Nebraska football fans saw the NFL start its preseason schedule on Sunday with the Hall of Fame Game, so they know the football season is almost upon us. Fall camp will be starting soon, and with it the daily reports of how players and units are developing.
So as you start hearing those reports, keep an ear open for these freshmen whose development will be important for Nebraska to have a successful 2013 campaign.
Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor
I swear at some point these guys will each get their own subheading. But right now, they are still the two highly touted freshmen I-backs arriving in Lincoln. The most interesting questions of the fall look to be whether one or both of them will force their way on the field by their performances and how Bo Pelini will manage the I-back workload with returning players like Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross.
Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton
While we are talking about joined-at-the-hip players, the backups to Taylor Martinez deserve a look. Armstrong looks to be the heir apparent, but Stanton impressed at the national Elite 11 camp and has the frame and skills to be used in a similar manner to Oklahoma’s Blake Bell (not to mention a freshman Tim Tebow at Florida). How Armstrong is developing and whether a redshirt is in Stanton’s future will be big questions this fall.
With the dismissal of Thomas Brown and the shift (as signaled by Pelini at B1G Media Days) to more three-man fronts, Afalava looks to take on a much more important role in the rebuilding Blackshirts. In addition to traditional linebacker duties, Afalava could be the extra linebacker Pelini envisions bringing into the box and providing much-needed pass-rush help. Fall camp reports could give a clue as to how much Pelini’s defense will transform in 2013 and how big a role Afalava may play in that transformation.
While Nebraska brought in a haul of 4-star linebackers in the 2012 class, it is the relatively unheralded Gerry from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that has been garnering attention. Will he be an old-school “hybrid” linebacker who sees time at safety? Could he use his speed as a kick returner? As much as any player, Gerry’s development this fall should be fascinating.
Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice
Yeah, I know, we’re back to the joint subheadings. But these two incoming freshmen defensive tackles could be key to Nebraska’s success in 2013. While improved from 2012, Nebraska’s defensive line (particularly the interior of the line) is still awfully thin. If either Collins or Maurice can develop to a point where they can contribute next year, that will give Pelini additional depth and options that might not have been expected.
Speaking of defensive line depth, there may be no single interior defensive lineman with more pressure on his shoulders than Valentine. If Pelini is indeed looking at more three-man fronts, Nebraska will need a bigger guy in the middle to fulfill the role (if not have the actual title) of nose tackle. At 6’3” and 325 pounds, Valentine certainly has the frame. If he can generate the production, a lot of Nebraska’s defensive problems may be solved.
I know, I know, we’re back to my unhealthy obsession with kickers. But after four years of Alex Henery and Brett Maher, it looks as if Nebraska will be handing the place-kicking duties off to scholarship redshirt sophomore Bondi. While not as glamorous as some of the other positions, Bondi’s development (assuming he wins the job) will be just as important to Nebraska’s 2013 campaign.
CORRECTION - An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Bondi as a redshirt freshman. The author apologizes for the error.
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