Nebraska football fans like to worry. And with the questions surrounding NU after spring practice, there are plenty of areas for the Children of the Corn to fret about. With a lot of youth likely to see the field next season and a defense coming off two straight years of very un-Blackshirt-like performances, fans will be pinning a lot of hope on players who have not had to perform under the brightest of lights.
In looking at positional weakness, there are two real things to consider. First, how much talent is at the position for the coaches to work with? Second, how much experience does that talent have? So at the risk of fueling a fire, let’s take a look at the five positions Nebraska fans should be most worried about as they wait for August.
Nebraska has a number of question marks coming into 2013. But if you wanted to identify the one area that looked weakest, defensive tackle would be a good place to start. Nebraska will be losing both starting defensive tackles from last year.
In the mix to start will be Thad Randle, a senior with some experience but an unfortunately checkered injury history. Also fighting for time will be sophomores Aaron Curry and Kevin Williams, who have some experience but have shown little to date to inspire confidence.
High hopes were pinned on Vincent Valentine, a redshirt freshman, but his lack of experience at a position where it is difficult to make an immediate impact should be a cause for concern. Incoming freshmen Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice may also earn playing time early if the other contenders falter.
That’s a lot of bodies, but not a lot of names that inspire confidence. At a position of such critical value, those questions should be a huge concern for Nebraska fans.
Offensive tackle may be a bit more settled than defensive tackle, but not by much. Nebraska will be returning Brent Qvale, Andrew Rodriguez and Jeremiah Sirles in the tackle rotation, so experience will not be as big a concern as at defensive tackle. But none of those three players were standouts at tackle.
Incoming JUCO transfer Matt Finnin, a junior, seems likely to slot in as a starting tackle right away, which hopefully for Nebraska will give the tackle position an infusion of talent. But Finnin will not have worked with offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s schemes before, so he will have a learning curve to start the season.
The center is the director of the offensive line, and it is always worrisome when a team does not have a returning starter at the position. With the graduation of Justin Jackson, it appeared that Cole Pensick was set to slide over from guard and take over the position in 2013.
However, given his success at guard, the role may fall to Mark Pelini, a junior. Pelini did get limited experience at center when Jackson was injured against Iowa, but with either Pensick or Pelini, Nebraska will functionally be in the position of breaking in a new center.
In Bo Pelini’s defensive scheme, a lot is asked of the safeties. They have to diagnose a play quickly and decide whether they are going to be in pass coverage or help with the run. The wrong decision can result in a speedy wide receiver blowing by them and Nebraska giving up a deep pass play.
So having two new starting safeties coming into 2013 is certainly a cause for concern. Talent isn’t really the question, as Nebraska’s secondary is fairly loaded with athletes. But it may take some time for all those different athletes to sort out amongst themselves who the best two safeties will be.
In the meantime, Nebraska’s defense could be shaky at the back.
A lack of athletes certainly isn’t the issue at linebacker. Nebraska currently has David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Jared Afalava, Michael Rose, Thomas Brown, Courtney Love and Trevor Roach on campus and competing for a spot. And this fall, four-star recruits Josh Banderas and Marcus Newby will arrive to increase the competition for playing time at linebacker.
Nebraska’s problem is experience. Of all those players, only Roach and Santos have any meaningful in-game experience. And, much like the safeties, linebackers in Nebraska’s defensive structures have to make quick decisions and get into place. A mis-read can leave a gaping hole to be exploited by an opposing offense.
With the lack of experience, the possibility of those misreads increases dramatically. So, just like at safety, Nebraska’s linebacker play (while an upgrade in athleticism from last year) could be quite an adventure in 2013.
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