Nebraska football fans know all about the big-name stars coming back next season. Taylor Martinez. Ameer Abdullah. Kenny Bell. Jamal Turner. Those are easy names to get excited about for the Children of the Corn.
But Nebraska has a lot of players who might not be on the radar screens of more casual NU fans, at least not yet. Here’s a sneak peek at five Nebraska players who could make the grade as stars this time next year. Check ‘em out now, and look smart to your friends this offseason.
This might be starting to get uncomfortable, given all the praise I’ve lavished on Heard here and here and here, but I really do think Heard has a chance to distinguish himself among a talent stable of Nebraska running backs. In limited action last year, Heard showed amazing speed, had a better yards-per-carry average than Ameer Abdullah and didn’t fumble. Plus, Heard will have a full offseason of preparation as a running back, something he didn't get last year when he switched to defensive back.
Yes, Abdullah is an exciting back, and backing Heard should not in any way diminish the threat Abdullah poses. Imani Cross is an imposing physical talent who has the potential to give Nebraska a punishing element to its ground game. And incoming freshmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor have the talent to perhaps force their way onto the field this spring.
But if you’re looking for one of those running backs to shine, my money is on Heard.
All three of Nebraska’s primary starting linebackers have graduated, meaning an entirely new corps will be on the field in 2013. Of those linebackers, Santos has the most experience, meaning he will be relied on early as a leader. Santos has the kind of speed and athleticism that at times was lacking from Nebraska’s linebackers in 2012. With a year of offseason preparation as a starter, Santos could lead the line for a Blackshirt resurgence.
As we saw in the Capital One Bowl, Nebraska’s cornerbacks struggled in single coverage against top-quality receivers. As a transfer from Auburn, Rose looks to have the skills and physical tools to win those one-on-one matchups. If he is able to do so, that will free up Nebraska’s safeties to play more peso-like roles and give Bo Pelini and the rest of the defensive coaching staff more options.
Nebraska’s defense in 2012 was a senior-laden squad. In 2013, then, there will be a new crop of seniors that will have to fill the kind of leadership roles that Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler and others did last year. Look for Ankrah, who should be a starting defensive end next season, to step up and be one of the vocal and spiritual leaders of the Blackshirts in 2013.
Over the last few years, Nebraska has been blessed with a dependable kicking game. From Alex Henery to Brett Maher, Nebraska’s kickers have been a source of strength and a hidden generator of points and field position.
In 2013, the torch is passed to Mauro Bondi, a scholarship kicker from Boca Raton, Fla., entering his third year in the Nebraska program. It’s not clear at this point if Bondi will handle both kicking and punting duties or if NU will finally have a separate punter and kicker. But it will be the first time Nebraska has trotted out a kicker who did not hail from a Nebraska high school since Jordan Congdon. Hopefully, Bondi’s experience in Scarlet and Cream is better than Congdon’s.
If you’d like to contact Patrick to schedule an interview, provide feedback or get advice on which type of chocolate goes best with fresh fruit (spoiler alert: dark), send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Or, you could always...Follow @patrickrunge.