Power Ranking Nebraska's Positional Units for 2014
As the calendar moves to July, Nebraska football fans are starting to get more excited about the upcoming season. Once baseball’s All-Star Game is past, it’s a downhill slide to fall camp and the start of another Nebraska football odyssey.
So, to keep themselves entertained, fans will be looking at their team and thinking about strengths and weaknesses. Rather than focus on individual players, a different way to look at the team is by unit. So here is a power ranking, from worst to first, of Nebraska’s strongest units. This particular ranking reflects proven performance more so than potential, so it may be that the ranking at the end of the season looks dramatically different than it does in late June.
No. 7: Special Teams
At this point, Nebraska’s special teams unit should just take the Hippocratic Oath: “first, do no harm.”
Questions abound throughout the unit. Mauro Bondi is a powerful kickoff specialist (the Adi Kunalic role), but it’s hard to see him or anyone else on the roster taking over as place-kicker. Nebraska will be pinning its hopes on true freshman Drew Brown to carry NU through the pressure-packed moments that will doubtlessly come in 2014. Converted wide receiver Sam Foltz will return at punter, hoping to improve from an inconsistent 2013 that showed flashes of brilliance.
Nebraska’s return game is in need of a massive overhaul, as even fielding punts last year was an adventure. Look for playmakers like Jamal Turner and Terrell Newby (both looking up on the depth chart in their respective positions) to find extra time on the field as returners, hoping to provide Nebraska a spark.
No. 6: Defensive Backs
Josh Mitchell at cornerback and Corey Cooper at safety are your two likely starters, both of whom have shown flashes, though neither would inspire confidence in the security of the positions. Opposite those players, competition should continue through fall camp, with Jonathan Rose and Byerson Cockrell fighting for a corner position and LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry locking horns for the other safety spot.
The wild card in the secondary might be Charles Jackson, a freakish athlete who looks to claim the nickel spot. If he is able to translate his athleticism into performance on the field, Nebraska’s secondary could quickly become a team strength.
No. 5: Linebackers
So much potential, so little proven talent—an apt description of Nebraska’s linebacker corps. Zaire Anderson is likely the best overall defender of the group, and Michael Rose established himself at the "Mike" linebacker by the end of 2013.
After that, look for Bo Pelini to try a host of different combinations in an attempt to plug the rights linebackers into the rights slots and maximize production.
No. 4: Offensive Line
Nebraska will be replacing three starters on the offensive line, including at center, which is always a cause for concern. However, the injuries that ravaged Nebraska’s offensive line last year will actually help with depth and experience in 2014.
One key will be how Colorado transfer Alex Lewis settles in at left tackle. After apparently beating out David Knevel for the starting spot, Lewis drew rave reviews for his performances in spring practice against Randy Gregory—no small feat.
No. 3: Receivers
With the losses of Monte Harrison and Damore’ea Stringfellow, receiver is a bit of a sore spot for Nebraska. But 2014 should be the swan song of a powerful receiving corps led by the speedy Kenny Bell. Taariq Allen and Alonzo Moore should be among those fighting for the opposite wide receiver role, while Jordan Westerkamp seems to have edged Jamal Turner at present in the slot. Look for Sam Burtch to play a big role in the receiver rotation as well.
At tight end, Cethan Carter began to emerge as an offensive weapon at the end of 2013. If he continues to develop—and can build some chemistry with quarterback Tommy Armstrong—Nebraska’s receivers could effectively balance NU’s run-first offense.
No. 2: Offensive Backs
It was tempting to put this unit at the top with Ameer Abdullah headlining the I-backs, given the potential he showed in his senior season and his track record to date. Additionally, the I-backs behind Abdullah are exciting both in terms of depth and variety, going from bruiser Imani Cross to scatback Terrell Newby.
But quarterback still has to be considered a question. While few can argue with Tommy Armstrong’s 7-1 record as a starter, his 9-8 touchdown to interception ratio is a massive cause for concern. If Armstrong clicks with a full offseason of preparation as the starter, this unit could end up being under-ranked.
No. 1: Defensive Line
When you have the best overall player on the team in Randy Gregory in your unit, it’s hard not to give the defensive line the top spot. But Vincent Valentine at defensive tackle began to realize some of his potential at the end of last year and could be a real difference-maker if his development continues. The other defensive end and defensive tackle positions are still up in the air, but there is enough depth to settle most questions about the unit.
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