Nebraska football fans are anxious for fall camp to start so they can get a real idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Over the summer, fans have fretted and worried, combed through every preseason magazine, and imagined what to expect for the coming season.
So as we are on the verge of fall camps opening, with actual football ready to happen, let's take a look at what we know now about Nebraska's strengths and weaknesses.
Nebraska's biggest offensive losses to graduation from last season were an I-back that didn't play most of the year and two tight ends. Returning in 2013 will be a senior quarterback in Taylor Martinez, an experienced I-back in Ameer Abdullah with talent behind him and a wide receiver corps that should be the best in the B1G next season.
Hear me out on this one. Nebraska's defense last season was remarkably, almost historically, bad. When comparisons are being made between last year's defensive unit and the 2007 Blackshirts (which helped get Bill Callahan fired), you know things have gone off the rails.
But that's the point. You KNOW things have gone off the rails, meaning that there is no hiding the need for improvement. As head coach Bo Pelini has told us, he hasn't forgotten how to coach defense. Look for the Blackshirts to improve in 2013 partly because it couldn't get much worse, but partly because the focus on improvement during call camp will be so sharp.
The 2013 Blackshirts will look a lot different than last year's squad, with only two starters returning. The players that will likely see the field next year will be younger and have more speed and athleticism than their previous counterparts. This infusion of youth and speed could spur a dramatic improvement in defensive production. But...
It looks like Nebraska is going to be throwing a lot of young kids into the fire on defense this season. While the athleticism and speed should help, the inexperience all over the field (and particularly at linebacker and safety) could make 2013 a nervous year for Nebraska fans.
Bo Pelini's defensive scheme is complicated, and can take time to master. With all the youth—and inexperience—on the field next year, mistakes are bound to happen.
Taylor Martinez is on pace to hold most of Nebraska's school records for offense. Certainly some of this has to do with his amazing skills as an athlete. But some of it has to do with him being a four-year starting quarterback.
Which raises the ugly question of what happens if Martinez misses significant playing time this year. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong looks the part, but he has no experience in a real game. So if Martinez does get hurt and miss time, Nebraska's offense will have a very green quarterback at the helm.
Special teams never get the kind of attention offense and defense do from fans. But Nebraska has been spoiled over the last few years with reliable kickers like Alex Henery and Brett Maher.
This year, it looks like a new kicker and a new punter (this time two separate roles) will be kicking for Nebraska. Additionally, Nebraska will be breaking in a new long snapper and a new holder. And Ameer Abdullah, last year's primary kick returner, likely will not have that job because he is the starting I-back. So the return game will be a mystery as well.
This doesn't mean the special teams unit will be poor. It just means there are nothing but question marks in that important area.
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