The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team began spring drills this weekend, and all reports seemed very positive.
The 2012 spring is a very important one for Bo Pelini and the team. The Huskers could finally be poised to make "the jump," but a strong spring will be very important for developing momentum and honing in on the details—something Pelini stressed more than once during the pre-spring press conference.
But while it will be very important for all of the players to make strides during these few weeks, there are a few in particular whose spring performances could be even more crucial than the rest. You may find that certain position groups get a major dose of attention here.
Now, we'll take a look at those players.
Due to a fall injury to Alfonzo Dennard, Andrew Green was thrust into an early starting role as a sophomore last season despite having no previous game experience, and he predictably struggled.
However, Green steadily improved as the season progressed and has a great shot at being an impact player in a deeper and more experienced secondary next season.
But Green isn't the only player poised to contribute. Guys like Mohammed Seisay, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ciante Evans, Charles Jackson (assuming he makes it), Braylon Heard, Antonio Bell and others will also be competing to secure a starting job.
Green may have the biggest leg up when it comes to experience, but he'll have to have a phenomenal spring to hold off a talented group of challengers.
Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah were two of the most exciting additions to the 2011 recruiting class, and they, along with Braylon Heard, showed flashes of that talent last season as true freshmen.
In 2012, both Green and Abdullah should see their workloads increase significantly, as Heard has moved to cornerback and Rex Burkhead will be more effective towards the end of the year if he gets some relief down the stretch.
It's essential that Green and Abdullah both show that they've grasped the offense and deserve to be more heavily integrated into the offensive game plan. If they do that, they'll add an dangerous element to an already potent rushing attack.
Brion Carnes has been a big name in the days leading up to spring ball—and for good reason.
Carnes was reportedly far behind Taylor Martinez in terms of his grasp of the offense last season, and that's something that needs to change quickly in order for Martinez to have some healthy competition.
Reports on Carnes seem to be positive so far, and that needs to continue if both quarterbacks are going to get the most out of the offseason.
Besides, it would be nice if the coaches are able to trust Carnes to take a significant amount of in-game snaps next season.
Speaking of Martinez, here's another guy who needs a great spring.
Martinez is obviously entrenched as Nebraska's starting quarterback, which I think is the right decision by the coaches, not simply because Carnes isn't ready to take on that role yet, but because Martinez has more potential than many Husker fans seem to realize.
During the pre-spring press conference, Martinez stressed the importance of improving his footwork which is reportedly already helping (though there has only been one practice to observe him).
Tim Beck's offense begins and ends with Martinez, and his continued improvement is key to the team's success in 2012.
Somebody's got to step up at center.
The Huskers have a lot of potential along the offensive line, but none of that will matter if the glue doesn't hold. Someone, likely one of these four candidates, will have to step up and perform at a high level at one of the most underappreciated positions in football.
Cole Pensick was Mike Caputo's backup last season, but some think his 275-pound frame (which was Caputo's biggest problem) is much too small.
Justin Jackson recently moved over from defensive line, and both Reeves and Klachko will be redshirt freshmen with no experience.
If one of these four doesn't separate himself from the pack, the offense could struggle.
Jeremiah Sirles and Tyler Moore were both set to be major contributors at tackle last season, but Marcel Jones and Jermarcus Hardrick ultimately beat them both out for the starting jobs.
Due to the graduation of both Jones and Hardrick, Sirles and Moore enter the spring as the front-runners to win the offensive tackle spots.
However, both players need to show improved consistency and ultimately stand out. With a new starter at center, the rest of the line will need to be a collectively steady presence.
Oh, and Taylor Martinez's health might be depending on it as well.
With the departure of Lavonte David, there are some mighty big shoes to fill at linebacker, and although those shoes will certainly not be filled by a single player, senior-to-be Alonzo Whaley might be one of the main contributors.
Whaley is one of the most experienced returning linebackers, and this is obviously a make-or-break season for him. He may not have the speed of David, but his physicality and athleticism should serve him very well if he is able to grasp the defense well enough for the coaches to trust him as a starter.
If Whaley doesn't pan out, the coaches will have to lean on more inexperienced players to produce.
Possibly the 2011 class's most hyped recruit, Seisay enrolled at Nebraska early to get a head start leading into next season.
Because of Alfonzo Dennard's departure and Seisay's hype coming out of Eastern Arizona J.C., he is expected to immediately win a starting cornerback job.
To do so, he will need to establish himself as a major contender very quickly, and that starts now.
If Seisay gets a hold on the defense and stands out this spring, Nebraska's secondary will likely be much better off heading into the 2012 season.
Last but certainly not least is the supremely talented Jamal Turner, who started off with a bang last season before dropping off for one reason or another.
At least part of that reason had to be his lack of experience playing the receiver position, and though I personally felt that he was too talented to keep off the field, it's hard to play a guy at a position that he hasn't fully learned yet.
Turner may have the most pure talent and potential of anyone on the roster, and his continued development at receiver will serve both him and the team well going into summer and fall.
If he really grasps the position and the offense this spring, he should be a major contributor for one ridiculously scary corps of receivers next season.