and be a big bruiser for the Huskers at I-back, but he could still be that same player at the fullback position. Legate was much more involved in last year's offense than ever before, and we could see Marrow with the ball in his fans even more often.

    The 6'2", 250-pounder should be a solid lead blocker and might help the Huskers solve their short-yardage troubles.

    Zimmerer should get the nod as the backup over incoming freshmen walk-ons Andy Janovich and Carson Collins.

Wide Receiver

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    Starters: Kenny Bell (So.), Quincy Enunwa (Jr.), Jamal Turner (So.)

    Backups: Jordan Westerkamp (Fr.), Tim Marlowe (Sr.), Taariq Allen (RFr.)

    Nebraska's receiving corps is extremely talented and loaded with potential, something not normally associated with Nebraska football. But the plethora of drops this group was guilty of last season proved that it still has a lot of work to do.

    Kenny Bell emerged as one of the team's best receivers and was Martinez's favorite target by the end of the year. He caught 32 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns and had an impressive 80-yard touchdown on a reverse against Minnesota.

    Jamal Turner burst onto the scene as a freshman last season, showing amazing skills for someone who hadn't played receiver before. But for reasons still unknown, his playing time diminished as the season wore on.

    I am of the opinion that he should have been the leading receiver last year, but the coaches most likely had a good reason for his benching. With that said, he is way too talented not to be on the field with the ball in his hands frequently next season.

    Quincy Enunwa was another young receiver that wowed fans with his bone-crushing hits on defenders as much as his catches. Enunwa is a budding star that also has a ton of potential.

    Tim Marlowe was a reliable slot receiver for the Huskers last year, while Taariq Allen was the scout team MVP, the same title Bell earned before his breakout year. Add record-setting newcomer Jordan Westerkamp to the mix, and there's reason to be excited.

    In other words, if Martinez can somehow improve his passing significantly or gets beaten out, Nebraska's aerial attack could be downright scary.

Tight End

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    Starter: Kyler Reed (Sr.) or Ben Cotton (Sr.)

    Backup: Jake Long (Jr.)

    Kyler Reed had a breakout season in 2010, leading the team with eight touchdown catches. His phenomenal combination of speed and size made him a major mismatch regardless of where he lined up, and he made a living streaking down the seam and getting behind coverage.

    In 2011, however, Reed really struggled.

    He was targeted much less for some reason, and a lot of times, I felt like the coaches needed to get him more involved. He was, however, guilty of a few ugly drops. It was a vicious circle that the junior couldn't seem to break.

    He is still an immensely talented individual, though, and as if there aren't enough talented options to get involved already, Reed needs to get the ball in his hands frequently.

    Ben Cotton is something of a co-starter with Reed, and while Cotton is the better blocker of the two, he can hold his own in the passing game as well. In fact, the 6'6", 255-pounder is legitimate NFL material.

    Jake Long showed some promise in a limited role last season, and another name to keep in mind is Robert Barry, a 6'8" giant who had a nice spring game a year ago.

Offensive Tackle

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    Starters: Jeremiah Sirles (Jr.), Tyler Moore (So.)

    Backups: Jake Cotton (So.), Zach Sterup (RFr.)

    Jeremiah Sirles has had an up-and-down career. He has been a major contributor at tackle in both his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, earning Freshman All-American honors. He'll be joined by sophomore Tyler Moore, who began the season starting as a true freshman before a mad shuffle along the O-line ensued.

    Both Moore and Sirles are talented tackles with ideal size, but they'll both need to be more consistent this season, along with just about everyone else on the Huskers roster.

    Jake Cotton was a pleasant surprise last year and should contend for a lot of playing time in relief of Moore and/or Sirles, while Sterup is a 6'8", 275-pound redshirt freshman loaded with potential.

    Due to the possibility of thin depth at tackles, the coaches may end up using guys like Brent Qvale, Brandon Thompson and even Andrew Rodriguez at tackle.

Offensive Guard

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    Starters: Seung Hoon Choi (Sr.), Spencer Long (Jr.)

    Backups: Brent Qvale (Jr.), Andrew Rodriguez (Jr.)

    Nebraska's guard situation actually looks pretty solid. Seung Hoon Choi and Spencer Long emerged as solid starters last year and should pick up where they left off this season.

    Brent Qvale and Andrew Rodriguez both provide great size and experience as backups and should see plenty of time in relief of Choi and Long.

Center

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    Starter: Justin Jackson (Sr.)

    Backup: Ryne Reeves (RFr.)

    In all honesty, the center position is up in the air at this point, and my guess is as good as yours.

    However, I would tend to lean toward senior Justin Jackson at this point. Jackson recently moved from the defensive line, which isn't necessarily a good sign for the team's depth and experience at the position, but he could end up doing well.

    He is undersized at just 270 pounds, but last year's starter, Mike Caputo, was in the same boat and still performed well.

