Nebraska Football: Previewing 5 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

Erin Sorensen@erinsorensenContributor IJuly 21, 2014

Nebraska Football: Previewing 5 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Nebraska football fans are ready for fall. Things will get kicked off for Husker Nation with the annual fan day on Aug. 1. From there, fall camp begins, which brings a lot to look forward to for fans.

    One of the most exciting aspects of fall camp is position battles. The Huskers have quite a few positions that will have players vying for open spots too.

    What positions are those? Let's take a look at the five most important battles to watch during fall camp.


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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    If we're being honest, the starting quarterback position likely belongs to Tommy Armstrong. There has been little doubt since spring practice that he wasn't the guy in charge.

    That doesn't mean he couldn't lose his starting role if Johnny Stanton steps up big.

    The one advantage Armstrong is that he played in nine games last season as a redshirt freshman. Of those nine, he started eight. His sudden thrust into the spotlight came on the heels of former quarterback Taylor Martinez's injury, but it gave Armstrong good experience.

    However, Armstrong battled confidence issues in 2013. He has been working to correct that in the offseason.

    "I've worked as hard as I can because I know next fall, it's just going to be me," Armstrong told the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I've got to make the coaches happy, make sure my team has my back and make sure when things are going bad I'm the person who gets the team up. Last year I kind of struggled in those areas."

    However, Stanton can't be counted out just yet.

    During the spring game, Stanton completed 8 of 12 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. The Omaha World-Herald's Sam McKewon noted that when he's decisive, he's reminiscent of former Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz.

    If Armstrong truly has been working on his confidence, the battle at quarterback will likely be for the No. 2 position. It'd be premature not to at least think Stanton couldn't surpass him, though.

Backup I-Back

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Ameer Abdullah is the starting guy for the Nebraska I-backs. There's no doubting that at this point. However, how will his supporting cast line up?

    Junior Imani Cross, sophomore Terrell Newby and redshirt freshman Adam Taylor are all vying for the backup spot. Additionally, all three made quite the statement at the annual spring game.

    Cross ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns, while Newby rushed for 51 yards and caught a pass out of the backfield. As for Taylor, he wasn't about to let Cross and Newby leave him in the dust. He rushed for 41 yards.

    Cross looks to be the likely candidate for the No. 2 spot as of now. His experience from the 2013 season will be extremely beneficial. Plus, he boasts an impressive 10 rushing touchdowns from last season, which led the team.

    Newby, on the other hand, got a little experience too. He had a season-high 76 yards against Wyoming, but other than that, he mostly stuck to kickoff and punt returns.

    From an outsider's perspective, it looks like the backup position is Cross' to lose in fall practice. The benefit is that Newby and Taylor will continue to push him to be better.

Offensive Line

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    The offensive line actually has a bit of experience going into 2014. Due to injuries last season, many players had a chance to step up and get some playing time that they would have otherwise not had.

    The outlook for 2014 can be positive, as this group does have potential. The experience isn't vast, but it's better than nothing.

    So, what could the starting lineup look like?

    It seems likely that Jake Cotton will be at one guard spot, with Ryne Reeves at the other. Mark Pelini will likely start at center, while Zach Sterup and Matt Finnin could each take a tackle spot.

    Those five would provide a good amount of experience as the starting offensive line for the Huskers. However, it's really only a guess at this point.

    Pelini, for example, could face some challenges for the starting spot from Paul Thurston and Chongo Kondolo. If they don't take the starting position from Pelini, they'll definitely battle it out for the No. 2 role.

    Speaking of which, the rotation will be tricky for the Huskers. The starting lineup could be as simple as what's listed above, but everything else is not as easy. Predicting who will step up and make a case for the backup positions to rotate in will be the bigger question mark.

    Fall practice should help sort it out. From there, the Huskers will be hoping for far less injuries in 2014 than 2013.

Outside Linebacker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The start of the 2013 season was a rocky one for the linebacker position. However, by the end of the season, the group started to jell. Even more impressive, the Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart gave high praise to the Nebraska linebackers. "No Big Ten team has a better collection of linebackers than Nebraska," he said."

    That doesn't mean things are settled at linebacker, though. The lack of depth up front will be the biggest challenge for linebackers coach Ross Els. He'll want the most from his roster, but that lack of depth up front does present a challenge as to deciding who will start outside.

    So, who are the contenders? Senior Zaire Anderson, junior David Santos, sophomores Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas and redshirt freshman Marcus Newby and Courtney Love.

    It seems likely that Anderson and Santos will start on the outside. Both have experience in that role, which could make them an easy pick. Newby could also be pegged for outside linebacker too.

    As of now, it's a very big guess as to where Els will place the linebackers. Fall practice should help make things a lot clearer.

    The good news is that, as Dienhart noted, the group that "took some lumps in recent years," is on the up-and-up. It's just figuring out where everyone goes now that presents the biggest challenge.


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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Wondering about who will kick for Nebraska isn't exactly a familiar feeling. In fact, Nebraska has been nicknamed "Kicker U" by countless fans. After kickers like Alex Henery and Brett Maher, it's odd to be in this position.

    During the spring game, Husker fans even heard a very frustrated Bo Pelini on the topic.

    "[Mauro Bondi] had a chance to separate himself as the place-kicker and didn't do it," Pelini said, as reported by USA Today.

    Pelini was frustrated with Bondi's missed extra point and his failed 18-yard field-goal attempt. Spencer Lindsay wasn't any better, as he had a PAT blocked.

    By the time the press conference rolled around, Pelini wasn't holding back.

    "The bottom line with the guys we have right now, they are capable but none of them are consistent. So enter Drew Brown, so we’ll find out," Pelini said.

    As of now, Brown has the most to prove. It's rare for a coach to call out an incoming player like Pelini did, but there is so much uncertainty around the kickers. Brown provides a fresh start.

    Fall practice will hopefully sort the kicking mess out. As of now, it appears like it's Brown's job to lose.

    All spring game quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.