Nebraska Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker
Nebraska looks to remain one of the top teams in the Big Ten this upcoming season and has 13 starters returning to help make that happen. Winning 10 games last season for the third time in four years, the Cornhuskers have to feel good about their chances in 2013, especially playing in a Big Ten conference that isn't looking so great on paper.
Bo Pelini and his players recently kicked off spring practice, and it is the first chance to see what this team looks like. They are all preparing for the spring game that will be played on April 6 at 2 p.m. in front of thousands of people at Memorial Stadium.
Even with everything this team has going for it, there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
So, with spring practice underway, let's take a look at how things are looking for those Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2013.
Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.
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Update: April 8
The story of the Nebraska spring game was Jack Hoffman. A 7-year old who is currently in a battle with brain cancer, ended up running the ball 69-yards for the touchdown, juking the Nebraska defense and outrunning everybody along the way. You can see the video here.
For more on the spring game and some of the other stat lines, Brian Bennett of ESPN has got you covered.
Update: March 28
Steven M. Sipple of Husker Extra is reporting that wide receiver Alonzo Moore continues to be the standout player in spring practice, while tight end Sam Cotton is rising up the depth chart. As for the linebacker position, the coaching staff is piecing things together and is developing a good idea of who will start where, according to Brain Christopherson of Husker Extra.
Update: March 18
While Nebraska is getting ready for spring break and players are going home to relax, quarterback Taylor Martinez is taking the extra time to work with quarterback coach Steve Calhoun. According to Mike Schaefer of 247Sports, there won't be many days of rest for the starting signal-caller.
“I’ll just keep on working on mechanics and keep on doing that,” Martinez said. “I’m just trying to get better. There’s just a lot of little things to it.”
Martinez also said that there will be a few changes within the offense, but things should be a lot faster and more effective.
Going from year one to year two we changed a lot and maybe some people don’t see that. Martinez said. Going from year two to year three – last year at the end of the season you’ll see more of that – we’ll be at a faster pace. It’s going to change a little bit.
Update: March 12
The great thing about spring practice is that it provides a team the chance to make up for a subpar effort. After the defense being criticized heavy for not playing well, the unit came together and performed much better in the most recent practice, according to Michael Bruntz of 247Sports.
They came back with a great attitude. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. The reality is that we are going to have some ups and downs. We want to limit the downs obviously, but for a variety of reasons there were situations in practice Saturday where there were nine freshmen or sophomores running with the ones.
As for injury updates, Michael Bruntz of 247Sports reports that wide receiver Ameer Abdullah has suffered an injured knee, but it is nothing serious, as he is expected to miss a couple of weeks. Offensive guard Ryne Reeves has broken a bone in his ankle and will miss the remainder of spring practice.
Update: March 11
Nebraska ended last season on a sour note defensively, and it is starting to appear those same struggles are carrying over to the practice field. Head coach Bo Pelini was not pleased with a practice last weekend, and he wasn't shy about letting the media know about it, according to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star.
"What I watched was a mentally weak football team, a bad football team, especially on the defensive side of the football," Husker coach Bo Pelini said. "Call it what it is. We have a long, long, long way to go."
If you think the struggles had anything to do with replacing seven starters, think again. Pelini was upset with the entire showing from top to bottom.
"It's a mentally weak football team," Pelini said. "Guys gave in and didn't feel like practicing. I'm ashamed of what I just watched on that practice field."
To end on some positive news, Nebraska finally has a time set for this year’s spring game. According to KETV, the game will take place on April 6 at 2 p.m. The Cornhuskers will also have the event televised on the Big Ten Network for the first time ever.
Update: March 7
Charles Jackson has already had an interesting career at Nebraska. From having trouble in the classroom to being one of the more productive players on the special teams unit, he is now someone who is looking to make a splash on the defensive side of the ball. Having moved from cornerback to the safety spot, Rivals.com's Robin Washut says that he is taking reps with the second team, but is pushing the starters early on in camp.
"I'm getting the hang of it," Jackson said. "It's fun. It's an interesting position to be in. It's pretty physical. That's what I like about it."
As for the offensive side of the ball, running back Imani Cross may look a little different next year, as he has lost a considerable amount of weight during the offseason. According to Nate Clouse of Rivals, he has lost close to 15 pounds because he wants to be a more complete running back for his team.
"I don't mind being a short yardage back, but that's not all I want to be," Cross said. "I want to be able to do whatever the coaches ask me to do—run, block, pass protect, all of those things. The thing I'm working on is making sure my change of direction is more fluid and trying to make sure [of] my ability to burst in and out of cuts."
Rivals also reports that cornerback Andrew Green will miss all of spring practice as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Guys like Thad Randle, Taariq Allen and Tyler Wullenwaber have yet to practice. And quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who had surgery last year, has in fact participated in drills early on and looks to be recovered from last season’s knee injury.
Key Offensive Battles to Watch
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Nebraska should be solid up front once again with a veteran offensive line returning. The problem is that there remains a question mark at the center position, with Justin Jackson no longer on the team to be the man in the middle.
