Nebraska football fans have just finished digesting this year’s recruiting class, dreaming about who might be the next Cornhusker legend. Many pundits, including one particularly smart and handsome analyst, have given you details on all the new players coming to Lincoln.
But let’s not forget there are a whole bunch of players already on the roster, coming back to play for the scarlet and cream. Here are six of the most important returning players for Nebraska in 2013.
None of Nebraska’s three starting linebackers from 2012—Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley—will be on the field for NU in 2013.
Given how important the linebacker is to Bo Pelini’s defense, a point made in a fascinating look at Pelini’s defense from Brandon Vogel of HailVarsity.com, that lack of experience could be a huge issue for Nebraska.
Thus, it falls on the linebacker with the most in-game experience to take the reins and lead the linebacker corps next year.
That would be David Santos, who earned his way on to the field with his athleticism last season. He also earned his way off the field with mistakes he made, of course. But now he has the experience of those mistakes to learn from and to help guide the rest of the crew.
Much like at linebacker, Nebraska will be bereft of experience on the defensive line. There is a lot of young talent looking to make its mark, but precious few with experience in a live game at Nebraska.
That’s where Jason Ankrah comes in. As a senior, and a likely starter at defensive end, look for Ankrah to take a leadership role next season. Much like Will Compton did last year, Ankrah has the chance to step up and help lead not only the defensive line, but the team as a whole.
Could Kenny Bell be the best wide receiver in the B1G next season?A strong case could certainly be made.
As a junior, Bell will enter next year as Nebraska’s primary deep threat, as a weapon that can be deployed in the backfield to run the ball either directly or via a jet sweep and as a vocal team leader.
Why six instead of five returning starters? Because I couldn’t leave a guy like Spencer Long off the list. Nebraska’s offensive line has struggled in terms of both talent and performance in recent seasons.
But Long is an exception to that rule, coming in at No. 22 on ESPN.com’s list of best conference performers for 2012.
In 2013, Nebraska’s offensive line will be in transition, and much of the responsibility will fall on Long if Nebraska is to return to something resembling the Pipeline of years gone by.
Last year, Ameer Abdullah had to play the placeholder role when Rex Burkhead went down for much of the season. Abdullah performed masterfully, taking over the starting I-back position and giving Nebraska the kind of performance it needed throughout the season.
Coming in to 2013 as the entrenched starter but with a number of talented younger backs behind him, look for Abdullah to be a central focus of Nebraska’s offense. Health, continued performance and a curing of his distressing fumble issue will go a long way toward determining the success of Nebraska’s 2013 offensive campaign.
It always comes back to Taylor Martinez, doesn’t it? Many Children of the Corn are ready to move past the Martinez era and get on to see what Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton can do in scarlet and cream.
But 2013 will be Martinez’s swan song, and Nebraska’s fortunes will ultimately rise and fall based on how well Martinez plays. His improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons was nothing short of remarkable—even though it’s a little disturbing that it takes two years, an offseason and a third-party quarterback coach to make that happen.
Of course, there is plenty of work left to do, work Martinez has committed to this offseason. Interceptions and especially fumbles need to be cut down. Martinez needs to stay healthy and make good decisions consistently. His new mechanics need to take hold when the bullets start flying in tough games.
But Martinez has gotten a tough ride from a lot of Nebraska fans. All he’s done is gut through injuries, put in extra work in the offseason and shoot up Nebraska’s record books in his first three years.
I’m on record as being all-in on Martinez in 2013. If he puts everything together in his senior campaign, Nebraska fans could be treated to something (Dare I say it?) magical.
(Oh yeah, I totally went there. I never met a cliché I didn’t like.)
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