The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ 2013 graduating class included a bit of everything. Some dynamic talents like Rex Burkhead, Daimion Stafford and Brett Maher played their final games, and the Big Red will now struggle to find adequate replacements.
But the Huskers also had to bid farewell to some contributing role players like Alonzo Whaley and Justin Jackson, who left holes in the depth chart.
When it comes to the Big Red filling those openings entering 2013, it is not just a question of what the departing seniors offered, but also what younger players are available to step into those roles. So let’s look at the five departing starters who will not only be missed for their abilities, but also the lack of talent able to replace them.
The two-headed monster at tight end is finally gone. For years, the Huskers have enjoyed the production of two tight ends in Cotton and Reed able to get themselves free and reel in passes.
Of course, Jake Long will excel in their absence. Seldom was he called upon in 2012. But when he was, he answered. The question remains, though, whether Nebraska has another effective tight end hiding in its ranks for the two-tight end sets.
Reliance on a single tight end would not be terrible, but it would certainly render the Husker offense a little less dynamic.
After the defense’s 2012 performance, it is hard to imagine a linebacker will be missed at all. But the Huskers may be in for a rude awakening without Will Compton on the field this fall.
He may have not been the athlete that Nebraska needed in the linebacker corps, but he was a rock in the middle of the field and the unquestioned leader of the defense.
The Huskers’ roster is rich in young linebackers, but there is no telling whether one can offer the maturity and consistency of Compton.
Daimion Stafford will primarily be remembered for his big plays: a couple key interceptions and a litany of big hits. But the biggest issue here is the lack of clear replacements for him.
Along with the departure of P.J. Smith, the cupboard is pretty bare for Nebraska at the safety position. Harvey Jackson and Corey Cooper have long been expected to carry the torch in the Husker secondary. Yet in the rather limited action they have seen thus far, they have looked shaky at best.
Perhaps the best news for the Big Red’s new safeties is that opponents might not even need to pass considering the Huskers’ porous front seven.
No Nebraska player was more electrifying in 2012 than Eric Martin.
Climbing the ranks from the special teams unit to starter on the defensive line, Martin paid his dues, earned his playing time and then made the most of it his senior year. His combination of strength and quickness was optimized by his fiery personality and unmatched competitiveness.
The Huskers will enjoy the services of veteran Jason Ankrah and highly touted junior college transfer Randy Gregory this fall. Although one can expect each of them to become solid contributors to the defensive front, providing the same spark as Martin will be a monumental task.
The hardest Husker to replace in 2013 will be Baker Steinkuhler. Although his play appears lackluster in the wake of Ndamukong Suh’s illustrious career, he came on strong toward the end of 2012 and was a key to the Blackshirt defense (not sure how great of a compliment that is, though).
More notable than the departure of Steinkuhler’s talents, however, is the lack of clear successors left behind him. Especially now that Chase Rome has left the program, Nebraska has limited options for replacements.
Thad Randle and Aaron Curry seem the logical choices at defensive tackle, but neither has done anything to gain much confidence.