Nebraska Football: Previewing the 5 Biggest Position Battles in Fall Practice
Nebraska football fans are, in large part, ready to put the baseball season behind them and focus on the upcoming college football campaign. (This has nothing to do with the New York Yankees being in fourth place in the AL East, I swear!)
One of the most exciting things to watch for in fall camp is position battles, where different players are vying for open spots on the depth chart. So here are five of the most interesting, and most important, battles to watch this fall.
The Entire Freaking Secondary
OK, for all you grammar sticklers, I am aware that the “entire freaking secondary” isn’t a “position” per se. But the fact remains that there is one guy—Ciante Evans at nickel—whose name we can write in ink on our starting roster for the Wyoming game on August 31.
Everything else is up for grabs. It’s not for a lack of players, to be certain, and that’s a good problem for Bo Pelini and his staff. But a good problem is still a problem to resolve, so look for this fall—and the nonconference slate of games—to shake out who will be Nebraska’s starting back four come conference play.
The Entire Freaking Linebacker Corps
Are you sensing a theme here?
With the graduation of Nebraska’s entire starting crew of linebackers, the middle of NU’s defense will have a new look in 2013. We think we have a pretty good idea of the starting three linebackers (Zaire Anderson and Jared Afalava on the outside, David Santos in the middle), especially with the injury to senior Trevor Roach.
But Nebraska signed three 4-star linebacker prospects in Josh Banderas, Courtney Love and Marcus Newby. And if Pelini was serious about giving a little more three-man front looks and using a guy like Afalava as a pass-rush specialist, don’t be surprised to see those talented freshmen push for playing time in 2013.
Returning senior Thad Randle will almost certainly, barring injury, be a starter at defensive tackle. But after that, there is a robust competition as to who will be that second tackle in the middle of the defensive line. (Assuming, of course, that Pelini sticks with a four-man front, which assumption may be in question after Big Ten media days, according to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald).
Redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine seems to be the one coaches want to win the spot, but he has not claimed it as of yet. And with a host of competitors behind him, the second defensive tackle spot should be one of the most hotly contested positions this fall.
Nebraska tried a whole bunch of different options fielding kicks last year, with Ameer Abdullah being the primary returner. Unfortunately, just about every one of them suffered from Santino Panico Syndrome and was unable to field the ball cleanly.
With Abdullah installed as the starting I-back, one has to think he is out of the running as the return specialist. My money would be on Jamal Turner and incoming freshman Terrell Newby seeing the most time at the position, but fall camp should be wide open and ripe for someone to turn heads and steal the spot.
Don’t be so quick to anoint redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong as the backup to senior signal-caller Taylor Martinez. Incoming freshman Johnny Stanton impressed the nation at the Elite 11 quarterback camp, and he has a size advantage over Armstrong.
Stanton looks to be a more physical and punishing runner, and perhaps that gives rise to Nebraska using Stanton as Tim Tebow was as a Florida freshman or Blake Bell at Oklahoma—in designed quarterback power running plays.
And if that’s the case, and Stanton has packages designed specifically for him, it is not out of the question that he could ultimately surpass Armstrong on the depth chart altogether.
Or you could always...Follow @patrickrunge.