    As for the backup, it could be anyone from Reeves to Ryan Klachko to Cole Pensick. Reeves was listed as a center prospect but played guard in high school, while Klachko has recently been mentioned as a possible candidate for the position despite also having played guard in high school.

    Cole Pensick was Caputo's backup last season and should get a hard look.

Defensive End

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    Starters: Cameron Meredith (Sr.), Jason Ankrah (Jr.)

    Backups: Eric Martin (Sr.), Joe Carter (Sr.)

    The leader of this group will be Cameron Meredith, who made himself known as a sophomore before having a decent albeit inconsistent season as a junior. Though none of the other defensive ends made much of a lasting mark, Ankrah proved to be the most consistent and played pretty well against the run.

    Eric Martin showed a lot of potential as a pass-rusher, while Joe Carter held his own in somewhat limited action.

    The Huskers have to get more production from their ends, and all four of these players have to step up their games this offseason and carry it over into 2012.

Defensive Tackle

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    Starters: Baker Steinkuhler (Sr.), Chase Rome (So.)

    Backups: Thaddeus Randle (Jr.), Todd Peat Jr. (RFr.)

    The Huskers inexplicably struggled at the defensive tackle spot last season, even when stud senior Jared Crick was in the lineup. Steinkuhler did seem to step it up toward the end of the season, though, providing hope that he will finally live up to his 5-star potential.

    Chase Rome also had a solid season for a freshman and should get the start alongside Steinkuhler. Thaddeus Randle played pretty well as a backup, and the talented Todd Peat Jr. (whose high school play was reminiscent of Ndamukong Suh) might be ready to take on a significant role with a redshirt year under his belt.

    Stocky sophomore-to-be Jay Guy looked decent in limited action last season and can't be forgotten, while Kevin Williams could push for time if he comes off his injury well.

Linebacker

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    Starters: Will Compton (Sr.), Zaire Anderson (Jr.), Alonzo Whaley (Sr.)

    Backups: Sean Fisher (Sr.), Trevor Roach (So.), David Santos (RFr.)

    Despite the loss of star linebacker Lavonte David, the Huskers have the potential to be solid at linebacker in 2012. Will Compton showed a lot of improvement toward the end of last season and racked up a solid 82 tackles. His confidence level should be high, and he seems to be ready to take on a major leadership role.

    Alonzo Whaley has shown potential in recent years but has yet to put it all together consistently on the field. However, he may finally be ready to break out as a senior.

    Sean Fisher performed admirably last season, but he hasn't been the same since he broke his leg, and his length makes it tough for him to break down and take on defenders.

    I like Whaley to win a starting spot.

    The third starter should be Anderson, an incoming JUCO recruit who is being brought in to replace David. If the 6'1", 220-pounder is half as good as David has been, the team should have a solid corps.

    Trevor Roach contributed early in the season and shows a lot of promise, while Santos was an underrated recruit out of Houston, Texas whose instincts were reminiscent of David's. Keep those names squarely in mind.

Cornerback

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    Starters: Mohammed Seisay (Jr.), Andrew Green (Jr.)

    Backups: Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Jr.), Josh Mitchell (So.)

    The cornerback position proved to be a problem for the Huskers in 2011, mainly because of the injury to Alfonzo Dennard, who didn't seem to be himself all season after pulling his hamstring in fall camp.

    Andrew Green came in and struggled as a first-time starter but seemed to improve significantly as the season wore on. Mo Seisay is a highly touted JUCO recruit that should earn a starting position quickly based on Bo Pelini's track record with JUCO commits.

    Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a former wide receiver who had an interception that helped seal the comeback win over Ohio State, and Mitchell showed some fire in the spring game and should make a push this offseason. 

    Ciante Evans inexplicably struggled as a sophomore after bursting onto the scene as a freshman in relief of Dennard, but he should bounce back and hold down the nickel spot if he doesn't earn a starting job.

    Another intriguing name to keep your eye on is Braylon Heard, who is reportedly making the switch from running back.

Safety

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    Starters: Daimion Stafford (Sr.), Courtney Osborne (Sr.)

    Backups: PJ Smith (Sr.), Corey Cooper (So.)

    Daimion Stafford is a former JUCO prospect that came in and immediately started at safety for the Huskers. He had some struggles along with the rest of the group, but ultimately, he played well and also provided some thunderous hits for the fans to gawk at.

    Osborne has been an on-and-off starter for this group who has mysteriously disappeared at times. He is also a big hitter and should finally be ready to hold down a spot. However, PJ Smith, who has been in a similar situation, should give him a big push for playing time.

    I'm going out on a limb picking Cooper as a backup, but he was a solid prospect out of high school and played some at cornerback last season. Harvey Jackson and Justin Blatchford are other names to keep tabs on.

    Overall, if this group can find some consistency along with the rest of the team, it could be a very deep and solid position.