This will now be a battle between Cole Pensick and Mark Pelini. Pelini may have the slight upper hand in this competition, considering he was the one who replaced Jackson late in the year when he went down with an injured knee. However, Pensick has seen playing time as a backup the last two seasons and provides versatility with the ability to play guard as well.
It is also worth mentioning that Ryne Reeves was a highly recruited center coming out of high school and could eventually make this a three-man race.
Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Cole Pensick
Actual Winners: TBD
Even with Rex Burkhead no longer around to carry the load, the sky shouldn't be falling for Nebraska at running back. But there are concerns, mainly with Ameer Abdullah being the only true experienced running back on the roster. Braylon Heard was a runner who was productive last year, but he only has 77 career carries to his name.
Some would say even with less experience under his belt, Heard is talented enough to beat Abdullah to become the No. 1 option in the backfield. Even if that isn't the case, guys are going to have to step up to create much-needed depth at the position.
Imani Cross is someone who will push for even more carries, as he had 55 last season as a true freshman. There are also a handful of walk-ons that will look to make an impact, including Graham Nabity and Jordan Nelson, as well as a few 2013 recruits that will be around in the fall.
No matter how well Martinez plays at quarterback, Nebraska will remain a run-first team. Running backs have talent, but the pecking order needs to be a lot clearer than it is at the moment.
Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard
Actual Winners: TBD
Key Defensive Battles to Watch
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The linebacker position will feature all new faces this season. Unfortunately, Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher have all graduated, which means it will be an open competition for everybody. There is talent at the position, but experience is lacking, with David Santos—somebody that only has 24 tackles in his career—being the most experienced possible replacement.
Zaire Anderson is somebody that looked like he had promise, but is still trying to recover from an ACL injury he suffered last year. However, according to Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World Herald, he has been medically cleared to participate in spring drills. Trevor Roach has seen playing time over the last two years and should finally be in the running for a significant increase in reps.
As for some of the younger guys, take your pick between redshirt freshmen Thomas Brown, Michael Rose and Jared Afalava, as well as 2013 recruit Courtney Love.
Every one of those names will have a shot to impress the coaching staff.
Prediction on Who Wins the Job: David Santos, Zaire Anderson and Thomas Brown
Actual Winners: TBD
The defensive line is another area that will look mighty different this spring, with plenty of faces leaving from a year ago. With Thad Randle still recovering from surgery and expected to miss spring practice, Jason Ankrah is the only senior on the defensive line heading into spring drills.
That should give you a good idea of the direction this unit is heading early on.
There are a bunch of redshirt freshmen that will be thrown into the fire, including Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen and Avery Moss, as well as a couple of guys who saw limited playing time a year ago in Aaron Curry and Kevin Williams.
None are exactly the best options due to very little experience as a group, but the good news is that there are a bunch of true freshmen that will enroll and be ready for fall camp, which provides even more bodies to choose from.
The coaching staff needs to get a little closer to deciding just how the defensive front is going to look in 2013.
Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Jason Ankrah, Avery Moss, Vincent Valentine and Kevin Williams
Actual Winners: TBD
Early Enrolees Report Card
David Knevel, 3-Star OT
Knevel is somebody who could quickly develop into something special along the offensive line. At 6'9", 285 pounds, he will continue to fill out his frame, and with his mean streak and the flexibility he provides at the position, this could be the next great Nebraska offensive lineman over time.
Post Spring Practice Grade: B (Knevel received valuable snaps throughout spring practice and looks good in a Nebraska uniform. The problem is that he is still on the small side and likely won't play for another year)
Courtney Love, 3-Star OLB
As already mentioned, Love has a chance to make an immediate impact this year with the lack of depth at linebacker. A sure tackler in the open field, Love already has the size and athleticism to be a great fit on the outside. He is somebody Nebraska fans will hear about quite a bit in practice.
Post Spring Practice Grade: C (Love saw significant playing time in the spring game, but he will have to continue to make a strong push in the fall to see the field early as expected)
D.J. Singleton, 3-Star S
Singleton is somebody who can either play safety or linebacker. He is a tall and lengthy body at 6'3" and packs a punch that you would like to see from the safety spot. Regardless of where he ends up, he should see time as a true freshman, even if that means getting his feet wet on special teams.
Post Spring Practice Grade: B (Singleton played with the first-team at times during spring ball and showed he is capable of holding his own. He is certainly in the running for immediate playing time at the safety spot)
Sleepers to Watch
Jordan Westerkamp, WR
Westerkamp is a redshirt freshman that will have no choice but to make an impact this spring if he wants to see playing time.
The wide receiving corps is quite deep for Nebraska this season. However, this kid provides the size at 6'1" and arguably has the best hands of anybody on the team. He catches anything and everything thrown his way, and he doesn't have any issues going across the middle to snag those tough passes.
Regardless of how the receiver position is looking, this is somebody who should make an impact.
Greg McMullen, DL
McMullen was redshirted last season, mainly because he was still a little raw on the defensive line. However, this is somebody who has the upside to pan out very well for Nebraska.
A physical player with great size, McMullen is solid in run support and could provide a boost in the pass-rushing department. Not much of a speed guy, he does do a good job of bull rushing the offensive linemen and collapsing the pocket.
Expect him to make a name for himself this year.