Nebraska football fans have a good idea of what to expect from their stars next year, like Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory. And they know what they have lost with departed players like Taylor Martinez and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
But there are players we saw flashes from in seasons past that are primed for much bigger roles in 2014. Here are five of them.
In some ways, this might be the most speculative of the entire list of players.
In Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska may well have the best returning running back in the Big Ten. NU’s offense will certainly revolve around Abdullah in 2014.
Imani Cross is a year ahead of Terrell Newby and brings a change of pace to Nebraska’s attack. And Adam Taylor, who redshirted last year, has been drawing rave reviews.
But Newby’s breakaway speed brings an element to Nebraska’s attack that simply does not exist elsewhere. There was a reason Newby kept seeing the field last year, even when he struggled. With an extra year to mature and learn the offense, Newby may well become a significant part of Nebraska’s attack in 2014.
Two years ago, Nebraska was blessed with stellar tight ends in Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed. Cotton and Reed were able to complement Nebraska’s offensive attack, following the lead of NFL teams like the Patriots, who had developed the tight end as a devastating part of an offense.
Last year, the tight end was far less of a productive part of Nebraska’s offense. But Cethan Carter, a prized talent Nebraska lured away from Louisiana, began to show signs of becoming a true offensive weapon.
With a year of experience under his belt, and with a far more settled situation at quarterback, Carter looks to be one of Nebraska’s true offensive rising stars.
For two years running, Nebraska has started a senior at center. It is entirely possible that might happen again, with Mark Pelini likely in the lead to start spring practice on top of the depth chart.
But Paul Thurston, a sophomore this season, has the potential to challenge Pelini for that starting role. And with nearly a half-foot of a size advantage, as well as being two years behind him, if Thurston can win the starting center job in 2014, he could provide stability for Nebraska’s offensive line for years to come.
Nebraska fans have been waiting for Charles Jackson to break out since his arrival in Lincoln.
There has been little doubt that he has the talent to be a difference-maker in the secondary. But between his performances and the nature of the depth chart, Jackson has yet to see the field in any meaningful manner.
Look for 2014 to be the year for that to change. With the departures of Stanley Jean-Baptiste at corner and Ciante Evans at nickel, the depth chart is wide open.
Jackson’s skills should fit in well with the defensive resurgence Nebraska experienced at the end of 2013, which should see him on the field much more in 2014.
Young talent can be both a blessing and a curse. Last year, Nebraska had a whole bunch of young talent at linebacker. The increase in athleticism and speed helped to balance out the lack of experience in the middle of the defense, and the area became one of strength as the season wore on.
Zaire Anderson brings a combination of both to the Blackshirts. A junior college transfer, injuries have kept Anderson from really being able to make the kind of contribution his extraordinary talent would otherwise permit. In his senior season and healthy, Anderson looks to make his mark in 2014.
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